If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The phrase ricocheted around my head like a mantra during savasana. I was winding down after a vinyasa class at O Yoga, and we had just settled into resting stillness. Aaaaand the weights started hitting the floor in the gym below us. Like clockwork. Like a freight train. Clunk-clunk-crash. The crossfit crew at Urban Life goes hard and they go heavy—and for the past eight months, I've been hearing the efforts of their training during my asana practice. I stirred and sat up in padmasana. I smiled. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Urban Life Athletics is a new gym in Syracuse, which offers crossfit, high intensity training circuit training, and spinning. I'm pals with the instructors and folks who work out there, but other than a couple of spin classes that rendered my legs into overcooked spaghetti noodles, I hadn't ventured the one flight down from Yogaland.
Because I'm moving away from Syracuse soon, I'm trying to soak in as much of the culture here as I can. This gym is an enthusiastic player in a renaissance of sorts happening in downtown 'Cuse, and I wanted to find a way to combine the awesome things they're doing here with my two favorite activities: beer and food. One mega brainstorm later, I had concocted a plan for a HIT-inspired workout, followed by mucho beer and healthy, energy-boosting snacks. The snacks, I could handle. I needed some help with the beer. Luckily, Michelob ULTRA stepped in and saved the day.
Michelob ULTRA is all about empowering people to work hard and live right, enjoying every moment from your workout to your work life to the community where it all happens. It's the same reason I love this crazy city—it's full of people who see both the value and joy in putting in effort. People who #LiveULTRA, if you wanna put a hashtag on it.
So anyway, my friend Dan agreed to lead a Sunday Funday-style class for the squad—if I provided the beer and snacks.
I agreed to make raw, date-sweetened energy bites (recipe at the bottom of this page!), and my pals at Original Grain (OG, for short), offered to bring their pretty-much-world-famous nori wraps, packed with rice, braised short rib, pickled veggies, avocado, carrots, cilantro, and good vibes.
We rolled in late afternoon and started stretching. The music was pumping. I was stoked. I was psyched. I was...totally unprepared for the epic sufferfest I was about to endure.
If it's not sufficiently evident from the photos above, this crew goes hard. You will notice in the pull-up shot that I am nowhere to be found. It's cool, guys. I'm just over here beasting out modified push-ups like it's literally the hardest thing I've ever done. NBD. About five minutes into the workout, I began to feel a gripping terror. A familiar soundtrack began playing in my head. I suck. This is awful. Why did I ever leave Yogaland?
Dan noticed the frustration on my face and came over for a fist-pound. "You're crushing it," he kindly lied. His positivity sparked something in me, and suddenly, despite riding shotgun on the struggle bus, my attitude changed. So what I had never used a rowing machine. So what I almost smashed a kettlebell into my face. So what. "It's all about starting where you are, giving your best, and improving from there," my friend Joe said after my millionth burpee. (Note to self: sun salutations > burpees.)
Why was I making this into a competition? Why was I comparing myself with everyone around me? Nobody else was. They were there to have fun and work hard. It was time to check myself. Instead of feeling embarrassed about my physical strength, I focused on giving my max effort. Instead of feeling jealous about my friends' badassery, I chose to be inspired by them. We finished the workout smiling and sweaty. We had definitely earned our beers.
Will I ever be able to do a real pull-up? Maybe. Maybe not. But that's not really the point. How cool is it that I got a workout and a life lesson? Namaste, y'all.
Date-Walnut Energy Bites
- 1 cup raw walnuts
- 6 Medjool dates
- 25 prunes
- 3/4 cup natural peanut butter, stirred well to incorporate oil
- 2 tablespoons agave syrup
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon maca powder
- 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Add the walnuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse 30 times, until the walnuts are broken into very small pieces, stopping before they turn into walnut flour or butter. Transfer the nuts to a large mixing bowl.
Remove the pits from the dates and add to the food processor, along with the prunes and peanut butter. Turn on the machine, letting it run continuously, while you stream in the agave. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary, adding a drizzle of water if necessary to thin the fruit-agave mixture (you want it to be spreadable and paste-like in consistency). Add the pureed fruit mix to the walnuts.
Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and use clean hands to mix everything well. (I find a wooden spoon to be cumbersome.) Roll into tablespoon-sized balls, and let chill on a sheet pan in the fridge until firm, about 1 hour. Makes 25-27, depending on size.
Thank you to Michelob ULTRA for sponsoring this post!
All photos taken by the enormously talented Stu Gallagher.