• Cass Lau

I conquered the dragon 🐉

TL;DR: After 141 weeks of training for my ring muscle up, I got it! on 24/01/2022.

Here's the longer version:

In September 2019, I took a shot in the dark to document my ring muscle up journey, unwilling to commit to really owning that goal — for the fear of failure. In reality, the journey started in March 2019. That's how long it took me to even write about it.


Why the ring muscle-up? You might ask. After all, there's so many other things in CrossFit to get good at. You could get away with alot of things without a ring muscle-up.

Well, after chasing this skill for the past 3 years, I slowly started to understand what I could do and where hard work would get me. I became hungry, willing to put in the work to get where I wanted to be for a myriad of reasons - because:

  1. I just wanted to get that ONE LAST movement in classic CrossFit

  2. I felt like I was a burden to Kylie who had invested so much of her time and resources to get me over the rings (more of this story to follow)

  3. I was doing CrossFit for 6 years already, and “dedicated training” to the RMU for nearly 3 years. Surely I would be able to get my RMU by now

  4. I was tired of watching people unlock that movement, leaving me in the dust

  5. I wanted to prove those people who labelled me as “someone who would have difficulty with gymnastics” or as someone whose body type was suited to lift weights wrong

  6. I just needed validation, to keep me going in this CrossFit journey — because success fuels the desire to progress

All my life I had been told that I was big. And in CrossFit, I’d be pegged as the "type" that would be good the weightlifting stuff, but too big to run fast, or too heavy to do well at gymnastics. While the shoulder-angel was telling me to put a lid on these naysayers, I had the devil on the other side telling me that these people were probably right, I was not built like the gymnastic types anyway.

cr: Reddit. best Bodytype for CrossFit

I would tell myself though that I need to prove people wrong. If we could see bigger sized female athletes compete at the Games and still do gymnastics proficiently, what about me? Wouldn’t hard work get you to where you needed to be?

Then when I had to test where the training had gotten me (i.e. Open workout 20.5) and fail spectacularly, I would put on a “I’m okay,” and “everything’s okay” front. And rationalize once again that I would just need a MUCH longer runway than most athletes.

Just that the end of the runway did not seem to be in sight.

I'm certain that I am not alone in having such thoughts. Every struggle to attain a goal, and every step made to progress whether in fitness, career, or life, is shared by any one of you reading this.


As I piece together my journey from the past 3 years, I hope that you will be patient with me, so that I can finally properly document some significant snippets of that journey: The Road to Cass’ Ring Muscle-Up.

This recount is also in honor of Kylie Siu, a physiotherapist at Thrive Healthcare, a business partner, dear friend, and now a mentor of mine, who finally let me let the world know about her and how she'd been integral in my journey.


It all began a little over 3 years ago when I met Kylie Siu. Well I had actually met her earlier, but after a few successful workout partnerships, this girl took it upon herself to help me through this journey to my muscle up, a daunting task that many would shy away from. After all wouldn’t it be easier to help the more lithe male athlete to get on top of the rings/bar? A heavy female athlete is the exact opposite of a quick success story.


I started with one goal: to get a ring muscle-up. I was already training with Kylie through the RPT (Reverse Pyramid Training) method, which brought a lot of gains and strength for my upper body. Though my pulls and presses had improved, I dared myself to dream of tasting the more complex skills — the muscle-up.


In the dust before we even started

In May 2019, I took a trip with my parents to South Africa. It was beautiful there, a severely underrated travel destination that had so much nature yet was unnatural in its representation of the continent.


Whilst I was running up and down the Cape, I received notifications from the Actualize CrossFit Admin chat showing off a few athletes who had unlocked their ring muscle up. First Gabriel, then… Kylie… then SHREE!


I was elated! It looked incredibly effortless and was what we had all been working towards.

Just that they got it and I was still miles away — physically and from the skill.


I still congratulated them and celebrated whole-heartedly with them. And it made me want it even more.


Start with Brute Strength

Kylie was almost done with her rehabilitation, and getting back to training earlier than we had expected. And at the time, Brute Strength had launched their Ring Muscle-Up Programme which cost USD10 (I believe this has spun off into a weekly programme), which I made the decision to just purchase.


I remember that evening I sent her a message to declare that I had bought this product and would have to do 2 sessions a week because that was what the programme called for. That would mean 1 session with her on the weekday, and the other session preferably on Sunday with the athletes I used to train with. Without hesitation she cleared her schedule to come in on Sunday as well.


It was fun. We found ourselves struggling to complete the drills together, figuring out new ways to get closer to the goal, and even had some guests joining random training sessions. We’d both make an effort to complete the prescribed drills and even had a tracker to record our reps each week — and that kept the both of us accountable.


But the programme was complex. If you didn’t have the prerequisite set of pull-ups/dips/muscle-ups, you would not be eligible to move on to the next level. And even if you did, the progression was drastic and attempting it might well prove discouraging. So after 2 months of following through on these drills, we had an unspoken agreement that we needed a change.

We did some research to add in transition drills, like the Russian dip, but we made little to no headway with kipping ring muscle ups. With little advice on how a kip should look like, we were lost, so the only thing to work on was the strict ring muscle-up. We build volume to no end, until I was adept enough to do a 20 second ring muscle-up negative — a fancy party trick would only earn people saying “wow if you can do that, surely you can do a ring muscle-up!”


Well, I couldn’t.

The missing piece of the puzzle: Nutrition

It was about this time that I had decided to participate in the Pandora’s Box CrossFit competition in Kota Kinabalu with the guys from SetFree CrossFit (which has since dissolved).


I was worried about being a part of this competition because as much as I knew I was good at slinging iron around, slinging MYSELF around iron was a whole different ball game. I didn’t want to weigh my team down.


I knew that my weight was an issue. I had tried RP Strength Diet Templates, dabbled abit in Keto, induced myself to vomit a couple of times, skipped meals, tried intermittent fasting, and so on, just to find a way to shed some kilos.


When I finally brought this up to Kylie the conversation went something like:

“Do you know why you want to lose weight?”

“Because I know that it will get me closer to my goal of getting better at gymnastics.”

“What kept you from successfully losing weight before?”

“Because I was not seeing any progress, so I gave up.”

“How can we prevent this from happening again?”

“I guess it would have been better if I had someone I could be accountable to.”


So she became that person. I would send her my MyFitnessPal logs everyday, and set nutrition goals with her, working on habit building through the next 2 years.

The journey was long but it was sustainable. I saw my body fat decrease and though my overall body weight remained relatively the same, that translated into improvements in not only my gymnastic movements but in my overall CrossFit performance.

Giving Up

There must have been at least 20 times that this thought crossed my mind.


Admittedly, it got especially discouraging when:

  1. Other people who have been training for a shorter time than me/didn’t have to make the lifestyle changes I did/don’t have the kind of dedicated training that I am privy to … get the skill in half the time that I get it — don’t get me wrong, I’m super happy when people unlock that skill. It's just hard seeing people run past you in a race isn't it?

  2. I think I’m making progress but every time we hit a lockdown/injury/etc. it sets me back a few steps and I wonder if I’m ever training what I need to be.

  3. It’s just one of those bad training days.

If left to my own devices, I’d “take a break” from gymnastics ever so often and go back to weightlifting — after all that never failed me. If I were to travel overseas and drop in to a box, I’d practice oly drills, or do a strength-based workout because I would never fail at either of the two and I knew that my lifting numbers were pretty good.

Needless to say, Kylie’s commitment to train with me, check in with me on my nutrition, and even on my mindset was the one consistent thing that in turn kept me consistent.

A recurring statement/question that I would pose to her was: “Aren’t you tired of watching me fail? It’s already been two years”, but she stayed firm to her promise.


“I don’t want you to only be known as the ‘Oly Queen’”, she would tell me.

And I wanted to believe in that too.

For Christmas I received a dubious velvet bag filled with black and yellow tapes that would be very useful in our gymnastics practice.


Invictus Gymnastics in Bali

I think she developed a new love for gymnastics in this journey together with me. As we were training, she'd constantly look out for more guidance, be it from other coaches or from Instagram or YouTube videos.


Then one day, she suggested a trip to Bali to learn from Travis Ewart of Invictus Gymnastics. I had only watched a couple of videos at the time, but trusted that this was a good programme. To be honest, I was tired of training the strict ring muscle up by that time, and could do with a change.

Travis was like the rogue gymnast who decided that naysayers who would say CrossFit gymnastics isn’t real gymnastics can go and get over themselves. He made gymnastics FUN. And completely changed what I thought gymnastics should be.


Yes, building strength was important, but so was just learning to enjoy ourselves in learning a variety of skills. We started on the gymnastics programme that he would put out each week, focusing on certain skills and mixing up the levels. The programme is very easy to follow, with an adequate rep scheme prescription and very comprehensive explanation videos too. (10/10 recommend! #notasponsoredpost )


That was our last trip overseas before the lockdown in Singapore. The programme would keep us going for the next two years.





My first Ring Muscle-Up

I was getting better at my bar muscle-ups, being able to string a few in a row, albeit with a “chicken wing” (i.e. getting one arm up before the other).

Yet I could never get my damn body around the rings.


No amount of ring transition drills, or ring pull-ups, or dips, could get me there. It was terribly frustrating, and more and more female athletes were unlocking their ring muscle-ups.


I was also getting busier with work, and training had to become secondary. Ring muscle-up work had dropped to once a week, with some accessory work in between. I often wondered if this was a convenient excuse to not train as hard.

Then came the lunch class on 24 January which I hopped into with spare time on my hands. The class was made out of 2 parts, a skill portion for ring muscle-ups and a workout which involved and EMOM of lunges, toes to bar, and double unders.

I started off with Option B: the option where you’d be close to a ring muscle-up but not quite there yet.

Clifford coached the class. While I was doing my swings he remarked, “Oh you were swinging so well I was waiting for a turnover.”

Fat chance. I thought to myself.

But I thought, why not try it anyway? So what if I fail?

So at my turn, I’d do a cast swing, and attempt a hip pop to a turnover. I failed.

I tried again. Pseudo false grip, big arch, toes, hip pop, pull… and fall.

“You need to create more space between yourself and the rings,” Clifford advised, drawing a circular motion with his hands to show the rings around his armpits.


CK, who was observing the class with Brian, our trainee, made a sign that he wanted to say something, so I looked at him for advice. I remembered in the Open 20.5 workout Kylie had told me to listen to CK when it came to kipping ring muscle-up work. He was the Headcoach after all. “Needs more snap pull,” he says.

I had a gut feeling that this attempt needed a video. But I was too afraid to set the camera up, lest I fail with performance anxiety.

I gripped onto the rings in the pseudo-false grip. Jumped off the two boxes on each side in a cast swing.

Toes. Hips. Snap pull.

And I found that I had stopped.


The air felt still, and for a second I could hear nothing.

I had caught myself at the top of the rings and also caught myself by surprise.

I ended the muscle-up with a kipping ring dip.

There were many cheers and I was beaming. It felt unreal.


Play it cool Cass. Ha. But I couldn’t.

I set my camera up for a second attempt. Maybe the last one was a fluke.

And so I did it again.



I did it again for a third, fourth, and fifth time after that.


And they all lived happily ever after. The end.


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P.S.

If you are chasing a goal, and you're finding it hard to get there, I hope you meet the right people along the way who will get you where you need to be. Thank you Kylie, for believing in me more than I did myself. Sometimes I’d wonder if you said certain things to keep me from being discouraged. Like “I didn’t have to spot you so much this time!” But hey, it worked.

The empowered woman is powerful beyond measure and beautiful beyond description.

- Dr. Steve Maraboli


The good news is that the journey doesn’t stop here.


In this post you have seen links to other posts, references to holidays and experiences you might have read of before, simply because the journey was really THAT long. But I want you to know that this is merely my story. Yours might take on a different path. You may get it in three tries, or even tens of thousands, but the point is to never stop trying. Keep on chipping away. ❤️

There’s always something to work on, something to get better at. Getting that one muscle-up is just the beginning.


Love,

Cass

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