March 27, 2013
A Year of Double-Unders
By Brittney Saline

"I couldn't even turn my hands in rhythm at the same time. I looked like a fish out of water with my hands flopping around. It was hideous."

Photo Credit: Erin O'Donnell

Last year, Steven Shields was undone by a jump rope. He finished Karen in nine minutes, leaving plenty of time for 90 double-unders and some muscle-ups, but he got stuck at the rope. After the remaining three minutes passed, he only had seven double-unders recorded.

“My world was crushed, turned upside down and I was changed forever,” he says.
 
And that’s not much of an exaggeration. Since 12.4, the 27-year-old Marine has become obsessed with double-unders. By his estimate, he has spent at least 400 hours with his jump rope.
 
“I didn’t ever want to be back in that position of failure and defeat,” he says. “Every single day since that day, I’ve had a jump rope in my hand.”
 
One year ago, he got more welts than reps.
 
“I couldn’t even turn my hands in rhythm at the same time,” he says. “I looked like a fish out of water with my hands flopping around. It was hideous.”
 
He got a speed rope and subscription to the CrossFit Journal, and committed every lunch break, evening and weekend to double-under study. He watched videos of Chris Spealler, and even filmed himself and critiqued his movement. Eventually, he cut a jump rope down to its handles so that he could practice wrist speed and rhythm.
 
When the gains didn’t come as fast as he’d anticipated, he got frustrated.
 
“Mentally, it devastated me,” he says. “I was getting better and better at everything else, and whenever a workout would come up with double-unders in it, I would instantly fail.”
 
Since the independent study wasn’t working, he decided to get seriously schooled. He signed up for the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar and Coach’s Prep Course.
 
At the Level 1, Doug Chapman told him to slow down and start with the basics: even-paced singles.
 
“I was like a wild cat swinging the rope as fast I can,” Shields says.
 
At the Coach’s Prep Course, he met his double-under idol, Chris Spealler.
 
“I pulled Chris aside and the first thing I said was, ‘You don’t know how many times I’ve cursed your name,’” he says. “‘Every day, I watch your videos and you make it look so easy.’”
 
Spealler’s tips were to slow down, keep your arms in and focus on flicking the wrists rather than speeding up your jump.
 
When he wasn’t obsessing over double-unders, Shields was deep into the process of affiliating and opening his own box. Just one month before the 2013 Open began, Root 18 CrossFit opened its doors.
 
For the last month-and-a-half, he has been spreading the gospel of functional fitness, and even taught his members how to double-under.
 
“I could take brand new members and show them everything I had learned, and within a week they were doing double-unders,” he says. “But I still couldn’t do them.”
 
Nervous, he started practicing double-unders for an hour per day, every day, for the month leading up to the Open. The effort nearly ruined him.
 
“I’ve thrown the rope across the gym, thrown it in the trash can and thrown it outside and left, saying, ‘I’m done and I quit.’ But the next day, I’d wake up and I knew I had to keep on doing it,” he says.
 
“The whole point of the Open for me was that it was a benchmark of what I had done this year. I knew I wasn’t going to be a Regional athlete, but everything I had worked on and was passionate about was based on these five weeks, and if one of those weeks, I couldn’t do (the workout), it would show that I’m not a well-rounded athlete. CrossFit failure is what it would mean to me.”
 
By the time 13.3 was announced, he felt ready.
 
After the 150 wall balls, he picked up his rope and jumped. He tripped. He tried a second time and he failed again.
 
“I started to freak out,” he says. “So, I set down the rope and took a couple breaths. I remembered what Chris said: ‘start slow.’ I closed my eyes, did four or five singles to get my rhythm, and went for it.”
 
By the time he opened his eyes again, he’d done 57 reps, unbroken.
 
One year and 400 hours of double-under practice later, Shields made it through Karen, all 90 double-unders and one muscle-up within the 12-minute time cap.
 
A year from now, Shields plans on doing 13.3 again, and this time, he’s targeting the muscle-ups.
 
“I’m proud of everything that’s happened, but it’s not satisfactory,” he says. “Next year, I’m crushing it.”

And now, to close out a year of double-unders, we have a poem.
 
12 months of defeat.
I stared you in the eye
As you shined upon my weakness
150 wall balls brings men to cry.
 
With minutes to spare
I was lost in a sea of ropes
This Marine Corp Devil pup
Had not a double or muscle-up.
 
Discouraged and embezzled
Feeling proud was a struggle
Infuriating days and devastating lengths
What once was my weakness
Is now known as my strength.
 
Destiny has steered us back to this alley
Standing by in condition one
These CrossFit guns are locked and loaded
12 minutes of hell, this fight is done
But after 12 months of defeat
This year, it will be me, who won!
                                 -Steven Shields

 

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