Notes from the Train by Alice Hamlet | September 25, 2018
An interview with Performing Arts School Flute & Music Theory Faculty and Student Services Manager, Kristen Wuest about (gasp!) CrossFit and Performance
How long have you been teaching at Wharton Arts?
I started teaching at Wharton when it was the Suburban Community Music School in September 2007. I had just graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University with my undergraduate degree and was starting to pursue my masters at the same time. Funny story: I was so nervous my first day that when I was leaving I placed my flute on the roof of my car and drove away. It ended up in the middle of Central Ave in New Providence.
When did you start participating in CrossFit?
I started CrossFit in January 2017 at CrossFit KOA in Cranford. I started with a class called “Foundations” where you learn the basic movements of weightlifting and CrossFit in general and how to perform them safely. I walked into a 7 AM class, terrified, and a little voice in my head said, “I can’t do this. It’s way too intense for me.” I almost walked out. Thankfully I didn’t because I ended up meeting a community of the most supportive people and found a sport that I am forever thankful for. On February 1, 2017, I took my first actual class with a “WOD” (Workout of the Day) and was hooked from there.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a sport made up of constantly varied functional movements performed at very high intensity. It includes aspects of weightlifting (Olympic and power lifting), gymnastics, running, rowing, and more. In a 60-minute class you might work on pull-ups, rowing, and back squatting all in one class.
How were you introduced to CrossFit?
I have been really into fitness in general for about 7 years. I started with Zumba, moved on to SoulCycle, and then found CrossFit. I was never good at solo training. I need a class environment with an instructor/coach leading me and telling me what to do.
I actually attribute finding CrossFit to my husband Jeremy, who had been trying to convince me to try it for a long time. I kept making excuses like, “I don’t want to be flipping tires in a parking lot” or “I don’t want to get bulky or muscular.” Because that’s what I thought CrossFit was. I thought you had to already be really strong to participate and it was only for super-athletic types. This is actually a common misconception that many people have. Just like music is for everyone ages 0-99 and it’s never too late to start, the same goes for CrossFit.
You mentioned competing this summer. Tell us about that.
This year I decided it was time to try something new and out of my comfort zone. I came across a competition at CrossFit KLEW. This intrigued me because it was a partner competition and I figured if I was going to do something like this, having a partner would make it easier. I convinced the beautiful and strong Denise from my home box to do the Women’s Scaled division with me. Scaled meaning the movements and amount of weight are “scaled down” to something more manageable than the RX (prescribed) movements and weights. A few months before the competition, they released the workouts. There were three 10-minute super-intense workouts and two shorter workouts. I practiced and prepared the best I could with the help of fellow CrossFit KOA members, coaches, and of course my partner! I went into it wanting to do my best and have fun—and not come in last place! I achieved all of those goals in addition to finding out that I was stronger than I thought!
How does CrossFit relate to music and performing?
This may be my favorite part about CrossFit. CrossFit relates to music and performing in SO MANY ways! Physically, it has helped me become stronger and increased my endurance. My coaches discovered that I have pretty terrible posture which for a musician is a recipe for disaster. My coaches have been helping me correct my posture and I am now more aware of how I am sitting, standing, and walking. As a flutist air and breath control is paramount. I always thought that I had decent air support and breath control, yet I have noticed my breath capacity and endurance has increased substantially in the last 18 months.
I treated the competition as I would a musical performance. I prepped and practiced for months. I was a nervous wreck the week before the actual competition, but I harnessed those nerves as if I had a flute performance coming up. I took the jitters and did my best to turn them into excitement and determination. When I perform on my flute, I am emotional and nervous until I walk onto the stage. Once I step onto the stage and play my first note, all the fear and nervousness washes away and I am in the moment of performance loving every second. The same thing happened at the competition. I had a stomach full of butterflies until I stepped onto the competition floor and the clock beeped for the first workout. Once the clock beeped and I started moving, I was in the moment and pushed myself through every single workout for the entire 5 hours of the competition.
(Five hours of competition?!? Sips coffee on train…)
As a musician, performance is a big part of my life. The rush of being on stage and sharing your gift with others is something I am thankful for every day. Now I have another activity that I love doing that gives me that same sense of personal fulfillment and joy. It also solidifies the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to “master” something. The amount of work and dedication that goes into learning an instrument is the same as learning a sport. I am constantly refining my movements and skills in CrossFit and I learn something new in every class.
How do you stay motivated?
I am constantly looking for ways to improve my skills when it comes to fitness. I do this by trying to stay motivated and I always have an event in the near future that will keep me training. I started with my first 5k in the Summer of 2017 and have done 2 more 5ks, a 10k, and the CrossFit competition since then. I have another 5k coming up in a few weeks and plan on signing up for some sort of fitness event every few months to keep up my training, whether it’s a running event or another competition! The community at CrossFit KOA, members and coaches alike, are also incredible. We are an extremely close family that support each other and hold each other accountable. I go to the 7 AM class Monday-Friday because it’s so much fun. Going to class is part of my daily routine and I feel out of sorts if I do not go. It starts my day off on the right foot, I am more awake during the day, and I feel better mentally and physically. It’s easy to stay motivated when you find something you love!
Have you seen a progression in your training?
When I started CrossFit, my coaches recommended I get a notebook to track my progress and workouts. Every so often, I look back to last year and realize how much I have grown as an athlete. I can lift more, run harder and faster, I can climb a rope and do a handstand hold. I hit new PRs (Personal Records) every week. When I started CrossFit, I couldn’t run a mile without stopping. In May 2018, I ran my first 10k (6.2 miles) in 1:06:00. My goal was 1:00:00 even. There’s always next year! Recently, I was slightly discouraged in class. I tend to be very hard on myself. Hey, I’m a musician—aren’t we all hard on ourselves? One of my coaches then said to me, “When you started I didn’t even want to put a barbell in your hands. Now look at you and how far you’ve come!”
What are your long-term goals?
After the New Year, our coaches asked what our goals were. I had a couple:
- Not let my mind give up before my body. PUSH HARDER!
- Achieve my first strict pull-up.
Anything else you would like to add?
Don’t be afraid to try something new. Whether it’s music-related or anything else, trying new and “scary” things are what add excitement to life. And who knows—you may end up loving whatever you try. Stay active! As musicians, we need to be physically fit and strong. Playing an instrument is incredibly physically demanding. We are athletes in a way, so taking care of our bodies is extremely important.
Takeaways from the Train:
1. CrossFit competitions are looooong.
2. Stepping out of your comfort zone can simultaneously be the scariest and most rewarding of pursuits.
3. Preparation makes all the difference—for any type of performance.
4. Proactively seeking out competitions and events promotes consistent growth.
4. Tracking your progress—whether you’re participating in CrossFit or taking piano lessons—keeps you moving forward while measuring how far you’ve come.
When not commuting, Alice Hamlet is the Director of Marketing at the Wharton Institute for the Performing Arts and is also on the faculty of the Performing Arts School, teaching cello and music theory.