Work up to a heavy single for the day.
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5 RNFT or 20 Minutes:
5ea Split Squats (add weight with dumbbells as appropriate)
5 Ring or Bar Ice Cream Makers
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Underneath the Hoodie: Whitney Hubbard
Weight: 135 lbs
DOB: June 2, 1986
Born and raised: Born in Mississauga, Ontario, raised in Lake Forest, Illinois
Place of higher learning: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
By Kate Reece
Whitney Marie Hubbard has always needed to be moving. Not through states, though she has done that, but with her body. Over the years, that’s looked like dancing ballet at Miss Jenny’s studio in the suburbs of Chicago; flowing through sun salutations and breathing deeply in her decade-long yoga practice; rolling around on the floor during modern dance class warm-ups in college; and learning to gracefully heave a barbell over her head at CrossFit South Brooklyn, back in the days of the high-ceilinged, bare-bone concrete of The Lyceum. Whitney’s language is movement, and despite her bones literally being stacked against her, she speaks beautifully.*
Whitney was born on June 2, 1986 in Mississauga, a large city on Lake Ontario, next to Toronto. She spent the first five years of her life there before her father’s job as a financial executive moved them to Lake Forest, a small suburban city on the North Shore of Chicago, abundantly dotted with ponds and creeks and green grass. After a trip to Canada, she remembers coming home to Lake Forest and on one of those old-school radios built into the wall of her family’s new kitchen, Neil Diamond’s 1980 hit “Coming to America” was playing.
She began dancing when she was three, which mostly looked like romping around a room and tossing her hands theatrically in the air. When she found a song she liked (think Minnie Mouse cassette tapes), she would rewind the song repeatedly and choreograph routines to it. Her strongest memories of this are in her maternal grandmother Nana’s house. A wooded backyard extended far behind the house, which they called the Uppy Uppy Yongo because when you yelled that out, it would echo. After she choreographed the perfect dance, Whitney would assemble her family around to watch her perform. Not a naturally extroverted or outgoing kid by any means, this was where she shined—dancing was where she came alive. She took up ballet and jazz, then also gymnastics, until her mother, Roxanne, made her choose around the age of nine. “You’re good at both of these things, but what if you put your energy into one thing?” she asked, already noticing that her daughter’s young body was being put through a lot. And it wasn’t just the physical activity in-and-of-itself that was taxing.
As the story goes, when Whitney was a baby, she had three fat rolls on one leg and two fats rolls on the other. That’s how her mom first noticed. After a battery of tests and tracking her growth, Whitney was diagnosed with hemihypertrophy, a condition in which one side of the body grows larger than the other, to an extent considered greater than normal. Most of us are at least slightly uneven, but you could really notice the discrepancy between Whitney’s leg lengths. Her right side was clearly growing longer and larger than the other. After coming to America, Whitney traveled back to Toronto every six months to see her doctors, at a hospital unhelpfully named SickKids. By the time she was an adolescent, doctors predicted the final difference would end up around four to five centimeters, and to prevent that, they recommended surgery. Whitney’s parents agreed. The summer she turned 11, after a family trip to Australia, a surgeon made four incisions on her right leg and scraped the growth plates of her tibia and femur, telling the bones to stop growing. It worked—but then she had an unexpected growth spurt, and her left leg outgrew the right. Almost 30 now, Whitney’s right arm is slightly longer than the left, her left leg is about three-and-a-half centimeters longer than the right, and she has more muscle definition overall on her right side. “It makes things real interesting,” she says with a wry smile.
But if you know Whitney at all, you know she is rather competitive, and not one to make excuses, even when those excuses would be entirely justified. The girl wanted to dance and dance she did. “You grow up as a dancer, you grow up in a mirror,” she says, and for better or worse, she imbibed the subtle and not-so-subtle messages that perfection was the only option. Three to four hours a day, five days a week, she looked in a mirror and modeled her physical form after someone else—her teacher or the best student in class—and constantly worked to make her version match their version. In CrossFit or yoga, there are ways to mold or modify the movements to your body’s specific geometry but in studio dance, even if your right hip isn’t naturally as high as your left, it doesn’t matter. You get your leg up. You figure it out. And you don’t let anyone see you sweat.
Of course, Whitney did figure it out. She became one of the best dancers in the studio, figuring out how to pirouette or balançoire such that no one would notice she had a stronger side. Within a year of her surgery, she was dancing with the 16-year-olds and began performing in national competitions. She first experienced the nervous pees at one such competition, wearing a tiny crushed-velvet maroon dress, before going onstage to perform a dance called “Cherish,” set to a sultry Sade song. Being exposed to an older peer group roused Whitney’s desire for greater independence and she admits that she developed an attitude and experimented with being a bit stuck-up. She began assisting dance classes, demoing movement for younger girls and giving small movement corrections. By the time she was 16, she was spending her summers teaching and choreographing.
It was around this time that Miss Jenny, the owner of the dance studio Whitney grew up in and her beloved teacher, pulled Whitney into her office and said something along the lines of, “You’ve always had a great attitude, but lately that’s been changing. I know this isn’t who you are, and you can’t keep acting this way.” Whitney broke down in tears and apologized. It was complicated feedback for her to receive. While she changed her behavior in ways she sees as positive, yet again there was that insidious message: “Be perfect, little girl. Don’t mess up.”
Her teenage schedule looked like this: Wake up at 6 a.m., go to school, musical practice (yes, musical practice) from 4-6 p.m., slamming a roasted chicken breast Subway sandwich, dance from 6:30-9:30 p.m. at the studio, go home and do homework until 2 a.m. As you might expect, Whitney was a quiet, diligent student, and got straight A’s. She floated around on the fringes of friend groups and didn’t party. She has a somewhat photographic memory and liked school to what she says was probably “an annoying degree.” Also, that competitive side again: from a young age, she not-so-secretly tracked her hockey-playing smart older brother’s GPA, and constantly checked whether she was beating him (they were both eighth-grade valedictorians).
Whitney knew she would study dance after high school. What else would I do? she thought. This is what I’m doing, this is what I love. Despite getting a full-ride to the University of Arizona’s prestigious dance program, she picked the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whose dance program was smaller and had a heavier emphasis on modern dance. She joined a sorority and lived in the house, which on a 4,552-acre campus, was fortunately only a short walk to the dance department. Convenient, given her penchant for waking up at the absolute last minute. Also convenient given that in college, along with learning how to dance in a new style, she learned how to party. (Additionally, she learned things in college that led her to surrender chicken breast sandwiches and become a pescetarian, which we’ve talked to her about here and here.)
Whitney now says that her BFA in dance taught her how to be uncomfortable, how to be creative and express herself, and how to work with people—things that are different than sitting in a statistics class day after day—and that aligned with the kind of person she wanted to be in the world. She also found yoga her junior year when she took an 8am class three days a week as part of the dance program. She loved the disciplined process of repeating the same movements over and over. Her daily hours of dancing had birthed knee problems, bad plantar fasciitis, and arthritis in her big toe, and yoga helped temper those injuries.
After graduating from college in 2008, Whitney moved to New York. Why New York? She was scared of the city and figured that meant she should go there. Her boyfriend, who was living in California at the time, joined her and they found an apartment the South Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. When the boyfriend moved out a couple years later, Whitney walked over to her landlord and his wife’s apartment and asked them to lower the rent so she could still afford it. They said yes, and she told them she’d probably be here forever. She just signed her lease for her eighth year.
Also in 2008, the yoga-inspired athletic apparel company Lululemon only had one store in the entire city, on the Upper West Side. They were about to open three more stores and Whitney got hired to work at the SoHo location. A big component of her job was to take an unlimited amount of classes throughout the city, in which she would wear the clothes, talk about the clothes, and give instructors or the person on the next yoga mat over the clothes. She took all the dance and yoga classes she wanted for free, and in her free time, went to dance auditions. She got certified as a yoga instructor in 2010.
Lululemon soon hired her to open a mini showroom in Brooklyn, and with her team, she began exploring the community—which would lead her to CrossFit South Brooklyn. “I found this weird thing called CrossFit,” one of her colleagues said. “We should go check it out.” It was late 2009, and Whitney emailed David and told her they were interested. David wrote back and offered to set up a teaser class. Whitney forgot to write back, and a few weeks later, she got an email that said, “I saaaaaaiiiiiiiddddddd, let’s set up a free teaser class. Thanks, David.” When they walked into the The Lyceum for the class, a 24-year-old David—donning a thick beard and flannel button-up—was sitting with his feet up on a desk. “We were all simultaneously like, ‘Who is this cute guy?’ and also, ‘Is he for real?’” Whitney says, laughing. She was taking at least one or two dance or yoga classes each day and though she’d never set foot in a gym, she certainly didn’t think she was out of shape. It only took a few CrossFit classes for her to realize that there might be more to fitness than she’d realized. After a longer conditioning workout, she even asked David if it was possible for her heart to explode. “No,” he said. “Take a break, but you’re fine.”
When Whitney was fired from Lululemon in December of 2012, she’d begun attending CFSBK classes more regularly. CrossFit had unexpectedly become important to her. She loved the absence of mirrors, and along with picking up the movements relatively easily, something clicked and she learned, yet again, how to be uncomfortable.
Losing her job would give her a new opportunity to practice that skill. “It was a shock, but a necessary push off a cliff,” Whitney says now, and she began to shed the parts of her identify that were tied up in her job. At CFSBK, David approached her and asked her to staff the new Front Desk, which replaced the old envelope that used to sit on a table at the entryway. Whitney accepted, and also began teaching a few regular yoga classes.
At a certain point, she began realizing a couple things: One, that CrossFit South Brooklyn was really a special place, and two, that she couldn’t help but see things. She’d be foam-rolling on the mat before class and see a person from preceding class doing a lift, and she’d wonder to herself, What would I say to them to make that lift better? What cue would I give them? Occasionally she’d share her thoughts with her bar partners, but she mostly kept her mouth shut, and trained hard.
Toward the end of 2013, apropos of nothing but her own initiative, Whitney got her Level 1 certification. She casually mentioned it to David, though she was committed to becoming a CrossFit coach regardless of whether he would hire her—which he did, in January of 2014. It was around that time that a few other big things happened. She picked up more consistent work as a yoga instructor. She adopted her dog, Penny, who watches over the meat CSA pick-ups and is almost as big a part of the community as Whitney (and certainly oft-photographed). And she started to realize that her skills had changed in the gym. She knew how to push.
“What’s so wonderful about CrossFit is that you can only work against your own edge,” she says. “You could try to work against someone else’s edge, but you’ll end up hurting yourself or underserving yourself. The best thing you can do is work against your own edge consistently, while also having the perspective of other people. It’s important to see, for me especially, other women in the gym whose strength you admire—and to say, ‘Damn, okay… let’s go.’” 2015 was the first year she didn’t dance, but everything is a compromise of some kind, she says. Training and coaching CrossFit happen to be what she loves the most.
*She’s had her fair share of wipeouts, of course. Ask her about a tuna fish sandwich and red grapes in grade school, or about her recently deceased toenail.
How she likes her eggs: Either scrambled or over-medium. Three eggs a day!
Favorite book: Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections
Favorite lift: Snatch
Something she’d like CFSBK members to know: She really, really likes coaching, and when you tell her that something she said or did made a difference for you, it makes her heart swell with joy and contentment.
Yesterday’s Whiteboard: Sumo Deadlift | Kettlebell Swings, Box Jumps
The Accidental Powerlifting World Record Holder The New Yorker