INTERVIEW WITH VANESSA PAOLANTONIO: PUSHING THROUGH THE LIMITS

No pain, no gain: Practicing a progression for planché pose

No pain, no gain: Vanessa practicing a progression for planché pose

When we surveyed some of our running club friends for their New Year’s resolutions this month, Vanessa Paolantonio, a designer at Tor Books in NYC, impressed us with her very specific and unusual goals: “Improve my overhead squat and technique on Olympic lifts like the snatch (yes, that’s what it’s called) and power clean. I’m also practicing a bunch of gymnastic movements like planché pose and handstand walks. I started taking a break dancing class too (haha) so I’d like to get relatively fluent in that skill.” 

We wanted to hear more about all this and caught up with Vanessa this week.

Vanessa, it sounds like you really try to mix it up when it comes to working out. In a nutshell, I’m always trying to push my physical limits and skills to the next level. About ten years ago, I got really into weightlifting and did that for a few years with great results in strength and body composition. When I felt that I was plateauing from mostly single-joint strength training, I tried out CrossFit in 2012. Shortly after joining, I become hooked—or a “cult” member, as the rest of the fitness community likes to endearingly refer to us as.

So CrossFit has a bad rep with the fitness crowd? What’s the story? The story has always been accusations that either 1) CrossFit promotes injuries because of the high volume (number of repetitions), high intensity (amount of resistance), and speed at which lifts are performed, or 2) people can’t get results in strength from compound movements alone. I try not to be too much of an evangelist (I think people should do whatever keeps them motivated and moving) but my response to that is there’s the risk of injury with any fitness program or training method and CrossFit is one of the few that actually teaches proper biomechanics and functional movement patterns. New members aren’t allowed to join regular classes until they go through a series of foundational classes that teach basic functional movements (like squats, deadlifts, and push-ups) as well as the more complex Olympic lifts. As for strength gains, I’ve never been stronger or had more endurance in my life.

There’s more to it than just weight-lifting, right? CrossFit mixes high intensity interval training, gymnastics, and Olympic weightlifting, hence why a few of the movements I’m working on are “Oly” lifts like the snatch and power clean. I’ve found that although I like the challenge of the complex barbell lifts, I really enjoy and excel at the gymnastic movements like handstand push-ups and muscle-ups. Since then I’ve made it my mission to expand upon these skills by working on planché, inversions on the rings, and handstands. They require an enormous amount of strength, control, and stability in your core, hips, and shoulders—I love the challenge. I follow fitness instructors on social media like Darrell Michnowicz, Austin Raye, and Carmel Rodriguez (to name a few) who inspire me with the insane things they can do with their bodies.

Amen! . . . Um, what is planché, exactly? Planché is a plank hold using just your hands, no feet.

70 Vanessa smile “Do whatever keeps you motivated and moving.”

How many pull-ups can you do? Daddio can do, like, a half of one. LOL I like how you broke that down into fractions. On an average day, I’m somewhere in the 12 to 13 range. The most I’ve ever done is 15, which won a pull-up contest at a Spartan Race.

So you’re a runner, too? Well, I’m also into OCRs (obstacle course races like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race), which I think of as “adult field day” except instead of receiving a ribbon when you cross the finish line, you get a beer (#winning).

What is a normal week’s workout schedule for you? I do CrossFit five to six times a week in the evenings and break dancing class every Monday night as well. Throughout the year (and especially winter), various CrossFit affiliates host local competitions. I like to sprinkle my weekends with those to keep things interesting and meet new people. In the spring and summer I get back into OCRs.

We’re glad you mentioned the break dancing. There is a group that always meets up on summer evenings at the McCarren Park track in North Brooklyn. They unroll a big piece of beat-up linoleum and take turns doing it for hours. It’s a great spot to hang out with your kids and watch the amazing routines. The inspiration to start break dancing came from Carl Paoli (author of Free+Style: Maximize Sport and Life Performance with Four Basic Movements), a Spanish gymnast, coach, and B-boy. I just started taking classes and love the floor movements because it’s very much a mixture of strength and gymnastics. Top rocking (dancing while standing upright) is also a blast to learn.