Dead-lifting Opera Singer Grows Confidence Through CrossFit

Amanda Reninger: Through CrossFit I was able to find another part of me.
Amanda Reninger and I have sweat gallons together at the Arsenal in downtown Muncie.  We’ve seen each other fall and witnessed each others “Oh crap this is a lot of weight” faces. We’ve failed and we’ve high-fived, yet there is so much I didn’t know about Amanda.

For instance, she’s an opera singer. A dead-lifting, back-squatting, Opera singer.

Many of the relationships built at the Arsenal are built backwards. Usually conversation leads to shared experiences leading to connections and friendships. But at the Arsenal, shared experience (and sometimes suffering) comes first. There is not a lot of time to get to know someone’s life outside the box. People work out with, say, Matt Carder for the better part of a year and not know he’s a pastor.

So, to help us all get to know each other a bit better, I’m sitting down with members to learn about their journeys inside and outside the gym.

I’ve been envious of Amanda’s squat for awhile now. She can just sit down there at the bottom and hang out. Place her next to a lake with a fishing pole and she could probably fish for a few hours before standing up. Of course, she’s vegan, so she could only catch Swedish fish.  My point is that inside the box Amanda is pretty awesome, and it was great sitting down with her to discuss life outside the box and how CrossFit has impacted her.

Our Opera Singer Can Squat More Than Your Opera Singer

As a boy I remember arguing with other kids about whose dad was the strongest. I see this same thing happen at the Arsenal. It goes like this:

I bet our (insert job of Arsenal member) can (insert type of lift) more than your (insert job of Arsenal member).  

We claim to have Muncie’s strongest vets, professors, pianists, pediatric dentists, among other things. I’m not sure how many of these claims would hold up to scrutiny, but I’m pretty sure “I bet our opera singer, Amanda, can deadlift more than your opera singer!” would.

Amanda moved to Muncie with her husband, Kyle, to study opera at Ball State. She graduated with her masters and artist’s diploma in May of 2013.  She spent that summer singing in Italy and then began the costly and time consuming audition process.

“I have a big voice,” Amanda said. “I’ve been told I won’t peak until I’m in my mid-30s. I was told I wasn’t ‘ready’ a lot. That’s a physical thing.  Bigger voices take longer to develop.”

“We talked about going to Chicago where there are more opportunities. We’ve grown to love Muncie. We have church friends and a good community. It’s a quirky town. That’s what we love about it.  Muncie is what you make it. There is community here; you just have to look for it.”

Music still plays an important role in her life. She sings at the local Jewish Temple on Fridays at 7 PM, and teaches voice lessons.

The Opera people were telling her that she was as good as she could be at this time and that wasn’t good enough, yet. So she found herself with more time to focus on something else.

She never thought that something else would be CrossFit.

“Through CrossFit, I was able to find another part of me.”

And then everything changed

Amanda never considered herself an athlete, and she didn’t want to like CrossFit. In fact, she actively disliked it. CrossFit was that thing that her friends (Brit and Michelle Husman) were doing so they couldn’t hang out.

Kyle, who works at Redhead Salon (owned and operated by Arsenal members Brooke and Brian Shrieve), talked Amanda into trying it.

“Before that first WOD [lunges and squats], I hadn’t done anything physical since high school. I couldn’t walk for a week. Now that’s like a warm up. When we got home Kyle said, ‘I think we should do this.’”

“I was like, ‘What?!’”

“But the fact he connected to it, I was like, ‘We’re doing this!’”

“Initially you lose quite a bit of fat, but not necessarily weight because you are gaining muscle. But I’ve dropped 2 or 3 dress sizes, which is great . . . The idea of being thin was always overwhelming to me. It was an unattainable goal. But the idea of being strong is something I can connect with.  [The Arsenal] is a place where that is encouraged.”

“My confidence is much higher. I feel myself walking taller. I’m respecting myself more.”

“I feel much better. With the energy I get. I’m able to do much more. I’m tired after the workout, but the energy that it brings you through the rest of the day is really what keeps me going.”

“I’m totally happy with where I am and I’m content with my progress.  I’m proud of myself. I’m always pushing for more.”

“The coaches are wonderful. Most of them have been in good physical shape most of their lives. But as someone who never considered herself an athlete  . . I’m amazing! You don’t understand. This wasn’t on my radar for my life as something that would be important to me or something I could even do.”

Crossfit completely strips you of what you thought you were.  Vulnerability is hard for anyone, you have to practice it. So opening yourself up to not being good at something is a huge lesson in vulnerability and humility.”

Sea Salt & Cinnamon

Holding a barbell above your head for the first time can be scary at first, but not quite as scary as starting a business. In May of 2014, Amanda launched a Kickstarter campaign to get her vegan baking business off the ground.

“Having the confidence to push through the initial fear was part of starting my business.  And that’s a huge part of what we do in CrossFit.  I’ve worked to push through the fear. I’ll have workouts where I underestimate myself  and I’ll be like, ‘Oh I finished the whole thing!’”

“I can absolutely contribute this confidence and ability to face fear to CrossFit.”

The Arsenal community also played a key role in the launch of her business. Heck, Annie, my wife, and I helped fund the project. It was a no-brainer–help a friend out and get cupcakes. Score!

We weren’t alone. Even Arsenal members who Amanda barely knew chipped in.  She also got business advice from members Brooke and Brian Shrieve. Teresa Calvert, owner of  Westview Animal Clinic, took her to a business networking event, stood up and asked her group to support Amanda.

“I love the community. I love watching everyone get better. Even though we all started from different places we’re all on the same journey.  Men and women trying to make themselves better. So wherever you start doesn’t matter. People cheer with you even if you are last.  I love the fact that I get to workout with people who are better than me. It pushes me to get better. It shows me where I’m headed and I love celebrating those wins with them as well.”

Sea Salt & Cinnamon is more than a business, it’s Amanda’s mission to educate people on being more conscious consumers and that vegan and gluten-free baked goods can be delicious.

“I want to start a conversation about the way people eat. Most of the time we aren’t thinking about what we’re putting in our bodies. Not only how it affects our health, but our families and our communities. I think the best way to do that is hand them a cupcake.”

You are a Superhero

Amanda gets up at 4 AM, bakes cupcakes and other goodies and is at the gym ready to throw weights around at 8 AM.  Eighteen months ago she never thought this would be her life. It’s been amazing to watch her journey. I realized that she was getting stronger inside the box, but had no idea how much she was growing outside of the box.

Most people come into CrossFit stronger than they think they are. I want people who never considered themselves athletes, people who consider themselves overweight, to know that CrossFit works.  For whatever reason, it pulls you in. Maybe it’s the combination of the way things are structured, the community, the value that it truly has. It’s hard at first, but those are the things that are worth doing.”

“You don’t have to be a superhero [to CrossFit], but everybody is a little bit of a superhero because we do amazing things every day.

And after you do amazing things at the Arsenal, it’s only three blocks to the Caffeinery where you can reward yourself with a vegan, gluten-free cupcake.

  • Great story, Amanda! I think we can all find that moment of truth when we said, “CrossFit is going to work.”

  • Lorri Agullana Markum

    Fantastic story! I see a lot of myself in Amada’s words for sure … not the Opera singer part (though, I am quite amazing singing while bathing) … but, the personal strength that builds by way of confidence in self. Crossfit somehow, magically, has a way of breaking down walls within oneself that may have been viturally unknown until you break through one. Excellent work, Amanda … I hope your journey to come is as great for your and the one you’ve already traveled.

  • Brian Anderson

    Great article. I’m very curious to ask Amanda if she has had any issues with crossfit affecting her voice. all the “experts” say singers should not do heavy weight lifting and I am worried this is affecting my voice. Does she have any advice?

    • Amanda Reninger

      Hey Brian!

      I’m Amanda! The short answer is yes, it can definitely impact your singing, so, you do need to be conscious of straining and tension. However, the core strength, and general strength for that matter, that I have gained from crossfit has been a huge help for my singing. I often apply singing techniques, like breathing, while lifting. It’s funny how well the two can go together! The two biggest things are stretching stretching stretching after your workouts. This will help keep your muscles loose so that you aren’t tight when you sing. The second is do not strain or grunt while lifting. This puts way too much pressure on the vocal folds. Much like breathing while singing, you want to be able to quickly release your muscles into a relaxed position after a lift and then quickly engage them before a new lift. The faster you can do this, the more efficient you are in both crossfit and singing. I also try to make sure I don’t do any heavy lifting of really intense workouts on the days that I have a performance. ROMWOD, it’s like yoga for crossfitters, has been a great resource for stretching! If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at A.E.Reninger@gmail.com! Thanks!

      • Brian Anderson

        Thanks so much Amanda! Are there any special breathing tips you use when doing a heavy lift? My voice has gotten really bad since I started cross-fit and I’m worried I will have to give it up. 🙁

        • Amanda Reninger

          Hey Brian! It depends on how you have been taught to breath for singing. If you’re technique includes expanding your belly/”pushing” it out, you’re going to end up tense everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s a very common, German style technique & is similar to how many weight lifting coaches will teach you to breath because it tenses the whole body for lifting. If instead, you think of a more Italian approach, where the ribs are lifted, the breath is low and the low abdomen comes in when you breath, you have the opportunity for a soft neck and shoulders while breathing. You can use a variation of this Italian technique while lifting and it should help you be a little less tense during and after lifting. However, the biggest thing is still going to be stretching, stretching, stretching. Work on your mobility, stretch for 20-30 minutes after working out, do ROMWOD every day, roll your body with the foam rollers and use a lacrosse ball on your neck and shoulders for targeted areas. It is the most important thing if you want to continue to lift and sing. I hope that helps!

          • Brian Anderson

            This is great advice…I was definitely using more of the “belly” breathing so this will be a huge help to me. Thanks for sharing your story and for the great advice!!!

          • Amanda Reninger

            You’re welcome! I’m happy to help! 🙂