Training is a magical journey in human exploration. It is a personal adventure in which you discover strange new worlds all inside yourself. CrossFit’s methodology of constantly varied, functional movement, performed at high intensity puts you on this path of individual study. And this study can lead down many paths that intersect or completely veer off course. However, no matter the direction, your training is progress in a life-long endeavor.
Progress in a life-long endeavor
Let that sink in while adding in another thought. To stay with the current theme, an explorer may fall from the rocky trail, but inevitably they will get back up and find a way to continue. This continuation, no matter the setback, is still progress. It is the continuation that should be the focus and not so much the progress.
Progress, so many times is measured numerically. One benefit to the performance of CrossFit is that it is measurable and repeatable which gives you analytical data. You need this data for individualized tracking. Although, the efficacy of your training should not be fixated on the numbers.
It’s all about the “feels”
Quite frequently I see athletes base how a session goes simply by the numbers. If a personal best was not made, then the day went wrong somewhere. If the required reps were not completed, then the set is viewed as a failure. If the athlete’s time was not fast enough on a workout, then they must be getting out of shape. Numbers have a funny way of getting in an athlete’s head before, during, and after lifts and workouts. Merely looking at the weight on the bar or calculating the weight to be lifted can mentally affect an athlete’s physical ability to complete the task at hand. Number crunching around a workout can take the enjoyment out of the experience. Fighting the everyday battle with numbers on a micro level can blind you from the progress being made on the macro level.
Story time. Last year, around this time, I decided to try and qualify for Masters Nationals in the sport of Weightlifting. This decision was made primarily because I love to lift and I wanted to see if I could get better at what I love to do. This weightlifting cycle, with minimal “CrossFit” workouts, began sometime in November and lasted until Nationals held March 31st. I made some decent improvements in squat strength, overhead stability, speed, and proficiency in the Olympic lifts. However, the workouts became more of a chore. Expectations of numbers to hit became an intense focus that took away from the blessing it is to just have the opportunity and ability to pick up a relatively heavy barbell. If anything, grasp this concept.
There should be joy in pulling up those stale knee sleeves, strapping on the heavy lifting shoes, taping your callused thumbs, and slapping on more chalk than is realistically needed. A charge should go through your body once the weights are packed on and you hook grip the bar, rolling your hands over, and pulling back tight prepping everything to fire. Once you do fire, hit or miss, you have made progress even on the smallest of scales in a journey that will last a lifetime.
The smallest of scales
Why do we tack such harsh expectations on ourselves? What basis do we measure our improvements on? Just yesterday I had an athlete upset with a five-pound increase on their back squat. Recently, there was an athlete unhappy because they could only get three butterfly pull-ups in a row. However, this is after only a few months stringing together a larger number of kipping pull-ups and past a time that I can remember this athlete unable to do any pull-ups. As we as athletes press forward we must also remember where it was we came from. How many times have I heard an athlete tell me that they would never do a double under, toes to bar, unassisted pull-up? Or how many have said I never want to lift that much weight? Then months down the road they are embracing more technical skills or cannot wait to put their hands to a barbell. The scales of fitness are always changing.
As such, your journey is always changing course. Perhaps your journey is not one that leads you to the competitive field of Olympic lifting, powerlifting, strongman, or adventure racing. Your journey could be one that just has you living a more productive life. A life in which you can play more with your kids or better enjoy more time with your spouse.
Packing for the journey
In this fitness quest of human exploration there are some questions to ask yourself. Maybe the most important is, “Why are you on this trip?” The why may change from time to time but it must be ever present to keep you engaged in the task at hand. If you do not know why you come to train everyday then you absolutely will not have the resolve to reach your destination.
Next, “What is the destination?” When you have a goal identified, you now have something to strive for. Little goals will build into bigger goals. Think about a muscle up. First, you must gain the ability to do a push-up or pull-up. You must also have stability on the rings. The little pieces will come together for the complete picture. Now, “How are you going to get there?” Simply, if you don’t have a plan then you plan to fail. Finally, “Who are you traveling companions?” In any extended pursuit, you must pick wisely those around you. Everyone brings individual skills and gifts that will be paramount to your success. And as you succeed so do they.
In the end, measure your success not in absolutes but in distance from the starting line and by which attitude you finish.
We discuss in class ways about bringing intensity with the end goal of producing the greatest physical adaptation. We know that increased intensity will develop increased gains in performance that will ultimately produce higher levels in fitness. Yet, in our quest for fitness, we acquire various sore joints, tight muscles, and assorted aches and pains from stressing the bodies tissues.
Many symptoms can be combatted through nutrition, rest, hydration, and manual therapies. However, none of these symptoms should be deterrents toward meeting your life and wellness goals. I have not met a single person in or out of the gym that is not in some type of pain. But, everyone deals with it differently. One of my favorite quotes (one of about 2 I can remember) is from Marcus Aurelius,
“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”
This has been a reoccurring thought in my head, “people are weak.” This is not just in the physical sense but the mental and spiritual sense as well. We inherently avoid suffering in the hopes of comfort. We think that comfort will bring satisfaction. Personally I believe this to be farthest from the truth. Perhaps this is my attraction to CrossFit and the people that train by it. CrossFitters suffer collectively and learn how to not only push through suffering but combat the fears of the knowledge of impending suffering. The bible reads in Romans 5:3-4, “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.” If we neglect opportunities to suffer then we will not receive the qualities that suffering can produce. A recent podcast from Barbell Shrugged had guests, Keith Jardine and Tait Fletcher, who really drove this point home for me. First, Tait quoted this, “death is just as close for the idle man as it is for the daredevil.” Then, he posed this question and response of which I will loosely quote;
Seek Death –
Think about where you make yourself weak in life. Think about cutting away those weaknesses in your life.
We cleave to comfort and think that is success.
Comfort is akin to weakness. Comfort is like death. Places I get comfortable in life I think you better bring in some pain here.
Nothing is earned if not suffered for. Nothing is worth earning if not suffered for.
I’ll leave you with this. If you feel weak in your suffering read remember in Romans that suffering lead to hope.
In Psalms 119:49-50 it also says,
“Remember your word to your servant,
for you have given me hope.
50 My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.