Rico’s little brother, baby Danny told me that to improve on the erg I’d need to put in long, steady-state pieces. 90 minutes or more, keeping a quick tempo, “would be really great,” he said.
While racing the 5k and the 2k are brutal tests, most of Danny’s crew practices were made up of gigantic, lengthy pieces. It is these prolonged sessions that build an aerobic base.
In the past 2 months I logged two 12ks, four 5ks and four 500-interval workouts. While each of these efforts has its place and contains fitness value, Dan says it’s all about volume, logging in thousands upon thousands of meters.
So, I finally strapped in and rowed a half marathon, 21,100 meters. It took me 1 hour and 44 minutes with an average of 2:29 for every 500 meters.
Dan told me he once rowed a 90 minute piece keeping a 1:55 split. This means he would have finished my half marathon 25-30 minutes faster. (To help you put things in perspective, Hozz pulled a 1:55 only during the last 150 meters of the piece. It was a sprint to the finish line, 25 seconds of desperate power after 2 hours of grinding away.) As good as Dan was at rowing, this says a lot more about my slowness than Dan’s swiftness.
Despite all this, I am really happy with my time. Because the most I had rowed was only half this distance, I was super anxious that an hour into the piece I would get winded, blow up, barf or fail. I kept anticipating this moment. But it never came.
In fact, during the first hour I felt incredible. Rico was rowing too, right in front of me, and we both were rapidly pulling chain. (Rico rowed a 13.5km in 56 minutes.)
During my last 5,000 meters, however, I fell apart.
At Gym Jones Mark Twight loves talking about the mind’s role in sports. His mantra and training philosophy is: the mind is primary. For him, training the body is merely picking things up and putting them down. Training the mind, though, is a more daunting and laborious task. He often refers to the internal “negotiation” that goes on inside the mind, between the will-to-race and the inner voice who demands that you stop. As muscles burn and lungs scream, that horrible mind-demon gets louder and louder: “Just stop for a few minutes,” he says. “You’ll feel so much better if you go slower.”
Mastering this internal torment is what Gym Jones is about.
If I were more mentally tough, I would have told my butt-which was screaming from soreness– to shut the fuck up. I wouldn’t have listened to that shitty inner voice, and would have instead concentrated on my breathing. All that uncertainty and self-doubt is just wasted energy. Having a strong will is the difference between enduring fatigue and being crippled by it.
While I might be making this sound a bit mystical, all I really need to do is: spend more time in this zone. The next 21k I’ll be just a little more confident. I’ll be willing to suffer just a little while longer. It is through hard physical effort that you test and fortify your head.
Being tired is never an excuse to go slow. And it’s the mind that convinces your body of this. Not the other way around.
I remember thinking, right as I got off the erg, “I feet completely fine!”. Even though just a few seconds prior I allowed myself to believe all that pain was the most important thing in my world. “I’m such a bitch,” I thought. But tomorrow, next time, in the future, I’ll be less of one.
Women And Their Weights: Femme Strength And The Myth Of “Getting Bulky”
If Tina Fey were a Crossfitter she’d say that the myth of women getting bulky was an evil plot hatched by skinny girls to keep the rest of us fat.
We are told we want Pilates bodies. Young and long and lean. We want to be bikini-bottom toned like Jessica Biel. We want Michelle Obama’s arms. We want you to see the lines in our stomach, like Gaga’s. We want to lose seven pounds but keep our boobs. We want a booty, but not too much booty, like a little-bit-a-booty, a…. healthy booty.
We are bombarded with images of the unattainable. And we continue to grapple with how we see ourselves. On top of this, we are told to stay away from weights. ”We shouldn’t lift weights, right?” “Weights are for guys.” “Lifting makes my thighs look huge.” “I want to be slender, not bulky.” And on and on we go.
Consider, for a moment, virtually every college man’s struggle to “get huge.” You know exactly who I’m talking about. You either knew him or you were him. Endless bench presses, shaved arms, mirror stares, whey protein, bicep curls, “super-sets,” “this really hits the front deltoid,” “doin’ back and abs today,” “really tryin to isolate the upper-pec…” But for all the idiotic meathead buzzwords and sleeveless frat vacation tees, most quests toward “getting swole” are futile.
So, it’s a bit perplexing that even while so many men fail to build significant mass, we still believe that… poof! pick up a weight and all of sudden I have the thighs of the big girl from “Bridesmaids.”
The inescapable fact is that women do not produce enough testosterone to radically increase muscle mass.
“Bulking up,” as in shattering your body’s equilibrium and coercing it to put on muscle mass, requires a tremendous volume of sustained, heavy lifting, and a sickening amount of eating. Young high school lineman are told to “eat, sleep and lift like bears;” “Drink a gallon of milk every day;” “Scarf down 6-egg breakfast omelets.”
At Gym Jones and in Crossfit, the vast majority of people, men and women alike, lose weight. Or, they remain roughly the same poundage, but their bodies become radically reorganized: from paunchy, skinny-fat to mighty, supple leopard. As Mark Twight likes to say, your appearance is a consequence of your fitness.
The myth of women getting bulky is really just an offshoot of our broader, misinformed fitness culture. Body building and its emphasis on “mass” and “muscle isolation” color our perceptions of working out. When we think of the gym we think of dumbells and douchebags, bench press and biceps. But as readers of this website know, Crossfit and Gym Jones want us to move away from the goals, programming, and language of body building.
It’s about movements not muscles. Instead of viewing the body as discrete pieces of flesh (chest day, back day, shoulders, abs) Crossfit teaches you to work your body in concert. We favor big, athletic movements that transfer to real life and sports: jump, throw, heave, thrust. Where body builders strive to gain mass (big), Crossfitters aim to become efficient (lean). Where Schwarzeneger’s cardio is a means to achieve greater definition, for the Crossfitter, rowing and sprint intervals is what builds your “metabolic-conditioning,” your engine, your heart.
Weightlifting, in the universe of Crossfit, is an essential tool to manage your weight, build strength, and fortify the integrity of your joints. For women who are vulnerable to yo-yo diets, or disappointed by fitness balls, breakthrough exercise machines, and following “6 easy steps to a flatter stomach,” lifting dense metal stands as a sensible method to improving your health.
Far too many females consider liposuction, starvation and self-hatred before they even try lifting a barbell.
The first Crossfit session is always free. In other words, they’ll go easy on you. But after a few weeks, you’ll learn to pay the iron price. Crushing, mind altering workouts will replace your old, half-assed thrice a week 22 minute jogs. Soon, a miraculous transformation will begin. Hard work carves out your muscles. They harden and take shape like blobs of mud baked into brick.
And the confidence too. You learn that intensity flows not from your arms or your legs but from your head. Suffering becomes a fleeting kind of clarity. Quitting becomes something psychologically forbidden. Even though all your dogs are howling, you still control the sled. (Part of the cultural excitement behind the “Hunger Games” was witnessing a woman wield unapologetic power and mastery.)
 Heart disease remains the number one killer of American women. And it is largely preventable with exercise.
The Ego And His Many Shortcomings
We are constantly colliding in the gym. Sometimes we bump in the crowded, physical way, but always in the atmospheric, cerebral sense. Testosterone and bravado fill all the space between us. The crashing dumbbells and grunting meat-heads create this vaguely threatening vibe, like all those harsh stares sleeveless men give to the mirror.
But for all the huffing and puffing, rare is the sight of someone fatigued and focused gasping for breath, the saliva spewing snarl willing the weight upwards, or the kind of frightening intensity we see during NBA playoffs, or UFC title fights . If your LA Fitness or Gold’s Gym is anything like my Vida, then the common sight is the woman in black yoga booty pants barely moving an elliptical, or a wannabe Schwarzenegger pumping endless bicep curls hypnotized by his own reflection.
Being in the gym is better than eating on your sofa, but our fitness culture is a poor one. Only some people want to work hard, few people know what they are doing, and nobody wants to be corrected. Fortunately, Yoga classes, boxing gyms, and Crossfit work against this by forcing students to leave their egos behind.
For otherwise capable adults, becoming a humble student is psychologically damaging. It drives us to declare that we suck. It grinds us into failure. It shows us that we hide our weaknesses, avoid situations where we look bad, and ignore the criticism that requires hard work to overcome. (“I have never been good at pushups. My metabolism is slow. I don’t have time this week. It’s so intimidating. I’m more of a sprinter. I don’t like that. I’m not good at this. It’s too much. Been real busy at work. Always traveling. My girlfriend. My boyfriend. I just ate. Maybe next time.”)
 As newbie yogis, boxers and Crossfitters know, submitting to the learning process crushes your ego but ultimately fortifies your psyche. You learn to feel capable not because you are incredibly amazing, but because all your small improvements were earned. This is what I mean by destroying your ego to build your confidence.
Beach Season: The Dual Tension of Self Respect and Self Improvement
South Florida has a special kind of sex appeal. Infused with Afro-Hispano machismo, the culture steams with testosterone and a heightened, humid sexual energy. Like natives from our sun soaked sister state on the Pacific, warm skin is always showing. Florida’s proximity to the equator—where the sun’s gaze is harshest—demands it. And just like California dreamers, South Floridians love the water.
Under the blazing heat, men and women from Latin America and the Caribbean bring a refreshing perspective to body image. Where naysayers would say Miami is filled with nasty Latin women who dress like their daughters, others believe Florida is filled with lively adults who feel good about themselves. With giant guts and dumpy butts they declare to the world: I don’t give a fuck. This phenomenon is not specific to ethnic minorities either, but pervades in the broader white population too. Sporting deep, orange-red paprika encrusted tans—the kind white people get from decades of barbequing, beaching and boating—even Anglos feel free in a swimsuit. (I do not condone huge amounts of excess gut meat or atrophied glutes, but the worst thing of all is a lack of self worth.)
Beach season also reveals the ugly side of body image that isn’t specific to Florida. It resembles the three day juice cleanse, the “I don’t do breakfast,” the $900 two-week boot camp, the all liquid diet, the ever-plunging V neck, the augmented breast/lip/cheekbone/calf, the narcissism, the mirror stare, the caring more about the girth of your bicep than the strength of your four chambered drum. It’s the showy gestures that look like confidence but smell like insecurity.
Where the let-it-all-hang-out mindset seems like a hearty kind of self assurance, the faith in things that are fleeting is a toxic form of vanity. Unfairly associated with being fit, these quick fix shortcuts prop up the delusions we have about ourselves and shield our psychological weaknesses from honest self-assessment. (Starve yourself long enough and you will begin to believe that your protruding bones are flattering.)
Because young people, especially women, are bombarded with images of the unattainable, thoughtful discussions on body image tend to focus on self-respect, and self-love. And for a multitude of reasons these concepts seem to be more easily grasped by men and women of color (the kind of swag I was talking about in South Florida). What often gets lost in the discussion however, is the counterpart: self improvement.
For athletes, weakness is something you hate and obsess over. Instead of avoiding pull ups because she “sucks at them,” the athlete performs jumping pull ups until she can do 1; she does single pull ups until she can link together 3. Eventually she can string 10 without leaving the bar; her weakness becomes proficiency. This idea seems so simple that it appears idiotic to repeat in writing, but the abundance of “6 easy steps,” “3 minute abs,” and “sweatless cardio” proves our aversion to the hard way, our reluctance to look like beginners.
Arguments can be made either way for the merits of being happily overweight. But the bikini bottom diet won’t last. Your trunks will eventually refuse coercion over an expanding waistline. And the emptiness that was never filled with hard work will be there long after August.
 Swimsuit season can be a huge motivator to get your ass moving, but it’s impossible to go from total slob to beach babe in a few weeks. Year-round fitness is the hard way. It works and is sustainable.
How I Convinced My Jacked Meat Head Brother To Do CrossFit
My baby brother is five years younger than me. His biceps also exceed mine in circumference by several inches (I’m hoping that’s the only part of his body that he exceeds mine by “inches”). I had the privilege of introducing him to the limitless world of fitness back when he was barely pubescent – at the tender age of 12. At the time, I was in the throes of high school iron pumping, idolizing Arnold and convinced that I was packing on size and gaining weight. Unfortunately for my future self (and to the comedic joy of my friends) I was validating my results by wearing smaller shirts and experimenting with shaving my chest to show off my “definition.” There are some classic self-photos (ones I hope never surface) that will attest to my delusions that a 155 lb high schooler was “bulking up.” To this day, my friends poke fun at this never-attained, but highly sought after goal of “getting huge.”
While I never swelled to shirt stretching sizes, my brother embraced the early instruction and from the start committed himself to packing on muscle. At one point in high school, he was so addicted to the gym that my parents realized that taking it away from him would be the single worst punishment he could suffer. They said “no gym for a month” – his heart broke and his pecs disappeared. It had the intended effect, but it also set off a chain reaction of nightly push-up and crunch sets that would make the baddest Marine proud.
By 19, he was a monster, but nevertheless afflicted with the genetic bird legs that he shares with me. His figure became an inverted bowling pin – a Jonny Bravo type physique that earned the scorn of my parents, and the affections of any bicep-loving teenage girl. My parents would petition me to reason with him: “Tell your brother that no one will respect him if he gets too big. Tell him that everyone will think he has sawdust in his head. Tell him those stretch marks are never going to go away and that he is ruining his beautiful body.” Could these entreaties sound any more parental? Regardless, I obliged their request partially out of a sense of responsibility for starting his obsession but also partly out of jealousy for my own failures as a teen to burst open my golf shirts with giant pipes for arms.
I recanted a few weeks later, realizing that it’s always great to be associated with a giant man, especially when that giant man is your younger brother who often accompanies you to bars and other sordid havens of drunken violence. He immediately got bigger than ever and arrived for a visit in Ocean City, MD for a beach vacation wearing armor made of muscles – the now famous “muscle suit” of 2011, dwarfing me and all my friends. He was our personal cooler courier, casually flipping our stash of 50 beers onto his shoulder to ensure he had a solid pump before strutting the sand.
Later, an unfortunate bout with mono and a heavy course load in school demanded that he stay out of the gym for several months that carried into early 2012. This furlough caused his former self to deflate back to mortal proportions, appropriately sized for his skeleton. It was during this time that I had made a full transition to CrossFit and I began extolling the benefits of a more holistic approach to working out. Instead of the heavy isolation and linear movements popular in bodybuilding, I told him how CrossFit required the body to work as a complete system, invariably requiring multiple muscle groups for each WOD (Workout of the Day) that created a more efficient and athletic individual.
Dan bristled. Without the familiar discomfort of skin-stretching pumps and the calculated splits of specific body parts on certain days, Dan felt lost, as I had several years prior. As a former rower, Dan knew intimately the unique pain and misery of maximum cardiovascular output. Having retired from the sport, he was content to forego the demonic erg in favor of the more friendly dumbbell rack. “As long as my abs keep popping, I have no reason to change” he would reason. Spoken like a true bodybuilder. I could never argue with a physique that spoke for itself.
It wasn’t until I challenged Dan to join me in a Warrior Dash in July of this summer that things began to shift. “I look forward to kicking your ass in this race. I’m gonna relish the sight of you struggling to keep up with me” was my sales pitch. He bit. I signed him up the next day. His interest in cardio workouts returned immediately, as he acknowledged the real possibility of struggling through a 3.5 mile obstacle course without the stamina that at one time made him a superior athlete.
Soon after, he worked out with Hozz. Hozz offered him an hour and a half tutorial on proper form and technique for the deadlift and the squat – two things that Dan had become very familiar with during his long career in the gym. There were some necessary corrections to his form, but nothing catastrophic with his status quo. What was deeply alarming was his lack of flexibility, which he chalked up to “being taller and lankier than Hozz” – an obviously nonsensical response and an admission of guilt over years of neglecting flexibility in favor of those last few burning reps at the preacher bench.
Luckily, he got the message. A week and a half later I received a text, saying among other things that he “was okay with returning to 165lbs where his body is naturally content” and that he “doesn’t have to be a 185lb disproportionate top heavy meat stick.” In preparation for our race, he’s committed to ensuring proper form and technique in foundational movements, resolute about improving his flexibility, and eager for a healthy heart. I’m sure there will be pangs of regret amidst agonizing, lung-retching WODs, as I have no doubt felt at various moments. I’m also sure that the metrics of improvement – a quicker time, a better squat, and the comfort of flexible muscles – will keep him devoted to this intoxicating craft. I’m proud to have my first disciple.
 Dan’s Robocop body demanded law enforcement’s respect. The joke went that police would have to “pull Dan over” while he walked down the sidewalk and disarm him of his weaponized muscle shell. The voice over their car loudspeaker would bellow “SIR, PLEASE STEP OUT OF YOUR MUSCLE SUIT AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD.”
Reinventing the Self
The more that I workout, the more that I realize I have been doing everything incorrectly, occasionally injuring myself and possibly doing more long-term harm than short-term good. This humbling experience has forced me to start over – and by starting over, I mean from the very beginning. This means unweighted squats, a PVC pipe to substitute for the barbell I grew so accustomed to, and endless painful stretching to repair years of damage and neglect, all in pursuit of a total rebuild of my body and my workout persona.
This process has not been an easy one. By nature, I am competitive, short-tempered, impatient and easily frustrated (ladies, I’m also single). These qualities do not mesh well with the “you have to go backward to go forward” approach that I have been forced to embrace. But as a student of fitness, an enthusiast of proper technique, and a young adult who cares about preserving my body’s integrity into late adulthood, I saw no other choice.
It has helped to have the support of my workout companion Hozz, who fortunately for me has a complementary personality to mine that helps offset my petulant gym non-sense. We have also relied heavily on the technical expertise and tutelage (not to mention hilarious Portuguese-flavored demotivational statements) of our new trainer, Rafael, who has been integral in facilitating this new fitness ethos.
So far I have deeply enjoyed the fresh start – begun officially with Raf about seven weeks ago. My flexibility has vastly increased and I’m starting to correct some dysfunctional movement in the squat, dead lift and clean. I have also added the overhead squat and split-jerk to my repertoire.
And with this fresh start, I have come to view the rest of the inhabitants of my DC gym as total idiots. I have always casually observed and quietly snickered about the overall lack of sweat and egregiously bad form that pervades my gym. But this new approach to fitness has enhanced my vision – from spectacled Peter Parker to eagle-eyed Spiderman. And it has caused me great angst. What’s worse, since I don’t wear a shirt with the logo of a trainer, any advice that I offer is immediately ignored or taken as an insult. ”Fine, continue to dead lift with a crescent-shaped back – I’m counting the days until I see your L5 shoot out of your lower back and kill an unsuspecting man doing dips.”
I’m not so sensitive as to become upset that someone ignores my advice – their hubristic loss. The greater issue is that no one wants to work hard. Take the cover of the May 2012 Men’s Health. If you can temporarily ignore Zach Efron’s digitally enhanced triceps, you will notice a tagline promising a “No Sweat Cardio Routine.” I thought Men’s Health was at least slightly reputable (albeit dishonest with cover model arm size) until reading this laughable cover. Given that I have not yet read this article, I may not be in on the miracle of modern science that has helped human beings engage in physical activity without sweating. But more than likely, it’s another farcical pile of shit to appease the readership and promise something for nothing (in this case, weight loss/tight body/ripped abs for no hard work). Falling for claims like these is almost as bad as paying real money for “The Flex Belt” or quitting your job to “Be Your Own Boss – Earn $2000/week working from your couch” – clearly, no one wants to work hard.
A recent discussion with Rafael shed some light on the mega-gym approach to personal training, and it’s enablement of this lazy behavior. Most gyms employ under-qualified trainers – by my assessment, even physical fitness is not a requirement for employment. Most trainers are merely bodies in a room, who will tolerate the most pathetic and whiny clients, as long as these clients will pay up each week. What follows is hoards of lazy people buying giant packages of training sessions to secure “1 month free membership dues” not because they seek professional instruction of foundational movements and motivation to work to potential (of course not!!). Instead, the act of purchasing time with a trainer compels the individual (via guilt over money spent) to slog their way to the gym, to (maybe) work up a sweat, and to feel good enough to justify a giant bowl of ice cream when they get home. I’m sure my critics will insist that getting to the gym at all is significant progress, and I should not be so quick to discount this achievement. My retort: physical activity is a prerequisite for human existence – if you ignore this prerequisite, you have betrayed a fundamental aspect of your humanity and will invariably suffer from any number of ailments and/or obesity. Let’s stop pretending that you’re doing the world a favor by getting off your fat ass.
To substantiate my claims, personal observation and insider testimony have shown that trainers are more “therapists” or “babble absorbers” than they are coaches who compel their clients to proper form and maximum output. [Please note: withhold the cries of misogyny - the following criticism of women will be immediately followed by a caustic account of male shortcomings as well].
I regularly witness overworked, middle-age women spewing inane sound waves about annoying coworkers or troubles at home, instead of offering a shred of effort towards their workout, regardless of any encouragement from their trainers. I see post-grad girls complaining about the crummy date they went on the night before and I wonder just how much longer the trainers can resist pummeling their skulls with a dumbbell. The irony of the matter is that each of the subjects I have mentioned would feel so much better if they shut their mouths and focused on their workout – while the act of venting may be cathartic for some, rigorous exercise is undoubtedly cathartic for all, and has never failed to make me feel better after a bad day.
The cross-section of clientele who purchase personal training sessions is primarily women, with some exceptions. But the demographics of gym-goers is clearly split – women, if they aren’t wasting time flapping their gums, can be found mindlessly churning away on an elliptical machine (and in 9 out of 10 instances also flipping through the most recent edition of US Weekly, to envision their ass is as voluptuous as Kim K’s or their stomach as flat as Lady Gaga’s). The magazine-on-cardio-machine epidemic is one that infuriates me more than anything – these individuals are half-assing two activities at the same time – neither really reading or really exercising. They are merely wasting time until their obligatory 30 minutes and 237 calories have elapsed.
Men are equally clownish. As a former clown, I have a special awareness of this hollow behavior. I’ve come to believe that men do not solicit the help of personal trainers because they revere themselves as an authority figure in the world of fitness – with zero qualifications aside from high school sports and many hours at the bench press rack. Having a stranger tell them that the routine they have used since high school is wrong hurts their fragile egos – even as these same egos persist in believing that they are total studs, while reality (a gut and several chronic injuries) says otherwise. The lack of real hard work is palpable everywhere – men stand around, either peacocking for each other in cut off shirts, or engaging in prolonged staring contests with mirrored reflections. And then you hear the chatter around the water fountain or in the locker room – “so what you benching these days, bruh?” Unfortunately, the measure of a man has been reduced to this single, mostly misused movement. And invariably, the caveats and excuses gush as from a sliced artery – “well I was up at around 315 four months ago, but I hurt my shoulder so I’m back down around255 these days.” As Raf so aptly put it one afternoon in his garage, “I don’t know how much I bench, but I know how much I can jerk, I know how much I can clean, and I know that as long as the jerk and the clean continue to go up, so will my bench.”
What frustrates me so much about women is that their pursuit of a swimsuit model figure is diluted with bad information and a lackluster work ethic. The time spent in the gym could be halved if they dropped the magazine, elevated their heart rate above 125, and actually started sweating.
What frustrates me so much about men is that all gym activities reduce to some form of dick measuring – regardless of how much or little it will help achieve meaningful goals.
Let’s try something new. Instead of everyone praising Adele for this gem in Rolling Stone magazine (as she secretly starves herself and gets a nose job), let’s start with some honest self-assessment. We are not intended to be fat. And please spare me the diatribes about low self-esteem and bad genetics. Each individual has the right and the ability to change his or her situation – whether that is a dietary change, a more active lifestyle, or both. Not only are we more attractive when we are slim, but we are healthier (go figure). If you’re fat, if you can’t ascend a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat, or your idea of a balanced meal includes anything breaded or fried, or your main source of hydration is soda, or you’ve steadily increased your pant waist size each year since college, or you leave your shirt untucked to hide your gut, or you’ve considered wearing spandex to hide your stomach fat (should I keep going?) – then get in the gym. And for those who feel too embarrassed – please trust that my judgments are reserved for only those who put forth little effort – so spare yourself and get to work.
If you’re already in the gym, great. Let’s assess further. Have you ever left the gym without sweating? Do you suffer from some nagging injury or pain that you continue to ignore? Have you continued to perform the same routine, with no results, for more than six months? Any “yes” answers to these questions means it’s time to reevaluate and seek some change. Go talk to Raf. He can help. If he’s not around, sign up at your nearest CrossFit gym, start reading Kelly Starrett’s blog and using his methods. For a change, be honest with yourself.
The Fear — The Calm
There are two different ways that I ascend the third flight of stairs to the top of my gym – one with enthusiasm, energy and anticipation (bounding up two steps at a time) and the other with anxiety and dread (one slow step at a time). Most of the time it has more to do with the kind of day that I have had, my prior night’s sleep, and my general mood. On a few occasions, though, it has everything to do with the task that I am about to endure.
The other day I likened my feeling of nerves to the sensation that I get before speaking in front of a large group of people – a knot in my stomach, clammy hands, and a blanket of fear that eclipses all other emotions. Whether it is my fierce competitive nature (against my own potential, or against my buddy Hozz) or my irrational expectation that the physical task before me will leave some permanent damage (as opposed to reality, where each hard workout is followed with freedom, vindication, and a deep sense of personal accomplishment), I nevertheless will consistently, and half-knowingly, reject what experience has taught me – that the fear subsides as soon as the task begins, and the time between start and finish reveals more about who I am than any other realm of my life.
My exhausted persona is an exposed one. Strip away the external bullshit, the protective layers of ego and pride, and you are left with the raw core of the self. Thus, exhaustion allows me to stare at my character, plucked from the external noise of normal life, and evaluate who lives inside. Will I continue to pull that chain when every urge tells me to stop? It is so easy to quit, conceding to the booming voice inside my head that doesn’t suggest, but rather demands that I quit to end the agony. But the critical moment of a miserable, difficult test is important for two reasons: firstly, it is where all the physical improvement takes place. Practicing at the edge of physical limitation allows the body to understand that physical state, to allocate resources more efficiently, and ultimately adapt to the task, allowing the athlete to perform at a higher level. But, secondly, and arguably more importantly, this critical moment is where we derive our true satisfaction from surrendering to the hardship and pushing to our maximum.
Deriving pleasure from this struggle appears purely masochistic – slumped over on the erg or sprawled out on the floor gasping for air is not, in the strictest sense, enjoyable. But an honest self-reflection will quickly reveal that the gym is the only realm of my life where I strive to give my best each and every time.
Pride (one of man’s ugliest traits) has no place inside the walls of our arena, and will fold when confronted with honesty, discipline and measured expectations. Pride tells us to cheat and accept less than full output to preserve what we think is the image we must portray. In this arena, Pride and Defeat conspire in the shadows and enable mental weakness – a far worse sin than physical limitation. When I concede to the booming voice inside of my head that says I need to stop, I always regret listening.