Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Progress

What is progress in fitness? I think that is different for every person. For an elite athlete, progress may be small steps at the high performance end of the scale. For a beginner, progress may be giant leaps. For someone who does not have a lot of natural ability, who has been training for a while, and who is continuing to plug away, progress may be subtle and elusive.

I get frustrated that I'm not improving by the amounts I was a few months ago. I'm not shooting into the elite level. Although I continue to make improvements, others generally improve faster, and I seem to be stuck near the bottom of the class. But this is something I understand and accept. I'm not a naturally gifted athlete and I never have been.

It's a fact that I'm uncoordinated. It takes me a long time to learn a complicated movement, like the ones in weightlifting, or a kipping pull-up. It's also a fact that despite doing the WOD every day, I'm not in phenomenal shape. I wish I were. I continue to go hard, but my physiology does limit my rate of improvement in metabolic/respiratory/cardio fitness. And I probably do not push myself to my physical limits every time, even though I do push myself to my mental limits.

I can shoulder some of the blame for this. When other kids were learning basic movements, learning how to push themselves to their limits, I was quitting my lame attempts at sports because I liked to be good at things, and athletics did not come easily to me. I was good at other things, like school and music, so I focused on those instead. I should have been putting in twice as much time as the other kids on physical training, to make up for my natural weaknesses, but instead I avoided physical challenges like the plague.

Now, as an adult, I find myself in a strange position - forcing myself to do things that I'm not good at. This is the best thing I can do for myself, for my physical health but also for my psychological well-being and growth. Too often we avoid our shortcomings rather than facing them head on. This seems especially true for physical challenges. You might look stupid, you might be the worst, you might even hurt yourself. And there are the questions you have to face, from others but especially from yourself - why am I doing this? Will I ever get better? Why can't I push through this? But facing your deepest insecurities keeps you from skimming superficially through life, it forces you to know yourself, the strong and the weak parts, the good and the ugly parts.

So back to progress. How do you know if you're making progress? How do you know if you're putting in the effort or if you're holding back, getting lazy? I think that only you can answer those questions. We each know deep down whether we are giving our best effort, and even if we don't see concrete evidence of progress (faster times, heavier weights, etc.), there can still be progress in the form of increased confidence in movements, fuller range of motion, better balance or flexibility, and even development of psychological coping mechanisms for physical duress. In fact, I think that a lot of the progress we make in CrossFit is mental, emotional, and pretty much invisible. No one can look at you and say you're not trying. They simply cannot see that invisible struggle within, which ultimately leads to the most important kind of progress.