Barbells, Love, Life

On Soreness

Admit it — a lot of you dig the soreness. You complain about it ("Oh, my traps are SO tight" "Those lunges KILLED my ass for days") but somewhere inside, you think it’s cool. You kind of look forward to it. A day without soreness feels unproductive, like you didn’t do enough over the last few days.

At my first L1 Seminar, Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder/CEO) asked us: "How many of you are really sore? Raise your hands." (Many hands went up.) "How many of you kinda dig it?" (Almost all hands stayed up.) "You all are some sick motherfuckers." We laughed, but, inside, we all knew he was (sort of) right.

Why do we dig the soreness? Some folks point to our obsessions as unhealthy, particularly this one. They say it’s not normal to be sore often from exercise. That it’s unhealthy — that we are unhealthy in our health. That something is wrong with us because we don’t mind the soreness and that, sometimes, we kind of exalt it.

Somehow, tied up in this condemnation, is the core belief in our society that life should be painless. That achievement means less pain. That to “make it” means you have it easy and good and sweet and lazy.

Well, that’s fucking wrong.

Or, if it’s right — if the goal of life is to be painfree and swaddled in cotton and doped up on food and couches and “leisure time” — then I’m okay with being wrong. I’m okay with feeling a bit of discomfort and feeling alive because I feel … something.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m no pain junkie. I don’t have a lot of scars or tattoos or piercings or brands or anything else the outside world might use to judge me and say I’m pain addicted. You’re not going to find me putting my hand on a hot stove or slamming the stapler on my fingers for fun. But I do kind of like the soreness the day after a good WOD. Not pain, like something is broken or torn. But sore, like I did some work yesterday, and the day before. Like I used my body for a purpose. Like I pushed myself to places I needed to go.

That’s all the soreness means for me: I’m alive and I can feel this life. I’m not anesthetized. I’m not numb. I am here. And I’m breathing. Bring on the challenges. I’m ready.

(Image courtesy of Nicole Bedard Photography.)

On Not Losing Hope

Never lose hope of being better than you are. Never. This is harder than it sounds.

The world is full of broken dreamers. People who have tried and failed, for whatever reason: money, will, circumstance, faith. The cause of their loss is not germane to their story, although they may spend inordinate amounts of time trying to explain it. Affixing blame becomes a priority for some folks, after the loss. Listen and move on. Don’t linger. This is important. Your dream is not theirs — although both might look, sound, and smell very much alike. But your dream is yours — and you are you.

Broken dreams happen to everyone. There is not a soul among us who has received everything they ever wanted in this life. Not one. There are, instead, people who choose to take the lessons of the broken dream and move on. Use that pain to make the next dream a reality. They sit on those stories no longer than the cat on the hot stove. Lesson learned. Time to do something else.

If you would better yourself, then do the same. Learn to quickly identify the broken dreamers in your life and limit their contact with you. Enough  to learn, not enough to permanently scar.

You have bigger dreams. You have the heart to achieve them. You will be better than you are. Go make it happen.

(Image courtesy of Nicole Bedard Photography.)

Revelations

All men reveal themselves. 

Given enough time and enough trials, there is no heart that can verily be cloaked from the light of awareness. Every dark heart, every mean deed will eventually stand open and be lit by its own rapaciousness somewhere, at some point. Nothing can be hidden forever.

So it is too with good deeds, and good hearts. That which is righteous will also have witnesses and come to bear in all its glory at some point, somewhere. And, perhaps, in the exact moment that no one expects.

Our trials, much like the feats of fitness we chase, are unknown and unknowable. But our hearts —  oh, our hearts — had best be known and knowable … especially to ourselves.

So, when you’re in the gym and you’re struggling in that split-second at the bottom of a heavy clean, or you’re deep in a set of thrusters, or maybe you’re new and just struggling to maintain good form on your first and only rep of a bodyweight back squat — when you want to give up, when every sinew and tendon screams that you should give up, when surrender seems sweeter than ever, when to collapse in sweaty repose would be the best thing you have ever felt in this or another lifetime, know that this moment — this moment right here in your hands — is the one where you are made. Or lost.

You are not just training your body, or your legs, or your arms, or the muscle of your heart, or your lungs. You are training your mind, your memory, your heart that is not a muscle. You are training your soul. 

Remember this … and stand up with the bar. This — this — is very important. Stand up.

All men reveal themselves. Work hard, every single day, to make certain your revelation is exactly what you want it to be …

What We Think

What we think, we become.

Sounds simplistic. It is simplistic. But it’s true.

Think of yourself as weak, you become weak. Think of yourself as an asshole, you become an asshole. Think of yourself as a frumpy mom, you become a frumpy mom. (Well, that might not work for guys.) Think of yourself as a victim, you become a victim.

Screw that. Think of yourself as something more. A weightlifter. An athlete. A good runner. A fast rope climber. A gentleman. An awesome lover. A great mom. A hero to somebody, even if it’s just Fluffy or Mr. Kettlebell (your dog — please don’t name your child Mr. Kettlebell). One hotfuckingfabulousamazingstrongsmartkindkick-ass person.

Think of your life as a giant, flaming success and become that success. Even if you think you’re already on top of the world, reach for more. Our lives begin to end when we stop striving.

Change your thoughts, change your life. Change your socks. Make sure you’re wearing clean underwear. Always say “please” and “thank you.” (Okay, somebody silence my inner mom now.)

Be Better

Your goal today is simple: Be better.

Be better in thought, in word, in deed.

Be better at what you think, what you say, what you write, what you do.

Your effort doesn’t have to monumentally better than yesterday. PRs don’t happen every day. And if they did? We would be bored, and take them as commonplace. They would no longer be special. No, you just need to be a little bit better. But you need to reach for it, each and every day.

Improving your life is like improving your squat. You think you know what you’re doing and it can’t get any better. But it always can. Always.

So, return to the basics. Squat. Check your feet, your ass, your chest. Is everything where it should be? Maybe your weight could shift a little back into your heels. Think and try one perfect squat. Rise. Close your eyes. Then squat again. Slowly. Not 10 fast, not 50 fast. Just one. Think and breathe and stay in that moment. Feel what one perfect squat really feels like.

Now, open your eyes. And go chase that feeling in the rest of your life.

Be better, everywhere.

Lighter

If you don’t believe in magic, you can never see magic.

If you don’t realize you’re lost, you might never be found.

If you think you already know everything, you can never learn anything.

If you think you’re already there, you have no idea how far you could really go.

If you think you are already the best, you can never get better.

Abandon the ties on your own mind. Adopt a beginner’s stance. Drop all the baggage you’ve been dragging along. Free yourself.

Now, put your hands on the pull-up bar … and open your ears. You’re lighter than you’ve ever been. Set a new PR here — and in every part of your life. Listen, and learn. Then do. And, always, help the others.

Start again, today.

(Image courtesy of Nicole Bedard Photography.)

Your Choice

"How can I help? What can I do?"

Or

"You got to be f***ing kidding me. You want me to do what?"

Choose your answer. Choose who you are. Choose who you want to be.

Volunteer, or be prodded. Step to the head of the class, or slink down in your chair in the back. Get A’s, or spend your time bellyaching about how you’ve been cheated of those A’s. Spend your life telling stories of how you were denied so many things that “should” have been yours.

Or … go get yours. Grab the life you always wanted, become the person you always wanted to be. But, first, understand this: It happens one act at a time. One act of service at a time.

As always, though, it’s your choice. So, choose.

I know where I’m going.

"How can I help? What can I do?"

Swimming Over Her Fears

The woman in the elevator seemed like she needed a hug. I didn’t know her, but I could feel her anxiety: it was almost palpable. So, as the elevator doors closed, I stepped forward and introduced myself to this beautiful, fit, frightened athlete. There were only two of us in that little metal box, descending in the Manhattan Beach Marriot. Her eyes looked moist, but she tried to smile.

"Are you in a good place with what’s going to happen tomorrow?" I asked.

Deb Cordner Carson looked me in the eye and shook her head. "No, not at all."

About 30 minutes prior, CrossFit had briefed the Games athletes on the details of the mountain triathlon that would start the 2012 CrossFit Games. It was a surprise workout, and many of the athletes were still wrapping their heads around the concept. Most were nervous, but with an electric energy. I had just spoken with Elisabeth Akinwale and, while she seemed a tad apprehensive, Akinwale buzzed with positivity — the excitement totally lighting up her face. Deb Cordner Carson, however, was definitely not glowing.

Deb was struggling, because the ocean swim of the 2011 Games had knocked her out of the competition. She had a fear of the water; but, for a year, she had been trying to work through it.

As we continued our descent in that elevator, her words tumbled out rapidly.Deb talked of how she wasn’t sure she would compete, of how she was going to speak with her husband and her doctor that evening, and make a decision. She spoke of her medical condition (lymphedema) and how it might factor into her decision. It was almost as if she needed to get all those words and fears out right then, before the elevator doors opened again. As if she could leave some of that burden right there, in that little metal box.

I didn’t know what to say. Somehow, I knew my words were unimportant anyhow. Instead, my ears were important. I was here to listen. Deb was here to talk.

As she finished her story, the doors opened again. We were at the lobby. I said some totally inadequate words ("Good luck with your decision") and I left her with her fears. I had been no help. Deb Cordner Carson was alone with her fears, and her choices.

The next morning, when I saw her on the beach at Camp Pendleton, she looked even more scared — here, in front of the surf she feared. She was walking with Dave Castro (Co-Director of the CrossFit Games) and others, who seemed to almost form a shell around her, like they could protect her from the ocean. But nobody could protect Deb from her fears. She had to face them alone. Quite honestly, I didn’t expect her to step into the ocean. I expected to see one lone athlete sitting on the beach as the others plunged into the surf.

Deb Cordner Carson would prove me wrong.

She stepped into the ocean. She stepped into her fears, let them totally surround her, pulse against her body … and she fought. She swam. She kept going.

And then she emerged out of the water, onto the beach. I saw her as she was buckling her helmet, about to jump onto her mountain bike. Most of the competitors were already well on the trail. But it didn’t matter what time Deb Cordner Carson came out of the water. What mattered was that she came out on her own, victorious over the ocean. Victorious over her fear.

"SHE MADE IT!" I yelled to the people next to me — a couple of Marines in desert cammies, here to help us with the course. I jumped up and down like it was one of my kids heading towards us. "She was so scared to swim, but she did it!"

The Marines started cheering with me and whooping, a handful of people on a lonely patch of ground, bearing witness to the courage of the human heart. The Marines certainly knew about courage, and they respected it.

I snapped Deb’s photo as best I could on my iPhone as she started off — and then I tweeted it: "Deb Cordner Carson overcame her fears and conquered the swim!"

That was all that needed to be said. Her smile said the rest.

Over the course of the next four days, Deb Cordner Carson would grab two first-place finishes (in the Sprint and "Elizabeth") and finish 13th overall at the 2012 CrossFit Games. I would learn how my co-workers — Angel Forbes and Dave Castro — had helped convince Deb again and again to at least try the swim. How a swimmer on a paddleboard was assigned to her, to watch over her and make her feel safe. I would learn about the tears on the beach and the hugs. I would learn so much about the human heart, and our connection to each other.

For her incredible heart, Deb Cordner Carson was awarded the 2012 “Spirit of the Games” award. When she accepted that award on the stadium floor, she glowed with positive energy. She had turned her fears into triumph … and became a role model for us all.

In a Moment

This life changes in a moment.

One day, you’re 28 (or 32, or 40) and on top of the world. The next day, you’re diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer and you’ve got a year (or less) to live.

One day, you’re busy chauferring your kids and talking to your mom on the phone. The next day, Mom’s incoherent and incapacitated from a stroke, and there are decisions to be made.

One day, you’re working on your butterfly pull-ups and thinking about your next competition. The next day … well, there is no next day. You never made it home from the gym. You never saw that truck turning left in front of you. And you’ve left a couple of kids to figure out this crazy, confusing life without you.

As important as we think our time is in the gym, it isn’t. As important as we think the issues of programming or whiteboard times or membership fees are, well, they’re not such a big deal. As important as we think the CrossFit Games are … well, they don’t mean shit.

This life — this, right here — is important. What you do with it. How you act in it. How much kindness you give. How deep you dig inside of yourself to love, to live, to survive, to persist in the face of sadness that should rightly break you in two and leave you unable to walk, let alone run or work out, because your heart has been crushed into tiny pieces and lays shattered on the floor. You are not one piece anymore. You are shattered.

But … you get up again. You must. Not only for yourself, but for everyone in your life. They deserve your best. You must give it to them.

And CrossFit, in its weird, wonderful way, teaches us this, helps with this, enables us to be strong enough — in body, mind, and spirit … to go on. What we think we can’t survive? We did it in that WOD. And we can survive. We must. We will.

So, your time in the gym is important, in a way that you may not quite grasp. Do your workout today. Go hard, go heavy, go fast. But hug those you love, and keep your priorities in line. Because this life changes in a moment.

(Image courtesy of Nicole Bedard Photography.)

Don’t Avoid The Suck

You can’t avoid the suck. You want to think you can. You want to think there are ways and methods and things and products that can help you avoid the suck and just get all the good stuff in life — like picking the good caramels in a box of chocolates and leaving those ones with the weird pink fluffy inside stuff for Grandma.

But life doesn’t work that way. And CrossFit gyms don’t work that way.

Regular gyms and “fitness” magazines will tell you that you can avoid the suck — do it in fewer days, fewer hours, less pain. "Success in 3 easy steps!" "Success in 30 days!" They think you’re stupid and weak. CrossFitters don’t. We know better.

We know life is hard. We know that you have to work repeatedly — and really hard — for whatever you want … and that you won’t always get it. That’s part of the suck. But we also know that it’s all worth trying for, and that if you really try — put your heart and your body and your soul on the line — that you’ll get … something. It might not always be what you were aiming for: it might be less, but in that less it might be more.

Huh?

Think of it this way: Ever lose at something? Think you’re going to come in first and you come in fifth? Or last? Ever learn a shitton from that performance? Yup. You came up with less, but you got more. Ever suffer through “Murph” with twenty or fifty of your buddies in 95 degree heat? Your time sucked, right? But the experience? It was so much more than the time on the clock.

What you set your sights on is not always what you get. Sometimes you go through the suck and the prize at the end is totally and wholly different than whatever you had your eye on. That’s okay.

Suckage always teaches a lesson. You just got to learn to look for it.

So, stop trying to avoid the suck. The good stuff is on the other side of it.

(Image courtesy of Nicole Bedard Photography.)