I very much enjoy the physicality of pain. I find a great deal of joy in letting myself get lost in it, in letting it block out all other thoughts. I long for it. I crave that soul stirring release of control that comes just before the overwhelming fear of doing permanent damage to myself. Irresponsibly chasing the excitement of something bordering on insanity often conflagrates into an all-consuming light that I imagine many would call divine.
In a former life of mine, this is how I defined intensity, in all things. Anything less than black out…not worth doing.
I was, and to be honest, often still am, distracted by the allure of going hard. And I don’t just mean like sort of sweaty, sort of out of breadth hard, I mean really fucking hard. There’s no in between. There’s no pacing. When it’s time to go, we fucking go.
Unfortunately, in CrossFit, this is also the intensity that traps many of us in a bottle of mediocrity.
CrossFit does not define intensity with masochistic insanity. Instead, intensity is simply a function of an athlete’s optimal work capacity across broad times and modal domains. Teetering on the edge of self-destruction does not innately produce fitter athletes. In fact, it’s detrimental.
I know, that’s crazy. But, actually, it’s not, it’s just math.
This physical intensity addiction keeps athletes like me locked into a perpetual cycle of PR, plateau, injury, fatigue, slow recovery, and if I am lucky, another slight PR only to be thrust back into the cycle again.
So what, am I saying take it easy…what the hell, man? It’s supposed to be, “go hard or go home,” right? “No pain, no gain,” right? “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” right? 2nd place is the first loser!
In his first major philosophical work, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote about the trappings of modern philosophy and related it to a bottle trapping flies. Imagine a slightly curved bottle, suspended from a hook, with a sweet nectar-soaked towel placed at the bottom of the bottle, opposite the opening. The bottle dangles with the curved opening pointed toward the floor and the nectar now strategically positioned at the top.
Flies entering via the opening at the bottom make their way to the top of the bottle, attracted by the sweet treat and the light coming from the top. Once reaching their reward, the flies suck their fill of nectar. Unfortunately, for them, once they are ready to move on to something else, they are unable to leave because banging their beady little eyes against the glass will never equal escape and remembering how they originally entered the bottle via the curved opening exceeds their intellectual capacity.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are the flies.
Well, I’ll speak for myself, I am a fly. I do enjoy a little sweet nectar and shoveling piles of philosophical horse shit from time to time so the metaphor seems appropriate. As for the rest of you, I’ll let you lean in as much as you want. Bottom line, the more we let ourselves get attracted to the sweet nectar of physical intensity, the deeper we get trapped in the bottle of mediocrity.
For Wittgenstein, the solution was the abandonment of modern philosophy which he felt had fallen victim to solipsistic intellectual introspection without real life, materialistically phenomenological application. In other words, for Wittgenstein, philosophy no longer served any purpose in making life better and therefore was to be avoided.
For me, and I would argue for many of you, once CrossFit stops making the rest of your life better, you may have inadvertently trapped yourself at the top of the nectar bottle in the name of INTENSITY (all caps intended).
Knees always hurt? Oops, that’s the glass bottle, buddy. Can’t seem to shake that overwhelming sense of fatigue? Yep, banged it with your head again. Need 30 minutes of warm up just to do the warm up? Ouch, ya’ okay…you really hit your head hard that time.
So my solution – go back to where we started. When I first started doing CrossFit, I couldn’t go that fast with most of the movements because they were still so new. I had to slow down, work on technique. My athleticism could only take me so far before I quickly injured myself so I decreased the intensity in one way (physically) to increase the intensity in another (mechanics and technique).
Ask yourself if you know which movements make you exceed your current capacity. Strong runner…well how about your heavy barbell movements? Like the barbell so you avoid “cardio” days? What makes your heart rate go above 80% your maximum? Do you even know when that happens? Can you feel it? Do you ever get your HR above 60% its maximum? Do you know what that feels like?
We all have our habits. We all fail at the margins of our experiences. We all have our weaknesses. This isn’t a conversation about that. This is me realizing that efficient movement that yields long term health and thus a better quality of life does not come simply by doing more shitty work harder. It’s time to stop suffering simply for the sake of suffering. It’s time to believe in the process again.
As I said, I’m often the first in line for the pain sandwich, and I’m sure I’ll eat a few more of them before my days come to a close; but I think I’m ready to try something else on the menu. I’ve heard this place serves a fabulous cup of curiosity soup…I may try that this week.
See you on the Creek.