So I turned 30 yesterday…. I’ve been in a reflective mood so I decided to branch out from my normal post topics into a more personal account of a few things I’ve come to learn or change my mind about throughout my twenties. I hope you enjoy it!
It’s not about the numbers
When I was younger I cared a lot about chasing numbers. I was desperate for a 100kg snatch, a 140kg clean and jerk, a sub 20 minute 5km run etc. etc. Even if I didn’t realise it, or perhaps didn’t acknowledge it, I attached a significant amount of self-value to measures of my fitness and strength. And I think a lot of other people do that too, whether they are aware of it or not; whether they will admit it or not. I realise now that having a bigger snatch doesn’t make you a more valuable person. It sounds obvious when you say it. It doesn’t make you a better person or a more impressive individual. It just makes you a better weightlifter. Having goals and ambitions is important. But within the realms of fitness, I admire work ethic and humility, not absolute performance. And above that, I value those who care about others’ fitness journeys and those who always carry a sense of humour. These are the people I want to ‘fitness’ with. You can snatch 20kg or can snatch 130kg. I don’t care. But carry yourself well, work hard, stay humble and stay humorous and you’re an ‘athlete’ in my books. Fitness is about the experience much more than the results for me. These days I’m grateful that I have the ability to snatch, run and walk around (however badly) on my hands. How measurably well I do these things is less important. Do I still want to improve? Do I still have goals? Absolutely. But I realise that what will be will be. I will continue to work hard, have fun and we’ll see where that takes me.
It’s not about me
When I was younger I thought that happiness comes from achieving your own goals; from being ambitious and being successful; from a certain ruthless edge and a commitment to your vision. This is not too dissimilar to chasing numbers as above. This ambition is, to a degree, all about proving your value to others. I’ve come to realise through City Road that fulfilment really does lie on the other side of helping others achieve their goals. Cliches are often like this. We hear them a hundred times but it takes personal experiences to prove them true. We may even accept that they are true. But we don’t really know this until we see it directly. There is something deeply fulfilling about being a part of someone else’s success. And for me, this fulfilment has little to do with what I’ve done to help and much more to do with actually seeing someone else succeed. CrossFit is like that: we provide the environment and the structure, sure. But everyone who walks through our doors and does amazing things does it for themselves. I have had the fortune of being a part of a number of inspirational transformations, both physical and otherwise and I am very, very grateful for that. This has fuelled my vision for the future where I am now driven by the ambition to help others lead a healthy, happy and fulfilled life. I’m not just saying that as I may have been in the past; now, I mean it.
Train to live. Don’t live to train
There is a certain degree of obsessiveness that comes with the territory of CrossFit. And that’s ok. It’s something a lot of us share. I mean, our business depends on it to some degree… But it’s taken me a long time to really learn that the point of training is to enhance and magnify the pleasures of your life outside the gym; to set you up for a long, happy and healthy life, resilient against disease and the stresses of modern life. The point of training is not for it to become an all encompassing end in itself. When you begin to set up the whole edifice of your life to facilitate training and you begin to process every minute decision through the lens of optimising performance, you are asking for trouble. I’ve been there. And I know I am much, much happier on the other side. If you find yourself regularly turning down enjoyable social occasions, refusing to eat birthday cake or avoiding excesses of any kind in the name of performance, give yourself a hearty slap in the face. Are you a professional athlete? No? Then why make the sacrifices of a professional athlete when you can’t enjoy the rewards? Why do we train hard and eat healthy if it isn’t to afford us the opportunity to lead an enjoyable life? And look, it’s ok to drift into this compulsive behaviour from time to time. Shit happens. But if you are in the basement training on a beautiful summer’s day, maybe skip the 4th WOD and have some Pimms in the park with friends, family or your significant other. I want you to use fitness to enhance and improve your life, not as a means to escape from it. We train to live. We don’t live to train.
Coaching has nothing to do with technical skill
When I was younger I used to think a great coach was someone with encyclopaedic knowledge of technical biomechanics, drills and physiology. I thought a great coach was a high level CrossFitter who could wax lyrical about the more esoteric aspects of the kipping muscle up or the snatch. My understanding of a great coach today is markedly different. These days I see exorbitant displays of technical knowledge and athletic skill as egoistical posturing. Coaching is not about how much you know or how much you lift, and it’s definitely not about displaying how much you know. Coaching is about engaging with people on a deeper level to understand their particular stories, their particular needs and how to address them. A great coach need not know every drill under the sun. You’ve probably noticed that we use the same drills over and over again. That’s because the basics work and the difference is made not in the choice of drills but in how you apply them to different people. At City Road our base case test for prospective coaches is this: could you have a beer / coffee / glass of wine with this guy or girl, talk about things outside of CrossFit and have a great time? If the answer is yes, you have yourself the makings of a great coach. The technical stuff you could teach to a monkey. The caring stuff, the genuine concern for other people, you cannot. Again, this I learned over time. And I have found that I am making a much bigger impact with this new vision of what a coach is than I was before.
Remember this from last week? Fuck your macros. And I mean it. You can talk about glycogen replenishment til the cows come home, but if you aren’t eating a nutrient rich diet, you’re just an idiot with a MyFitnessPal account. And yes, I used to be this idiot. I remember crushing doughnuts and Ben and Jerry’s regularly ‘to get my carbs in’. How ridiculous is that? Now I crush doughnuts because it’s fun! And it’s not that I was getting fat or losing performance eating that way. I was lean and I was probably as fit as I ever will be. But I was setting myself up for long-term ill-health. I’ve come to realise that I would rather sacrifice 5% of performance to get 5% more health. It’s a no brainer for me and it relates to a lot of the other points here. Training should support life and as soon as training begins to significantly take away from your health, you’ve overstepped the margin (unless you are a competitive athlete and you make this sacrifice consciously). As a friend of mine told me when he turned 30, when you leave your 20s behind you see your own mortality a bit more clearly and you see that health is EVERYTHING. It is fundamental and too many people, in my opinion, want to trade in long term health for vacuous short term goals like an enormous back squat or 5% body fat. Getting to 30 forces you to appreciate that you will also get to 40, 50, 60, 70 and hopefully beyond. And those years will be no less important to you than your current years. So set yourself up now for a long and happy life. Your 70 year old self will not understand why you sacrificed health to stand on a stage in pants so that other people could examine the ‘package’ you’ve brought (I didn’t make up this terminology…).
Have an open mind
When I was 21 (or maybe even 25…) I’d have told you that CrossFit is by far the best way to get fit and anyone not squatting heavy and doing thrusters and kipping pull ups is a diagnosable fool. Now I’m willing to accept that there are many, many ways to skin the fitness cat. Do I still think CrossFit is the best methodology out there? To be frank: yes, I do. I do really believe in CrossFit. That being said, compliance is everything and therefore the degree to which you engage with and enjoy a particular mode of training is key. If you hate CrossFit (I know: what kind of imbecile hates CrossFit, right?) then you won’t turn up to sessions. And if you don’t show up, it doesn’t matter how effective the programme is. Look, CrossFit itself may not be the most effective way to get fit. But it has a great balance of effectiveness, engagement and social / community energy and that is what makes it so great. If I told you right now, as a matter of fact, that doing 1,000 burpees for time every day was without doubt the best fitness protocol out there, would you do it? I know I wouldn’t. And this means that it’s not an effective protocol. The moral of the story is to find something you really enjoy. If it’s pilates, knock yourself out. If it’s yoga, great. If it’s boxing, fine. Even if it’s fucking Zumba, be my guest. If you aren’t on the coach and you’re out there doing something, you’re already winning. And I also believe that a lot of these other methodologies can be used in conjunction with CrossFit to great effect. Yoga, Pilates, MMA, natural movement: these could all improve your performance in CrossFit. I think it is really important in fitness as well as in life to have an open mind. I’ve changed my mind so many times about so many things that I know now not to take my current beliefs too seriously. They may well change and I’m happy to let them.
It’s all about the people
Beyond helping people get healthy and fit, what I am most proud of is having been part of creating an amazing community of inspiring individuals at City Road. Honestly, the success of City Road is much more down to them than it is down to me or anyone else on the team. City Road is it’s members and these guys never fail to inspire me. We really do have an open source approach to fitness and I believe I learn as much from the members as they do from us. Indeed, the members themselves learn as much from each other as they do from us. And that is a recipe for something special. For those of you that know me well enough to know my introvert / reclusive side, you’ll be surprised to hear that my favourite part of my job is being able to spend time with City Road members. We have a culture that developed entirely organically. We are the nerds of CrossFit. The spreadsheet warriors. We work hard but play a little harder. We aspire to seriously great things but never seriously. We will laugh and joke as much as we grunt and sweat. And of course, we live by the motto, “don’t be a pussy”. Get stuck in, fuck it: what’s the worst that could happen?
See you at 40!
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