Photo by ElNariz/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by ElNariz/iStock / Getty Images

I’m in Hong Kong for two weeks. Since I’ve been on the move almost nonstop for the past couple months, including visiting family, friends, camping off the grid on the Best Coast of the US, soaking up rays in Hawaii, and finally, leading our epic Adventure Awake trip in Mongolia, the most urgent thing for me right now has everything to do with my body. While I love the life of a traveler, I need home-cooked food and a routine workout schedule in my life real bad. 

So I signed up for a gym for the duration of my stay. I have a friend here who brought me to a metcon class there a few days ago, at 6am of all hours of the day, and in addition to getting a thorough ass-kicking and almost puking, I also re-remembered how important it is for me to move my body. Behind the urge to puke was SO MUCH GRATITUDE for physical exertion. I resolved to go every single day of my time here (except Sundays, when they’re closed, and because rest is important). 

Yesterday, I attended a strength class where I did a lot of heavy reps and when I couldn’t keep my eyes open at 8pm last night, I knew I was done for. I woke up at 3am this morning with killer DOMS, and immediately regretted signing up for another metcon class this morning, a class I could not cancel. And then I got there and it was a chipper. 

A chipper is code for “holy fucking shit this is insane.” It starts with 100 reps of a thing that seems like no big deal and then ends with 10 reps of another thing that seems like no big deal. But in between are 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, and 20 reps of other different things that singularly seem like no big deal. 

Together, it’s a really big deal. 

There’s usually a time cap on it. Ours was 35 minutes. Our coach reassured us that so far no one she knows has made it past the 50 reps landmark, something called a 180 degree sprawl. I still have no idea what that is, but it SUCKED. 

About midway through my 70 deadlifts, I began to realize how much this chipper is just like personal growth. When I’m not suffocating on a gym floor and dripping sweat, I often parallel gaining emotional muscle to gaining physical muscle, and today was a visceral experience of that. I definitely wanted to quit and run out the door at least a dozen times. Sounds about right, huh? 

We tend to approach our personal growth with about the same systematic mindset as we might each individual section of the chipper. Air squats don’t sound so bad, until you have to do a hundred of them. Even that is pretty manageable until you have to follow them with 90 V-ups, 80 kettlebell swings, 70 deadlifts, 60 dumbbell thrusters…you get the idea. 

We take on personal growth as this thing we’re going to tackle and check off our list. And we idealize it and get super inspired. We meet other people who are on the personal growth train and we really like them and we decide it’s for us because the community is awesome and we don’t understand why we can’t just be happy at our jobs and attract all the hotties and have all the sex and we want to know why. We opt in to the personal growth train with full enthusiasm thinking all we need is a few tools for our tool belt and we’ll be set. And then we get started, we get FUCKED UP, and we’re like OH HELL NO BITCHES I’M OUT. 

Except there’s a part of you that knows - it may be a really deep down part of you but it’s still a part of you - that once you start, you gotta keep going. 35 minute time cap be damned, not only will you finish this workout, you’re going to be an emotionally balanced, happy, swole, athlete instagram star. 

That’s when desperation kicks in. (As painful as it sounds, this is A GOOD SIGN.) Welcome to The Path.

—————— 

Starting my air squats this morning I was pretty enthusiastic. I’ve got strong thighs (read: a big muscular ego from my days as a weightlifter) and I know how to pace myself. I took it in sets of 25. Slow and steady, I chipped away. I started to notice that every other person in the class had moved onto V-ups before I got to my last 25-rep set. 

This is the part where, as in emotional fitness as in physical fitness, YOU DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO ANY OTHER PERSON IN THE ROOM. 

You may be the biggest, fattest, most emotionally insecure person in there. That does not make you inferior. 

Remember: YOU ARE IN THE ROOM. You have not yet left the room (don’t leave!). Showing up is actually the hardest part. 

Also, personal growth and metcon and especially LIFE are not competitions. When Crossfit has Games and declares a Fittest Man and Woman on Earth, I cringe inside. While I love watching people do crazy workouts as much as the next lady, that shit is relative, you guys. There are plenty of extremely fit people who don’t do crossfit. And there are plenty of professional crossfit athletes who hate their jobs and can’t find love. 

When we compare ourselves to the best person in the room, and we make ourselves inferior because we’re not as fast or as good with expressing our feelings, what we’re doing is not being in approval of ourselves right now; right in this very moment. 

Do you know what’s needed to truly succeed at literally anything? 

APPROVAL. 

Do you know what approval is? 

SELF-LOVE. 

It’s at this point that I got tunnel vision. As far as I was concerned, I was the only one in there - I realized that the only person I’m competing with here is myself, with my mind. I didn’t skip a single rep, as I fell further and further behind the other women in the room. Things started to get a little dark and earnest but at least I was in full approval of that. 

This is the part where, as in emotional fitness as in physical fitness, HUMOR IS IMPORTANT. 

Clearly dead last in the room (oh wait, this isn’t a competition!), I remembered that I signed up for this shit. I have a choice about being here right now and why in god’s name would I want this experience to be anything other than delightful? The girl in front of me muttered “Fuuuuuuuuck” as she threw herself onto the airdyne assault bike for her 30 calorie spin, and I praised her for creating an extra breeze in the room from the stationary wheel. Not only did we both get a great laugh out of her being my human air conditioner, but she pushed herself harder, and so did I, because of it. 

Byproduct of humor? 

CONNECTION, y’all. 

Byproduct of connection? 

EMPATHY!

—————— 

Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for saying “No Pain No Gain” and Kelly Starrett is renown for reminding us to “not go into the pain cave.” So which is it? 

In order to gain muscle, you have to rip muscle. That’s science, folks. And that can literally be applied to anything else in the universe. In order for creation to happen, you need disruption, and destruction. In order to heal, you have to relive old wounds. 

Getting strong and lean hurts. You actually can’t grow the kind of muscle that will change your body structure, increase your metabolism, and make you strong unless you train at high capacity (not high volume). Quality is infinitely more valuable than quantity, which is why being sloppy and cheating doesn’t count. 

Understanding the type of pain that actually results in growth is a fine art. A lot of people abuse their bodies trying to figure this out. Many end up with Rhabdo, and a variety of other injuries along the way.

Personal growth works the exact same way. 

I know a lot of people who think being fucked up is evidence of growth and progress. It can be, but it isn’t always. Sometime it’s evidence of being traumatized, or re-traumatized. Just like Rhabdo. 

Sometimes feeling really great means healing, emotional strength, and power. And sometimes what’s actually happening is spiritual bypass

Again, a certain level of self-mastery is needed here in order to know the difference. 

I’m going to spare you the details of the rest of the chipper. It involved a lot of sweat, grunting, swearing, heavy breathing, and counting. As I eluded to earlier, I made it 12 reps into the 180 degree sprawl. I spent ten minutes on those 12 reps. It may be the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life, but I didn’t give up. 

Don’t give up. 

PS: one very obvious way that crossfit is nothing like personal growth is that personal growth does not have a time cap. Unlike the chipper, there is no end. #sorrynotsorry