Fitness is… Fear

Originally posted April 10, 2013.


Fitness is…. Fear.

“No matter how much faculty of idle seeing a man has, the step from knowing to doing is rarely taken.” –R.W. Emerson

Ever find yourself paralyzed?  Trapped in a chalk circle of destructive behavior or inconvenient responsibilities?  You think thoughts that never become words, make promises you never intend to keep, and start projects only to leave them unfinished.  It begins slowly and imperceptibly, but before you know it you’ve become an opportunity avoider instead of an opportunity seizer.  Years have passed and you’re looking back on your younger, more hesitant self uttering the same words as generations before you: “I wish I would have…”

Such regret is a sour pill to swallow, and the chief culprit jamming it down your throat is fear.  From fear of pain to fear of death, fear of embarrassment to fear of failure, fear of rejection to fear of financial instability, we live in a constantly terrified state.  We inject our decisions with skepticism and prudence, not because we enjoy or endorse those characteristics, but because we’re too afraid to live otherwise.  Doing so would mean opening ourselves up to demons we’re unprepared to face and risks we’re unprepared to take.  Rather than walk that path fiercely, we choose to avoid the confrontation entirely.

Thankfully, while modern society may promote the cautious course, fitness favors the bold.  You have to buck up, exercise, and start eating right if you want to change your body.  Taking these steps is scary, not because they’re difficult or complicated, but because they mean admitting to yourself that you’re not the person you wish you were.  As simple as that sounds, it’s astonishing how many people refuse to acknowledge this truth.  How many avoid mirrors?  Or dodge photographs?  Or remove all scales from their house?  This isn’t an enlightened rebellion against superficiality.  It’s denial.  You avoid these reflections because you’re scared of what you’ll see.


And I’m not saying it’s easy to confront yourself—it’s probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do.  But ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, and a life guarded by unadmitted truths will feel phony to the end.

The first step in this process is discarding the false deterrents we all like to hide behind. Your schedule, your family, your job, and your medicine cabinet are not the things preventing you from becoming fit.  You are not the only person facing these challenges, and they are not insurmountable.  They are, however, easy scapegoats for the person too cowardly to admit they’re not willing to take their own health seriously.

Next, identify the real deterrents.  You fear ridicule, rejection, pain, hard work, commitment, and/or failure.  Maybe it’s one, maybe it’s all, but in some form or another you’re not courageous to do what needs to be done.

The third step is realizing these deterrents are self-created.  Fear is a projected emotion, based solely on the idea of what might happen, and therefore has limited grounding in the real world.  We assume people will reject us, not because they’ve given us reason to think so, but because we have low self-esteem.  We think failure is the worst outcome, not because we’ve been there and felt it, but because we don’t trust ourselves to succeed.

Finally, we have to acknowledge these deterrents as shared by all.  THIS JUST IN: Your fears are not uncommon.  Ridicule, rejection, pain, and failure are among the most ordinary fears known to man and everybody in the gym is dealing with, or has dealt with them.  For some, simply walking through the door felt like climbing Mount Everest.  Realizing that you are not alone in this casts those fears and doubts in a whole new, and conquerable light.

Nearly two years ago my grandmother came to me fresh off a surgery that removed her rotator cuff and asked if I thought CrossFit was right for her.  At the time she was a 76 year-old Italian food addict, a type 2 diabetic, and had no strength or conditioning background whatsoever.  Her known exercise history consisted of walking to the mailbox and playing bridge.  Furthermore, her doctor had just told her that, as a result of her surgery, she would never be able to raise her left arm above her head without assistance from the right.  She promptly gave me a demonstration of this fact with a sideways smile.  She’d seen me compete at the Games each of the previous 2 years, so she knew there was a ton of CF stuff she wasn’t physically capable of doing.  If anyone deserved to be afraid of the gym, it was her.  Yet there she stood, arm in a sling, asking me if she could try CrossFit.  Talk about courage.  Too old?  Too hurt?  Too out of shape?  Nope, she was willing to try.

After 6 months she was able to do a full range of motion squat.  After a year she was doing goblet squats with a kettle bell.  Now she front squats a 45# bar no problem. She went from doing wall pushups, to planks, to pushups from her knees.  When she started she couldn’t hop from one foot to the other without struggling to balance. Now she’s skipping rope.  Her blood sugar is as low as it’s ever been.  EVER.  And that shoulder she couldn’t lift overhead is now doing clean and jerks, snatches, and full range of motion kettlebell swings.  Her doctor is amazed, but he shouldn’t be.  Effort is everything.

A few weeks ago a lady came into my gym inquiring about CrossFit.  She was in her sixties, a little overweight, and obviously intimidated.  She took one look at my grandmother and stood in awe.  She watched in amazement as someone at least a decade her senior moved about the gym with confidence, strength, and enthusiasm.  She saw her sweating and laughing alongside college students and young mothers in their twenties.  She saw her push past imposed limits without fear or hesitation, and walk out with more energy than she had walking in.   I could see in her expression that she now believed CrossFit was something she might be able to do–that’s the other thing about fear: the absence of it inspires others.

After a bit of conversation, this lady told me her husband had left her after 36 years of marriage for a younger woman.  She had tears in her eyes, obviously terrified of a future she never imagined having to face alone.  She asked me about class times, demographics, and cost, all the while fighting to keep her composure.  She didn’t have any short or long-term goals, wasn’t here to lose 30 lbs or run a marathon.  She was here to take control of her life, to be rescued from the fear of the unknown, and to fight against the pain she was now feeling.  Rarely have I been so proud of someone I’d never met.

CrossFit, and fitness in general, is a training ground for the courageous.  Showing up day after day to risk embarrassment, failure, and pain builds a resilience that will withstand whatever the outside world throws at you.  There’s nothing harder than the moment in life where you have to decide whether to quit or continue, but we face that decision every day, in every workout.  All your doubt, hesitation, and weakness gets exposed in that moment, and, in here, you have permission to be fearless.  You can choose to keep going in spite of the pain and the suck, just like you can choose to never look back and say “I wish I would have…” Fitness forces your hand in this regard.  It breeds courage in the willing and inspires those teetering on the edges of chalk circles to take a step out into the real world.  And I’m glad… the view out here deserves to be seen.