Well, hello! It’s been a while, but it’s great to be back. Time away to reflect (and raise two tiny humans) has given me a renewed mission: to inform and inspire, along with igniting a passion for the process of getting fit. It’s not about letting go of your dreams, aspirations and ultimate goals; it’s about gaining the perspective to maintain a healthy balance while pursuing them. Curious about this new outlook? Read on…
They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and that’s where we’re at with the fitness industry these days.
Set goal –> Achieve goal –> Set bigger/longer/faster goal –> Get injured –> Recover –> Set even bigger/longer/faster goal –> Achieve goal (maybe) –> Get injured again –> ???
Sensing a pattern here?
Now, I’m not knocking goal-setting. It’s great to test yourself every now and then, both in relation to your former self and to others. But solely focusing on the achievement of a goal (or string of goals) isn’t just short-term when it comes to fitness; it’s short-sighted.
I’m guilty of this myself. After my son was born, I couldn’t wait to start training again; I had BIG GOALS for a half marathon PR. I thought I was being responsible, doing preventative PT, easing back into running and even going as far as to hire a coach to help rein in my training mileage.
But now I realize that a need to prove myself combined with a narrow focus was ultimately my undoing; I was still missing key strength components to help my new (postpartum) body navigate training.
The PR came, but at a cost: a stress fracture that left me wondering what it was worth.
It turns out there’s a fine line between relentless and reckless. And you don’t often know you’ve crossed it until it’s too late.
Over the past 20 years (I started my writing career at Windy City Sports magazine in Chicago during the early 2000’s), I’ve seen the industry evolve in a way that’s become a lot about ego: followers, PRs, races, workouts in “beast mode.”
The common thread? Bigger, better, stronger, harder, longer, faster, more, more, MORE!
We push-push-push to validate ourselves, thinking that we’ll finally feel the sense of worth that comes with PRs, qualifications, nailing skills or hitting certain levels.
But, the truth is, we still won’t feel good about ourselves, and the finish line just keeps running away.
I’ve talked about this extensively with Al Painter (a friend, colleague, 19-year fitness industry vet and former mountain bike racer), and we commiserated over the shared experience of chasing the elusive “win.”
“When I raced my mountain bike, getting faster was never fast enough. Every ride had to be a training challenge,” Painter told me.
“Winning races weren’t really victories because the second I crossed the finish line, I realized I had to start training for the next event, keeping me from feeling good about the one I just finished.”
We agreed that it’s high time to stop putting pressure on ourselves for PRs, and us competitive-non-elite-athletes are in desperate need of a mental shift.
Whether it takes getting sidelined by a major injury or being quarantined at home due to a global pandemic, we should be utilizing this time not to bemoan missed races, but to re-think our current routines and get back to valuing – and celebrating – the basics.
But don’t basics = boring?
Nope. That’s just your ego talking.
Think of fitness like a pyramid. At the bottom are things like adequate sleep, good nutrition, postural alignment, structural imbalances, etc. When we master these things and are doing them consistently, only then should we gradually layer on other training components.
The top of the pyramid is reserved for elite athletes; not only are they invested in conditioning their bodies for super specific niches, but they also benefit financially from doing so.
“If your livelihood depends on a certain level of fitness to get paid to perform a demanding physical task, you’re playing by an entirely different set of rules,” Painter said in a recent Red Delta Project podcast interview.
For the rest of us, we need to have an honest conversation with ourselves about training our bodies for the life we are living. Or, as Painter says (and I’ve since adopted as my mantra), “You’re not getting paid to play; you’re paying to play.”
I used to measure my fitness in running PRs, but now I define it more broadly: Running’s always been my therapy, so can I keep doing it and stay pain-free, with the occasional race thrown in? Can I lift my toddlers without tweaking my back? Can I go into each day feeling my best, so I can show up for myself and my family?
My challenge to you (and myself) is to take a simpler, kinder approach to your fitness. KISS, if you will. And here’s how we can start:
- Define why, then what. There’s no better time to do some soul-searching. What’s are your motivating forces, and how can you translate them into improving your health in ways that make you feel genuinely good about yourself?
- Develop body-listening skills. Pain isn’t something to be ignored, pushed through or “dealt with;” it’s your body trying to communicate something. Instead of trying various ways to shut it up, have the courage to converse.
- Identify blind spots. Your least favorites are usually the things you need to focus on most: core work, strength training, mobility, posture, etc. Turning weaknesses into strengths is the game-changer. What are you currently resisting?
- Learn what advice to take. And, more importantly, learn who to ignore. There’s a big difference between “expert” and “influencer,” so do your research.
- Reframe fitness success. Mastering one skill is impressive to people who are also concentrating on that one skill – i.e. running. But, again, unless you’re operating at the elite level, it’s not real life. Are you able to touch your toes, do yard work, take a dance class or throw a ball with your kids?
Think holistically, and the way you define yourself, your fitness, your successes and your failures fundamentally shifts.
Don’t stop dreaming; there’s a time and a place for goals. But just don’t base your self-worth on the achievement of them because it’s a slippery slope.
Channel your excitement into what it takes to get from here to there, and then that PR will simply be icing on the cake.