Get comfortable with it. If you’re not failing, you’re not getting better. And if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
This idea represents two important things to me.
First, intensity is everything. A properly balanced program will vary its workouts in terms of style, movement pattern, and volume, but not in intensity. Whether the focus is strength, endurance, or metabolic conditioning; whether you’re working deadlifts, overhead presses, or sprints; whether its Angie or Fran; the intensity has to be maximum. This is not to say that every workout must put you on the floor. Intensity isn’t necessarily about exhaustion. It’s about focus, will, and the commitment to a full effort, regardless of the challenge. For example, my grandmother is training to lose weight through a combination of cardiovascular training, group strength classes, and Pilates. Needless to say, her ideal post-workout position is not sprawled on the floor next to a trash can. Her approach to fitness should, however, mirror that level of physical intensity in her concentration and dedication to completing her routine with maximum effort. This attitude will force her to test her limits on hikes, with weights, and on the Pilates mat, ultimately pushing her to the point of failure in many respects. This is a good thing.
The same can be said for Crossfitters, just in a more obvious way. WODs are designed to test limits in a wide range of physical and mental capacities. So test them! The people that get the most out of workouts are not the ones who complete them easily, or those who zone out halfway through in an effort to “just get through it.” If you ever find this to be the case during a workout, you’re missing the point. One inarguable beauty of this program is that, regardless of ability, every WOD can be met with the same level of effort and focus, and thus can impart the same physical and mental effects. The biggest beneficiaries are the people who fail over and over and over during the course of a WOD, and then get up to fail some more.
The second concept failure brings to mind is fear. People are so afraid to fail. From a young age, it is something we have been taught to avoid at all costs. This fact, combined with the knowledge that failure is actually essential to our ultimate success, makes this fear one of the toughest paradoxes for our psyche to overcome. I, for one, know this emotion too well. Before football games I would get this deep, paralyzing self-doubt regarding my own ability. Every week, I was certain the defensive back opposite me was stronger than I was, faster than I was, and, in general, better than I was. This usually didn’t subside until the first major collision of the game, when the intensity level became so high that I no longer had time to doubt myself, only to act.
Interestingly, I see the same thing happen all the time in gyms and Crossfit boxes. As Sarah wrote the chipper on the board at the Butcher’s Lab this past weekend, different people softly objected to elements they were weak on, or complained that they would have to scale. In Halmstad for the Scandinavian Challenge, I heard stories of people dropping their names from the competition when the WODs got posted, mostly because they were inconsistent with their personal strengths. Every time someone is embarrassed to bench press or back squat next to a guy that can double his total, it’s the embarrassment over his relative failure that holds him back.
How to conquer this fear? Rather than focusing on the competition between individuals, focus on the competition with the workout. Again, this should be the competitive standard for all workouts anyway. Then, when you really need it, when you’re just about to quit, when you’ve been pressed to the brink of failure, that’s when you start looking for extra motivation. That’s when you use the intensity of those around you to will yourself to the next rep. That’s when the community leans on itself, pushes its collective limits, and builds itself stronger than before.
The bottom line is that fitness requires failure. Your body adapts to challenges it cannot meet in order to better prepare itself for the future. This process involves levels of fear and intensity that are typically uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary. If you’re not outside your comfort zone, you will not improve. And if you're not trying to improve, what exactly are you doing?