This more broadly includes the people we meet, the places we go, and the tools we use in our quest for health. More directly, and as it pertains to this post, it represents our respective abilities/inabilities when it comes to our physical/mental thresholds during exercise.
If we’re lucky, we discover more good things than bad, more strong points than weak. But that’s not reality. In this life, we’re not good at everything. In fact, we’re not good at most things.
Coping with the knowledge that mastery over a vast array of disciplines, skills, and challenges is beyond our capacity, is not a discovery that many are comfortable with making. More encouraging is the unearthing of a hidden talent or a secret strength, one that has been lying dormant all these years just waiting to be dug up. That’s the present we all want to find under the tree, the one that tells us how naturally wonderful we are.
While I write those words with trace levels of sarcasm, my intentions should not be misunderstood. Finding out that we’re naturally good at something is not a bad thing. It’s affirming, empowering, and, most of all, it’s easy. It let’s us know, from time to time, that we’re not completely hopeless, that everything doesn’t always have to be such a struggle.
Once past this initial burst of satisfaction, though, what real good is this discovery? What can we use it for, besides the occasional reassurance that there are some things we can do well?
From this perspective, and in my general opinion, discovering areas where we struggle can be far more instructive, for a number of reasons.
First, it targets our training. When I found out that I couldn’t do chest to bar pullups at the mid-Atlantic qualifier last April, you better believe I practiced them like crazy before getting to the Games. This was a movement I didn’t even really know about before going to Virginia Beach. Then I discovered how hard it was to do, how effective it was in building strength, and targeted my training accordingly.
Second, it questions our approach. A few months ago I did a metcon that prescribed 5 rounds of 3 OH squat, 6 front squat, 9 back squat (all using bodyweight on the bar), and 12 situps. It took 11 minutes, and I was sore for a week. I had expected it to be challenging, but not anywhere near the pain I felt afterwards. Looking back, I realized I had been training heavier squats on strength days, but never in a metcon format, explaining my body’s surprising reaction to the workout. This discovery exposed a hole in my program and, thus, enabled me to rectify it.
Third, discovering our weaknesses gives us the opportunity to improve. If we only did things we were good at, we would have no motivation to train and no knowledge of where we could get better. And the affirmation we receive from getting better is far more powerful than that from discovering natural talent. Most people know this from experience. Think about your first pushup, strict pullup, kipping pullup, handstand pushup, or muscle up. Think about the time you PR’d after being stuck at a certain weight or time for months. This type of empowerment only comes from improvement.
Lastly, and most importantly, realizing that we can improve is a discovery in itself. It’s the one thing we all have in common. While individuals are naturally bigger, faster, or stronger than each other, nobody is without weakness. In fact, in the history of time, nobody has ever been that good at any one thing that he couldn’t get better, let alone that good at everything. It’s a universal impossibility. This is one of the most important discoveries we get to make in fitness:
There is no ceiling.
It's hard to remember when we're getting beaten down by a program or a movement, but everyone's been there. Discovering how hard things can be, how long they can take, and how far we still have to go, these are common struggles, and they're worth enduring. These are the ones that test our ability and raise our threshold.