October 22, 2013

Through the Fire

Through the FireSky Fire

“What is to give light must endure burning.”
~ Viktor Frankl


There is an old saying in the world of fitness:

No pain, no gain.

There is an old joke in medicine that goes like this:

Doctor, it hurts when I do this,” said the patient.
Well, then don’t do that,” said the doctor.

Like an angel and a devil sitting on each shoulder, I often hear both voices at the same time. Yesterday I was at CrossFit™ and our workout had one exercise that just hurt. The weight was too high, the movement too awkward, the feeling was wrong even when I slowed it down. The one voice in my head says It’s just 4 rounds – do it…and then the other voice says that’s 80 reps you crazy woman you will not be able to walk tomorrow.

In the end, the desire to do the workout despite the pain won. It took me longer than almost everyone else, it hurt, and I finished it. But I know the risks. I have had enough injury to know that pushing too hard can do real damage. I have also done enough exercise to know that often, my greatest gains come from finding that edgy space right between pushing hard and pushing too hard and working right there.

Pain, in theory, has a protective element to it. The doctor joke is only half a joke…pain is partly a signal to stop doing the thing that hurts. That said, we can condition ourselves to override some of that. We can raise our pain threshold so that it takes more and more stimulus to get to that place of “stop.” We can convince ourselves that pain is good.

And sometimes it that is fine.

We can, however, do this to a degree that makes for easier injury. We can override our own pain signals far beyond when we should stop and get into all kinds of physical trouble. Problem is that if you are looking to find where your edge is you probably have to step over the line a few times to get it right. Unlike modern devices, the body doesn’t come with fancy indicators that flash warnings when you are getting into the danger zone – you just have to feel it out as you go along…and some of us do that better than others.

The body, however, does not stand alone in this process – the great setter of limits, your mind, often jumps the gun and simply cuts you off before you try. You can’t do that, it says. You are too small, too old, too weak. You will get hurt. Stop now while you are ahead.

Yet sometimes to get ahead, we have to ignore that voice most of all. And it’s hard because – at least in my head – it sounds like my voice. And often it sounds sane and helpful and very caring. Of course I don’t want to hurt myself and thank you very much yes I’d love to have a hot bath and a glass of wine and a back rub instead.

To really make gains as humans in this world, we have to push on the edges of our beliefs too. And frankly, I expect that to hurt just as much as any pulled muscle or strained ligament – maybe more. Only when our desire to grow exceeds our need for comfort can we really see that voice for what it is. We have to hold our own feet to the fire, and be willing to get at least a little bit burned.

Off to try again.


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