The Long Game

by Michael Plank

The phrase my parents use most often when talking about my childhood athletic abilities is: “painful to watch.”

It’s totally accurate. This picture marked a massive success for me in that my eyes are open (barely) and I’m facing the ball instead of closing my eyes and turning away. My dad threw this ball from 8 feet away directly into my glove and I still barely caught it. I got hit with soccer balls a million times. I missed easy baskets virtually always. And I tripped and fell nearly every time I tried to run anywhere. Even today if there’s a pickup softball game at a family picnic, Lauren reminds me that it is super obvious when you watch me move that I didn’t grow up being any good at ball sports.

Now though, I’m a halfway decent athlete. I can do double-unders and muscle-ups, walk on my hands, clean and snatch, throw, catch, and shoot with some accuracy, run with some speed and jump with some height. So how did I go from that gawky kid in the picture to where I am now? Here’s the secret…

I just never quit.

That’s it. This is my 12th year doing CrossFit. When I started, I could barely jump over the rope once, let alone do a double-under. I couldn’t do pull-ups. I was terrified of box jumps. I fell down and dropped the pvc every time I tried to snatch. I wasn’t strong enough to do strict push-ups. My mile time was almost double what it is now. And I was 50lbs heavier than I am today.

At the end of year 1, I was lighter and stronger.
In year 2, I got my first double-under.
In year 3, I figured out how to do kipping toes-to-bar
In year 4, I got my first muscle-up.
In year 5, I got stuck and felt like I didn’t make any progress at all.
In year 6, I broke the plateau and set new lifting PRs. I finally got cleans and snatches. Then we had a baby and all those lifts dropped back down.
In year 7, my fitness started to come back. I did Murph for the first time.
In year 8, I learned to walk on my hands.
In year 9, I got my first triple-under.
In year 10, I was in the best shape of my life.
In year 11, I hit lifetime PRs on my lifts and made Brown overall on the Level Method map.
In year 12 (right now), we had another baby and a global pandemic and my fitness dropped again.

And just in case you missed it, note that those are years 1-12, not months. That’s more than a decade so far. It’s had highs and lows, and now it’s at a low. But I don’t care. Because I’ll be working on my fitness all year this year and it’ll go back up. And, God willing, for another 12 years to come, and then another 12 after that.

And here’s why any of this is relevant…

All the time, we see people get super frustrated because they’re not where they want to be. I get that. I really do. Virtually everything in life right now we can have immediately whenever we want it. But not fitness. Not health. Not weight loss. It just doesn’t work that way.

Quick fixes are a gimmick. They almost never last.

But over the course of a year? 5 years? 10 years?

You can work absolute magic.

There Are More than Two Options

by Michael Plank

At the end of my last semester of college I got a letter from the university that said I would not graduate with the rest of my class. Turns out that skipping tons of classes has consequences. I remember my thoughts spinning immediately to how awful it would be to tell my parents; to how I would end up a college dropout; to how I’d have to list it on my transcript and would never get a job; to how I’d be broke and living in the basement of the house where I grew up for the rest of my life. Now, the inevitability of that downward spiral wasn’t actually true, of course.

There’s a great phrase in the world of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: “Cognitive Distortions.” Therapists sometimes call these “Thinking Mistakes.” They’re thought patterns, or ways of looking at the world that we use on a regular basis but are fundamentally built on something that’s just not correct. The one I experienced in college is called “Catastrophizing.” There are lots more though. “Generalizing” involves taking one experience (usually a negative one) and letting it color your entire view of the world. If you were bitten by a beagle when you were 6 years old and now you believe that beagles are dangerous, that’s generalizing.

The one we see all the time though is called “Polarization” or “All-or-Nothing Thinking.”

It’s the idea that you are all in or all out; on the wagon or off the wagon; eating clean or eating like an asshole; crushing it or you need to get your shit together. There is no in-between, no gray area, no middle ground. It’s black and white. Yes or no. One or zero. Binary thinking. And that’s especially present at the holidays. I can’t tell you the number of times we hear people worried that celebrating the holidays will destroy all the progress they’ve made.

But the thing is: that’s just not the way the world actually works. That whole all-or-nothing lens is based on a completely inaccurate concept. There’s tons of gray area. The world is not an all-or-nothing place.

Working out 5 days a week, following a strict keto diet, sleeping 9 hours per night, and meditating for 15 minutes every day isn’t being “On the Wagon.” It’s an extreme. The other extreme is eating a gallon of ice cream a day and sitting on the couch for all your waking hours. But there is so much room between those extremes!

Extremes aren’t sustainable, but that’s ok, because there are more options than just the two extreme ones. Working out once a week is better than never. Doing 10 squats before bed is better than doing nothing. Eating a single piece of broccoli is better than no vegetables at all. And by the same token, one Christmas cookie won’t ruin your progress. A holiday full of snacks, sweets, and family movies on the couch won’t destroy all your gains.

A good life is lived between the extremes, not at them. Keep growing and progressing, but remember that you don’t need perfection to make progress.

The holidays are here. Enjoy them! Live your life. And keep moving forward, even if it’s only by eating a single piece of broccoli more than yesterday.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Underwood Park CrossFit!