What if I Level DOWN??

by Michael Plank

We are right in the middle of our Level Method testing cycle. If you’re not a member at UPCF, 3 times each year, we take a couple of weeks and assess our fitness across 15 different categories. It’s a really helpful way to both measure progress and to be sure that during the rest of the year, we’re using the right loads and movements to optimize our training. It’s super fun to celebrate all the new accomplishments people make, but especially as the length of time you’ve been training increases, you don’t always see that improvement every time. After 2, 3, or 4 years, the improvements still come, without a doubt, but every assessment will no longer be a nonstop PR parade. That can be discouraging.

I recently heard a podcast with Simon Sinek where he talked about his book The Infinite Game. He talked about the concept of Finite Games and Infinite Games, and it was a lightbulb moment for me.

Finite Games are games where there are defined players, defined rules, and a defined desired outcome (think of any organized sport). Infinite Games, by contrast, are games where the players change, the rules change, and there’s no definite desired outcome because there’s no defined end; the goal isn’t to win, it’s to keep the game going as long as possible.

Exercise is an Infinite Game. You don’t win at exercise. You don’t finish the discipline we call exercise. Exercise is something you do forever so that you’re healthy and strong. Now, we do set Finite Games within the Infinite Game of exercise. And that’s what these assessments are. So we might say: “I want to be able to do 30 squats in a minute by January 25th.” There are defined players (you), defined rules (number of squats in a minute), and a defined desired outcome (30 squats in a minute by January 25th). If you achieve that goal, you get a big dopamine hit. You feel good about yourself, if you’re at our gym we put up a picture of you and cheer for you, and it’s great.

But let’s say you don’t hit that number. Let’s say you barely squeak out 20, and end up exactly where you were at the last assessment. If you don’t achieve that goal, you know what happens?


Nothing! You don’t get kicked out of the gym. You don’t fail at exercise. You don’t get weaker. Your parents don’t stop loving you. Your friends don’t abandon you. Nothing happens! Because exercise is an Infinite Game.

Assessments are valuable. They can be inspiring and motivating and useful in making progress. But, like with everything, there’s a dichotomy. When you achieve your goal, celebrate it; tell your friends, post about it, soak up that great feeling. But when you miss your goal (and if you do this long enough, you will miss goals), don’t worry too much about it. Because the game goes on.