On Superman, CrossFit, and the Dreaded Fitness Plateau

Superman working out, alongside person struggling to stretch

Decisions. They’re the spice of life. As humans, we get to make a bunch of them every day.

Everything from the clothes we put on in the morning, whether or not we say hi to that stranger on the street, and what we eat for dinner. Many of the decisions we make are seemingly trivial. Some could even have an impact on our day (hopefully, for the better :-).

This post is about some of the more important decisions we make as humans; an ever-changing set of choices that governs our lives. This post is about priorities.

The Dreaded “Plateau” of Fitness

“Plateau” is in quotes because you haven’t really reached a plateau. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Many of us have experienced it firsthand, but all of us know what it is. You reach a point in your fitness journey where improvement stops.

  • Your back squat has been hovering just below 300 for the past 3 months.
  • You dropped from 255lbs down to 205, but you’ve been stuck there for the past 3 weeks.
  • That girl who joined the gym a mere 3 months ago is floating like a butterfly on the rig, and your kipping pullups are more flip-floppy than a Brett Favre retirement.
  • Are my double-unders going to show up today, or am I walking out of here with ligature marks?

I know. It’s frustrating. But it’s also very real.

Competition Makes It Worse

What’s even worse? Those guys in the gym you used to always compete with… they’re getting better. And you’re not. They’re slowly but surely running away with WOD after WOD, and you’re left to find a new rabbit.

Before you get all pissed off, quit CrossFit & go pig out on Sugar Shack donuts, let’s examine why this might be happening.

Why?

I’m not going to get all scientific, and try to explain the physiological adaptation that occurs inside our body, causing us to reach a plateau. I’m far from qualified to do such a thing.

But I will say this: there are many reasons. It could be one thing. It could be a combination of many.

As much as you’d like to believe it, you’re not Superman. You may very well be Clark Kent, but you aren’t invincible. You are uniquely and positively human.

You’re Not Invincible

Life is crazy & unpredictable. That’s a huge part of why it’s so friggin’ awesome. But it’s loaded with ups, downs, lefts, rights and in-betweens. It throws more at you than a 3-year-old having a Lego tantrum.

Superman isn’t always Superman, right? Sometimes, he’s Clark Kent. He picks and chooses when it’s time for Superman, and when it’s time to be a regular human, and experience life like the rest of society.

Guess what Clark Kent is doing? He’s making a decision.

Prioritize You

If Superman can’t save everyone, neither can you. Please stop trying.

I didn’t always believe that.

There was a time in my life where I thought I could save everyone, help everyone, and do everything. Honestly, sometimes I venture back to that place and need a reminder (aka: a swift slap in the face).

100% of 100%

In life, you have 100%. 100% of something is all of it. It’s literally all you can give to something.

Unless you’re a mathematician in search of the significance of 100% of 100%. I’ll save you the trouble. I already did the research…

“100 percent. percent=per hundred. 100% is 100 per 100=100/100=1. So 100% of 100% is 100% of 1, which is 1.” It’s a real thing – Read that out loud, number for number. It’s hilariously mind-boggling.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is, you can’t give 100% of yourself to a bunch of different things at the same time. The math just doesn’t work.

And no human being on the planet has only one priority. Even people who make a living by working out, they still have at least one or two other big priorities in their life. Ask Hillary Froning if her life is any different now that Rich isn’t competing as an individual. Ask any new mother if all her priorities are in the same place as they were before she gave birth.

It’s OK to Shift Things Around

Our priorities change. They always have and they will continue to for the rest of our lives. That’s OK. In fact, it’s a great thing. Because if they didn’t, we’d forever be loud, smelly, hungry, selfish, attention-seeking little brats. (I love kids. I really do. But if we’re being honest…)

It’s important to identify when our priorities need to be updated. We should be making decisions based on what our current priorities are, so if our priorities are out of whack, guess what? Our decisions will make absolutely no sense. Doubt will arise. Confusion will ensue. And in rare cases, all hell breaks loose.

I’ve Shifted

In the last 2 months, CrossFit has not been as big of a priority for me. I won’t go into all my life details, but essentially… work, money, dating & Colorado have all been a focal point in my life recently. Fitness is, and always will be, an important part of my life. It’s just not my main squeeze right now.

Related: Why & how I quit ultrarunning

Why It’s Not a “Plateau”

The fitness industry is a $25+ billion industry, with over 55 million Americans belonging to a fitness club (source). And I don’t think those numbers take into account dieting, online wellness programs, etc. Needless to say, we’re probably spending more money on fitness than any other country, and we’re still fat (‘as a nation.’ You look beautiful 😉

We wouldn’t be spending all this money if we consistently reached our goals. Nor would we if we plateaued and got complacent.

My point is that our fitness journey is not linear. We don’t start at 1, work out until we get to our desired number, then stop. Or even, for that matter, plateau. Most of us experience a continual ebb and flow. And with a little knowledge and some self-control, our ebb and flow will continue in an upward trajectory. But we still ebb and flow.

It’s Like Hiking a Mountain

Let’s drop the plateau theory for a second; we’re not in the Serengeti. Y’all know how much I love mountains, so let’s think of it like this.

You pick a mountain. It’s like setting a goal for yourself. You wouldn’t set out to go to the CrossFit Games in your first year, just like you wouldn’t set out to summit Everest. You choose a 5-mile roundtrip hike on moderately challenging terrain, because… 3 is too short and you wouldn’t get a workout. And you’d get lost if it were 10.

You ascend. This is progress. Things are going well so far. You see the “3-miles to the summit” sign. You can now do 5 pullups, and can see all 8 of your abs. Nice work!

You encounter a problem. It’s called life. But no worries. Just shift your priorities. The top of the mountain is no longer your goal. Maybe you twisted your ankle, lost your friend Bob, or a bear eats your leg.

Depending on the severity of your problem, you could do a few things:

  • You go off course, looking for Bob. This adds additional miles, and time, to your journey, but you eventually find Bob, and continue up the same mountain. Your goal remains the same, it just takes a little longer to reach it.
  • You decide your ankle can’t finish the hike, so you head back (hopefully grabbing a piggy back ride from your friend Bob). Take it easy for a few weeks, and once your ankle heals, you go conquer that 5-mile hike. Same goals, you just needed to take a break. But now you’re right back after it.
  • If you get half-eaten by a bear, first of all, I’m terribly sorry. How awful?! Unfortunately, you’ll probably need to re-evaluate your goals moving forward. I don’t think you’ll be hiking mountains any time soon. This could be akin to a serious health condition, family emergency, divorce, new baby, etc. You’ll need to accept that things will be different from here on out.

Plateaus symbolize walking on a straight line, traveling neither up nor down. I think we’re doing ourselves a disservice to think of fitness in this way.

We’re always on a mountain of some kind. There’s hundreds of thousands of them to choose from; all different shapes & sizes. And it’s OK if we sprain an ankle, our friend Bob gets lost, or even if disaster strikes.

Hike up. Hike down. Shift your priorities. Do whatever it is you need to do. Recognize it. And accept it for what it is.

Regardless of which mountain you’re on, and which direction you’re headed…

I’ve hiked a fair share of mountains in my time, and one thing consistently rings true. The magic happens on the journey, not at the summit. So embrace it, and enjoy it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *