Effort Versus Expectation

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”
- Archilochus

The truth hurts.

As a rule, most of us don’t enjoy owning up to our shortcomings. When the going gets tough, it’s far easier to blame an external factor rather than identify ourselves as the root of the issue. In time, this lack of self-awareness can cause a crippling disparity between perceived effort and expectation.

When asked to define effort, we tend to conjure words like exertion, strain, endeavour, struggle, or strive, in attempt to narrow the focus of a rather vague concept. However, most would agree that all these definitions can be reduced to one simple concept; hard work.

Few pursuits reward work ethic like CrossFit. As far as sports go, it is extremely low skill. There is no requirement to directly outmanoeuvre other athletes, such as in sports like football or rugby. While athletes must display an impressive level of proficiency in basic calisthenics and weightlifting; they are not required to match the calibre of elite gymnasts or weightlifters.

In the absence of a glass ceiling created by high skill activity, what separates the best CrossFit athletes from the rest of us? We already know the answer, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow; they simply work harder.

Cue the barrage of excuses; kids, jobs, time, money, etc. When we’re not fully realising our own expectations, this self-hosted pity party makes us feel better, because it allows us to shift the blame to an external culprit.

“My squat hasn’t improved? Must be the programming. “

“I haven’t lost weight this week? Must be on the wrong diet.”

Or, maybe you’re just not working hard enough. Told you the truth hurts.

That’s not necessarily a criticism of an athlete’s commitment, or desire to improve. In most cases, it’s simply a lack of awareness or direction. So, what exactly does hard work entail, in the context of CrossFit?

For starters, hard work is not necessarily more work. It’s common for a driven athlete to continually add training volume with the end goal of faster progress. Yet in most cases, as volume increases, intensity will decrease. It’s far easier to half-ass two or three workouts in a day than it is to hit one workout at maximum intensity.

It might be cliché, but CrossFit is a case of quality over quantity; you must earn the right to train with higher volume by first proving you can consistently work out with intensity.

Often, hard work is boring. It’s not adding load to your bar; it’s drilling technique with a PVC pipe. It’s saying no to the pub on a Friday night. It’s choosing to prepare next week’s meals in advance. It’s taking your scheduled rest day when today’s workout looks like great fun.

Hard work is challenging. It’s increasing food intake when you’re scared of losing your abs. It’s getting up early to stretch and mobilise. It’s missing out on social occasions. It’s skipping the latest addition to Netflix. It’s funnelling your income into food, training, coaching and recovery protocols.

Perhaps most significantly of all, hard work demands humility. Nobody likes practicing things they suck at; it’s much more fun to showcase our strengths than it is to address a weakness. After all, hiding behind our strengths makes us feel good, it makes us look good, and other members look on in admiration.

Embracing a weakness is a humbling experience; it’s an acknowledgement that you’re not particularly good at something; that you aren’t perfect. It’s a psychological struggle, as well as physical one. It’s the very definition of hard work.

If that sounds like a lot to sacrifice in the name of fitness, you’d be right.

Which brings me to expectation.

Most people start CrossFit with the aim of shedding a few pounds, while others start to improve performance in their chosen sport. Regardless of the initial draw, it’s not long before priorities change. Inspired by a mum of three linking consecutive muscle ups, performing a strict pull up soon becomes the holy grail. Weeks later, awe struck by a double bodyweight deadlift, the emphasis shifts to building strength.

While it’s great to be inspired by our fellow athletes, we should be wary of comparing ourselves to others. It would be foolhardy to expect the same results as another athlete without first understanding the effort required on their behalf.

We are nothing more than a reflection of our effort. The best athletes in our gym are not the most talented; they simply work the hardest. They make the most sacrifices. They get the most from the limited time they have. If we aren’t prepared to make sacrifices on the same level as those we aspire to, we shouldn’t expect similar results.

But wait a second; before you quit your job and put your kids up for adoption, consider the following;

Would I sacrifice quality time with my kids for visible abs?

Am I prepared to earn less money for a faster Fran time and a heavier squat?

Most wouldn’t – and rightly so. After all, if your goal is to improve your quality of life, become a positive role model for your kids, lose weight, feel better about yourself, or simply have fun, you don’t need to restructure your life to revolve around thrusters and pull ups.

On the other hand, don’t expect to achieve your goals without making a few sacrifices along the way. The loftier the ambition, the harder you’ll have to work, and the more you’ll have to give up.

So, next time we fall short of our own expectations, seek out a mirror. Rather than looking for a scapegoat, let’s take a long hard look at what we’re currently doing. Does it align with our expectations? Is there anything else we can do to achieve our goals? Could we try harder?

In almost all cases, the people who can look inwards and identify their weaknesses are those who experience the most growth – both in fitness and in life.

Robbie Price | Head coach, CFS

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