Let me tell you about Jose.
“No Way Jose” is a mountain bike trail at Sprain Ridge park in Yonkers, New York. Jose is aptly named, as it’s one of the most demanding of all of Sprain Ridges twisty, technical sections.
After a recent slippery morning with Jose, I developed the awareness that every time I try to ride Jose, I have to get off my bike and push, and ultimately it turns into a not-so-good time. My skills have improved in the last two years, but not enough to ride Jose… yet.
On Wednesday morning I visited Sprain Ridge for a ride, apprehensive of how the snow and frost would influence the riding. I also made the decision to ride all of my favorite trails, but avoid Jose. That morning at Sprain Ridge included my best riding there, ever. I rode old favorites faster than before, explored some trails that are new to me, and I even seasoned a few drops, rolls, and rocks along the way.
Here’s what ended up happening:
As I mounted my bike on the car and drove back to New York, I delved down the philosophical rabbit hole about what just happened. What could be the negative ramifications of not doing things you suck at?
Very few, if you’re within reason.
The cultural microcosm of fitness thrives on mental and physical discomfort. We feel the burn, go to the pain cave, and endure the tunnel. We often develop the belief that if it’s not hard, if you’re not struggling or hurting, then it doesn’t count.
Yes, it does count, how you feel when you do it counts, too.
I take issue with the “pain for progress” transaction because it’s not one that we have to make. It uses too many of our precious mental and physical resources to be a worthy investment of our time. Consider a phrase that is often heard around the Clubhouse:
Let’s say that me completing a trip to Sprain Ridge with a lap down No Way Jose is “perfect.” That would make “good” having a ride where I enjoy the trails without Jose. Were I to stay home and miss out on the whole thing, I’d be missing the point. Remember; don’t make “perfect” the enemy of “good.”
If there is a particular exercise, a workout, or a style of training that you absolutely despise, let’s go ahead and replace them with something that you DO love. That perfect deadlift program, a hot yoga class, or the spin class your friends are addicted to? It probably isn’t that great if you’re not enjoying it, and it definitely isn’t that great if you’re not even doing it!
Let’s take a look at one of the most polarizing exercises in the world, the bear crawl. Folks love them, hate them, or are precariously perched between the two. In one of our most prolific program design adventures at MFF, Coach Fury wrote a section of class that progressed to 6 continuous minutes of bear crawls by Week 4. We can all agree that 6 minutes of bear crawls is a challenge, right?
Some of us leaned into that challenge and took this class more than they could, to prepare for the increase in duration. Others considered that while bear crawls are beneficial, they don’t particularly take to them, so they ventured to the three distinctly different classes offered. Others didn’t want to bear crawl for 6 minutes, so they didn’t take class at all.
As program designers, Coach Fury and I stay aware of which exercises are loved or hated, and how we can experiment with them for maximal benefit and buy-in. We also strive to balance the overall intensities of the four classes, so that everyone can run their own race. That’s the second part of not doing things you suck at:
Run your own race, and make sure it’s an appropriate one.
You’ll often hear the phrase “Run your own race” at MFF, and I love to add an introspective, “Are you running a race that you’ll win?” There’s no ‘winning’ when it comes to TRX Rows or Turkish Get Ups, but there is a great deal of self-efficacy that comes from finding the balance between challenge and competence.
As humans seeking self-actualization, we all require regular challenges, as well as feelings of competence for what we’re doing. If one outpaces the other, we’re less likely to feel fulfilled. We’re under-challenged, which leaves us feeling bored, or we’re over-challenged, which leaves us feeling overly threatened.
Imagine if the only way to begin running was to run a marathon. You were only allowed to run in increments that started at 26.2 miles. Nobody would run. Nobody. Fortunately, that’s not the case, and if someone wants to run, all they have to do is put one foot in front of the other. This could become a trip around the block, it could become a 5k, a lap of Central Park, 13.1 for fun, or an intense 26.2. The minimum and the maximum is entirely up to you.
For the record, running is rarely on my recommended to-do list for Ninjas or clients, but the ability to run an appropriate race for yourself is something we can all learn from.
If you’re not in the mood for bear crawls, don’t do bear crawls. If you’re not in the mood to run, don’t run. If you’re not in the mood to ride No Way Jose, don’t ride No Way Jose. These are great examples of self-awareness and running your own race by not making “perfect” the enemy of “good.” If not liking bear crawls, running, or Jose means that we don’t get to the gym at all, lace of those shows, or inflate those tires, then we’ve missed the entire point.
We don’t get better by jumping in the deep end and trying to swim, but we’ll never learn to swim if we don’t get in the shallow section with a kickboard and floaties first. We get better when we take appropriate challenges and complete them before we move on to the next appropriate challenge.
The point is not to do things that you suck at. The point is to do things that feel challenging, and then to complete those challenges and feel like absolute bad-asses when we’re done. The point is to get better.