Excuses, Excuses III: Rationalizing Mediocrity

There are numerous articles circulating the Internet that remind – or should I say, teach – people that despite the massive popularity of CrossFit and similar boot camp gyms and programs, exercise should not be treated as “an all-out war on the body.” The mantra of “no pain, no gain” and its iterations are attacked almost as frequently as they are trumpeted, and it’s nowhere near uncommon to see both popping up all over one’s Facebook feed.

Now, I am in complete agreement with the idea that you aren’t supposed to feel like you were physically abused at the end of each training session. The body and mind cannot handle constant destructive efforts without an eventual breakdown, which is why rest and recovery days are always programmed into any smart training cycle. Most even include a deload week wherein the loads (read: weights) used are set far lower than might be expected in order to allow the CNS and muscles to properly recover without detraining.

The problem is when this perfectly valid reasoning is misused to defend outright avoidance of hard work in the gym or on the road.

Improvement means adaptation to discomfort. Discomfort can sometimes be painful. For example, muscle growth is the result of myofibrillar microtears that are repaired by nutrient flow during rest periods. Before recovery can begin, however, there must be that moment of stress that causes the microtears in the first place. This is why bodybuilders, strongmen, and weightlifters alike must all lift heavy: there will be no increase in size and strength without forcing the body to proactively prepare itself for greater stress. Similar principles are why runners train in intervals at race pace and why a sprinter should know her best 100m time.

If you never feel any kind of discomfort whatsoever, then you have no idea what your maximum capabilities are, and your body – and mind – will feel no need for the process of adaptation. Once in a while, you need to step into the gym ready to discover how far you can go without breaking down. You need to realize just how heavy a 265lbs. front squat is, or how terrible a 2km row can get, before you can start working towards improving them. And along the way, you will have to push yourself right up to the precipice before smartly stepping back. That’s the idea behind 5 sets of 2 reps at 80% of your 1-rep max, or 4 100m sprints at ~3s less than your PR. You will adapt with each trip to the edge, and by doing so push it just a little bit farther.

It always hurts to go all-out. Coming close will be almost as bad, and about as terrifying for all that you know about what the edge is like. You can’t avoid it forever if you’re serious about pursuing excellence, and it always pays off to know just how far and how hard you can go.

To reiterate, I don’t think you should destroy yourself every single day. Believe me, I know perfectly well how bad things will get if you do that to yourself. Get some sleep. Take a day off every week or so. Throw in some light recovery days, especially if you’re feeling wasted. First and foremost, however, you have to work hard to have something to rest and recover from. Pressure produces diamonds. It can be strategically applied and carefully managed, especially if you’ve had a good coach, but it must exist. Be ready to go in hard every now and then, and don’t use the words of others to disguise your fear. Face it, accept it, and overcome it.


5min Ride @ progressive pace (work to ~30kmph)

5x10s hard / 50s easy pace


20s work / 20s rest

3 rounds


Push Press @ 2x20lbs


Strength Work

3x Pistol Squat per minute for 10min (i.e. 10 sets)

KB Circuit

8 rounds @ 2x25lbs / 30-60s rest

Don’t set the kettlebells down between exercises.

6x Double Swing

6x Double High Pull

6x Double Clean

6x Front Squat

6x Double Jerk


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