Bear with me…
I was up in the hills the other day with three dogs – an old dog, a young dog and a puppy. Their behavior was remarkably different and I think lends a concrete lesson to approaching fitness and goals of any kind for that matter.
Old Dog – Poor old Dixie is about 11 years old at this point and, while still in great condition for a dog of that breed and age, just not her former self. She diligently walks along, never straying too far from her humans and just maintains a steady, if not somewhat labored, gait to and fro snuffling here and gazing doggily into the distance there. In years past, she would bound through the hills, chase cows, roll around in whatever feces she should find and, if you weren’t careful, become a brown spot in the distance barely within ear shot. Those days are gone, but she dutifully takes her walk through the hills and appears to enjoy the experience in any event.
Young Dog – Sadie is a few years old and basically operates on a balls-to-the-wall system of propulsion. It is actually rather amazing an beautiful to watch her spring and dance across the hills, bounding with endless fury to some curious hole 300 yards away. And, before you know it, she is a white spec of fluff that damn near time traveled across a small gulley, hill and rocky outcrop to explore one of a 1000 burrows of unknown habitation. There is an allure to her carefree rampage across the hills – no worries of “rolling an ankle” (if such a thing is possible for a dog), receiving a life ending bite or misjudging a hill for a cliff and jumping inadvertently to a broken leg. Just pure bliss as she darts about the tall grass.
Puppy Dog – Salami is just a few months old and, while curious and full of energy, is still just too floppy and uncoordinated (not to mention, disobedient) to go off leash in the big wide open. She is operating within the imposed confines of her humans and hates every moment of it. However, at the end of the day, she is exhausted beyond anything she has ever experienced – 2 miles of walking is probably 400% longer than she has ever gone in one sitting. But, she will grow, mature, get her legs about her and learn the commands that will eventually prevent her from getting lost in the hills.
The lessons may be apparent already, but to spell them out:
Don’t have to be an old Dog
Dogs will operate in the maximum capacity that they are able – no more, no less. They don’t “push” themselves in the sense that they will do up to and exactly what feels comfortable and most right. An old dog won’t try and run with the young dogs. But, we as people can make a conscious decision to avoid this. For better or for worse, we can elect to go beyond our comfort zone and try to push the envelope beyond what our genetics, culture or natural inclination would have us rather do. Among the hardest things for adults to do is learn a new language. Why might this be? Well, theoretically you have mastery in one already – starting over sucks a big one. Communication is also critical to human function, robbing yourself of that ability is frustrating. Also, the utility derived from being receptive to new languages later is life is pretty low, from an evolutionary perspective. Then there is time, opportunity and so on and so on. When absolutely forced, humans make do and learn what they have to. But, do you really think there is anything stopping a truly determined person from seeking out, learning and mastering a second language? There will be hurdles, but greater feats have been surely accomplished. New goals and skills of any kind are like this. By the time we hit 30, we are, for better or worse, old dogs prone to do exactly what is comfortable. But, we can consciously elect to ignore that, transcend our animal brains and learn something new. We can make a forced choice to be something we are not. We are not dogs – we can choose our fate if we so desire.
Be a Young Dog!
When you are able, go balls to the wall! Why not? What is at stake? Let’s be clear, stupidity is not the same thing as operating to your fullest ability in any given context. If the motive is to avoid injury, let’s be clear – avoidance of pain is not the same thing as the pursuit of pleasure. One can operate in both a high intensity fashion AND be safe to the extent that you avoid some catastrophic injury. Yes, the tweaks, aches and pains will be there. BUT, if you like to Ski – let’s not pretend you aren’t putting something on the line when you hit that black diamond super pow for the last run of a long day. Without risk, the reward is invariably low. It’s up to you how you wish to proceed, but understand that those who don’t put it on the line rarely stand to gain much. Don’t ask Mark Cuban for advice on how to pinch your pennies or Randy Couture what the best method for shoulder injury is. You most certainly won’t be a billionaire or legendary (and old) mixed martial artist, but you can still be awesome and be a young dog!
Understand that you might be a Puppy
The adage goes by a million different phrasings, but is most aptly captured by stating, “you must walk before you can run.” To apply this to CrossFit in particular, I think the confluence of events that most often leads to injury, and thereby criticism, is athletes and coaches not understanding their inherent limits. Taking a newbie and introducing things that require a mastery of preceding steps…and then ignoring that the preceding steps are still a work in progress. There is a difference between being able and applying that ability to go balls to the wall and taking the time to learn and grow into a state that allows for that. It is a subtle distinction, but a necessary and important one. Basically, it boils down to the idea of shortcuts. A very frequent question is, “are there any shortcuts or tricks to X?” No, there are none. The best shortcut you could ever discover is that there are NO shortcuts and proceed from there. In the same way, there is no way to magically make my puppy older, wiser or better behaved. It is a slow and steady process. The upside? Like it or not, the processes undertaken to learn as a puppy will exhaust you, teach you and improve you in any event. That little puppy dog was all tuckered out despite having performed about 1/10 the activity of the young dog. But, it was necessary to her adaptation to the environment and preserving her safety so that she can become a young dog!