Grapes…then Raisins: Quantifying Quality in the Gym

Preface: I’ve spent more time reading in 2015 than I have at any other stage in my life, college pursuits included. This year, I set a goal of reading 20 substantial books by year’s end. It’s an arbitrary, scoreboard-like number, I now realize. Whether my reading habits are directly correlated to a back injury or not, I’ve yet concluded. Maybe it’s consistent – this desire to build one’s own library of books – with aging in general? I am 31 after all.

Of my most recent readings, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has commanded a respectable amount of thought on my behalf. In a egregiously brief nutshell, Robert Pirsig (the author) chronicles a cross-country motorcycle trip he and son embarked upon in the early 1970s. Without delving too deeply into the plot, it’s outlines his metaphysical attempts to define quality and apply it to his philosophy (I haven’t tainted the story, should you choose to peruse – I promise). Quality. Perhaps a word you’ve heard us frequently harp upon? Ultimately, Pirsig’s struggle to define ‘quality’ provided the impetus for my quest to better articulate what we mean in our daily harangues. What exactly does rule #7 mean?

Let’s first examine life outside the gym. I surmise 99% of us live in quite a rush. We speed from one task, to the next. Scramble through our chores. Fly from work to the gym, and dash on to the next social engagement. The result is a sort of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony leaving one to wonder what happened [to the last 5 weeks, months, years] and sorry for the passing. I’m 31. What?! Such is life and I admit to much of the same behavior. To coin a common cliché, life happens…there’s no circumventing it. We put our heads down and run blindly to the next task begging for attention. We hurry. In truth, our culture focuses mostly on an end result – who wins and by how much. It’s life’s perpetual scoreboard from which we define and categorize everything and it’s all quantified.

In an eerily-similar way, we apply this result-oriented approach to our gym behavior. We hurry. What was the finish time? Load on the bar? Score? What was Rx’d? It’s [mostly] the nature of CrossFit. Anyone having trained in a CrossFit gym or group can attest to pursuing, against better judgement, the coveted ‘Rx’ badge of honor – myself included (of course, that’s not to say competition is without merit). CrossFit has encultured the same quantifiable, business-like approach. It’s a culture where judgements are passed, consciously or not, based upon a result. Fast, we define ourselves exclusively through the lens of a daily scoreboard and often we depart defeated – hopefully uninjured – filled with regret and wondering what happened. And more, searching for answers as to why improvements have not.

Quality (n) – the standard of something as measured against other things of a similar kind; the degree of excellence of something

With all the buzzing about, I’d want to offer a solution, a definition from my vantage at least, to this everlasting rat race; a shift in perception. Finally, here comes the quality stuff. Through my thinking, I’ve developed a visual definition – hat tip to Pink Floyd – to simply shift focus from scoreboard pursuits to the real kind. It’s rather simple:

In other words, I’d challenge you to change your perception. Shift that focus from ‘what’ (quantity) to ‘how well’ (quality) and you are certain to edge closer to achieving your ‘why’ (goals). Why did you begin this journey? In real applications, what does this mean? It could mean a host of thing, like staying aerobic when aerobic intervals are programmed; having the foresight to decrease a barbell load in favor of better positions (positions that will better serve your long-term goals, instead of the temporary pacification of a score on the whiteboard). It may mean a complete substitution – KB swings in favor of a Snatch or a press instead of a Jerk. It can even mean, heaven forbid, modifying a few weeks of training in the name of longevity.

Does this mean I want you forever in limbo, a pull-up purgatory? Absolutely not! Instead, let’s simply find a better way. What is best…not for a score, but for you? Let’s lessen the haste to reach our next achievement (a muscle-up) and spend some time with the steps necessary to make it possible (scapular strength, mobility, coordination, etc). I simply ask you to slow down. See what happens if you don’t click the Rx button one day…nothing! Rushing implies that we no longer care. That we have other things demanding our attention. I lobby for your change because I KNOW you care. I do too :). With diligence, energy and patience – if we embrace this focus on quality – we’re sure to lead happier lives both in and out of the gym. Grapes…then raisins, said Marcus Aurelius. It’s not about the ‘not’ but the ‘not yet’. In all pursuits, acknowledge a process. Then, trust it. Still unsure? Ask Jon Eskola, he’s a pillar of knowledge on the topic.

To travel is better than to have arrived,