The following is a guest post from Michael Deem, a fellow athlete from my CrossFit gym who is also training to compete in the Freeze Fest Team Challenge. Michael was a rower for all four years of high school, attempted rowing in college, and quickly got distracted. After more than four years of neglecting fitness, he’s relearning what it means to be an athlete.
With just over a month left to go until Freeze Fest, I’m not sure if I’m anxious or excited for my first (unofficial) CrossFit competition. (I had just started cross-fitting and so I didn’t have a clue what I was doing during last year’s Open Games, so let’s not count that.) However, I can say with certainty that I am anxious almost every time I walk into the gym these days.
“Why would you be anxious to enter your athletic home?” you might ask. We have be training so hard for so long… and we still have almost 5 full weeks to go! Personally, I am exhausted after every workout, almost until the following one. And I know the programming will only get harder. (This Saturday, after a full Olympic lifting regimen, we did Fran. Just for fun. Because we could.)
Honestly, it’s not the exhaustion or pain that makes me nervous. When I dig a little deeper, I realize it’s the fear of not stacking up, of not performing my best, of having a little left in the tank because I was too nervous at the start to mash the pedal into the floor – probably from exhaustion, feeding this vicious cycle on itself.
Interestingly enough (or perhaps just because I’m a guy), one activity that doesn’t make anxious yet I do with more regularity is stepping on the scale even though I’ve increased my bodyweight 10% since starting this ordeal. You read that correctly: Ten. Percent. I was about 200 pounds when I first got under the bar for Smolov Jr. Now, granted with more muscle and less flab, I weigh more than when I started cross-fitting. (I would say “210” if someone was daring enough to ask, but I was closer to 215.)
Embarrassingly, I gained almost all of it after Smolov, so I can’t say I “feel” much stronger for it. (Although, I wonder what it’s like to “feel stronger.” Do Olympic lifters and bodybuilders “feel” stronger when they wake up in the morning, instinctively sensing that they could flip the bed their significant other is probably still sleeping on with one arm? Or do they have to look in the mirror before they can grasp the magnitude of their strength? More on that later.) I continued to eat like a racehorse, and gave myself too much slack over the holidays. I fell into the all-too-familiar and ubiquitous trap: “I work out. I can afford another scoop of mash potatoes. My body needs it!… There are cookies on the team table?! Oh alright, I suppose I am heading to the gym after work.” And now, to compensate and repent, I am cleaning up my diet a la Mark Sisson’s 21 Day Challenge meets Whole 30 and hoping this spare tire melts back away.
But the scale and the diet challenges and the flab all miss the point. You see, those aren’t the numbers that really matter – not when you’re an amateur, and not even when you are trying to “get in shape.” Unless you are literally an All-American, Olympian, or professional athlete who must make a weight class within 2 weeks, your body weight is the wrong number to watch. Assuming that weightlifting (not just lifting weights) is the optimal conduit to fitness (yes, over cardio), then the weight on your bar is what matters. (I despise call-outs to broad demographic categories, but, ladies, this applies to you, too.)
I realize that most join gyms to improve their body composition. I have. More than once. But muscles are literally fat-burning machines. “Body composition is 80% what you eat,” a truism in the Paleo community, is another way of saying that if you send your muscles (and nervous system) the right signals by putting the right food in your body at the right times and lifting heavy things quickly and regularly, they will literally burn the fat for you.
I can’t wait for my scale to break. If it was mine (it’s my girlfriend’s), I would sell it or bury it in my storage closet. The scale sends the wrong signal. I don’t need to see that. And my body doesn’t need to hear that. It’s the wrong metric to focus on because it does not help me perform.
We know that watching other people’s numbers is counterproductive, but watching your own wrong numbers can be just as bad. The way to “feel” strong is to be strong. Don’t wonder if you’re strong in the shower after a workout. The mirror and the scale can’t tell you. If you lay it all out on the floor, every workout, you are strong – and will you get stronger.
Throw your scale away. Or, better yet, buy another one, put them about 6 feet apart, and then rest a loaded bar on them to check the weight. Then deadlift until you break them or you can’t deadlift anymore. Watch the weight at the ends of the bar go up, and don’t bother to check your weight when you get home.