Here’s the deal: there are plenty of things I still struggle with in CrossFit. I Rx a WOD here and there, but there are still movements that I have to scale down or modify. Pull-ups. Pistols. Ring dips. Or as I call them, The Unholy Triad.
When fitness or sports don’t come effortlessly to us, it’s easy to look at those more athletic than us and chalk up their leaderboard status to natural talent. It’s because he has good genes. It’s because she’s was born with it. It’s because Jon Nakasone’s an alien. I’m sure there’s research to support being genetically inclined to athleticism, but what about the rest of us?
I recently finished the book that my brother bought me for Christmas (I’m not slow, I’m thorough) – The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle and what I took away from it is that struggle is part of the natural process of acquiring skill. In fact, according to Coyle, it is the most necessary part. He writes, “Struggle is not optional – it’s neurologically required….” Coyle goes on to say:
- When we are in a state of focus during practice or training (Coyle calls it “deep practice”), our brain starts firing signals along our nerves at a higher than normal rate.
- When our nerves fire at a higher rate, our body responds by increasing the myelin insulation around our nerves. The more myelin that is wrapped around our nerves, the faster the signals travel.
- As individual nerves start firing more rapidly, the need to coordinate the timing of the network of nerves to operate as a coordinated circuit becomes a priority.
- As your body is learning to fire as a coordinated circuit - i.e., struggling - mistakes must be made so your circuit knows how not to perform. You then pay attention to those mistakes, and work toward correcting them so that you can slowly teach your circuit the ideal pattern in which to operate.
- Your struggle will lessen when your body adapts to its super-charged network of myelin-heavy nerves and has learned to fire its circuitry in the optimal manner. It is when optimal operation has been achieved that you will find you’ve developed a new skill.
Bottom line: as we WOD, it is only by working through our struggles and training our bodies to correct mistakes, that we are able to develop and hone our skill to be able to Rx a WOD. Or run a marathon. Or compete in the CrossFit Games.
It is with that understanding that we can push through a difficult WOD, confident that we are closer to our goal, and know with certainty that Jon Nakasone is not an alien, just someone who has worked really, really hard, for a really long time.