Warning: like many of my posts, this one starts off by being about strength training and then goes onto something else. Come on, I know the internet’s ruined your attention span.
Among the many other fine things it has done for most people’s ideas about fitness, CrossFit has introduced the mostly splendid concept of workouts being measurable and improvable. In other words, they set the parameters (a squat has to go below parallel, for instance), and then you do whatever you can to go heavier, or faster, or get more reps or whatever.
This is mostly a fine concept – because people will push themselves to get better scores on anything – but it has its drawbacks. Most obviously, there are valuable exercises you can’t set clear parameters for – sledgehammer swings, for instance, are great for rate of force production, but there’s no real way to judge how hard they are, so you sometimes end up with this sort of bullshit. Less obviously, there are exercises that you can judge but shouldn’t, because just measuring time and form doesn’t tell the story. Like the super-plank.
Hopefully everyone reading this has done a plank – basically like holding a press-up position, except on your elbows – at some point. You may have also tried the super-plank. If not, the form is subtly different. Your heels are together, your elbows are further forward, and hopefully closer together. Crucially, you are also squeezing your glutes and bracing your abs as hard as possible – some people can plank so hard that someone else can stand on their back. This sort of plank isn’t sustainable for more than about 15 seconds, but that’s a good thing – it saves you time, and gets you stronger than the regular, hanging-out, half-arsed version anyway. Crucially, though, only you will ever know if you’ve attacked it as hard as you can – no form guide or judge can tell you if you were giving it everything you had.
Now for the real point. Outward accountability is fine, but it will only get you so far. Maybe you’re doing an hour’s practice of something a day, or writing 1,000 words, or drilling the serve/throw/armbar you need to do 100 times, but only you will ever know if you’re giving it your full attention. You’re hitting the numbers, but are you really doing the work? Are you giving it everything? Because when the cage door closes behind you, or you step onto the stage, or you send your book to a publisher, or you’re about to walk to the lifting platform, only you will know if you really did everything you could to prepare.
Counting and measuring is fine: it’s part of the process. But practising self-accountability is equally important. Because it’s what you do when nobody else is watching, or counting, that really matters.
HOMEWORK: Try the super-plank at least once this week: don’t time it, just go for it as hard as you possibly can without passing out. And, if you haven’t, watch Miller’s Crossing, the film that features the quote in the caption. Meanwhile, I will leave you with a quote that’s often attributed to Einstein, but actually probably comes from sociologist William Bruce Cameron:
‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.’