But I Can’t….

Ever look at the WOD and think, “Great…I (still) can’t do X”. It’s disheartening after 2 years of CrossFit to realize that I still can’t do pull-ups, toes-to-bar, rope climbs, double unders, hand stand push-ups, much less the elite moves of chest to bar or muscle ups. It can be a source of frustration watching newer athletes attain, and then master these moves, leaving me still doing knee-ups, jumping pull-ups, and four times the number of singles. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very, very happy for my fellow athletes when they are able to do one of these moves, but I would be lying if I also didn’t admit a twinge of jealousy, quickly followed by the thought, “what the heck is wrong with me”?

Here’s the thing that often keeps me lying awake when I know those moves are coming up during the week. What if I NEVER get them? What if, at some future point, say 5 years from now, I’ve been doing CrossFit for 7 years and I STILL can’t do those moves? Does that make me any less of an athlete? Does that mean my coaches should give up on me, or that I should find some other workout?

I seriously don’t have the answer to these questions and they can haunt me. I’m well aware that perhaps my age (48) might play a role here (though I watched the Master’s Athletes at the CrossFit Games do these moves). I am also well aware that there are lots of things I’m quite good at: the powerlifting moves, almost any strength related move and I’m really improving at the Olympic lifts; my cardio is slowly getting better. I’m also one that WANTS to get better and have gone in for extra sessions, attending workshops and I spend countless hours watching videos and reading about the mechanics of the various moves.

The questions posed above are metaphysical in nature, but I want data to help me understand. Some basic Google searching and I can come up with a wide range of hours it takes to master something. Malcolm Gladwell theorizes in his outstanding book “Outliers”, that it takes 10,000 hours, or about 10 years to master something. If you read the book, it takes that long to get to the elite performance level of that something. Josh Kaufman, in his outstanding book “20 Hours: How to Learn Anything Fast”, postulates that it really takes about 2o hours of DEDICATED study to a skill to learn proficiency in that particular skill. That’s a huge difference, so who is correct? Probably both, because we, as regular folks in the world, would have to decide AT WHAT LEVEL DO WE WISH TO PERFORM?

Am I doing CrossFit to be an elite athlete and thus need a huge number of hours of practice? Or am I doing CrossFit to be a better me, a me that can bend down and pick something up without fear of falling 20+ years from now? Am I doing CrossFit to hopefully drop a few pounds, gain some muscle, or even to ensure that I can have that occasional nice meal without fear that it will immediately go to my hips?

Let’s further assume that I’m simply not at all athletic and that it will take me 50 hours to begin to get good at some of the more difficult moves (say the double under, because the strength to lift one’s body weight isn’t required here). How long would it take me to learn that move by only attending my M-F scheduled CrossFit classes?

Assume the move is scheduled once per week and we are given 15 minutes to practice that move; it would take one month to get one hour in and that’s only 12 hours per year. Even if I could master the move in 20 hours, it would take a year and a half to get that move down. If I’m not all that athletic, it would take me more than FOUR YEARS of 15 minutes per week to master the move. This assumes that move is scheduled for practice once per week, which the moves rarely are.

So I start to see in my mind that for me, someone for whom these moves are not coming easily, someone for whom the weight has yet to come off (yes, two years of CrossFit and I weigh exactly the same. I feel I look exactly the same; though I know that isn’t quite true), I will need to find time to do dedicated practice to even get the 20 hours in.

Sigh….this isn’t going to be easy is it? But I will also refuse to let it define me as an athlete or a human being. My lack of ability to do double unders (or any of the other moves) means nothing more than I don’t have that skill, nothing more.

We get burpee penalties in our box for saying “I can’t”. The reality is that I can’t do those moves. I could hang on that bar for days and sill would not be able to do one pull-up. But “I can’t” doesn’t mean “I will never”. But even if it does, I’m not going to stop trying.


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