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Progress is not a straight line.

October 7, 2018
AUTHOR: Emilie
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Amanda was the first workout we did when we moved from The Ranch in 2010 to the Home Depot Center (now the StubHub Center). I programmed the event in memory of Amanda Miller, a 2009 Crossfit Games competitor who was diagnosed with melanoma.

I just competed in the CF Games less than a year ago and now I’m dying,” she wrote on March 9, 2010.

She passed away on April 23 of that year. She was 24.

After she passed, we were still a few months from the Games, and I decided I would program a workout in memory of her. I wanted something that was like Fran but a step up in difficulty. I played with a lot of combinations but ended up with 9-7-5 reps of muscle-ups and squat snatches at 135 lb. I flipped the order with the weightlifting and gymnastics components. In Fran, the thrusters come before the pull-ups. In Amanda, I placed the gymnastics element first. At the time, I didn’t consider the muscle-up an advanced skill, but it was a step above the pull-up– and that was the point. And the squat snatch at 135 lb. was obviously a step up from the thruster at 95. Understand that not many workouts back then contained squat snatches at 135, especially for reps or paired with muscle-ups. So some viewed Amanda as a heavier test, which led to its 9-7-5 rep scheme. At the time, those reps were appropriate, as was the loading.

At the 2010, CrossFit Games, Chris Spealler had the fastest time: 3:29. Games rookie Neal Maddox was second, with 3:45….

In 2010, a new unknown kid from Tennessee had the third fastest Amanda time: 3:47. He would go on to take second overall, and he eventually dominated the sport. That was Rich Froning, of course.

Another future champ, Ben Smith had the fifth fastest time: 4:01. In 2017, Smith did Amanda at 185 lb in 4:06, and Josh Bridges recently posted a video in which he does it with the same load in 3:36. His time was 10 seconds better than our second-fasted time at 135 in 2010. That’s how far the sport has progressed.

When I read this excerpt from Dave Castro’s latest book Constructing the Crossfit Games (98-99), I was stopped in my tracks. A Decade of Fitness, the CrossFit documentary chronicling the 2016 games, emphasizes the same point. These lines say, Look at how far we’ve come.

I love looking at progress. Progress is how we measure that we’ve gone from Point A to Point B. It is the movement from one progress to the other. At a glance, it seems like progress can take us anywhere.

You want to run a marathon? Train a little every day over 30 weeks and you can do it!

You want to lose weight? It won’t happen overnight, but if you work at it, little by little, you can.

You want to learn a new language? Use that DuoLingo app every single day and soon enough you’ll be parlez vous francais-ing all day long.

These are the lies that society tells us about progress. Everything can be done if you’re just willing to buckle down and work at it. While at a first glance, you might agree, the fact is this is only half true. What about when you can’t buckle down and work at it, though? What about when you’d like to learn a language but it’s not a priority over your college classes? What about when you’d like to lose some weight but you’re working 60 hours a week to get closer to your debt freedom goal? To riff off Paula PantAnything can be done if you’re willing to buckle down and work at it, but not everything.

Progress feels like it should be this straight line, this clear trajectory, up and to the right, like from the minute you start diligently going to the gym, decide to start paying off your debt, or learn a new language, you should only get better.

At least that’s what I thought.

Life Happens

August 1, 2016 was my first day at Crossfit, specifically Crossfit Raeford in Raeford, NC. At the time, my membership cost me $135 per month. I remember feeling like it was an absurd amount of money to spend on a gym membership, especially because I had never been that diligent about committing to a gym membership before. I did the math, though- $135 for 20ish classes was $7 per class. If I had no problem paying $10 to drop into a yoga class as a social event, I was willing to pay $7 per CrossFit class, right?

I wasn’t joining CrossFit exactly for the health reasons. I had been living in North Carolina for almost 3 months at that point. I was lucky enough to have brought my job with me, but I hadn’t brought any friends. I would wake up and move from my bedroom to my home office down the hall with an occasional stop in the kitchen downstairs.

When I joined CrossFit, it was the welcome obligation outside of the home. I’m an Obliger, so spending a ton of money on my gym membership and joining a class setting where classmates and a coach were waiting for me made me accountable to go. (It was in that class that I met Fort Bragg BFF Angie❤️) While I thought joining CrossFit would get me in better shape, I was joining CrossFit primarily because I was lonely.

It became, thus, a two-birds-one-stone solution. I got out of the house every day, making me a better employee, girlfriend, and human being. I had contact with people other than C every single day. I was happier.

Slowly but surely, though, I also became healthier. I’m not sure when it happened, but I looked up one day in January and realized I had developed definition in my traps. My biceps were beautiful. I was doing the WOD Monday through Saturday every week to start my day. I hadn’t gone into CrossFit interested in my physical well-being, but it had been a much- welcome side product.

From that January, my fitness only seemed to continue upward-and-to-the-right. Every time we tested our PRs- personal records- for different lifts, I saw mine go up. My 55 lbs squat snatch slowly climes to 70 then 85 (Video). My squat clean started below 100 and then somewhere along the way I started doing 100 for reps (Video). In the beginning, I struggled to hang from the bar for 30 seconds. By the time the Open rolled around that winter, I had toes-to-bar so well that I did 17.2 RX. That July, I PR’d my deadlift at 245 lbs (Video). Progress had, by all means, been up and to the right.

Then I decided I wasn’t going to go to the Saturday WODs anymore. They were always partner WODs and being the type-A, high-D jerk I can be, I didn’t like partner WODs. Suddenly my norm of 6 days a week became five.

Then things would come up. I’d have to go to the post office, meet a friend for something, or run some other errand, and I would feel like I had to pick between going to the gym and meeting this obligation. This was kinda true. I did (and still do) work. Since I went to the 8 AM class, it was often 9:30 or 10 AM by the time I sat down at my desk- not a problem since the company I worked for was based in the next time zone over. I started work when my coworkers did. However, if I needed to do something, anything during the day, I felt like I needed to put in that extra time at work (rightfully so), and since I didn’t have that time anywhere else in the day, I would skip going to the gym to start work earlier.

By now, the $135 per month that I had agonized over spending on my gym membership in the beginning was now just a regular line item in my budget. My lifestyle had slowly inflated right before my eyes.

Slowly, unfortunately, the 6 days per week I had been attending were now a lucky 3 or 4.

The real stickler in my linear-progress, though, came when I stopped tracking my macros. I had been casually tracking my macros since within a month of starting CrossFit. I was no tightwad, and I did not plan my meals, but I ate something and put it in my app. I was using the app often enough that it was worth paying the $50 to get the full functionality. After listening to the Girls Gone WOD podcast series on the Whole 30, I was inspired to do my own Whole 30 and that was the end of my macro tracking. Suddenly, I went from tracking everything to tracking nothing overnight. And then life changed drastically.

Just like that my up-and-to-the-right progress ended.

I feel like I’ve shared repeatedly just how reckless that end-of-last-summer was to my well being, and that over a year later now I still feel like I’m recovering from it, but I will give you the short version: I got engaged that September and that kicked off a new pattern of travel that had me away from my home for at least one week every month. Three weeks in Brasil in September, three weeks in Europe in October, one week in Ohio in November, the holidays in the northeast in December, and on and on. With many wedding-related trips back to New Jersey (including finalizing a venue, buying a wedding dress, and my first fitting), a trip to Chile, another to South Africa, a conference in Nashville, three conferences in Orlando, and a whole deployment, my progress has not been a straight line up and to the right. I am, and have been, as back into the swing of things as I can be, considering my schedule.

Progress doesn’t need to be a straight line.

I think the natural tendency, certainly my tendency, is to feel like I’m starting all over, like any loss in progress is just the same as never having made progress at all. Last week, though, I was working on this complex of 1 deadlift, 2 hang power cleans, and a jerk and I hit 125 lbs before it really started feeling heavy.

I was checking in on Amazon’s stock performance the other day and I thought that did a really good job portraying my point.

5 Day
1 Day

When you Google “Amazon stock” the first thing that comes up is today’s stock progress. This particular day was not a great day for Amazon. Even if you back it out to the 5-day view, it doesn’t look great. It’s easy to just look at this and wonder Is Amazon not doing well?!

1 Year
All Time

Looking at that all-time graph, tell me: Do you think Jeff Bezos is worried about the 1-day progress of Amazon? When you step back and look at the many-year view of Amazon’s performance, this week is barely decipherable from the overall trend.

What I’ve come to realize is that the non-linearity of progress is fine. It is what real progress looks like. Today does not need to be better than yesterday in order for progress to be made. Today doesn’t even need to be better than last week. Today just needs to be better than when I started. Progress, any progress, is still progress and rather than beat myself up for how I’m not the same as my peak, what I can do is recognize that peak is somewhere I can work to get to again.

Some time ago, a friend moved home where her husband went away for a two-month training. During those two months, she did not participate in any workout, structured or not- she called it a no-workout-cation. When she returned, she griped at all the gains she had lost. I remember thinking that she was insane, that two months off were not going to undo everything she had gained over the last year.

That was a year ago, and now here I am reminding myself of the same. I’m realizing, I never fell off the wagon, I just decelerated some.

The non-linearity of progress can be frustrating! Let it frustrate you! Repackage that frustration into motivation, and this non-linear stint will just be a blip on your all-time progress too.

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Emilie is a data engineer by day and lifestyle blogger by night. A Jersey girl at heart, she is currently living in her fifth home in three years, Savannah, GA with her college sweetheart. She’s learned the hard way that home is wherever the Army sends them. She enjoys eating food, cuddling with her dog, and binge watching HGTV.