The Myth of Fitness

According to Greek mythology, there was once sly, cunning king by the name of Sisyphus. Through a series of devious and deceitful events- most notably cheating death twice, once trapping death itself so that no human could die- crafty King Sisyphus enraged the gods. As punishment, Sisyphus was condemned to spend all time rolling a colossal boulder up a mountain, only to have the stone roll back to base of the hill.

The act of rolling the boulder up the mountain is truly absurd. No matter how fast or how often Sisyphus rolls the rock upwards, it will inevitably roll back down and he will be forced to resume his labor anew- a maddeningly frustrating task.

Let us consider our protagonist’s attitude, as his outlook can illuminate our own struggles. Facing an eternity of useless effort, Sisyphus has a choice: on one hand he can choose to begrudge the gods, cursing his lot with every worthless step he takes; on the other, he can choose to embrace his fate- to throw himself into his labor relentlessly, accepting the absurdity of his task and finding joy in the struggle.

Without exception, I’m sure we would all meet this eternal sentence with the former mindset- anger, resentment, and bitterness. I mean… forget the vastness of eternity, just imagine if your boss put a box of paper in front of you and said “OK- management has done some restructuring and decided that what we really need is for you to carry this box of paper up the stairs to the 40th floor. When you’re done, come on back down, there will be another one for you to carry up… and just keep doing that for the next 60 years” I’m guessing you’d be 50 shades of pissed at that task- and that’s just for the rest of your natural life, not for all eternity.

And so it is with fitness. The reality is fitness is an absurd task- we are pushing boulders up a never ending mountain, doomed to watch them roll back down as we near the pinnacle. No matter how hard you train, how well you eat, how far you push yourself… you’ll never reach “the top.” There will always be another level to take it to. And the second you stop pushing your fitness upwards, you’re condemned to watch it roll backwards. Yet we push- every day, for the rest of our lives, no matter how frustrating this endlessness might be.

Just as Sisyphus has a choice about the attitude with which he tackles his never ceasing task, you have the same choice about the attitude with which you approach your fitness. You can choose to hate the task- to shake your fist at the barbell, and begrudge the workout or your coach. A lot of people do; they approach fitness with this disdain and disgust for the hard work and sweat it will require. Workouts are often seen as a chore- something to be loathed and feared… and pointless- “Why bother? I’m not getting anywhere, and even if I do, I’ll just end up losing it.”

Or… you can choose to embrace the duty. Accept that fitness is never ending- that we can always improve ourselves. Stop focusing on the finish line and appreciate the honesty of the effort you put forth for THIS workout. Throw yourself into it fully; admit to yourself that it is a lifelong journey that will only stop with your last breath, and find joy in the opportunities you have to roll that colossal boulder up the mountain of fitness.

I see people approach workouts with both attitudes on a daily basis. Here is the often missed secret: the people who see coming to CrossFit as a chore- the ones who dread coming to class and hate the thought of working out, but show up because they understand that in spite of their contempt, fitness is a “necessary evil”- tend to be less happy and productive in their everyday lives. It isn’t that they get less out of the workout… the WOD remains the same regardless of attitude. But when I see someone wasting their time and energy cursing the endless undertaking that fitness represents, they are usually approaching the other absurd tasks in their lives with the same scorn.

Think about it… our lives are filled with pointless endeavors. No matter how many students a teacher instructs this year, there will always be a new group of students next year. Regardless of how many tickets a cop writes, there will always be another knucklehead breaking the law somewhere. And it doesn’t have to even be that meaningful… there will ALWAYS be another load of laundry to do. With each of these stones that we are constantly rolling up various hills, we are inevitably faced with that same choice- we can fill our minds with hatred and disdain for our ridiculous responsibilities, or we can accept their absurdity and find the joy in our struggles. Either way, the chore has to be accomplished.

There is a difference in a CrossFitter and someone who does CrossFit. A true CrossFitter embraces fitness, in all its absurdity. We know that this boulder is damned to roll backwards as soon as we near the top of the mountain, and yet we enjoy the workout anyway. We understand that no matter how strong we get, or how fit we are, there is always room for improvement. We can find the joy in today’s particular struggle. Just watch the way people approach a class or a workout… there is a unique acceptance among the enlightened: “This is the WOD. It will not complete itself. Someone start the clock- let’s get to work.” The lack of disparagement is distinct.

This attitude will permeate your life. When you can approach a boulder the size of your own personal fitness with a sense of enjoyment, the smaller stones we push around on a daily basis seem trivial. It’s easy to abhor your boss dumping a big, new project on you… but what’s the point? Whether you resent the extra workload, or accept it, the work has to be done. If I had you choose between being angry and being happy, wouldn’t you always choose being happy? Notice your colleagues next time you’re faced with a daunting, monumental task… some of them will hang their heads in discouragement. Others will simply receive their lot and go to work. I can assure you that if you have the pleasure of working with true CrossFitters, they will be among those who start chipping away at whatever ludicrous assignment has been placed front of you, without complaint.

Life is filled with absurd tasks– boulders that will inevitably roll back down the mountain for you to once again push to the top. The mission of improving your fitness has no end. Accept that irrationality. Find the joy in your struggles and efforts instead of filling your mind with hate and rage. And let that outlook bleed into every part of your life.