Rest Day Rant: Burn the Boats!

Posted: August 25, 2012 by Jim in Random Thoughts

In 1519, Hermán Cortés led an expedition to conquer the Aztecs. When he arrived near Veracruz around April 21, 1519, his men grew fearful of the fierce native warriors. History reports that his men would often beg Cortés to simply board their ships and sail home. In order to give them a “fight or die” mentality, Cortés sank his ships so his soldiers could not run away. Left with no option, they fought and won.

People fight like wildcats when they have no other choice.

You may be thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with CrossFit?”

Let me give an example. Imagine that you have a workout that includes a weighted movement in which the weight makes you a little queasy. You know you could probably do it, but you’re a little nervous and feel a little sick to your stomach when considering the WOD. First of all, note I said that, deep down, you know you can move that weight. For the sake of analogy, let’s say you have a 95 pound thruster. Instead of simply putting a 25 pound plate on each end of a 45 pound bar, you place two tens and a five on each end.

You’ve just devised your exit strategy.

Or let’s say that box jumps are your nemesis. You’ve been on the 12 inch box forever and you know, deep down, that you could and should use the 18 inch box. So you build your workout and break out the 18 inch box, but you also bring the 12 inch box over, “just in case.”

You’ve just devised your exit strategy.

For six months, you’ve had a love affair with the 25 pound kettlebell. Deep down, you know it’s really not having the same effect it once did. You know to the core of your being that it’s time to move to 30, or maybe 35. So you take the plunge and grab that bigger kettlebell, but also bring over the old trusty 25 pound kettlebell.

You’ve just devised your exit strategy.

Last week, after a brutally intense Olympic lifting session, I had a workout that included 95 pound hang snatches after a 250 meter row with pull-ups in an AMRAP fashion. Had I been fresh, I wouldn’t have given the insane voices any attention, but since I was already tired, and knew how devastating the row would be, I initially put two tens and a five on my bar.

Deep down, I knew, physically, that snatch was no problem for me. I knew, at my core, that as long as I concentrated and focused, I would not have a high risk of injury. But I also knew it would be really, really hard. I knew it would wreck me completely and that made me afraid.

“Who will know if I drop my weight in the WOD?” That was my initial thought.

Then, for who knows what reason, I listened to that inner, unbreakable Warrior who said, “HELL NO. Today, there will be NO exit strategy. So I put a 25 pound plate on each end and made the conscious decision to fight or die, sink or swim.

And I did every round of seven hang snatches unbroken. I can’t tell you how satisfying that felt. But, had I taken the two tens and a five approach to 95 pounds, I would have fought the temptation to activate my exit strategy the entire workout.

Again, the key was, I knew I could do it. There is a difference between difficult and impossible. At CrossFit Infragilis, we always ask you to engage in the difficult but never ask for the impossible.

This quote comes from a great book called 33 Strategies of War and How to Apply them to Your Daily Life by Robert Greene.

“Strategic warriors think ahead toward their long-term goals, decide which fights to avoid and which are inevitable [and] control and channel their emotions.”

Green calls this the “Death-Ground Strategy,” which is a term that traces by to Sun Tzu.  When you have no way out, and you must either fight or die, win or lose, and there is no exit, most people rise to heights they never dreamed possible. Most of us in life are tacticians, not strategists. We become so enmeshed in the conflicts we face that we can think only of how to get what we want in the battle we are currently facing. This is often different than what we need in the battle. For example, finishing first with unchallenging weight is a want, NOT a need. In fact, nobody is impressed with people who fly through a workout without truly challenging themselves. (Side note, everyone notices). Sometimes, we need to struggle. Sometimes, we need to miss. Sometimes, we need to finish last. People, these things make us better. Only through struggle and fight can we really win the battle of life. So, as we move into a new month of training, why not burn the boats of your exit strategy. Embrace the suck and I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

To engage in your personal “burn the boats” strategy, it is vitally important that you trust your CrossFit trainers. Our job is to know, without hesitation, when you need to be backed down. And, if you’re honest, you’ll know that we never ask your permission to drop you down. It. Just. Happens.

So, what are you waiting for? Burn those boats and get busy!

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