1. It’s okay to fail. Two years ago, in my very first group class, Michele taught me how to bail out of a back squat, and then made me lift heavy enough to have to practice it. Knowing I could fail safely (and with full support from the people around me) made it possible for me to take calculated risks instead of staying in my comfort zone, and to learn from my mistakes instead of fearing them. (As a lifelong perfectionist, this new truce with failing has also usefully carried over to my endeavors outside the gym.)
2. Chest up to recover. I think every coach on staff has sternly told me this at least once over the past two years, but it was CJ who really broke it down for me: When I bend over to catch my breath, I’m making it harder to expand my lungs, I’m letting my body and my focus collapse, and I’m unable to see my gym-mates doing awesome work and/or cheering me on. Chest up + head up = better breathing + better attitude = winning.
3. Breathe and let go. In one of Heidi’s Sunday yoga classes, I was struck by how different the gym felt: no lights or music, no frantic sprinting, no weights crashing. Just breathing and letting go. But then I thought, really, every workout comes down to those two things. The weight on the bar is what it is; all I can control is what I do in relation to it. I can either panic and fight against the workout (and the difficult yoga pose), or I can breathe, focus, and embrace the process.
4. Project confidence. Every workout felt intimidating in my first few months, and I used to let myself get away with a forced smile and a nervous “This is gonna crush me!” Now I know that half the battle is banishing that nagging voice of self-doubt. Aside from fantastic coaching, I’m convinced that nothing has improved my max effort lifts more than my new practice of projecting full confidence as I begin. If I approach my front squat with anxiety, already preparing to fail it, it feels a billion times heavier than if I unrack that bar with some serious fierceness and self-confidence. This too has awesomely improved my life outside of the gym. (Check this great blog post from Kelly Starrett for more on positive self-talk. I reread this every month or so, seriously.)
5. Do your own workout. As one of the tinier Invicti, it’s still pretty rare that I’m able to do the workouts with the men’s prescribed weights, and I used to feel frustrated about that. Then when I did a cycle of performance clinic with Calvin, we talked about calculating lifts in relation to your bodyweight. This totally transformed my perception of my own progress: I stopped comparing my numbers to everyone else’s, stopped feeling like I had to prove something, and learned to set goals for my own body with its own particular strengths and limitations.
6. Don’t clean up until everyone’s finished. Nothing is worse than when you (and by you I mean me) are finishing your last round of pull-ups in grueling sets of singles while half the class is packing up to go home. And nothing’s better than times like the day that most of our 7am class, having already finished the workout, joined the final runner in solidarity for his last lap. I’d never been so proud to be part of Invictus.
7. Treat the workout like a mirror. As much as I look forward to my workout, there are 23 other hours in my day that make it possible. I’m learning to see the workout not as an isolated event that begins and ends at the gym door, but as a reflection of all other parts of my life, including nutrition, sleep, mobility, and stress levels. My work in the gym has become a pretty reliable indicator for whether everything else is running properly.
8. Push at the edges. After a childhood full of being picked last for team sports, I spent my entire first year at Invictus refusing to attend Saturday workouts, because they’re usually team-based. I still struggle with the fear of being left standing alone, and with the fear of letting my partner(s) down, but when I stopped avoiding Saturdays I found that working on a team could actually boost my confidence and help me heal my lingering middle school trauma. Gently but consistently pushing my limits at the gym hasn’t just made me stronger physically, it’s also given me the courage and opportunity to address mental and emotional roadblocks.
9. Have great expectations. A few months ago, as I was gritting through my last round of handstand push-ups, Nuno suggested I start kipping them.
Me: I can’t do the kip.
Nuno: *long, meaningful stare*
Me: Um…I mean…I’m still learning it.
The rephrasing from “can’t” is significant, and not just because it pacified Nuno. It’s the difference between shutting down the very possibility and acknowledging that it’s a work in progress. Maybe I’ll be “still learning” the muscle-up another two years from now, but I’ll never think it’s flat-out impossible. I’ve surprised myself again and again by accomplishing things that I once thought were well out of my reach. There’s something magical about opening yourself up to possibilities, however distant they may seem.
10. Work from a place of high-fives. A while back someone told me their coach approaches workouts from a place of rage. I thought for a minute about a typical workout with Nichole and replied, “My coach approaches things from a place of high-fives.” Different things work for different people (so rage on if you need to), but the high-five has become my tangible reminder to maintain a good attitude, connect with the people around me, and openly celebrate our efforts. The high-five is like kryptonite to frustration and workout anxiety. The high-five is about having fun, reaching goals, and coming back tomorrow. In sum, the high-five is where it’s at. (And on very special occasions, I might even pair that high-five with a high-kick.)
(Editor’s Note – I absolutely love this blog post, and unfortunately, it makes Toby’s move to Oklahoma that much harder. Toby may not be in San Diego any longer, but he will certainly remain part of the Invictus family forever. Toby, we’ll look forward to frequent updates and stories of your success out there.)