Exploring the Edges of Your Capacity
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt

Today we’re discussing the importance of exploring the edges of your capacity or as I like to say, “Touch the fire!” In a previous article I discussed how mindset influences physical performance – introducing the term “CrossFit Buddha”. If you recall, being the CF Buddha is contingent on two skills rooted and applied in a state of physical duress (i.e. exercising):

  1. Staying present in the moment of effort we are in rather than worrying about work or effort still to come in the future (mindfulness)
  2. Cultivating the ability to suspend judgement on how our body feels (non-judgement)

Cultivating the ability to “be the CF buddha” in times of stress, such as intense Assault Bike intervals or difficult EMOMs, is a journey in itself, but well worth the investment into mindfulness and reflection. It is a skill that can be utilized in stressful workouts as well as stressful moments in life. So have you been paying attention to your own thoughts in moments of intensity/fatigue/extreme exertion? Have you created awareness of your conscious and subconscious mental pathways? If not, revisit that last article. Awareness is the first step in changing or controlling a response.

The next step to improving our physical performance is to strategically & periodically (re: not every day) take opportunities to work at and beyond our limits. Working at the edge of our capacity can be a very uncomfortable experience because to truly “go there” likely means pushing to failure (whether with reps, distance, effort, time, speed, etc.), which is why it’s important to develop our CF Buddha mindset first.

Poet & publisher T.S. Eliot said:

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

This sounds like some cheesy Instagram-inspiration (because it is! Screw you, Instagram influencers for ruining all of history’s best quotes!) But the guy was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature, so let’s roll with it. He also less-notably, said:

“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?

That’s just pure gold. And basically the same meaning!

Know > Trust > Grow

What Eliot is alluding to with these words is the role of finding your own person “cliff edge” in order to fully explore your capacity. I’d wager that this is an applicable theory in not only fitness pursuits, but professional and personal ones as well! Quite literally, if you never venture “too far” you may continually undercut your potential, efforts and talents… whether as an athlete, a parent, an entrepreneur, a creator, a professional in your field – whatever! We all need to learn to flirt with our edge periodically – a lot can be learned there.

“So, Coach, you want me to go H.A.M. and TOUCH THE FIRE whenever I come in?! What about all those nasal breathing things you talk about where I need to slow down?”

Remember, there’s a difference between knowing where your edge is VS continually operating at that edge. One is a data point to guide future mindsets and effort while the other is a pathway leading to burnout and decreased performance/health. Going to the edge is an act of exploring who you are. It’s good to know who we are, not just when things are nice and easy, but when things are difficult, hard, or scary. You don’t need to go there every day, every workout and certainly not every interaction you have. As coach TJ says… “There’s a minimum effective dose.”

I used to follow a fitness pro who programmed really long workouts on Saturdays, called “Meet yourself Saturday” because it required not just physical strength or stamina to finish the workouts, but also a willingness to mentally and emotionally see it through, to exist at the edges of your physical and mental capacity. That always resonated with me – to know your edges, is akin to meeting yourself.

Everybody walks in the doors of their gym to evolve in their own way, direction, and timeline. No one is there to stay the same version of themselves. So, let’s discuss how to begin finding your edges at the gym.

How to Find the Edge of Your Capacity

Know Yourself

Know thyself, grasshoppa! Do you love squats and dread handstand push-ups? Do you hang on longer than anyone else on pull-ups? Do you eat wall balls for breakfast? We must objectively know our skills, strengths and weaknesses as we reach extreme intensity, as well utilize the awareness and non-judgement developed from a CF Buddha mindset. What type of statement(s) could you say about yourself? For example:

– I love thrusters! I am really good at cycling the barbell quickly and my legs are strong so I don’t get tired. 

– I can catch anyone on the run – I feel strong when I turn the corner and can make up a lot of time.

– Burpees are hard, but I am really good at staying calm and moving through them continuously. 

– The Assault Bike is challenging for me, it really exhausts me compared to other movements.

– When I begin to experience fatigue, it causes me anxiety about finishing the remainder of the work.

Identifying and knowing these things about ourselves can allow us to create successful gameplans to amplify our abilities and confidently lean into our strengths and to stay calm and focused (rather than dramatic) when we encounter our weaknesses. 

Trust Yourself

The next step is to TRUST OURSELVES! Once we’ve identified our strengths and weaknesses, physically as well as mentally, we must lean into our strengths as well as fight for every ounce of ability from our weaknesses. I frequently coach members during the rest period of difficult intervals to “trust yourself.” What I mean is that you have to believe that you have the resiliency, strength, ability, skill, or even sheer determination to get the work done, to sustain the difficult pace, to go 1% faster. If you don’t trust yourself, no magical coaching cue from me will guide you to your edge. You have to trust yourself to go there.

Grow Yourself

Knowing your limit may mean failing. Failing inherently breeds fear in 90% of all humans because our society tells us that failure is associated with losing and unworthiness. But failing is just a lesson, not a lasting identity. An instance of failure is a data point that at this date and place in time, with your current fitness level, with your current nutrition habits, self-talk, injury status and training history, you were capable of X. Every single one of those factors is a variable you can tweak to push farther than X next time. Assess, learn from, and experiment with these variables to create future growth. *Side note, failure and quitting are not the same – to be discussed later.*

The Big Picture

Stress in the gym is just a practice ground for stress in your life – whether it be a Fran PR time you’re chasing, mountain you’re climbing, a professional accomplishment you’re working towards, or a type of person you want to be. The gym is a safe place to learn what it feels like to give effort (and fail). It can be a relief to discover where your edges of capacity are – maybe you are capable of much more than you realized! And if you pay attention, you will build awareness to know how you react when the edge of your capacity encroaches (in life and the gym) – you may cry, scream, get scared. Do you lean further into the effort? Do you doubt yourself and shy away from the effort? Do you believe in yourself when things get intense?

When you build awareness of these behaviors, you have the power to alter them for the better and use them to guide you – inside the gym and out.

Here’s to T.S. Eliot and all your future PRs – in the gym & life! 

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