Top Ten Lessons I’ve Learned from Invictus
Written by Invictus Member Toby B

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.)

  • Cynthia

    Hands down my favorite post that has ever been on this blog.

    Toby, you are incredible. A high five and a high kick to you!

  • mark

    Toby that was awesome very motivating. What part of Oklahoma did you move to? I live in Southern Oklahoma near Ardmore.

    • Toby

      Thanks, Mark — I moved to Stillwater, to join the faculty at OSU.

      And thanks everyone for the kind words. I miss you folks already! Cynthia and I will definitely be back for the Games next summer, and for visits before that, I hope. High-fives all around…

  • CP

    Speechless! You hit it on the head. I believe I’ll print it out and post EVERYWHERE! High five and best of luck!

  • Thanks for reminding me why I love this place. I think I’ll be rereading your post once a month! Good luck. You will be missed.

  • Thank you Toby for putting into words about your experiences and lessons. This is probably my favorite post ever as well 🙂 We will most certainly miss you at Invictus, and hope you’ll come out to join the Sea of Green at the games – you will always be a part of the Invictus community

  • Heidi

    Toby- you are awesome!!! You are an example for everyone around you. Oklahoma is lucky to have you. safe travels.

  • Bridget

    I love this post! Thanks for the taking the time to write it, Toby. I may steal a few of your anecdotes next time a skeptic tells me that CrossFit is “just a workout” and that I’m making too much of it.

  • Jen H

    Thanks Toby for your words of wisdom! High-Five to you in Oklahoma!

  • Ian

    Wow. Speechless. Such an amazing post. I will be coming back to read this many times over. Thank you Toby for providing goose bump (or chicken skin) material!

  • Kim

    Toby – This was a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing it. You are already missed in the gym. Good luck in Oklahoma!!!

  • Becca

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Karen Roque Shaver

    Toby… you have been a great friend and pal in the gym. I really enjoyed your blog and wish you the best in the future. Hope to see you back in SD soon! K

  • Jim Hollywood

    Great post Toby! Set new PRs at OSU!!!

  • Brian Hafenr

    Great post Toby, and good luck at OSU (my alma mater!). I look forward to a workout in your garage gym next time I am back home!

  • Wow…seriously one of my top 3 favorite posts I’ve ever read on the blog here. I’ve read many “top ten” lists but this one blows them all away. Thanks for putting this down for us to reflect on and look back at. I especially needed #5 today 😉 Best of luck to you in Oklahoma!!

  • trick

    TOBY!!!! man, is it time for you to go already? that sucks but I’m excited for you and the next chapter in your life buddy, it has always been a joy to work out with you and watch you get stronger!

    Peaces brother,

  • Cassie

    I will definitely apply this in the future. Thanks Toby!

  • Pingback: Black Box WODs, CFE WODs: Wednesday 120801 | CrossFit NYC()

  • Pingback: Class One Crossfit | Thursday 08.02.12()

  • Paul Figa

    Your post it’s so sincere that a some point I did feel like crying (good crying).
    I do thank you for these inspirational and kind words.

    “Live long and prosper”.

  • Pingback: Pete & Carla’s Invictus Experience – Carla’s Story « Invictus | Redefining Fitness()

  • Pingback: August 1st Friday | CrossFit Tipping Point - Norcross, GA()

  • Pingback: Testimony Time - Rubber Flooring Direct Blog()

  • JennNull

    Once I started ‘doing my own workout’ I started improving!

  • Nichole Kribs-DeHart

    Fantastic article – love the ‘project confidence’ part!!!

  • Miah Santini

    Excellent post!

    Part of the reason I was so reluctant to join Invictus, was my ego. I knew I would be forced into uncomfortable areas where my weaknesses would be “exposed”. I also knew that I needed to grow and improve… and Invictus was the place where that would happen. In short, I was exposed… but the only person who knew was myself. Exposing a weakness is an excellent way to get better. Invictus helped improve so many areas of my experience in the gym, and any workout. “Chest up, eyes forward, shins to the bar.” Being in the presence of such amazing athletes, coaches, and a formidable mindset, allowed the best version of myself to surface. I learned not to compare myself to others, but give 100% of my capabilities during each workout, and be accountable. It’s you, against you. Invictus simply refined and retooled my approach to being the best version of myself. I will always hold Invictus in the highest regard, as it’s a place where transformations happen.

  • Zog

    In the last six years training at Invictus I have personally learned all of these lessons and many more. Great summary and great introduction to anyone thinking about joining the Invictus community!