Chasing Excellence - Ch. 4 Embrace Adversity


So now we all have a powerfully Positive mindset and shout “Yay burpees!” every time we see it on the whiteboard. We are determined to work hard and display Grit as well as Commit to the process day in and day out. But what happens when Adversity hits, when things don’t go our way? Are we still displaying our Positive mindset? Are we still Committed to the daily process that’s built up of 1,440 minutes in which we have maximized every single one? What about when we’re tired, sore, or one of our kids peed their pants on the way to school? We need to have a plan and a way to deal with Adversity because it’s guaranteed we are going to face it.

Expect Adversity

Let me clear something up before we get started and it sounds like I’m contradicting myself. Expecting Adversity and having a negative or pessimistic mindset are two totally separate things. When we talk about Adversity, we talk about things that are out of our control and we also talk about a broader brush stroke of misfortune. We want to apply a positive mindset in short term in the moment scenarios. When I say to expect adversity, I’m not saying to expect to miss the 1RM attempt and deter away from the positive mindset. Adversity is much more serious, like an injury, and it’s something we need to expect, BUT not because we expect a negative outcome, but so we can plan for every scenario whether good or bad. Let’s say you are putting on a mini presentation for a group of managers and you’re expecting a handful of people to be in this tiny conference room. Very informal, just going over some numbers for the quarter. What happens when your projector doesn’t work, or an extra 10 people show up? Are you prepared for that or are you stuttering over words because you were so dependent on your prompts within the PowerPoint presentation? Do you have enough handouts for everyone? What if we have a positive mindset and we’re visualizing crushing the presentation but we get to the end and there are 15 very confused faces, what do you do? What if we are doing Box Jumps and you come down and twist your ankle? Do you skip class for two weeks because it hurts? What’s the plan? That’s Adversity. Adversity is something that is out of your control.

We need to visualize every scenario we could possibly run into whether it’s at work or during a conditioning workout or when working on a DIY project at home. “To be ultimately prepared, you don’t plan for the best-case scenario; you plan for every scenario.” That’s the principle to be learned here. We don’t expect adversity and have a pessimistic view on life, we expect adversity so we can be prepared when something doesn’t go as planned. When I lived in Florida, we had hurricane shutters on our windows. That’s not because I’m a pessimist and think I’m doomed, that’s because I expect the adversity of a hurricane by living close to the coast in South Florida. When I go into a workout that is 21-15-9, I usually have a couple different strategies. I may do my sets in 12-9, 9-6, and 9. But what if my muscles get “blown up” and I’m exhausted and went out too fast? I have to be able to adapt on the fly, but what makes adapting on the fly easier is when I have a backup strategy like doing 8-7-6, 6-5-4, and 4-3-2 on my sets. Planning for Adversity is having a Plan B and a Plan C. Ben Bergeron uses a fantastic example of Michael Phelps in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In the finals for the 200m Butterfly, arguably his best event and the one that would give him a 10th gold medal and make him the most decorated Olympian of all time, he dove in and his goggles fell off slightly and filled up with water. Any of us would have used this as an excuse not to win, but he still swam the event ferociously. He was swimming blind. This is what makes him so great. He ends up not only winning the gold medal but breaks the previous world record (also his) in the process. How? He counted his strokes. He swam the entire race, down-back-down-back, completely blind and just counted his strokes until the wall. In his training, he didn’t only visualize the perfect race, he visualized an imperfect race, one with adversity. Had he not trained that way and not been prepared to count his strokes, he may not have won and certainly would not have set the world record. That’s called expecting Adversity.

Seek Adversity

Not only should we expect Adversity, we should seek Adversity in our training. What does that mean? Why would I purposefully seek out a bad scenario? It’s simple. So you can adapt. Probably the simplest principles in strength and conditioning is the Overload Principle. “It basically states that you can force adaptation in your body by consistently pushing past yesterday’s limit.” Think about the Front Squat. We’re currently in the middle of a Triphasic cycle and we’ve just completed the first two sessions: 5x4 with a 7 second eccentric phase and this week we did 6x3 with 4 second eccentric phase. Was anyone sore? Was that harder than normal? That’s the whole point. If it was an easy set with light weight for only a few reps, your body wouldn’t adapt. The purpose of weight training is to overload your body with more stress (or weight) than it’s used to so we can force your body to adapt. By making small tears in your muscle fibers (when you feel sore), your body will adapt by rebuilding your muscles even bigger. Cal Dietz, the strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota, puts it this way: your body should think you’re trying to kill itself in your training. This is the guy we get the Triphasic Training from. In his book, he repeatedly talks about this principle. If you aren’t stressing your body past its limits, then you aren’t forcing your body to adapt. In my head, I like to think of it like this: I just deadlifted really heavy today and I’m really sore. Subconsciously, my brain never wants to feel this [good] pain again, so it’s going to do everything it can to make sure I’m ready for the next time it happens. My brain is then going to direct my body’s functions in a way to support the deadlift by sending protein and other nutrients to rebuild the muscles in my hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. My body is naturally adapting. That is what we call “gains.” If it wasn’t for Adversity in our training on a daily basis, we wouldn’t get better. If we didn’t burn more calories than we eat, we would gain fat. We WANT the Adversity our bodies endure during a hard training session.

On the flip side, if we run away from Adversity in our training, we are missing out on the most fundamental principle in strength and conditioning. By not overloading our body with more stress than it’s used to, we can never adapt. I’ve used this example at least twice now over the last 4 weeks but I’m going to use it again. If we continue to skip running day, we will never get better at running. I’m not accusing our members of “WOD-dodging,” but last Monday we did an awesome workout with lots of running. Credit to Ben Bergeron at CFNE again for the WOD:

10 min AMRAP
1 mile Run
AMRAP Clean & Jerk (135/95)
3:00 REST
7 min AMRAP
800m Run
AMRAP Snatch (115/80)
3:00 REST
4 min AMRAP
400m Run
AMRAP Thrusters (95/65)

This is a hard workout. There is no getting around that. Coincidentally, that day was also the lowest total class attendance since I even had record of attendance. I won’t belabor this point too much, but if we continue to skip out on days that are difficult, then we will never get better. Ultimately, we are cheating ourselves out of the benefits. “Ensuring there is no struggle, no challenge, and staying in your wheelhouse is a recipe for spinning your wheels without improving.” Next time you see a workout you don’t like or don’t think you’re good at, let’s embrace the adversity it will bring with a positive attitude, so that our bodies can adapt and help us #BecomeBetter.

Redefine Adversity

So now we have accepted that Adversity will happen. We expect it. We even seek it out in our training. But what about when life just throws us a curveball? What if we get fired from our job? Let me propose this: if you got fired from your job, there’s a large chance that you didn’t just LOVE your job. Yes, maybe it paid well and you put up with it, but if you got fired from it, that means there was something stopping you from performing at the level your supervisor or manager wanted. I know it’s hard and times can be tough, but let’s put our Positivity glasses on and see what we can come up with. So in this job that you didn’t like, were you looking for other jobs, applying, and interviewing? Or were you just stuck in the “maybe someday” limbo between thinking about leaving and taking an action? Now that you’ve been fired, as unfortunate as it is in the short term, over the long term it’s a gain because it has forced you to look for another job and find one that you like. Without the push, you may have been stuck in that mediocre job forever. "Short term pain for long term gain." That’s redefining Adversity.

That’s something we talked about early on. Just because we run into an adverse situation doesn’t mean we clam up and give up on our dreams, we should use that energy and motivation to put towards something else in our life we can improve upon. “Successful people use adversity to grow and thrive.” I mentioned this story in a previous post and Ben Bergeron uses the example in this chapter. Brent Fikowski missed out on making it to the Games in 2014 and 2015 by a total of 3 points. He was so close. Maybe one more year of trying and he would’ve made it to the Games as a middle to lower pack competitor. Then he comes out in 2016, demolishes the field at Regionals and goes on to place 4th at the Games. Ben asked him what the difference was. “I got injured.” He tore his labrum in his hip in the 2015-2016 off season and was taken away from high intensity, work capacity style movements which he usually thrived in. He was forced into a lot of upper body work, especially strict overhead or gymnastics movements. Brent was able to redefine his injury as an opportunity to get better at his weaknesses that he had apparently been avoiding. That’s the mark of a true champion. Think back to the story of Katrin Davidsdottir at the 2014 Meridian Regional where she failed the rope climbs and didn’t make the Games. It wasn’t that she won the Games the next year in 2015 (then repeated in 2016) in spite of her Adversity, it was because of the Adversity she faced that she was able to buckle down and tackle her true weaknesses.

Next time you face Adversity, ask yourself how you can redefine it into an opportunity. Once you’re in the clear, expect more Adversity and visualize how to solve it. Don’t only visualize perfection, but visualize every possible scenario so you can be prepared. Murphy’s Law states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Get ahead of the curve and prepare for unexpected circumstances. Make sure you have a savings account with money in case something happens. Make sure you have hurricane shutters. Keep a mini First Aid kit and some jumper cables in your car or truck. That isn’t being pessimistic, that’s being prepared. Lastly, seek out Adversity. Overload your body physically and mentally in order for you to adapt. I’ll finish with a quote from the chapter talking specifically about Games athletes compared to your average person, but use this analogy as a comparison between someone who is Excellent and someone who is Competent or even Complacent. “Most people are afraid of overload. They’re afraid of facing adversity, afraid of being uncomfortable. People want to do things they’re good at, because it makes them feel and look successful and provides a boost to the ego. It signals to those around them that they’re special, talented, gifted.” Next time we have a workout with running in it, I better see everyone there!