setting the scene
Back in 2009, I was training at San Francisco CrossFit. Buoyed by the success of going from being unable to run 500m in April 2008 to running 21k in September 2008, I wanted to continue my journey in fitness.
My initial days were terrible. From nearly passing out in my trial class to being barely able to just complete the warmup. Finishing a workout was a dream. The founder of SFCF is Kelly Starrett, an amazing coach and a celebrity in the CrossFit circles. He's also an amazing physical therapist who's been pushing boundaries on how we can work on mobilisation and recovery. I had no idea about any of this or who he was, obviously.
hearing about neuromuscular co-ordination
In one of Kelly's classes, as he was coaching, he mentioned the concept of neuromuscular coordination. Let me borrow a reasonable definition via Google.
... the ability of the nervous system to efficiently recruit a muscle or a group of muscles in order to perform a specific task unconsciously. Through a series of interactions between neurological messages, a complex system is formed, connecting different aspects of muscle actions (static, dynamic, reactive), muscle contractions, coordination, joint stability, body alignment and balance.
Or to move smoothly and gracefully because your brain and your body are in sync. We see this in action anytime an elite athlete performs. They just move SO well. And if we are good at a few things, we move rather well but less well than them. But way better than someone who has no skill in that.
Anyways, back to that class. Kelly was talking about how things will be difficult when we start because our nervous system and the muscles haven't yet figured out how to perform this skill. And then he mentioned that it takes anywhere from 12-18 months for this to start to happen.
I had never heard these words (well, I had never heard of almost 99% of the things that came up in class) and I just nodded along. I was in this for the long-term. I was doing something I was enjoying, something I looked forward to daily. A year, while rather far, was not worried because I was enjoying my journey and I had nowhere specific to be except "not here".
I was not finishing most workouts. I was working with the prescribed weights for women or sometimes lighter than that (CrossFit workouts have a prescribed/recommended weight that all workouts are meant to be done with). The talk about a year or more could've turned me off but it did not even figure as a negative. I had a timeline. When will I "level up" or rather, when will I be less clueless - a year seemed rather fair, to be honest.
In fact, it was much after I started knowing more about training that questions about forward progress, am I doing this right, should I do more and all that noise started bombarding me. Even today, when that gets loud, I have to fight the urge to give in to that.
So, the year made things simpler for me. Continue to put in a solid effort for a year and then see where things are.
Didn't I tell ya!
Slowly, I started finishing workouts. Sure, I was dead last but from a DNF, I was actually on the board. I was getting a bit stronger. I was able to sprint much faster while playing Ultimate. My form and technique were obviously getting better.
And then, one day a year or so later, we were doing thrusters. It is a move where you squat down and explosively push the floor away and stand up with the bar locked out overhead. It is not a squat plus a press but an alloy of the two.
As I was doing a set of thrusters, it suddenly started getting easier and easier. As opposed to getting harder. I was mystified and I was wondering what's going on and I realised that the energy was just flowing through my body. As I pushed the floor away, I could feel that transfer through my feet, and my hips added to it, it passed through my trunk and the bar started to float and I used my arms to finish. Instead of spending more power and energy, I was spending less and being precise.
It was exhilarating and I felt like I was dreaming. I wanted to pinch myself because this was night and day! It just felt magical. And coincidentally, Kelly was coaching this class and I saw him see me.
As soon as the workout was done, he came over with a beaming smile and high-fived and in his typical fashion just said "Didn't I tell ya!!!" referring to his comment about neuromuscular coordination. It was unbelievable that he remembered, that he saw what I felt because I felt it in me. I felt the flow, the grace, the connectedness of my movement that day - something I had never felt before in the previous 200+ workouts I had done.
That moment with Kelly, in the midst of the SFCF community, continues to remain one of my favourite memories of all time. It was also the moment when I realised the power of a coach. I will forever be thankful to Kelly for his part in my journey.
Progress is always around us. Probably because of the running - 500 metres to a mile to one mile added every week - I was able to see this. Even if it was micro-increments. To me, they were never micro. Every bit of progress I made was one more step in the direction I wanted to move.
As I started putting more effort in, I felt that I belonged in these communities. From being on the outside and feeling like an imposter, this change was subtle but obvious. This has left a deep imprint in me.
Progress is not just weight loss. Or muscle gain. Or lifting more weights. There's progress all around us. All the time. We just need to be aware of it. Even if we the goal is to "squat heavier", there are so many smaller things that you are doing better that you should not be blind to. If we are, then we will miss all the joys of our journey and keep yearning for a destination which is nothing but a brief blip on the way.