Today I want to talk about something that isn’t talked about very often when it comes to fitness. We are often told to work harder, to “go hard or go home”. But what is often left out of those statements is that working hard looks different from person to person. Depending on the level you are at and what your specific strengths are, what is hard to me may be easy for you and vice versa. But beyond differing levels of fitness between individuals, let’s take a second to look at variables on a much smaller level: those within yourself on any given day.
Whenever I have a new face at bootcamp, I make sure to let them know a few things. One of those is that I’m not a drill sergeant, and it’s not in my DNA to be “in your face” with tough love or harsh critiques. Jillian Michaels, I certainly am not. Along those same lines, I tell these ladies is that all that I ask is that they give their very best on that given day.
I add in that last qualifying statement because I think it’s important for people to realize that your best doesn’t have to, and rarely does, look the same on every single day. Do you think that Katie Ledecky has the best swim of her life every time she jumps in the pool? Do you think that Kerry Walsh Jennings hits the ball perfectly every single time she steps on the court? Of course not. We all have good days and bad days, and it’s important to not beat ourselves up over that very natural fact.
There are so many variables that can play into this. From the amount of sleep you got the night before, to what you’ve eaten the past few days, to the amount of stress in your life at the present moment, your best can look very different from day to day. Maybe you’re just distracted by that big presentation you have coming up at work, or your schedule has been thrown off for the last few days. Whatever it is, there are endless variables that can change how much we can give in a workout from one day to the next.
It would be easy for me to look at my bootcamp ladies and mentally put them all on the same level. It would be easy for me to just write up a work out and expect everyone to do it, no matter what. What takes time and understanding, though, is not only the modifications that might be needed from person to person, but the ability to notice the subtle cues that tell me where a person is at during any given workout.
If I have someone that can normally do 10 pushups with perfect form, shouldn’t I expect that every time I ask her to do push ups, she can complete at least 10? I know she can do it, right? Well, honestly, the answer is no. With all of the variables that change in our lives from day to day, expecting our bodies to behave exactly the same, day in and day out is actually pretty ridiculous. Think about how your car starts and runs on a bitter cold winter day vs. a warm summer day. The former usually takes a little longer to get going, things feel a little slower, and sometimes downright creaky. No, we are not machines and we are certainly not cars, but a similar thing can be said about the human body. Give it less than optimal conditions — be that stress, little sleep, poor diet, or any other number of things– and performance can be drastically changed.
Just as I don’t expect my bootcamp ladies to be able to perform at their peak every single Tuesday and Thursday morning, you can’t expect the same of yourself, either! So next time you are having a little bit of an off day, can’t lift quite as much as usual, or your running pace is noticeably slower despite tremendous effort on your part, cut yourself a little slack.
As long as you are working to the best of your ability on that very day, that’s all you can ask for. Expecting any different can lead to disappointment and discouragement, two of the major reasons why people abandon fitness programs in the first place. Your best shouldn’t look the same on every single day anyway — if you’re truly that consistent, you’re probably not actually even hitting your peak. If this is the case, try taking a week to deload, to let your muscles recover a bit, and then get back at it. You might find that your best is actually better than what you imagined, and will give you new goals to strive for on those days when you do feel like kicking ass and taking names!
What it all comes down to is this: Your best today is all that matters in this moment. Don’t beat yourself up about a dip in performance from yesterday, because it’s probably out of your control. Work in the present, appreciate your body for all it does for you, and treat yourself with care in order to reach your best potential. Give your best in this very moment, and you’ll continue to make progress. Beating yourself up for doing “less” than you think you should is just taking away precious energy from allowing you to reach your goals. Focus that energy in the right direction, and you’ll be surprised at the progress you can make.