Don't Judge the Newbs

CrossFit encouragement movnat

My point is that if present-day-me had seen me back then, I would have cringed. Hopefully, instead of making fun of that scraggly kid operating waaaaay outside his capabilities and safety margins, I would go over and offer some pointers on technique and progression.

I learned from my mistakes, healed up, and moved on. I was driven by a powerful obsession to explore my body's capabilities, to go beyond the average, and I knew that meant trying a lot of things I wasn't familiar with. It meant experimenting with all sorts of foods, exercises, and habits to see what worked and what didn't, and it meant training myself when I couldn't find or afford a teacher.

But I didn't know how much I didn't know. It never even occurred to me that my running shoes where bad for me or that high-rep-low-weight wouldn't make me strong. How was I supposed to know that my shoulder range-of-motion was lacking, or that I was supposed to be able to squat on my heels, all the way to the ground? Nobody told me those things, and they certainly aren't obvious unless you've been involved in physical education you're whole life or had an awesome mentor.

 Reserve Judgement, Extend Encouragement

The next time you see someone running down the street, loud as an iron-shod pony pulling a trolley, feet encased in sofa cushions passing for running shoes, before you judge them, remind yourself that they don't have to be out there at all. They are pushing themselves. Maybe they have gotten so fed up with being winded just walking up their apartment stairs that they decided to do something about it, and this is their first run. Or maybe they just have a horribly stressful worklife and like to pound it out on the asphalt, and don't really care about pristine form as long as they don't get injured. Maybe their dad just died of an obesity-related health issue, they stepped on the scale and decided it was time to stop ignoring their own growing waistline. They are learning just by doing. It's good enough that they are trying. Maybe they'll injure themselves, ask why, hire a trainer, find out about barefoot running, and have a revelation.

They'll get there. Or not.

But you can bet your oddly-colored toe gloves your judgement isn't going to help. Imagine how self-conscious you might be (or were), trying awkwardly to master a difficult skill while a group of obviously in-shape dudes huddle at the other side of the gym whispering.

Will that encourage them to ask for guidance, or to just quit entirely? Is that our goal: to shame people away from fitness unless they do it 'the right way' (aka, our way)? So many individuals feel out of their element in fitness. Maybe their exceptionally good at one sport (distance running was mine), and it took all their courage to try something else.

 We've All Been There

Sorry for the anger, but this is something I feel very strongly about. I was not always a great mover. I was a scrawny tangle of arms and legs, with exercise-induced asthma and everything-induced allergies. My eyesight is too poor to drive without glasses. I was the quintessential geeky dork. And I thought of myself as weak (tough, but weak). I never had weight issues, except that I was freakishly underweight, but I believed for a long time I just didn't deserve a strong, powerful, healthy body.

And then, one day, I watched The Karate Kid and decided I had had enough of being a pushover. I had no idea what to do, but I knew I had to do something differently. I did a lot of situps, used a lot of weight machines, did my share of isolations exercises, ripped apart my hips and knees and shins running, balanced on a swiss ball day after day, strained my back more than once lifting too heavy with poor form.

But at least I was trying something, anything, to get better.

Would I have preferred to have a roadmap so I didn't get injured so much? Hell yes! Would I have preferred a trainer who could tell me what to do and how to do it? You bet!

But I didn't know my own ignorance. I thought I could learn everything I needed to out of a fitness magazine. The fact that I came from complete ignorance, that I wasn't naturally gifted, is what makes me a good trainer, and I use every opportunity I get to remind my clients of this fact, because it assures them that even if they're having trouble with a skill now, they will get there eventually.

I do catch myself judging others sometimes, wondering how someone could butcher such a simple movement, but then I remind myself how long it took me to figure things out. Us trainers have been at it for a long time, so it's easy to forget what it was like to be a newb.

If you think someone is messing up, offer your knowledge, ideally in a way that doesn't demean their efforts thus far. Otherwise, you're just stroking your own ego and that's not going to help you bring health and wellness to others.

In an effort to combat this elitist trend in fitness, I explained the basic principles of health and fitness in my ebook. It is the compilation of everything I learned, along with the 6 simplest things you can do that have a huge impact on your health. It's also free (though donations are really appreciated).

Photo credit: gabaus on Flickr