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Attitude is Everything

Senior RKC, Dr. Chris Holder: Attitude Is Everything
It’s 4:05AM. Your alarm clock is howling like a firetruck racing to a call. The noise itself nearly sits you up in bed. You can’t believe the morning is already here, and actually say, "NO!" followed by some of your favorite expletives out loud as you reach over to turn the thing off. You’re pissed because you feel like you just laid down to sleep only ten minutes ago. As your feet hit the floor, you realize you slept in a funky position for most of the night. Now, your left I.T. band and hip are so tight that you actually walk to the bathroom with a limp.

It’s pitch black and without your glasses, you have to use furniture and the walls to navigate your house. You finally get into the bathroom, do your business, then stare at yourself in the mirror. You have a fairly gnarly workout planned for this morning and you would rather eat dirt than head to the gym. It would be so easy to lay back down. Right now, nothing sounds better than more sleep. You try to talk yourself back to bed, thinking "I’ll double down later in the week", "I went hard yesterday, it won’t matter if I skip today", "I’ll rest this morning and then next Monday, it’s on!" But, the last thing you say to yourself before you head back to the bedroom to get dressed is, "WHY THE F$%& AM I DOING THIS?!"

All of this happens in the first two minutes you are awake. Psychology, and more importantly, human energetics, both teach us that this type of thinking is poison. Absolute poison. Unfortunately, this is probably how most of us start our days. Maybe some of you don’t wake up as early as I do—or use as much profanity—but I think we all can relate to the picture I just painted.

Let’s paint another picture, a true story about me. I came up in the fitness world during the heyday of bodybuilding. My heroes were Porter Cottrell, Mike Matarazzo, Flex Wheeler, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates. But, I wasn’t a bodybuilder, I was a football player. I became obsessed with weightlifting as a kid, and I’ve never stopped. Unfortunately I was too ignorant to understand that training for bodybuilding was not ideal for football players.

Doing heavy arms three times a week made perfect sense to me, and by the time I was a sophomore in college, I could bench over 500lb. I had a freakishly strong upper body, but (and you knew a "but" was coming) I couldn’t squat more than I could bench until my senior season in college. I had spent years neglecting my legs simply because it wasn’t glamorous… and honestly, because legs are hard. If not for a shoulder injury that required surgery my junior year, my squat might have never caught up with my pressing numbers!

I found the best squatter on the team, Kenneth Combs (nickname: Shorty) and forced him to lift with me. More importantly, I wanted him to push me because I hated to squat. At the time I didn’t understand why I would want to squat when I could bench instead! I spent a career throwing guys around like rag dolls, so I felt like I didn’t need leg strength. I didn’t realize I needed it until my shoulder injury. Shorty is probably the nicest guy in the world, but I ended up despising him by the end of the offseason. I would have rather died than go to those squatting sessions with him. I dreaded each session and cursed every rep. Those sessions were some of the hardest I had ever done. But, for the first time in my career (and 13 years after I started lifting weights) I was finally almost uniformly strong.

Two years later, I knew I needed a complete attitude overhaul. I was growing as a coach, and had learned a ton since playing football. I saw the value in many of lifts that I had cursed during my playing years. The best way to learn something is to immerse yourself in it by diving in head first—and forcing yourself to appreciate it. So, I decided that I would go on a squatting odyssey. As I approached the bar each time, I would tell myself how much I loved squatting. I flat-out lied to myself, day in and day out. After a short time, I suddenly stopped dreading it. I wasn’t forcing myself to think "I love this" before setting up under the bar, now the love was actually happening. Quickly, my strength began to surge and I was hitting new PRs regularly. I allowed myself the option to change my mind about squatting. Originally, I had really made a snap judgment about hating it. But now, and to this day, squatting is my favorite exercise.

I am not going to go on a spiritual rant or dive into sports psychology to back up my stance. I think we can all understand that the ability to change our own minds is incredibly powerful. What we think about the most becomes something we can manifest in our lives. We can choose something beautiful and valuable, or our thinking can be the mechanism of manifesting tough times in our lives—as exemplified in the beginning of this article. One of my all-time favorite quotes about this idea is from Captain Jack Sparrow:

"The problem is not the problem. Your attitude about the problem is the problem. Do you understand?"

Your approach to everything—especially your training—boils down to making choices. I’m not talking about choosing exercises, I’m talking about choosing the attitude toward the session. We all can agree that movement makes life better, keeps the doctor away, lubricates the joints, helps our energy move, gets the blood pumping, and extends our lives. With this understanding, it’s easy to see how exercise is required for us to thrive. So, we must approach our training times appreciating this magical elixir for lifelong health and wellness. We get to train, we don’t have to train. See the difference? Anyone who has suffered a significant injury will understand that subtle but powerful difference. Imagine that something has happened to you, and now you can’t train.

What if someone stole your kettlebell, barbell or bike? In the middle of the 10,000 swing challenge for the month of July this year, I had an injury pop up. Between sets of swings, I took a step and pivoted to my right—but my left foot stayed planted. While reaching for a towel (trust me, I know this sounds ridiculous) I felt a "thunk" and my whole left knee popped. At first, I was certain I had blown out my ACL. After several visits to our sports medicine specialists here at Cal Poly, I learned that I had basically ruptured my popliteus, a funky muscle that runs horizontally across the back of the knee. I spent the next six weeks enduring some of the most painful therapies to bring it back. I even had to walk with a considerable limp! When that little f@$%&* muscle goes, the knee completely locks down. I couldn’t fully extend the leg, and if I ventured into the gray areas, the hamstring ceased up. It felt like lightning striking from top to bottom. It’s an unpleasant injury, to say the least.

My first thought after the injury wasn’t, "Oh crap, I might have f’d myself up good," or, "Oh s%&@, this could require surgery", it was, "I don’t get to finish my swings!" I know that sounds crazy, but I had prepped for over four months for the challenge. I wanted to perform all 10,000 with the 32kg kettlebell, and had built up the strength and stamina to make 32kg feel light on every swing. But then, in one movement it was all taken away from me. I had been averaging between 325-350 swings a day, every day, with 32kg—and it was easy. The point of story is that I’ve experienced having real momentum only to have an injury get in the way. It took me six weeks to walk without issue. Only now, a full twelve weeks since the injury, have I been able to train with any level of normalcy. It’s hard to imagine that you might miss the grind, but when it is taken away, you will really miss that feeling of exhilaration.

Doom and gloom is glamorized in our society. On any day, you can’t log onto Facebook without having to see a grotesque video, picture, a post filled with negativity. I refuse to watch any news programs because those folks are simply selling misery. They should be ashamed of garbage they peddle. Yet almost everyone allows themselves to watch it and get emotionally involved in all of it. Before long, people become programmed to look for the negative in everything. That needs to stop. We must understand that we have been conditioned to be negative. We’ve been taught to look for limitations, problems, and where things can go wrong. I want to challenge you to take the first step in "righting the ship" by approaching each training session with more positivity than ever before. There’s a distinct difference between thinking something, and knowing it.

Know that your next set of swings will be the most powerful you have ever performed. Know that you will come out of the hole of the next squat like a silverback gorilla. Know that today’s training session will be the turning point for new growth, greater strength, and new depths of power. Know it.

Dr. Chris Holder Qigong Senior RKCDr. Christopher R. Holder DP, DMQ (China), Senior RKC, CrossFit Level 1, CSCS can be contacted by email at (mention RKC in the email subject so your email isn't accidentally deleted).