The Performance Trap

There are thousands of traps we’ll find ourselves tangled within over the course of our lives.

Some are relationship traps.
Others are money traps.
Some traps we set ourselves, and other times, we stumble into one with no forewarning.

When moving away from diet culture and obsessive aesthetic pursuits, there comes a time where your next sticking point is navigating the performance trap.

“I don’t care about what I look like. I care about my performance!”

Sounds all fine and good, right?

What’s the harm in that?
Isn’t that the literal point?

Actually, no.

It’s the same kind of trap as diet culture as a whole.

Diet culture swoops in and sets a bar or a standard, and all of us scramble to try and achieve it.
Those that do achieve it (whatever “it” is anyway) will do just about anything in order to maintain it- at ALL costs.
The rest of us wake up and go “fuck this! This is insanity!” which usually begins our journey away from diet culture.

But then, something else pops up.

Most of us end up obsessing over how fast, how strong, how “fit” we are
so as to suggest “I’m not here to look good. I’m here to do cool shit so that you understand that I am fit! I am with it! I belong here!”

Which really just is:

“I hope to perform my fitness ability so that you understand I’m acceptable.”

and

“I’ve earned my right to be here, can’t you TELL!?”

and

“I will do anything in order to maintain my identity.”

and

“I am in a constant state of pursuing others’ approval of me.”

and

“I am so wildly uncertain of my own worth that if I can’t hide behind what I look like, I’ll hide behind how I perform in the gym!”

So, if/when your performance starts to drop, for any reason, you’re left with an identity crisis.

Your last remaining tie to the “cool girls club” of fitness culture is now being threatened.

Which also really just says: “I thought I could be anti-diet as long as it was OBVIOUS that I was fit!”

Here’s what you need to know:

-your performance will rise and fall, and rise and fall, and rise and fall over and over and over again across your lifetime.

-the point of fitness is not to cling tightly to it (adult pacifier!) but rather to allow fitness to serve you throughout different points in your life.

-you literally cannot progress forever. You just can’t. If progress was this linear journey, we’d all be running 100 miles with zero issues and deadlifting thousands of pounds. And yet, none of us are actually doing that, so what gives?

What is fitness? Fitness is physical preparedness. You can be “fit” to run a 5k or you can be “fit” to deadlift 200 pounds. You can be fit to do both. You can be fit to walk 1 mile, or 20 miles. You can be fit to ride a bike for 5 miles or 50 miles. You can be fit to run 10 miles and NOT BE FIT to swim 1 mile. One “type” of fitness does not automatically make you fit across all types of physical preparedness.

Most folks think fitness is something you DO.

And I suppose it kind of is? In order to be fit in a particular way, you must strategically perform the thing you want to get better at.

I think we all know this.

What we seem to not know is that life happens.

Life happens in all ways: good, bad, ugly, tolerable, intolerable. Life is… life-y.

So here’s where I come in.

Not only have I gained weight recently, my fitness level is in the shitter.

This, of course, is relative to me. This is so important for you to keep in mind for yourself. Am I less fit than you? Perhaps. Am I more fit than you? Perhaps. However, it literally does not matter.

Your fitness does not exist in comparison to anyone or anything else. Stop using that as a basis of comparison.

AND.

Using yourself as a basis of comparison isn’t necessarily as helpful as one might think. It depends on if you’re using yourself as a lighthouse or a weapon.

One is helpful. One is damaging.

 

For the record, a “loss” of fitness requires zero explanation.

You can simply become less fit and you have every right to shrug your shoulders and be OK with it.

However, there’s a decent chance you’re more like me and genuinely love fitness. All of it. You love pursuing it, maintaining it, talking about it, exploring it, all of it.

So, let’s back up:

November 2019, I broke my collar bone in Krav Maga.

This in and of itself derailed a lot for me, but everything was just mildly inconvenient (I am a pro [literally] at navigating movement with and around an injury lol)

March 2020, we all know: lock down, panic, bla bla bla.

Between managing the stress of owning a gym at this time and trying to hold space for dozens and dozens and dozens of clients filled with panic about their own fitness routine, I too, had a hard time juggling my own.

My gym went from having predictable set hours that allowed for me to lift on a set schedule to the gym needing to be open for 1-2 people at a time, all day long. Historically, I’d go to the commercial gym up the street, but because of Covid, I literally could not. And once I could, I didn’t feel comfortable.

So, I let my clients have the pick of the litter for gym availability and I just did the best I could.

 

June/July 2020: I begin noticing neural tension in my lower body. My legs would shake uncontrollably anytime I sat down to go to the bathroom. This went on for weeks before I noticed my legs shaking as I walked down the stairs.

 

It was just a bit annoying at first, but I was in no pain and wasn’t experiencing any limitations other than the shakiness.

 

Then, I began noticing it when I would bend over to tie my shoes.

When I would bend over to put food in Mack’s bowl.

When I would perform a downward facing dog during a warm-up or during an RDL.

 

Fuck.

 

Something is legitimately wrong with me.

The sciatic nerve is the longest & largest nerve in the body. And it’s not as simple as you think. When someone is diagnosed with “sciatica” that’s quite literally a totally unhelpful “diagnosis” meaning, it’s actually not a proper diagnosis at all.

The sciatic nerve originates from L4-S2 spinal segments, and it splits off into different branches as it moves down the legs, innervating many different muscles that serve many different functions.

Stay with me:

The tibial branch of the sciatic nerve innervates the calf muscles.

My calves never felt tight. I never got the sensation that calves needed to be stretched. What I did begin to notice, however, was that my ability to perform a decent squat was… almost gone.

A “proper” squat requires a decent amount of ankle mobility. As you squat down, your ankle needs to be able to dorsiflex, which requires your calves to chill the fuck out.

My calves had no chill. My ankle mobility went from being able to do weighted pistol squats to feeling wildly limited and uncomfortable during a goblet squat. Which, mind you, prior to June/July 2020, I was front squatting ~175 for reps, no problem. So, this was clearly a massive shift/decline in ability. And it happened FAST.

I didn’t have much time to care/worry though, because by October 2020, I was so mentally exhausted from agonizing over my gym and finally deciding to close it. October began the early stages of gym-take-down, and by the end of November, it was over. October 31 was the last day my gym was open, and November 1 began long ass days of dealing with idiots on Facebook Market Place who wanted to buy my listed equipment. If you’ve ever sold a bunch of stuff on FB before, YOU KNOW.

I didn’t do one single official workout in November 2020. All I did was spend every waking moment taking squat racks down, selling things, & removing turf. The turf removal took weeks. Once the turf was off, I had to scrape the glue off the cement. It was thick, and it spread across 40 feet long and 14 feet wide. My hands were blistered and bleeding the entire month. Just rubbed completely raw from ~10 hour days of scraping glue. Still not sure what hurt worse: my hands or my ego. It was just brutal across the board.

December 2020, I was jammed back into my single car garage. It was freezing. I had just enough room for my barbell and squat rack, and about a yoga mat’s worth of space in the rack. There was a snowblower, the garbage cans, and the remnants of my gym packed to the gills all around me. The reminder (at the time, so I felt) that I failed, I sucked, and it was all a pipe dream, and I’d be better off if I just crawled into a hole to die. I was simultaneously relieved that it was over, excited for the future, and also really, really, really sad. And of course, tired in a way that sleep just couldn’t fix.

I managed to drag my sad, sorry, sobbing ass out to the garage a few days a week that month, but I wasn’t really “feeling it.” I went through the motions HARD.

Oh, we also began house hunting!

Super non-stressful 😉 Not.

Winter and spring 2021 was just a continuation of the 2020 shitshow.

My legs were still shaking all of the time and I totally stopped rehabbing my shoulder from my collarbone break.

So there I was all set up and ready to GO in the new garage gym, only to realize my shoulder could hardly move.

All I wanted to do was GO HARD in the gym.

I wanted to do all of the things I’ve worked so hard for so long to be able to do.

I wanted to seemingly effortlessly put up heavy (for me) weight with music blaring in my ears and just crush it.

And I literally couldn’t.

What used to be a barbell with my body weight over my head was now a 5 pound dumbbell- and that was after weeks of rehabbing my shoulder to even be able to GO over head without make-you-wince pain.

What used to be a 200 pound+ deadlift for reps was now a dowel hinge to assess my sciatic nerve symptoms.

What used to be laying on my back, happily breathless and feeling accomplished AF and grinning ear to ear with a sense of accomplishment was me laying on my back, bored out of my fucking MIND doing nerve glides.

I was, for many weeks, drowning in the pit of despair that is the performance trap.

“What’s even the point?”

“How could I let this happen?”

“I am a joke.”

“THIS is a joke.”

“I am so disappointed that I let myself go.”

“I am a fraud.”

“I give up.”

“Stop asking me to workout with you, I told you I quit.”

I was ANGRY.

I was EMBARASSED.

Most notably, I was just sad.

I felt sorry for myself in a way that I had never experienced before, and certainly not for this long.

So what did I do about it?

While I wish I could say I just “bucked up” and here’s this super inspiring story of a comeback. I have none of that to offer you. I have not made a comeback, not even close. 

This is what I can offer you instead:

>>> I gave myself permission for it all to just suck. And I don’t mean suck in a “wow! That workout sucked. I LOVE it!” way. It’s more in a “you literally suck at fitness right now and it’s ok” kind of suck.

>>> I stopped putting pressure on myself. I used to be able to push myself to near-insane physical limits. And that’s just not an option for me right now. I’m not even here to demonize pushing yourself hard- for many of us, myself included, it’s our happy place. And while it’s been fucking hard to literally not be able to do that, allowing myself to bring 50% effort to the table allowed for it to feel so much less intimidating, and therefore, DOABLE.

>>> Recognizing that effort is relative. Even if I tried my ABSOLUTE hardest in the gym right now, I’d still be a far cry performance wise from where I was literally less than 1.5 years ago. OH WELL. Berating myself and obsessing over this is literally not helpful.

Accepting what is. Like, what am I supposed to do? Honestly. Ask yourself that question. I refuse to obsess over my loss of fitness, and I’m doing the best that I can. At the end of the day, what the hell else are we supposed to do?

Stop being a dick to myself. If there was an award for harshest inner critic, I would win. And I’m not even kidding. I have had to consciously sit myself down and talk BACK to the voice in my head that says things that I can’t even bring myself to type here, it’s THAT bad. I’ve had to force myself to sit and listen to my thoughts, and push back and say to them “well that thought isn’t very helpful. Is that even a true thought? Does this thought actually help me?” Turns out, as corny and floofy as self-compassion can sound, I am telling you- it works. “We got this” and “you are doing just fine” is far more helpful than anything that sounds like “you fucking suck and should quit before you make a fool of yourself.”

 

The performance trap doesn’t allow for us to have a life.

It doesn’t allow for you to experience grief, loss, & heartache.

The performance trap doesn’t let you manage your life when it explodes in your face, as it often does.

The performance trap feels like a helpful tether to the things that matter most to you, but what you’ll realize is that the tether is wrapped around your neck.

While I’m not suggesting nor encouraging that you just “let yourself go”, what I am encouraging is that shit happens, and sometimes you have to let it.

You’re going to get injured. You just are. Yes, the state of physical preparedness you are in at the time of injury will dictate how long you’re down and out for, and yes, being strong and mobile is a great mitigation for injury, but it is not prevention. If you’re out here clinging tight AF to what your current fitness level SAYS ABOUT YOU, you’re going to fight a long and damn-near futile battle trying to cling to things that just need to be set down… for now.

If you’re berating yourself for the smaller weights, the slower runs, the newly-difficult things that were once so easy, you’ll eventually just quit. At least, that’s where I was headed. It all felt too far away. It felt like I was too far gone, and like it would take “too long” to ever get “back into the groove” of “feeling like I was fit enough to workout.”

WHICH IS SO STUPID, because… you literally have to do the fitness to get the fitness. So, the alternative here is to literally give up, which is EXACTLY what the performance trap sets you up to do.

The performance trap lies to you and says “if you cannot maintain this, you are worthless.”

The performance trap will just swallow you whole.

Is losing fitness and ability hard? God yes.

Is losing fitness and ability scary? OMG. Yes.

But your performance and fitness ability will go up and down and up and down and up and down across your lifetime.

It’s worth fighting for, again, and again, and again, when you’re ready. It is NOT worth agonizing over while other things take a temporary front seat in your life. Whether those things are exciting and fun or downright disparaging.

When you detangle yourself from the performance trap, you’ll be exciting to rebuild, to regain, to explore yet again.

You’ll allow yourself the room and the time to explore. To get curious. To try. And try again. To listen to your body instead of forcing your body to listen to you.

And it won’t be for the last time. As discouraging as that sounds, you will find yourself at odds again with your fitness for some other complicated or random or seemingly stupid reason. If you’ve never experienced that, you’re lucky. And, I can guarantee that life will soon choose you to be the one it humbles. You are not immune. Give it time and life will come and just smack you in the face. It happens to all of us. To the best of us and to the worst of us.

And it’ll be ok.

Maybe not right now.
Maybe not tomorrow.
But it’ll be okay. Eventually.

Because your worthiness, your purpose, your life, and the things you enjoy (in and out of the gym) are not dictated by your fitness level.

Getting back up to the top can be part of the fun!

And so that is where I’m at.

I’m in the worst physical shape of my adult life. Truly.

I allowed myself to feel all the feels.

I cried. I pouted. I refused. I cried some more.

I’ve got a long way to go to get back to where I once was. But that’s the point.

And maybe I never will! Maybe I will never be as “fit” as I once was, and I’m OK with that.

Because my life looks different, and I am different. And when life taps you on the shoulder and invites you into the storm, you rarely come out the same. And so if I never get “back” to where I was, I’m ok with it.

I am not my performance. I am not my body. My life will not be marked by how strong or fast or fit I am.

Fitness doesn’t end. You do not arrive. You just keep going. Sometimes up, sometimes down. Sometimes something. Sometimes everything. Sometimes heavier. Sometimes lighter. Sometimes, nothing at all for weeks on end. Sometimes, all the things.

Fitness should be fun. And so that is what I’m after. Allowing lifting to be fun again without shitting all over myself about all the ways I “suck” now. Meeting myself where I’m at and extending compassion and curiosity in place of self-judgement and ridicule.

If you’re in a weird place with your fitness right now, you’re not alone.

We’re in this together!

 

**I will not be answering questions about my health or injuries at this time. Please do not ask. Thank you!***

the barbell collective

Desgined for women with a history of doing the MOST