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An “athletic ceiling?” Perhaps it’s just a change of mindset.

I was recently posed a question from a friend of mine, someone whom I deeply respect as a person and athlete that at first glance was intriguing. As I read the question a second and third time, it went from intriguing to absolutely flooring. What was posed was this:

“Is there a point to where you can no longer PR? A point to where you’ve reached maximum capacity with no chance of continued progress or new personal bests?”

Stop for a moment, let that sink in and really think about it. I certainly did. While my response wasn’t immediate, the thought inside my head was immediate. Before I share my retort and get to my point, allow me to provide some additional grounding that is relative.

I’m fortunate to have made so many fabulous relationships thanks to CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting. It’s no secret to those that know me that I look to cultivate the relationships and am always looking to meet new people. Within these relationships comes a lot of mutual discussion and joint questioning. People ask me a lot of questions, all of which I am more than happy to provide my insight, and I spare no hesitation in asking many questions in return. Athletic tenure or experience level doesn’t matter to me because I relish these discussions and welcome opportunities to share insight around a multitude of topics including the aforementioned question.

Interestingly enough, my friends’ question has recently found its way to me a growing number of times. Most of the time it’s come when someone feels they’re working hard, “paying their dues” but simply not seeing any progress, and are at or nearing the point of frustration. The conversations go something like this:

THEM: “I feel I’ve been doing the right things. I’m in the gym consistently, I’m working hard while I’m there and I’m giving it my best effort.”

ME: “I hear nothing but positives. So, what’s the problem?”

THEM: “I’m not making any gains! I just did a 1RM test and I couldn’t PR. On top of which, other people are now beating me. I’m so frustrated!”

ME: “What are you more concerned about? Not setting a new PR or people now beating you?”

THEM: “Both. It’s frustrating and kind of discouraging.”

At this point the very first question I always ask is “Have you set your goals and if so, what are they?”

Reason being is that any one of us can continue to keep doing the things we’re doing, but if we’re not in the proper frame of mind and focusing on the most important variables, our chances for continued progress will stall. Sometimes, the response is the sharing of their goals which leads to fruitful conversation while other times, unfortunately, is a response of sharing goals that either aren’t specific enough or have yet to be set. If it’s the latter points, the conversation turns away from “activity” and towards “mindset and focus.”

Like any profession, CrossFit is chock full of people who’ve achieved outstanding success. Information, advice and quick tips are always readily available. More importantly, if you’re fortunate enough to talk with someone you deem “successful” and are able to get to the core of what’s led them to their success, you’ll most likely find 3 common elements that were critical to their achievements:

1)     They’ve set goals that are specific and, ultimately, outlined a clear path as to how to reach their goals. Additionally, they keep copious notes to track and constantly measure their progress.

2)     They not only “paid their dues” and continue to do so, but they focused their energy on only what was within their span of control.

3)     Their mindset is positive and they’ve never stopped believing in their potential.

Better stated, I can summarize these 3 points quickly: 1) Goal oriented, 2) Strong work ethic and, 3) Personal belief. Rather than delve into the technicalities of why someone didn’t PR on a lift or WOD, I aim the conversation more towards understanding any or all of these 3 points.

Tying this together slowly, my response to my friends question was this:

“NO! I will never accept the belief that there is a ‘human athletic ceiling.’ Your progress and PR’s stop when you stop believing and, ultimately, stop trying.”

Once again, stop and really think about that and apply it to your CrossFit success. Go with me here for a moment. Anyone reading this will have hopefully experienced a moment where you set a personal record. Once you were past that feeling of initial jubilation, I’d gather you set your sights on working towards another milestone. At that moment, feeling both proud and a strong sense of accomplishment, your next goal was set and its path clear. You personally committed that you’d literally work yourself into submission to once again PR and recapture that feeling of glory. Most importantly, your mindset was focused and your belief in your abilities was at its highest.

However, somewhere along your path, something changed that’s kept you from your new goal.

Did your goal change? Most likely not. What about your work ethic? It doesn’t appear so if you’re continually going to the gym and putting in the time. That leaves one variable left to self-explore: Your belief in yourself. Your mindset. If this has changed, it’s highly possible it’s impacted your work.

It can easily be challenged if you feel you’ve reached your “athletic ceiling.” Give me or anyone you truly trust enough of your time and personal attention and you’d quickly see that something can be identified and improved that leads you to more untapped potential. The key differentiator is you just simply have to always believe that it’s possible.

Speaking personally, every day I walk into the gym, I go through the same internal ritual. First, like everyone else, I look at the board to see what’s in store for me. Next, I align the elements of the day’s strength and WOD with my personal goals. Last, I remind myself that today’s training, good or bad, is about continued progress toward my goals and to continue to believe. That’s it. I avoid negative statements and work to block inhibiting thoughts of “Those 150 box jumps are going to be crushing!” or“That weight is entirely too heavy!” and immediately replace them with positive statements of “I’ll own those box jumps!” and “I can handle what that barbell is bringing!”

Does someone lift more than me? Most certainly!

Does someone post a faster time than mine in a WOD? Absolutely!

Do I let it bother me? Not a chance!

Do I use it as personal motivation knowing, and always believing, that I will one day lift more than one person or be as fast as the next? You bet!

Regardless of the end result, no matter how happy or frustrated, I simply never stop believing that I will one day get to my goals. Equally as important, I spend my time focusing on what’s inside my span of control: ME. I don’t spend my time thinking about what everyone else did. I can’t control how much weight they lifted or how fast they were. I can only focus on my goals and doing all I can to put my best foot forward each and every time I step on the training room floor or into the competitive arena.


If it’s good enough to win, I’ll celebrate that. If it’s not good enough to win, I’ll simply reflect on the effort I put forth and make sure I executed accordingly to my preset goal path. Point being, I’m always making sure that what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, always aligns with my goals.

I’d encourage you to do the same. I assure you, it not only helps you keep your focus, but you’ll see a difference in what you accomplish and what you believe you’re capable of achieving.

In closing, I’ll leave you with my one of my favorite quotes by Dale Carnegie which proves to not only be a nice summation of this post, but words that are very applicable to achieving success in all you do:

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Here’s to your success and your next personal best!

Article by Tommy Mo

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