Growth Happens At Our Limits: Embrace it.

flower ground

We all search for inspiration. Sometimes we find it in a movie montage, other times in real life stories.

And sometimes something awesome happens right in front of us that gives us a fresh perspective.  Here’s a story from Taylor, NF’s Chief Wordsmith:

For about 6 months now I’ve seen a guy in a wheelchair come into my gym. He comes with a physical therapist, and does a variety of assisted rehabilitation exercises.  He usually uses low weight dumbbells or assistance bands. He can’t stand up, nor can he walk on his own, and it looks like he is rebuilding the coordination in his upper body as well.

This guy has been training along side me, while I usually am doing basic powerlifting movements.  For the last 6 months, he’s been an inspiration…but last week, he reached an all new level.

You see, in my gym, it is rare to see people take big lifts to failure, especially a squat or deadlift (for the few people who do actually squat and deadlift).  When I fail on a big lift, dropping heavy weight onto safeties, I definitely get some weird looks.

Last week I nailed a new 5 rep squat PR.  It felt great, like I just beat an end-game boss. Then, as I’m headed for the water fountain after my set, I saw my rehab friend.

But this time he isn’t working with bands or dumbbells. In fact, the therapist isn’t even assisting him, he’s just coaching him. This guy was standing up out of his wheelchair, without help, for the first time in his training.

I have NEVER seen anybody work this hard. I watched him fight to lift his own bodyweight. I saw him struggle for every inch. I watched him put every last ounce of effort he had into his legs and posterior chain – and then some. He could have fallen flat on his face, sideways into the weight machines, or on to his  therapist. In fact, I almost thought he was going to. But he didn’t.  He won. It was by far the most inspiring and impressive feat I’ve ever seen.

In a way, it was more impressive than a 500 lb squat, a perfect human flag, or a sub 4-minute mile. And it was “just” his body weight. “Just” standing up.

Growth Happens at our limits


The above story helps demonstrate something crucial when it comes to our training.

It didn’t matter that he was only looking to ‘squat’ his own weight or 500 lbs.

In that moment of struggle where we’re aiming to do something we’ve never done before, we are all the same.

The battle is the same.

The mental chess game is the same.

And the “boss-defeating satisfaction”  is the same.

And years from now, Taylor’s friend in the gym who just stood up for the first time could be squatting hundreds of pounds. And as he breaks personal best after personal best, he gets to have that same struggle, that same moment of “can I do this?” and that final “holy crap, I did it.”

Josh Waitzkin, world champion chess player (and subject of “Searching for Bobby Fisher”), says it best in his book, “The Art of Learning”:

“Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.”‘

Your workouts should not be monotonous


Most people go about their workout as a dull, monotonous worker bees:

  • Step on treadmill or sit down at weight machine
  • Dutifully suffer through 20-60 minutes of exercise at some arbitrary pace
  • Repeat

Almost all of us have experience with this – grinding out the same exercise, day after day, because we think it’s what we need to do to achieve the results we want.

But as illustrated above, workouts don’t have to be a grind. In fact, they SHOULDN’T be viewed as a grind, but a new opportunity to challenge your limits.

EVERY workout should be exciting.

The awesome part? No matter where that “limit” is – whether you’re 500 pounds, 70 years old, or an Olympic athlete – the excitement from leveling up can be electric EVERY time.

You can harness this excitement to look forward to your training…meanwhile achieving the results you’ve always longed for.

One step further


Remember in the Fellowship of the Ring, as Sam and Frodo set off to Rivendell (and eventually Mordor), Sam pauses for a brief moment at a Scarecrow just a few miles outside of his home:

Sam: “This is it.”

Frodo: “This is what?”

Sam: “If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.” 

Sam Leaves the Shire

For many people that had been in and out of the Shire, they probably walked past that scarecrow without thinking twice.

However, that Scarecrow was something MONUMENTAL for Sam.  It signified the difference between the comfortable, safe, known confines that he had experienced in his life, and the potentially dangerous unknown adventure that awaited him.

Where is the Scarecrow in your life?  

  • Is it that weight you’ve never been able to lift for a deadlift?
  • Is it a mountain hike that you’ve told yourself you would finish but haven’t attempted?
  • Is it traveling outside of the country and testing your preconcieved notions of other cultures?
  • Is it trying to learn a new instrument, or making a new friend, or attending an event?

Safety and the “known” can lull us to sleep.  

They can help us drift instead of taking control (a symptom of “good enough“).

They tell us to mindlessly hop on a treadmill – to aimlessly wander around the gym – to do the bare minimum.

Sure, staying within your boundaries can be safer, but your growth is dependent upon what happens outside of the lines – what happens PAST the scarecrow.

So celebrate each victory, and embrace that happiness every time you pass a milestone.  And then remember that each time the scarecrow moves further away from home, you must reach even further to challenge yourself.

This isn’t about crossing the finish line. It turns out, we’re not there yet, so we might as well enjoy the journey and do it for the love of the game.

Growth happens at our limits, wherever they may lie.  It’s how much we can become comfortable with being uncomfortable that will determine just how much we can grow.

To paraphrase Professor Barnhardt in The Day the Earth Stood Still: At the precipice we change.

I want to hear from you.

Where is your Shire, and what does the Scarecrow represent for you?

For me, it’s been heavy deadlifts.  For 5+ years that scarecrow was stuck at 315 lbs, the “farthest from home I’ve ever been.”  I had been afraid to leave the Shire…so I took baby steps over the past 12 months and just yesterday lifted 320 lbs. I know when I wake up tomorrow that scarecrow will have moved to 325 lbs, tempting me to venture further.

I can’t wait for that moment next week when my ENTIRE existence is focused on one tiny thing: pulling that bar, loaded up with all of that weight, up and over my knees. I know if I can get it there, then I can get through the rest of the lift.  I’m excited for the challenge.  And I don’t know if I’ll fail or succeed. But I’m excited to try.

Post a comment below on what the scarecrow is in your life right now – and how you plan to walk right on past it!



photo pin: Matt Chan: Shire, Legozilla: treadmill, Martijn de Valk: dandelion, Scott Smith: Time Limit

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