Have You Reached Your Fitness Limit?

Here is an excerpt I stumbled across from Bruce Lee that I wanted to share with my Rock Heads:

Bruce had me up to three miles a day, really at a good pace. We’d run the three miles in twenty-one or twenty-two minutes. Just under eight minutes a mile [Note: when running on his own in 1968, Lee would get his time down to six-and-a half minutes per mile]. So this morning he said to me “We’re going to go five.” I said, “Bruce, I can’t go five. I’m a helluva lot older than you are, and I can’t do five.” He said, “When we get to three, we’ll shift gears and it’s only two more and you’ll do it.” I said “Okay, hell, I’ll go for it.” So we get to three, we go into the fourth mile and I’m okay for three or four minutes, and then I really begin to give out. I’m tired, my heart’s pounding, I can’t go any more and so I say to him, “Bruce if I run any more,” –and we’re still running-”if I run any more I’m liable to have a heart attack and die.” He said, “Then die.” It made me so mad that I went the full five miles. Afterward I went to the shower and then I wanted to talk to him about it. I said, you know, “Why did you say that?” He said, “Because you might as well be dead. Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.

This anecdote can and should be applied to everything in life, whether you are working on getting into shape, or working on improving anything else. That plateau while running is often referred to as “hitting The wall.” In order to keep running the marathon, you have to push yourself and break through it. The point being, that if we push ourselves, we can do anything we truly want to do.

I was reading another similar article, this one on the art of memorization. This was my favorite section:

In the 1960s, the psychologists Paul Fitts and Michael Posner tried to answer this question by describing the three stages of acquiring a new skill. During the first phase, known as the cognitive phase, we intellectualize the task and discover new strategies to accomplish it more proficiently. During the second, the associative phase, we concentrate less, making fewer major errors, and become more efficient. Finally we reach what Fitts and Posner called the autonomous phase, when we’re as good as we need to be at the task and we basically run on autopilot. Most of the time that’s a good thing. The less we have to focus on the repetitive tasks of everyday life, the more we can concentrate on the stuff that really matters. You can actually see this phase shift take place in f.M.R.I.’s of subjects as they learn new tasks: the parts of the brain involved in conscious reasoning become less active, and other parts of the brain take over. You could call it the O.K. plateau.

Psychologists used to think that O.K. plateaus marked the upper bounds of innate ability. In his 1869 book “Hereditary Genius,” Sir Francis Galton argued that a person could improve at mental and physical activities until he hit a wall, which “he cannot by any education or exertion overpass.” In other words, the best we can do is simply the best we can do. But Ericsson and his colleagues have found over and over again that with the right kind of effort, that’s rarely the case.

Everything is mental, most of us have either entered the second phase of learning, or have reached a plateau in the 3rd phase, which is not the limit of our abilities, but what we subconsciously feel is an “acceptable level of performance.”
So how do we get past our mental walls? The same scientists have found that top achievers, whether it be in sports or in life, generally develop the strategies to escape that 3rd phase, or to stay clear of it all together.

The three things they generally do are:

  • Keep focusing on their technique
  • Stay Goal Oriented
  • Get immediate feedback on their performance.

Take Lance Armstrong for example, even after being diagnosed with testicular cancer and a tumor that had metastasized to his brain and lungs, and undergoing extensive chemo, he went on to win the Tour de France each year from 1999-2005!
To improve ourselves, we have to consistently be extending ourselves past where we think our limits may lie, and then observing the reasons we failed, and how we can improve.

Are you living to your acceptable limit, or are you pushing yourself?


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