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Russell’s Sunday Sermon: I am ME and You are YOU


Russell’s Sunday Sermon: I am ME and You are YOU

My parents were not your parents. Your parents were not mine.

Wait, are you Gary? Even if you are (and he doesn’t read my drivel anyway), he’s not my twin, much less my identical twin, so nevermind. This will apply to everyone, even identical twins, but I may have to talk about histones and epigenetics, which is a fun conversation all on its own.

People ask me what I bench. They ask what I squat.

“You must work out. What’s your bench?”

I don’t know, it changes and I don’t really care that much anymore. All of my abilities have changed as the calendar persists in its tireless march. It’s better than the alternative. I used to do this, I used to do that. Some things I do better, some things… Not so much. If I focus on something in particular for a while, it will improve. If I neglect that thing, the inverse is likely and the skill or ability will erode.

This is true of many, many things in life. If I’ve been squatting, my legs are likely to be strong and perhaps grow. If I’ve been studying beta blockers I’ll be able to rattle off something about rate and pressure control. If I’ve skipped the squats or the books for too great a period, I’ll lose something for the lack of effort. Thankfully, it comes back a little faster the next time around. Muscle memory and neural memory are both real – though the truth is that even muscle memory is likely neuromuscular programming that can be “remembered” and motor units recruited more effectively than if you’d never done the work in the first place. The nerves remember, even if the muscular atrophy may have to be corrected.

So, it’s really all just regular memory. It’s all neural. Mostly.

But your parents were not my parents. We don’t share identical muscle fiber types. Your cardiac index is different than mine. Your vital capacity is different. The mitochondria your mother gave you are different than those my mom gave me. You and I don’t share the same birthday. Our athletic histories are not the same. I’ve not done the things you have, nor you I. We don’t eat the same food.

Not a single one of these things is necessarily a bad thing. Maybe you are primed for enormous gainz (apparently it has to be spelled with a “z”) because you just started exercising recently, while I’m beaten to piss from doing this for so many years. Maybe you’re going to learn a lot in a hurry because your stress level has been more adequately controlled than mine, and you’re in a better state of mind to learn. Maybe you’re older than me, and the gainz (GAINZ!!) will be a little harder and take more patience.

I’m a people watcher. I grew up sitting for many hours on the bench in front of the Kaycee Meat Market, eating ice cream, while watching the cars and people pass by. I still do it. I suppose maybe we all do. In the military they call it situational awareness. I like to look around and see what is going on with the world and the people around me. It isn’t that I intentionally lurk, I just observe.

Nowadays, I’ll sit on the Airdyne at the gym, warming up or cooling down, and watch the hum of activity around me. I’ll sit, spinning, and see what the other gym-bunnies are doing. I’ll think about what they are doing. I’ll think about how they are doing the exercise they are doing. I’ll wonder if they are consciously or intentionally doing a thing. I’ll file away thoughts and critiques in my head.

Or grab Dayne and have a conversation about the thing I’m seeing.

God, her femurs are long, squatting with her feet that narrow has to suck.

His forearms are several inches center of vertical on his bench press. Are they doing narrow bench or is that something that can be corrected?

That person seems to be doing a pretty insane amount of training volume lately. I hope they are taking care of themselves, eating enough, stretching and doing all of the little things that will help to prevent injury with that kind of repetitious trauma.

That is the 4th time I’ve seen him do the exact same squat routine this week. Switch it up, yo!

I listen. I hear people who are exuberant after they PR. I see the hi-5’s and pats on the back that go along with these accomplishments. I hear them talking about food. I hear talk of drink. I hear talk of training.

Sometimes, I witness frustration.

I’ve been working so hard and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence. ~ Ovid

Sometimes you just have to stick with it. Have you ever seen a tree growing through cement? The tree that wrecked your sidewalk didn’t do that overnight, it did it gradually and with persistence. It didn’t force the issue, it simply exerted gentle pressure over many years. We often forget this and force the issue. This is when it all falls apart. We exert violent and vigorous force to a task that will only respond the gentle and tireless insistence.

Injury, burnout, damage and loss of interest result.

I see older athletes – I am one, frustrated because they cannot dial up the training volume and intensity to remain abreast of their younger peers. We force the issue, kick, scream, fight, bite and hurt ourselves trying. I see people who have been in the gym for years, frustrated at the rapid and visible improvements displayed by those who just started. Again, the only answer is more and harder. The only answer is to force the issue.

This is wrong. Your parents were not mine, and you are not me. You weren’t on a Specialized Epic in Leadville. You weren’t in the gym at 0500 during college so you could deliver furniture or bake bagels or sell movie tickets and popcorn. I was not you doing whatever you were doing 5 years ago.

Shut up, I’m busy hating you because I’m jealous of how well you’re doing right now. Let’s get back to the petty jealousy, mean-girl judgment and shallow accusations. Let’s get back to me counting your reps as diligently as I’m counting my own.

Fuck that. I detest that behavior. If you’ve ever finished a regular workout in the gym and the first thing that came to your mind was, “that person didn’t do x,” whatever “x” was, you need to reassess. You know who I’m talking to. Quit it. It’s shallow, callus and a waste of your energies. Quit worrying about other people and worry about you.

That person may, ultimately, be my competition somewhere in the space-time continuum, but right here and now they are not the measure of me. I can be better than I was yesterday, but I cannot be you. I may eventually beat you, or you I, but we cannot exist as one another day-to-day. What works for you on a Tuesday morning, may destroy me – and vice versa. You may crush me all week long, but I might show up on Saturday to put you back in your place.

I ain’t as good as I once was
But I’m as good once, as I ever was ~ Scott Emerick & Toby Keith

These lyrics, from the song “As Good as I Once Was”, speak some pretty stark truth about the aging athlete, in particular. As I creep toward the exit of my 30s, I notice that I cannot manage some of the silly shit I did 15 years ago. Achieving a perception of forward progress and experiencing the level of insanity my mind craves, but my body is increasingly less able to deliver, requires a much greater level of strategic planning. I must pick and choose, selecting exercises that won’t murder me, and adjusting training volumes so that I may live to fight another day. I have so many years in the gym that I feel I’m able to do some of these things pretty intelligently. So long as I can keep my ego in check.

This is a problem within Crossfit as an organized exercise modality. Whoever does the programming at your gym programs for large numbers of people. If they are intelligent about it, they try to cycle the workouts in a manner that won’t completely wreck anyone. El Capitan de Weird (Dyer) does a pretty solid job of this. The dude has a proclivity for, and active love affair with, longer workouts, but he cycles the week such that we don’t get too torn apart.

I’ve heard people verbalize, out loud and intentionally, that they do Crossfit because they don’t have the time nor inclination to do their own programming – even if they have the skills necessary to do so. As I said, you are not me and I am not you. I have to modify and tweek a few things, which I am both able and eager to do. I love Crossfit, and I am generally impressed with the programming at BTCF, but I still prefer to take responsibility for myself. I have to account for things in my background – medical, athletic and including my own personal goals, which might lead me to choose one exercise over another. You are never going to see me do a workout or movement just because it is written on the whiteboard. I would recommend that everyone analyze themselves and ponder your own personal athletic peculiarities. You may arrive upon several conclusions that might contribute to your own athletic longevity.

To the aging athlete – you have to be intelligent about your volumes and listen to your body. If something hurts – back off, change, modify and find workarounds. Don’t use a peer 15 years your junior as the measuring stick. Be the gauge of your own successes and failures, don’t let anyone else do that for you. You’ll need to think, deeply, about your goals and how to get there in as few moves as possible. While the 20-something beside you can afford to persist, for many years to come, with a “work harder not smarter” ethos, you cannot. Your movements have to be smarter – and less.

That’s just the way it is.

Life isn’t fair. Some people inherently have more athletic potential than others – they chose better parents than you did, but we can each make the best of the potential we’re born with. Eating the right foods (another subject with great individual variance), getting enough sleep, improving weaknesses even as we revel in the time we spend with our strengths – there are so many ways I can better myself that have nothing to do with you.

Every once in a while I get busted as I’m watching, analyzing and critiquing. Every once in a while I’ll be asked, “what did you see” or “how did those look”? I love it when this happens because I’m eager to see how awesome you can become. Truly. I want to see you succeed. I want to see BTCF conquer the landscape of Billings and to do that, we each have to kick as much ass as possible. I want to see the new people thrive (no, not like that. Fuck those junkies) and those who have been around continue to grow. If I have anything in my tool kit that can help you, I get to at least be associated with your success, even if it’s from the bleachers saying, “I knew them when”.

PS – If you like any of these Sunday sermons, check out
For additional ruminations that are either completely unrelated to health and fitness or might be inappropriate and ill-advised to associate with a business.


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