by Ryan Humphries, Co-Owner and Instructor
"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” The first time I heard this, it came from Coach W, my fifth grade PE teacher and a man I considered to be a grade-A asshole. Looking back, I’m sure he was a good dude and he was probably trying to be inspiring or maybe he was attempting some team building B.S. Whatever his tactic, all I heard was “Ryan, you’re the weakest link.”
Earlier that year, as part of the elementary PE test, I had to run a mile. Until that day, I never really thought about my fitness level. I mean I knew I wasn’t the fastest kid on the playground and definitely wasn’t the tallest, but as a kid I was pretty active. My parents joked that I was part monkey, since there wasn’t a tree that I couldn’t climb. I rode my bike all over the place and I could pogo stick like a champ! But I guess I never really ran anywhere. This was made very apparent about half way through the mile run test, when I collapsed on the field from an asthma attack.
Until that day, I didn’t know that I couldn’t run a mile. As renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow would say, when it came to running the mile, I was in a state of unconscious incompetence. Another way to say this is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. If you’re familiar with Maslow, you may have heard of his “Hierarchy of competence” or “The 4 stages of learning any new skill”. In my case, the skill was running a mile. Here’s how Maslow would break it down:
Stage 1) Unconscious incompetence:
When you are unaware that you can’t perform the skill. In my case, I had no idea that I couldn’t run a mile without having an asthma attack.
Stage 2) Conscious incompetence:
When you are aware that you can’t perform the skill. This happened half way through my run as I wasn’t able to pull any more oxygen from the air and I collapsed on the field. Fun fact, I was also helped off the field by one of the prettiest girls in sixth grade. Talk about a boost of confidence…
Stage 3) Conscious competence:
When you can perform the skill, but you really have to think about every move. This happened on the first group run during Navy Boot Camp. (The military would have been cake had it not been for the running!)
Stage 4) Unconscious competence:
When you are able to perform the skill without even thinking about it. Every now and then, I feel like I’ve hit this level, then I learn a new technique and I start back at Stage 2 or 3.
Since that embarrassing 5th grade incident, I’ve gone through Maslow’s model and (although it’s not my favorite) I can now run a mile with little to no issues. If you’ve ever stepped foot in Axistence Athletics (or any CrossFit™ gym for that matter), then you’ve definitely gone through this model multiple times with multiple movements. Think about it. Before your first class, chances were you didn’t know about muscle-ups, double unders, toes to bar or any of the other jargon on the whiteboard.
For me, the CrossFit Open is a way to see that there are still many things that I don’t know that I don’t know. Einstein once said “Once we stop learning, we start dying,” and since I’m a pretty big fan of living, I think I’d like to continue learning.
"Once we stop learning, we start dying."
– Albert Einstein
For the last 4 years I have signed up for the CrossFit Open so I can continue to learn. I do this, not because I think I have a chance to be the fittest man on earth (Not with THAT attitude right!?) But instead, to test myself and see exactly where I am on Maslow’s model. I also like to see if I am indeed improving based on my training. Thus far, every year I have improved from years past. And although I’m not necessarily competing with anyone other than myself, it’s kind of cool to see where I stack up against 300,000 other humans. I can honestly say that I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been in my life. This is primarily because of smart training and listening to my body. It’s also due to consistency.
Although Axistence Athletics is no longer a CrossFit affiliate, I personally plan on signing up for the Open for as long as I’m physically capable. I really believe that the best education lies in what you don’t know that you don’t know. That’s the stuff that will take you to the next level. And who knows, if I continue to improve over the next 18 years, when I turn 55 and hit the Masters category maybe I’ll be ready for the CrossFit Games.