Anyone who has experienced one knows exactly what it is. Anyone who trains hard, has played high school football, practices martial arts or otherwise engages in a lifestyle of strenuous physical activity has experienced it many, many times. Hell, I've had three in the last week alone. It can happen during the steep uphill of a hardcore trail run. It can happen during a semi private training session or Spartan Training class that you knew was going to be a nightmare.
It might happen during conditioning drills in tennis camp or a cross training workout. It happens all the time when you're rolling in Jiu Jitsu or in the fifth round of sparring in Muay Thai. It's always there, lurking around the edges of your training, seeking out the perfect moment to spring into your workout like a crack-addled Jack-in-the-Box.
The "Holy Sh**" moment.
If you've ever trained, really trained, trained HARD, you know exactly what it is. It is the moment, during training, when a sudden, overwhelming and blood-freezing reality swallows you, and you think:
"Holy sh**. I don't think I'm gonna make it through this."
The HS Moment has deep and historic roots. I have no doubt that the first Greek wrestlers in the first Greek Olympics experienced it. Anyone who has seen Ali-Frazier III has witnessed two guys experience it. It's the "I've got nowhere else to go!" moment in An Officer and a Gentleman with Lou Gossett, Jr. staring down contemptuously at Richard Gere doing push ups in the mud and the rain. It's Pete Sampras blowing chow on the court during the U.S. Open. It's what Pheidippides would have felt on his run to Athens from the Battle of Marathon had the moment ever happened.
But here's the interesting thing about the HS Moment: For all of it's misery and fright, for all of it's lung-busting discomfort, for all of it's against-human-nature-ness, it's a really important moment for people who are driven to really progress, excel and improve in their training. It's a necessary evil in the pursuit of advancement. If you're NOT experiencing the HS Moment in your training, what the hell are you doing?
In an earlier post, I talked briefly about the principle of overload. In short, the principle of overload states that, in order to advance in your fitness, you must progressively place demands on your body that are beyond those which you have placed on it in the past. In other words, you must force your body to endure unfamiliar stress in order to induce adaptation, which is the process of your body improving it's conditioning in response to the work load placed upon it.
You have to go beyond where you have gone before. You have to venture beyond comfort into discomfort. This isn't a matter of opinion, this is human physiology. Google it if you don't believe me. And here's another thing about overload; if you want continual progression, you have to keep going beyond your current level of conditioning in order to maintain a steady upward trajectory. The person who aspires to perpetual improvement has to accept the reality of constant discomfort.
That's why so few people are in really good shape! Because who in their right mind wants to embrace the concept of never-ending discomfort? Human nature is programmed to avoid discomfort, to seek the path of least resistance, yet progress in your training demands that you go against millions of years of genetic instinct and actually seek out discomfort. It's counterintuitive. But it's imperative if you want to improve in your sport, advance your athletic skill and conditioning, even if you want to just "get into shape."
We've been fed such a steady diet of nonsense when it comes to health and fitness that, culturally, we've been indoctrinated with the notion that being healthy doesn't require discomfort. Infomercials sell useless equipment designed to make you "lean and ripped in 7 minutes a day, three days a week!" Ridiculous diets are hailed and then discredited over and over and over. Our underfunded schools teach less and less health every year and our wonderful government agencies approve more and more drugs every year, and every year we get more and more sick.
And yet, let's be real:
We know the guy with the cover-model physique on the infomercial didn't get that body from that piece of crap exercise machine he's hawking. We know it's ridiculous to give up fruit and pasta and live on pork rinds and bacon-wrapped steak because some doctor told you that carbs kill. We know it's crap when we order pills that promise to make us lose that annoying belly fat without dieting or exercise.
But we buy into the nonsense anyway, because deep down we don't want to have to work hard to look good and be healthy, we want it to be easy. Well, guess what; it ain't easy. If it was, everyone would be a supermodel and we'd be the fittest nation in the world. Instead, we're getting fatter and fatter, sicker and sicker, more and more disabled.
Look, if you're unsatisfied with your health and/or appearance, but are unwilling to enter into the realm of discomfort, get used to this:
Nothing. No change. No satisfaction. No progression. No pride of accomplishment. No improvement of quality of life. No change in jeans' size. No reduction of disease. No lessening of doctor's visits or drugs. No hope. No self-worth. No. No. No.
Nobody gives you a paycheck for free.
Nobody handed you your college degree for nothing.
No child was raised without effort.
Nothing of value in this world was ever given to you freely or easily, so why do you persist with the notion that the improvement of your health will come with no cost?
There's the fantasy and there's the reality. The fantasy is that we can develop a traffic-stopping physique and 120/80 blood pressure in "just 7 minutes a day, three days a week!" The reality is that we can't. The reality is that health and fitness come with a cost. The cost is effort, the cost is commitment, the cost is discomfort.
The cost is the Holy Sh** Moment.
You have to be willing to seek out discomfort, to live in the discomfort, to recognize that, in every aspect of life, opportunity exists in the discomfort. You have to learn to worship at the alter of the Holy Sh** Moment.
If you challenge yourself, if you persist, if you are willing to go beyond what's reasonable and comfortable, and if you venture into the unknown, you will finally break through the mediocrity and broken-soul-moments that are the offspring of small effort. You will have the sweaty, red-faced pride of someone who has ventured beyond their abilities and, like the ancient mariners afraid of falling off the edge of the world, survived to find new frontiers of possibility.
And you can start today.
Jonathan Aluzas is the owner of Arena Fitness; personal training, semi private training and group fitness training facilities in Encino and Northridge, Ca.
For more info visit Arenafitness.com