One day in the early 2000s, at Naperville school district, students heaved and panted, crossing the finish line of their fastest mile runs in PE class. The gym teacher looked on with worry as the slowest girl in class rounded her next-to-last lap, dead last, with still the final length to go. To their credit, the other classmates cheered her on as she pushed the last leg of a clearly toilsome journey. The gym teacher’s moment of pride turned to a sinking heart as he watched the girl visibly slow down right at the final stretch where he’d hoped she would push herself.
All students wore heart rate monitors. The teacher reviewed the data. The slowest girl actually logged the highest average heart rate in the whole class. And that last stretch where he thought she’d given up? Her rate kept going highER. She had actually pushed harder than any other student. She had actually pushed hardER at the end.
True story. Read “Spark” some time.
This real-life study illustrates that a lot of “out-of-shape” people work harder and more intensely than a lot of “in-shape” people. But we let out external comparisons mislead us. All of us.
The reality is that as important as intensity can be, consistency is king. None of the most ridiculously in-shape people I know work out maximally hard every set, every workout, every day. Their defining characteristic is simply that they don’t quit. Most of the people I’ve known who struggled immensely with fitness over the years have logged many punitive and outrageously hard workouts. But they aren’t consistent.
In your fitness journey, be careful comparing outward performance to others or seeking painful intensity as a virtue.
Just don’t quit.