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Empty Fitness

The pursuit of fitness is a lifelong journey. From the first time someone laces up a shoe, stands at a starting line, or walks into a gym they are beginning a pursuit. And it’s incredible to watch! I’ve seen people do things they never thought they could or would. From weightlifting to gymnastics to simply crushing calories on the rower, the journey of fitness can provide experiences I don’t believe anything else can compare to. And yet there’s so much more to life. When our athletes step through the bay doors they leave the world behind. For an hour they get to stop thinking about work or finances or kids or whatever it is. We all do our best to leave those distractions at the door so we can focus on fitness. I think that’s one of the reasons people enjoy working out. I know I do. But when the hour is over, all of life comes rushing back. The problems that plagued you at 6:30 am are still there at 7:31, and no PR or top score on the leaderboard can change that. Unchecked, athletes can develop an unhealthy habit of using the gym as an escape mechanism from life, which it was never designed for. This can create a condition I call empty fitness.

Empty fitness is a mindset issue and it will affect most athletes at some point in their journey, even the elite. Take Rich Froning for example. Arguably one of the fittest, if not the fittest athlete in the world, Froning fell victim to empty fitness early in his CrossFit career. He made it to the finals of the CrossFit games in his very first appearance. That in and of itself is incredibly impressive. Going into the final event, it looked as though he would emerge the champion, only to humbled by rope climbs. While still making the podium, Rich was disappointed not only in his results, but also himself. The frustration gave way to depression and he almost quit the sport of CrossFit altogether.

Then something happened in Rich’s life. A close friend had the courage to sit down and essentially ask him the question, “So, what?” In other words, what are you really doing all this for? In Rich’s heart, he knew the answer. He was doing it all for himself. The hours of training, the secret sessions, the extra burpees all fueling his pride and ego. That’s why his fitness left him empty. It wasn’t that the work didn’t matter, it’s that it wasn’t pointing to something greater than himself. It was in that moment Rich decided to dedicate the rest of his fitness career to pointing people to God and he began training his Spiritual Fitness.

The following year he went on to win the CrossFit games as an individual competitor, then defended his title for three more years. After that, he competed in the Team category and won four more titles. Eight CrossFit championships, and yet one of the humblest guys around. The difference? He gave it all to God. Now, I’m not about to guarantee you a spot on the podium in the games, but answer this question in your own heart – what’s it all for? Is all the sweat on the floor and clothes in the washing machine really so you can sit back at the end of the day and revel at the trophy beside your name on your gym’s whiteboard app? If so, you’ve yet to really experience what this journey is all about. Life is not about our personal bests, it’s about the legacy we’re leaving behind. It’s about having peace no matter what happens. It’s about putting other’s needs before our own. Physical training is good. But training for Godliness is better. Promising benefits in this life, and the life to come.

Questions for Reflection: Post your answers to the comments below

When it comes to fitness training, what’s it all for?

What does training for Godliness look like to you?

How do you keep personal bests and new achievements in perspective?

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