Jump Smarter. Live Better.

**Author’s note: I wrote this article earlier this week and had it in the hopper for a later date. Given Workout 13.2, it seems appropriate to post now.  Happy jumping, Everyone!*

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LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP…  (Samuel Butler)

 HE WHO HESITATES IS LOST   (Joseph Addison)

 Above we have two competing proverbs.  So what are we to do?  Take our time, do a quick risk assessment, and fully prepare ourselves?  Or will we lose out, get left behind, and miss opportunities if we look before leaping?

This dilemma occurred to me the other day after I coached a class at one of our gyms.  The programmed workout of the day included box jumps.  For  my non-CrossFit audience, this involves jumping from two feet onto a box, standing on the box, and then jumping or stepping down.  In a typical class, boxes range in height from 12 inches to 30 inches, though some people use weight plates stacked to six inches, while others add to the thirty.  Ever watch a group of adults try to jump onto something?  If you have, you know that it is as much a psychological endeavor as a physical one.

The ability to jump with both feet off the ground over an object typically develops around age four or five.  There is a lifetime’s worth of analysis and metaphorical pondering one can do with regards to the process of jumping with both feet off the ground, as opposed to leading with one foot.  Try it for yourself and feel the difference.  Jumping with both feet requires more faith that you will again find your bearings and a stable place to land.  One foot at a time is less of a commitment.

Each athlete has his/her own style of jumping.  Those who jump with abandon and a complete lack of caution often get burned.  Those who are so paralyzed by fear that they either don’t jump at all or only jump a few inches tend to be unscathed but also unsatisfied.  And then there are those who seem to have figured out some kind of balance between fear and abandon, able to jump more gracefully and more efficiently with each workout, no mishaps along the way but plenty a feeling of accomplishment.

This past week, one of our gyms’ teen phenoms wrote about his second run-in with a box:

I woke up happy and ready to conquer….Desiring to push 100% for new records and new satisfaction. Lacking a fear of the box. And It was exactly this mentality that got me into trouble. I was happy-go-lucky as some say. Just going for it, head to head with [my buddy]. Enjoying the burn in my legs as I rode the Airdyne, and the confidence of my shoulders as they locked out a push press. Not pausing for a second to consider my mental state, or lack of, even after I saw [my buddy] go down. I was 100% body, feeling it, not thinking it.  So it was no wonder when I “bit the box.”  My feet left the ground, but my mind stayed. It did not move with me to the box, it did not do even as much as register a jump. Clumsily I hit the box.  First my feet, then my shins, brought by my momentum. This collision brought about the peak of my jump, causing my to return to the ground, grinding my shins the entire way. I landed and my mind came back, back with a single thought, “not again.”

We can blame this on the invincible attitude of youth, on this kid’s desire to beat his buddy in their friendly competition–on his tunnel-vision that day.  But the truth is, this happens all too often.  Whether you think the box jump has a place in fitness development and competitive exercising is not the question I’m going for here, and that can be argued elsewhere.  What I’m getting at is what happens in us moments before we jump.  What goes through our minds in those seconds, even milliseconds?  How do we prepare ourselves so that both feet can leave the ground, clear the edge of the box, and land fully planted?  There’s a whole lot of synaptic firing going on, and I’m arguing that much of it is psychological.  It’s like when you get a massage and the therapist says, “Wow, you hold a lot of tension in your shoulders.”  There’s a lot of life, fear, confidence, ambivalence, courage, boldness being expressed when you jump. 

Kelly Starrrett of MobilityWOD talks about getting yourself physically “organized” before you take on a barbell.  He speaks of getting your core aligned and tight, your breathing controlled, your body fierce in preparation to lift heavy stuff.  The same goes for the box: get yourself together before you jump.

So what’s the big deal about box jumps?  Ah, another metaphor for life, of course.  Do we think before we leap and analyze the situation, or will we miss the moment and be left wondering?  But if we jump too quickly, before we have gotten our psychological selves organized, aren’t we risking getting burned?

In the field of psychodynamic psychology (specifically Object Relations Theory for those who like to know such things), there is a concept called “Potential Space,” created years ago by a really cool Pediatrician/child psychoanalyst in Britain named Donald Winnicott.  His idea, in broad and very watered-down strokes, was that the psychological space that develops between the mother and the infant during “good-enough” relating becomes the place where subjectivity is formed, creativity can be expressed, and playfulness can exist. 

I would argue that there is “potential space,” a psychological and functional in-between, lying somewhere between the extremes of excessive caution (never jumping) on the one hand, and not enough caution (jumping with abandon and a lack of organization) on the other.  In the case of the person who never jumps, or perhaps jumps forever with one foot at a time, so much of life will be missed.  There will only be zones of comfort, smooth skin, and predictable outcomes.  In the case of the person who jumps with abandon and fails to organize, there may only be jazzy moments filled with adrenaline rushes, quick fixes, and fly-by-night relationships.  Scars are cool, but not so much when they pile together and create thick, unwelcoming barriers. 

Maybe the parting thought here is something about how to get yourself together–get your ducks in a row–just enough to take on that metaphorical jump quickly enough to not be left in the dust, but slowly enough to avoid being banged up.  If you take a few deep breaths before you jump, you’re likely to do a quick, perhaps unconscious assessment of your relationship in space to the top of that box, and you’re likely to clear it without a problem.  If you gather your limbs and get your parts moving together, all should go well.  Metaphorically speaking, if you take enough moments to assess nuances of situations, read people’s body language, listen to your gut, check in with yourself and how you’re feeling (think: what would I tell a teenager to do at a rowdy party?), your “jumps” will lead to positive outcomes. On the flip side, if you haphazardly and consistently “jump right in,” you will eventually get screwed.  Without organizing your emotional self prior to making decisions or taking risks, without first assessing yourself in relation to others, without taking stock of the pros and cons of engagement, you are setting yourself up for problems down the road, even if there is a short-term win. 

So get your shit together, stare down the boxes in your life, and find that tricky balance (call it potential space if you want to sound smarter) between not looking at all before you leap and hesitating so long that you’re late to the party.  This sounds like such hard work, but if you dial in when and how to jump, you might just get there, and the view from the top of the box will be awesome, not just today, but in ten years.

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