In my last job interview, like several before, I was asked to define integrity. To me, the definition is simple. Integrity is doing the right thing, all the time. It’s a commitment to good character and holding yourself to high standards. It’s about asking the best of yourself. Integrity is the pursuit of excellence.
This past summer, someone asked me a challenging question – “are you choosing ease or are you choosing excellence?” It resonated with me in a big way. Am I pursuing excellence or am I doing the bare minimum? Am I copping out? Am I expecting the best of myself? Am I holding myself to high standards? While not everything deserves my best effort, there are some things that certainly do deserve my best, all the time. Training is one of those things. Even if you are not competing or training for a specific goal, you reap the fitness that you sow.
What does training with integrity look like?
I distinctly remember struggling up a rope during a workout and I wanted to just call it good at the halfway mark. I knew I could make it to the top but it would take me a little bit of time and it was hard. I asked myself if I was pursuing excellence in that moment. And I finished that rope climb. It took me a a bit of time. I was the last one to finish. But I had committed myself to doing what I was capable of doing and not selling myself short because it was difficult and uncomfortable. And I was so proud of myself afterwards! Struggling through that and being successful was a great feeling, even if it was a very slow process.
Are you asking the best of yourself in training? Are you pursuing excellence? Are you throwing a weight around with terrible form and counting that as a rep? Are you selling yourself short or are you challenging yourself? Are you allowing yourself to struggle every now and then? In training, as in life, there is no growth in your comfort zone. Pursuing excellence demands that you get uncomfortable. This will look different for everyone, but it is a necessary part of the process.
The path to excellence goes through discomfort, embarrassment, and humbling experiences. It is a struggle. Success does not often come easily.
It means pushing yourself in the gym, leaving your ego at the door, asking for help, and putting your pride aside. Going light and perfecting technique. One of my favorite phrases in regards to lifting is “light and right is better than strong and wrong”. Don’t let what you think you should be able to do take precedence over what you can actually do safely and with proper form. On the flip side, if you can lift a heavier weight (safely, with good form) and you don’t simply because it is hard is also doing a disservice to your training.
Training with integrity means being consistently asking the best of yourself. Never getting complacent. Executing proper form with light weights and with heavy weights. Focusing on quality over quantity. I don’t care that you can do 100 reps of whatever weight with terrible form. You don’t look like a badass. And you won’t look like a badass in rehab either. Bad reps shouldn’t count, but they do have the potential to damage your body. Training with integrity often involves no-repping yourself as part of a commitment to quality. Especially when no one else is watching.
One of the definitions of integrity is “the state of being whole and undivided”. And I think that is applicable to training. You have to pursue excellence in every area in order to be your best.
It means being as committed to your recovery as you are to your workouts. Getting enough sleep. Spending some time working on mobility. Having some quality foam roller time. Taking a day off. Taking two days off in a row. Not training through injuries. Giving yourself a mental break when you need it.
It means being as committed to your nutrition as you are to your workouts. You can’t out-train a bad diet, in terms of weight management, performance quality, or long-term health. If you just spent an hour working hard, why would you want to negate all the work you just did by putting crap in your system? It’s like spending a bunch of time cleaning the outside of your car and then filling the inside with junk. If you fuel well, you will perform well. If you don’t, you are selling yourself short. If you are trying to improve your health, why stack the odds against you? Why not set yourself up for optimal success? Because it’s inconvenient? Because it takes time? Because it’s hard? The path to excellence goes right through hard things.
It means finding time to strengthen your weaknesses. Avoiding movements is not the way to improve at them. It may mean spending 10 minutes every day with an empty barbell practicing technique. Everyone struggles with something and just because I am using an empty barbell for my overhead squats doesn’t mean that I am less of an athlete. It means I have things to work on, that’s all. Who doesn’t? You might outlift me in an overhead squat contest but I will kick your ass at running. Not that it has to be a competition – everyone needs to work at their own level, but the point is that everyone is strong in one area and weaker in the other. And there is no shame in having a weak area. Or two. Or twelve.
Training with integrity sets an example. It requires those around you to step their game up. If everyone around me is working with terrible form, it conveys the message that low-quality reps are okay. If those around me are prioritizing quality, I am much more likely to do the same.
Choosing excellence and training with integrity may mean sacrifice. Sacrificing a goal time in favor of quality, sacrificing your comfort, your ego, and your idea of where you think you should be. It means working on the parts to solidify the whole. But training with integrity means improvement. It will come. Dedication reaps rewards, even if they come slowly.
Training with integrity means consistently choosing excellence in all areas of your training. Are you choosing excellence?