Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Jun

Have You Achieved Your Physical Potential?

thebest“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”

- Thomas Edison

Remember when you were a kid flying down the street as fast as your dirt bike would propel you? How about on the swing set, pumping your legs madly, targeting angle and timing for maximum lift until you felt like you would fly over the overhead bar? What about that sheer thrill of legs going so fast they almost felt like they were coming loose as you chased your friends (or were chased) down a trail? As kids we were an unrelenting ball of will, every moment looking to test boundaries, defy limits, overturn physics. We were in love with speed and heights and adventure, yes, but I think we were amazed by all of our own capabilities – the new (and ever enhanced) capacities we were always discovering. Decades beyond those wild days of youth, we’re still each in possession of an amazing human body. We each still hold untold genetic potential – potential that, as the Edison quote suggests, would astound us. The question is, what do we do with this potential? Do we chase it down with the same fervor of our 10-year-old selves? Do we put it on the mental back burner in the name of adult responsibilities? Have we simply forgotten about it – or given up on it entirely?

We go to the gym perhaps. Maybe we bike to work or get our 10,000 steps in each day. We get out for a hike every couple weeks during the milder seasons. Some of us perhaps struggle to meet any, let alone all, of these tasks. Either way, the question of potential – genuine, raw, lofty potential lingers. Do we ever wonder what we’d be capable of if we tried? Maybe from time to time we think of what we might “look like” if we went all out in the healthy living routine and really pushed our workouts. I have nothing against vanity, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about physical achievement – seriously challenging ourselves. Maybe once upon a grade in high school or college, we were at the top of whatever game, but who wants to live feeling like their potential is old news, a memory in a yearbook? Living our physical capacity shouldn’t be just a blip in our biographies.

It seems like we’ve delegated physical pursuit in our culture. We’re much more inclined to watch athletes instead of become them. We’ll spend hours watching sporting events on a screen or in the stands but come up with every excuse in the book to not bother starting even a pickup game of our own. We revel in analyzing the minutiae of total strangers’ performances but never venture our own attempts. Content with experiencing that level of physical exertion and development vicariously through a satellite feed, we become more sedentary and detached from our own physical selves. We forgo and often forget what it means to move, to push our bodies, to come up against our own limits, let alone extend them through discipline and ambition.

It seems like a waste – to never know what it means to fully thrive in our bodies. What would it feel like to be strong, to be swift, to be graceful, to be in the “zone.” How would you feel differently about your life, yourself?

I love the idea of coming to the end of my abilities. There’s something immensely thrilling and therapeutic to it. Of course I’m always back for more, to push the envelope further, but I love not knowing if I can do something and attempting it anyway. Will we be happy, settled, satisfied if we make our way through life without testing ourselves, without taking life for the ultimate ride? Time, of course, is no excuse. As we get older, we too often feel like our lives contract. There’s a certain wisdom to that – realizing you don’t need to learn 8 foreign languages or be a professional soccer player to be the person you can and want to be. Nonetheless, how much do we miss by letting our physical potential languish – to never push the outer edges of it, to never inhabit our bodies fully enough to see their potential realized?

I’m not recommending people give up all their free time to suddenly pursue extreme training. Nor am I suggesting getting on the chronic cardio track. If you’re wired and inclined that way, I get it. Do it and enjoy. If you’re not wired that way or so inclined, by all means, don’t! That said, discover an endeavor that would inspire you to push yourself, to achieve something you’d enjoy and be proud of. That doesn’t mean what will get you the most recognition or what you think others commonly do. Think for a minute what ultimate vitality would mean for you. What would it look like in your life? How would reaching and experiencing your potential figure into that?

Honestly, I think that’s half the fun of it – deciding what physical goal or adventure you want to go after based on your interests and personality. Maybe it’s climbing a mountain or getting a black belt in a martial art. Maybe it’s competitive dancing or reaching the level of personal investment and physical ability in yoga. Perhaps it’s doing a Tough Mudder run or competing in something like a community sports league or CrossFit regionals. On the other hand, maybe it’s cycling across the U.S. or running that marathon. Maybe for right now it’s signing up for your first 5K. It all starts somewhere. Wherever your personal passion and your physical goals intersect, maybe that’s where you should head.

Because this life goes fast. In the midst of all the daily chaos and commutes, the work and errands, we remember to mow the lawn but too often forget to fulfill the deeper, less obvious possibilities of our human lives. We forget to explore and stretch the boundaries of our experience – like we did as children. We deserve to enjoy our bodies and revel in their full capacities – to discover the capacities and nuances of their performance. We deserve to live our lives astounded by ourselves.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on inhabiting your body and living your physical potential. Have a great end to the week.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I love the feeling during a workout of raising the weight up another block and being able to get it up in the air. Makes me feel alive.

    Probably comes from our primal history and beating that saber tooth tiger by one step…

    Mike Martel wrote on June 13th, 2013
  2. I have all ways played sports, but now that I have hit my 30s I struggle with always being very tight and having knew pain. I do my best with staying primal, but it is getting harder and harder to do the activities I love.

    joeski wrote on June 13th, 2013
  3. Today I have to push my physical limits. My energy level has made that happen. I’ve been primal for 18 months and it’s wonderful. I do tons of pushups, pullups, air squats, etc. whenever I feel like it. I walk 5 miles just about every day. Sprint and lift heavy a couple of times a week. I really enjoy HIIT because of the intensity and amount of time it takes. Recently purchased a mountain bike and now I’m really finding out what I’m capable of.. it’s crazy good to be healthy and fit. I am 52 and now realize life is incredibly valuable. Enjoy it!

    Rob wrote on June 13th, 2013
  4. Interesting points by Mark.

    My per peeve:
    Brain is as much part of our body as our quads are. Yet few people use or exercise their brain to their full capacity.

    How often do you sit down and just think deeply? How often have you picke up an udner graduate or graduate mathematics or physics or biology text and made an effort to understand a new concept?
    People go and bust their a$$ in gyms to exceed their capacity and “feel good” in the process. How often do they pick something beyond their comprehension and made an effort to learn things necessary to understand it?

    Think about it. It is perfectly alright and in fact fashionable to brag about one’s ignorance and inability to understand even mild mathematics (sorry thats above my head, haha, you need to bring it down to layman level). This is like a a person saying, sorry, haha, what? running? no i can’t run. I am a layman. And that considered fashionable and perfectly socially acceptable.

    BT wrote on June 13th, 2013
    • BT while I agree with you, I follow more of the philosophy of working both at the same time in unison. Like we rarely perform isolated exercises for the body, we should also focus on compound exercises that work the body and mind in unison. That’s why I personally like martial arts. Forms/katas/patterns require you to memorize a series of movements, but that’s only the beginning. Learning the form inside and out and making it your own is as much of a mental workout as it is a physical one. At my best I knew 30 different forms ranging from 19 movements in our most basic form to over 40 different movements in some of our black belt forms (and that’s not including stances and transitions!). Reading is great and I read all the time, but I find that I learn better and stimulate the gray matter between my ears when I’m up and doing. :)

      Jacob wrote on June 14th, 2013
  5. I’m 58, two years ago I had heart surgery to correct a wonky valve (bah, not fun).
    My recent challenges met:
    I did a 30 mile mountain hike with full pack in a day.
    I did 300 pushups.
    I’m holding my own in LAOut men’s league ultimate frisbee this summer.
    I walk a mile or so barefoot every day.
    I’ve gotten in the habit of curb-walking, which does not yet seem to be a “thing”.
    I swam the length of Walden’s Pond.

    DVB wrote on June 14th, 2013
  6. I’ve done 2-sprint distance triathlons and one half-marathon but now have zero motivation to even workout much less participate in a race. I am however, becoming very interested in losing the rest of this excess body fat I’m carrying. But, still in the “I’d like to” phase and not in the action phase yet. Maybe this post will help motivate me. Thanks Mark.

    Ara wrote on June 14th, 2013
  7. This was a very inspirational article, thank you Mr. Sisson. My goals are many and broad, but my physical ones require serious commitment. I have goals for my martial arts, goals for strength, goals for skills, and even aesthetic goals. This last one has been y most long term and never attained goal. Starting June 24 (I will return from a training) my wife and I will change to the primal lifestyle in hopes of attaining this goal. Simply put I wish to have a low enough body fat so that my physique looks incredible. I am strong, but I am tired of the chub. I also want this physique to reflect the true vitality of my existence. Thanks for the boost Mr. Sisson!

    Patrick W wrote on June 14th, 2013
    • Best of luck Patrick!

      I too am in good shape, but have a small spare tire that is stubbornly holding on. While it doesn’t really affect my day to day activities, it pesters the hell outta me and I would like to get rid of it if for no other reason than aesthetic purposes.

      Jacob wrote on June 14th, 2013
  8. I loved being able recently to knock off a 22 mile bike ride as though it was nothing! Could have gone longer, just ran out of time. Last year my end-of-the-season ride was the same length. It was hard and draining and I was sore for several days afterward.

    Next up: seeing if the planned 10km hike can also be knocked off as if it was nothing :-)

    Age 55, been primal since last November, down to size 12 from 18, still a ways to go, fitter than I’ve been in a long time yet still also a ways to go.

    A side note: at a recent eye exam, the optometrist was totally puzzled to discover my distance vision has improved and is now “perfect”. He can’t explain it, but I bet we all know why!

    Lynn wrote on June 14th, 2013
  9. +1, stay in shape to do physical things that I love, not vice versa. Sitting here with a warm purring cat on my arm and my cell phone. Sunny day outside and I’m on summer vacation until the end of August. At my vacation house, 5 min from world class climbing area (smith rock Oregon). Women’s climbing group meets at 2:30. Other climbing plans are continually being planned. Summer soccer league starts next week; haven’t played for 25 years. I’ve been running a fair amount though, since being commissioned to mentor my niece in a 5k this spring. I have an awesome mountain bike and trails all over. Hiking into canyons near here and honing my fly fishing skills is always fun. Swimming-used to race masters, and I can go for miles in a lake on a hot summer day. I’m landscaping the whole yard…very physical. Oh and I like slacklining and backpacking. So I have gear, tools and supplies, proper training, time and compatriots who share my addiction to these types of fun. And I appreciate this mightily. The issue becomes balancing injuries. At 51, I find that stuff breaks easier and heals more slowly. So I need days (or mornings at least) where I hang out with my cat at home, cook primal food, read and write. Forcing myself to do that is the issue for me. By switching up activities I can rest this part or that, but currently it’s a shoulder, wrist, elbow and foot, so that gets tricky. I want to perform well at my sports but mostly I want to enjoy all this intensely fun stuff for a long time. So pacing myself and preventing injuries seems key at this stage of the game.

    Danielle Thalman wrote on June 14th, 2013
  10. I am always striving for better results. My main emphasis is in mobility, while keeping strength and speed. It takes some work to make improvements on the 3 areas but it is possible. I am now at 61 MUCH MORE flexible, stronger and faster than 20 years ago. Big fan of yoga. And for the primal yogis out there (I know there are many): checkout this lady Erin in doyouyoga dot com, she is doing these days the 30 day yoga challenge (very good, highly recommended). And she is a carnivorous yogi, and proud about it :-)

    wildgrok wrote on June 14th, 2013
  11. Applicable. Still chasing that 225 Clean and Jerk…

    Primalsaber wrote on June 14th, 2013
  12. This post has inspired me to get out there and live. I am ready to try new things and be more active. It did a great job of reminding me the way I used to be as a young boy. I was full of life and ready to take on any challenge and there was never a doubt in my mind that I would fail. I am ready to get back into that mindset and make some great accomplishments in my life and in my mind. Thanks so much for this post!

    Richard wrote on June 14th, 2013
  13. I personally think there is nothing more sad than unrealized potential. Whether it is in ourselves or others. Unfortunately we all (or most of us perhaps) fall down on this one. I agree with you 100% on your comment ‘We deserve to enjoy our bodies and revel in their full capacities’. Very well said. That, to me, is living.

    Dean Kamazes who ran 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 US States said, “Somewhere along the line, we seem to have confused comfort for happiness.” For many, myself often as well, this is too true. We might not all be able to do exactly what he did, but that is no excuse to not to try to do what we can or seek to find out exactly what we can do. I’m sure we’d all surprise ourselves.

    Great article tied back to all of our youth, to help people remember how we tested things and should continue to do so. Many thanks!

    Kevin Striker wrote on June 15th, 2013
  14. Last June I turned 50 while doing a through hike on the Appalachian Trail. I started on June 1st in Maine and hiked 2,187 miles to Springer Mountain, GA. I reached Springer on September 29th. Eating primal while on the trail was difficult, still I felt better physically as well as feeling more alive than since my teenage years. To be honest, I’m looking for excuses to hit the trail again, I loved it that much.

    Rick G wrote on June 15th, 2013
  15. It’s hard to walk 10,000 in one day. Just wanted to share that I went to the San Diego Zoo yesterday with my Niece and her two boys and we walked 10,000 steps. We had a fun time, and I felt good that I could do that much walking including up and down some of those steep walkways. We have a very nice zoo!!!

    Margie wrote on June 15th, 2013
  16. I love the fact that we can all have different physical goals and benchmarks. I have a tenancy to be a ‘jack of all-trades’ but I’ve gone furthest down the peak performance line with running because that’s the exercise which fits my natural physical make-up (ie long limbs, large lungs).

    Marathons aside, I really like benchmarks from the Cross-fit community etc because this is one challenge that requires all-round cardio, muscular and mental performance.

    Each to their own at the end of the day – as long as you are motivated and it’s having a positive impact on your health then I say your reaching your peak!

    Luke M-Davies wrote on June 16th, 2013
  17. 10 years ago I saved my life with weight loss surgery. No matter what people think about that, eating well is a struggle, as is staying active. 4 years ago I started playing hockey and it started transforming my body. In January I started a paleo lifestyle and can feel the difference when I fall off track. Just 4 weeks ago I played in goal for the first time ever. I feel stronger than I have since I was a pre-teen. I have been working on pushups and want to increase flexibility and upper body strength so I can have fun on the ice. Love getting my body moving daily.

    jennclare wrote on June 13th, 2014

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