Fit Books: Embrace the Suck by Stephen Madden

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I love non-fiction books for a lot of reasons, but mostly because to me, a true story always has that special something to it. I know that it happened, so when the people I’m reading about experience success, failure, happiness, sadness or disappointment, I’m in it with them.

Embrace the Suck, a book that combines my love for non-fiction and fitness by Steve Madden, takes a long look at a year Madden spent going from an distance cyclist to a better conditioned athlete ready to handle a variety of challenges. The author decided to change his fitness routine, which had revolved around his bike, to CrossFit.

Love it or hate it, CrossFit has loyal devotees who make this sport their religion because they see results. Why do they see results? Because their workouts use the principles that are sweeping the fitness industry: constant variation and high intensity interval training (HIIT).

Variety translates into different intervals of time during which the athletes work, different exercises and the way they’re combined and different competitive elements. All of that variety keeps your brain interested and your muscles constantly challenged.

HIIT, or working really really hard for shorter periods of time, conditions your body by doing more work in less time and achieving the same results as longer workouts. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans even recognizes this. It’s recommended that all americans get EITHER 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise OR 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Translation: You can spend half as much time working at a higher intensity and experience the same benefits.

Madden emphasized his gym’s focus on form while executing the Olympic lifts used in CrossFit, often the crux of the argument against CrossFit, and his own special attention he paid to getting the movements right in order to avoid injury.

Throughout his journey with CrossFit, Madden became stronger and better conditioned, but like all physical challenges, this year challenged him mentally as well as physically. I can’t possibly encompass all that he learned, but I’ve compiled some of my favorite takeaways. I’m purposefully leaving out my favorite lesson from the book so that you read it yourself (hint: it’s in the Chapter titled “The 20X”).

Find your tribe

Madden finds a group of high performing dudes – executive types – who workout together before dawn. These men are competitive in all areas of life and Madden pushes himself with them while they all work to support each other.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t workout at the same gym every day or only with the same people. Find that group, instructor or person that you can count on to push you when you’re slacking and encourage you when 10 seconds feels like an eternity.

Show up

Madden goes to great lengths to describe the dark mornings, double shots of espresso and the long drives that brought him to his gym on early mornings. All of that stuff is easy to not do. It’s easy to snooze. It’s easy to not get in the car.

Make showing up your priority and make it easy on yourself. If your workouts are in the morning like Madden’s, lay out your clothes, go to bed early enough to get enough sleep and envision yourself going through the morning routine that takes you right up to the door of your gym. Once you’re there, the hard stuff is behind you.

Never leave a (wo)man behind

Being competitive is important, but don’t forget about everyone else around you. The real magic in the community comes when you’re pushing each other. Madden describes a few key moments during which he’s able to push others to complete a seemingly impossible task and others when he was pushed to exceed his own expectations.

When the going gets tough, give each other a little, “we’ve got this.”

It’s all mental

All of this is important because when fatigue kicks in, your brain can forget how capable you are. Remember that you can shuffle instead of walk and take each rep one at a time.

When you stop believing you can do the work, that’s when your tribe and all of those “no man left behind” favors you did can come back to help you.


[Disclosure: Once in a while we use an affiliate link to talk about some of the stuff we like and if someone clicks on that link and buys the stuff we like, we might make a couple of cents off of it. Blogging isn’t free, you guys]

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About Jeana Anderson Cohen

Jeana Anderson Cohen is the founder and CEO of a premiere wellness media destination that creates content and community to help womxn live better lives and achieve their goals. Before founding health-focused companies Jeana earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - and fresh out of college she worked on the '08 Obama campaign in Michigan. From there, she created and executed social media strategies for brands. aSweatLife fuses her experience in building community and her passion for wellness. You can find Jeana leading the team at aSweatLife, trying to join a book club, and walking her dog Maverick.

1 thought on “Fit Books: Embrace the Suck by Stephen Madden

  1. Love the “just show up” point. Honestly, just showing up is the hardest part of a workout usually.

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