The Ready State: What is optimal physical health?

What if I told you that winning championships, games or the last workout does not necessarily mean we are at our optimal physical health. Before you write me off for blasphemy, hear me out…

We typically look at elite athletes and other humans who push the boundaries of the human form as icons of physical health. In my humble opinion, some may be, but most aren’t. When we become highly specialized in our craft, we have to sacrifice. Sacrifice is necessary for our life and sometimes even noble. But unfortunately, a lot of the sacrifices from the 1%’ ers come from not being attentive to our movement mechanics, mobility, pain patterns and awareness of our effect on others. All for the sake of performance metrics. 

What IS Optimal Health?

 I think we need a new definition of optimal health beyond performance metrics. Don’t get me wrong, I love to see big sexy quantitative metrics just as much as the next sports junkie: how high, how fast, how long, how many, wins, loses, draws. While those metrics can add up to a big ‘W’, winning still does not mean you are qualitatively in a Ready State of optimal health. As the number guru and drag racing world record holder Richard Tapia put it,

“We don’t know how to measure what we care about, so we care about what we measure.”

-Richard Tapia

Remember RG3 who blew the doors off of the NFL combine and was touted “the most physically gifted quarterback and most talented player overall in the 2012 draft” (NFL.com). 

OUCH.

NFL player Robert Griffin with a terrible leg injury.
Robert Griffin tearing his ACL

Could have seen that coming.

Are Injuries and Optimal Health Mutually Exclusive?

To be fair, I’ll throw myself under the bus too. I think this picture was featured in an early Ready State (formerly MWOD) Course 1.0 with the title: ‘Bad Positions Can Still Win Olympic Championships’

Erin Cafaro rowing with poor technique.
Me at the 2012 London Olympics

Three broken ribs, all the bulging discs, a partially torn QL, and a lot of other drama and I was still able to win an Olympic Medal in 2008. While I was obsessed with training and could pull some great numbers on the Concept2 torture device, my sacrifice of the optimal position for ‘comfort’ as well as inattention to my emotional and physical Daily Maintenance undoubtedly contributed to my laundry list of injuries and missing the 2011 Pre-Olympic qualifiers. 

I would venture to say the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner and second 2012 NFL Draft pick RG3 also has a lot of potential left on the table too with his string of injuries that continue to rack up and keep him off the field (if you have the same ‘ish as RG3, go do the The Healthy Knee Plan Course or Knee Webinar stat!).

To be clear, I am not saying injury and optimal health are mutually exclusive. Injuries can actually be a fantastic opportunity for us to learn more about our bodies. I am saying that we can quantitatively be in the best ‘shape’ of our lives and put out some mean metrics, but if we aren’t learning from our pain patterns and subscribing to a daily practice of addressing them, then we may not be ready when it really matters.

Professional athletics is a wonderful and entertaining testing ground to see what our human form is capable of doing. But, professional athletes should not be touted as the epitome of health. The nature of specializing in sport and pushing our biology in a singular direction leaves us fragile and vulnerable to a slew of potential other physical and psychological health concerns

So if PR’s, medals, trophies, diamond championship rings, and metrics don’t mean you are at your optimal physical health, what the heck does?

Your Ready State

The Ready State is the optimal physical, mental, and emotional condition for a human to be in; a state in which you are able to adapt to your current environment and live in a predominantly pain-free resting state. The Ready State is the ability to show up ready to perform when needed and…wait for it…do it again tomorrow.

As the great philosopher, Jay Z, once said:

“Excellence is performing at a high level over and over again.  Success for a year or two is called being “hot.”

-Jay Z

We can’t show up again and again for our team, our family or ourselves through luck, talent or trendy health hacks. The Ready State is not measured by one performance or one metric. It is measured by ALL the performances inside and outside of the gym and ALL the metrics measurable and immeasurable. We aren’t ready if we have perfect nutrition and can lift heavy weights but have shitty relationships. We also aren’t ready if we take care of everyone around us, but can’t seem to find 30 minutes a day to move and take care of our own self. 

Progress not perfection video from The Ready State

Note that your Ready State is not about being perfect or a hyper-obsessive health addict, because that is a whole other can of worms. It is about doing our homework. It is about getting in the habit of practicing a healthy lifestyle, so we have a buffer to weather the inevitable storms. It is being honest with ourselves and addressing our pain and issues that we know deep down aren’t healthy. The Ready State is about overall well-being so we can perform to our potential and bounce back quicker when life throws us the inevitable curveball. 

Who’s Ready?

So if we can’t look up to the elite ethletes as the epitome of physical well-being, then who is this mystical Ready State unicorn?

These everyday unicorns take different forms:

Look for the 80-year old that is walking around your neighborhood the same time every morning you drive off to work.

The mom that manages to get ALL of it done during the day and is able to smile and be present with her kids at the end of the day.

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The dad that can still sit in the bottom of a squat and pick weeds from the garden without pain.

The friendly neighbor that climbs up your tree to save your darn cat…again.

The 95-year-old woman who can easily get up and down off the ground.

The teammate that is able to consistently perform AND help you become better.

These Ready State humans who have achieved optimal physical health are not dropped down from the heavens and placed amongst us mere mortals to make us all look bad. They are mortals too, with their own battles and injuries. They have just been taking responsibility for their pain and consistently doing their homework for a really long time, and it has paid off. 

The Ready State is achieved by good old fashioned work. We can only achieve our optimal physical health by being proactive with our pain and active in our quest to be a better human – even just a little – each day. Dealing with old chronic pain patterns is the golden ticket to our optimal health and accessing our ready state. 

Are you ready to #liveready?

6 thoughts on “The Ready State: What is optimal physical health?

  1. Avatar
    Rob says:

    Erin,
    This excellent post resonates with me as a performing artist (classical pianist), and is fodder for what I’m aiming at creating in the training of performing artists (I really enjoy running, as well). Musicians as a class develop performance-induced injury at an alarming rate (over 80% of professional musicians develop mild to catastrophic injury due to their art). Learning to recognize our bodies, minds, relationships, as needing to come into “the ready state” forms the basis for what is to be hoped will be a lifelong occupation and I look forward to how this mind set and application can be useful to myself and my colleagues.

  2. Avatar
    Mike Perry says:

    Thank you – I’ve tried many times to argue the ‘elite sports performance’ doesn’t equal ‘fit’, in any holistic/useful everyday sense of the word. Now I can just point people to this. I particularly appreciate the unicorn examples….

  3. Avatar
    Tim Jordan says:

    Very good article. I think coaches must accept responsibility for the well being of athletes and apply the same primary principle as a doctor. In other words “first do no harm”. As a first step towards achieving that do you think that coaches should have to audit and make public their injury rates? This would allow for bad practices to be discouraged or even forbidden and the sanctioning of repeat offenders with te option to undergo retraining.

  4. Pingback: How To Get READY: 3 Ways to Achieve Your Ready State - The Ready State

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