Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
It happens nearly every time I go skiing: I’m standing at the top of a run—or I’m midway down, but the terrain has changed—and I look downhill and suddenly fear there is no way I’ll make it to the bottom. I can’t possibly make one more turn on this ridiculously steep slope. I can’t even remember how to turn. What am I doing here? Why is this supposed to be fun? My husband sees me freeze up, and he shouts something encouraging. “You’re fine! You’ve skied way steeper/bumpier/icier! Make a turn!” In other words, it’s all in my head. I’ve psyched myself out. So I try to visualize myself skiing flawlessly down the mountain, rather than twisting my knees, crossing my skis, and somersaulting to my doom. I picture the graceful arc my skis will make in the snow. And then I point my skis downhill and go. Since I’m not typing this from a hospital bed—or a snowbank halfway up a mountainside–the little exercise in self-actualization must be working. So I’ve been trying lately to visualize myself doing a pull-up. I mean, really: How hard can one pull-up be? Yet after more than six months of doing them—hundreds and hundreds of them—with the aid of two large rubber bands that hang from the bar at the gym, I just haven’t been able to do any unaided. CrossFit uses “kipping” pull-ups: Instead of simply hanging and pulling yourself up, you swing yourself up and down. It’s more of a gymnastics move than a traditional pull-up, and it enables you to do far more pull-ups during a workout. I had the kipping motion down. But I couldn’t seem to use it to pull my chin above the bar. Until last week, that is. We’d just finished a warm-up of clean-and-jerks, and I was hanging from the pull-up bar to stretch my back. And then I had a vision: in my mind, I did a pull-up. It seemed pretty easy in my imagination, so I decided to give it a try. I swung my hips and pulled with my arms—and suddenly I was holding my chin above the bar. It was almost as effortless as it had been in my brain. Still holding myself up, I looked out to see if anyone was watching, and found my gym buddy Matt grinning from across the room. It’s a good thing there was a witness, or I might not have believed it myself. I couldn’t manage a second one that day. But a few days later I easily did three. Okay, not in a row—I haven’t quite figured out how to use the kipping to string them together. But still. Three pull-ups! I had passed a CrossFit milestone, one that was both physical and mental. There’s a lot of work ahead: last Thursday’s workout (which I missed), for instance, was Fran—a CrossFit classic that involves pull-ups and thrusters (squatting with a barbell and then exploding up to finish standing with the weight overhead), 21 reps of each followed by 15 followed by 9. I’ve got a long way to go before I can do 45 unassisted pull-ups in a weightlifting workout. But I’m that much closer than I was a week ago. I’ll try to remember the feeling next time I’m staring over the top of a near-vertical mogul field, wishing I could click my boots three times and instead be drinking hot chocolate by the fire.