Progress doesn’t feel like progress.

These days, four weeks into the MH Staff Fitness Challenge, I’m doing more push-ups than I used to. More sit-ups today, than a month ago. Cycling further, punching quicker, for longer, than ever. More numbers. This doesn’t feel like progress, it just feels like more numbers.

Here at The Armoury Boxing Club, there’s no reward for doing better. There’s no pot of gold, pat on the head, no ding-ding-ding, well done. Just more numbers. Hitting this bag, arms going, going, going, for one minute, two minutes, three, getting faster. Faster means more. Let’s go. Bobbing, twisting, flowing, getting quicker. Quicker means more. Keep it up.

Upper cuts, hooks, left, right. Give me 10. Give me 10 more. Over and over. Over and over means over and over again.

When I’m on my back, on this bench, a bar in my hands across my chest, this doesn’t feel like progress. Lifting ten times, 15, 20. Breathing in, breathing out. Ten kilograms, 20, 40. More than last time, so what. More than ever before, who cares. Doing more is only a matter of doing more. It’s not a sum, a formula, a magic bullet, a full stop. More is its own goal, its own reward.

My trainer has a way of saying, as she takes it out of my hands, my bar. As if to remind me to let it go. As if to say it out loud, make it clear: this bar is yours, then not yours. Not all of you. Not everything, not the point. To make it real: these weights, these reps are only a part of this day, only part of your progress.

Breathe into it. This small single step. Part of a whole.

It all comes down to definitions: what does it mean to get better? Is progress something you can measure, in a weight or a time or a line on a bucket of sweat? Sometimes, getting better simply means doing more. Pitching up, 6am, 6pm. Being here, even if it’s half asleep. In this gym, even if you’re cramping up just looking at the stationary bike. On this mat, even if you’re face down, half alive. Sometimes, progress can be found in the small things, like a single rep, properly done, or a solitary set, all the way finished.

Better isn’t a place, or a number. It’s not something to aim for, or to be. Better is just a matter of doing more. Sometimes, it’s not about the distance you manage. It’s about the fact that you’re still on the bike, still sweating.

Unlocking an achievement in a boxing gym like this one doesn’t feel like anything, except the cold chill that says you’ll be doing more very soon. Breathe in. More doesn’t give you anything, except the right to do more. More is the point, the whole point. Breathe out, let it go. Cleans, presses, squats, none of these get any easier, you just do more of them. But more is good. It doesn’t feel like it, doesn’t feel like anything but more pain, but more is better.

Gains don’t feel like gains. Stronger today, than ever before, doesn’t feel different or look different. But it is.

Small steps, big steps, they’re all part of another set of steps. Part of a cycle, a slow curve. It doesn’t feel like progress. But it is.

If you try to break down what you’re doing into parts, you can’t start small enough. Smaller than 30, 20, even 10. Smaller than a number. Your idea of progress, of what it means to go somewhere, to end up somewhere else, let it go. There’s no stupid prize, no big carrot at the end, no ding-ding-ding. Do more only to do more. Not to finish, or to win, or to expect massive immediate instant whopping results.

One push-up, properly done, gives you only the right to do one more. This is what it means to pick up the bar. And to give it back. To know that the numbers are nothing.

A bigger single rep max isn’t shit. More sit-ups, more push-ups won’t help you stay alive in the ring. These things teach you how to work hard, try harder, to breathe in to the pain. And that is the goal, with its own reward. To keep going. One breath at a time, over and over, doing more for the sake of doing more.

Better isn’t the beginning, or the middle, or the end. Better is just better.

Sometimes, limping around the office, my body stiff and sore, guys will ask, sheesh, boxing not working out for you hey? But this limp, this is what growth looks like. These tired legs, heavy shoulders, aching hands, this is where better lives. This pain, every day, it’s still here. So am I. Still upright, alive, breathing, moving forward, this is what progress feels like.

This is my bar. It’s higher than it was. Still low. I’ll raise it.

One breath at a time.


  • Steve Burke

    Boxing – jabs, hooks and uppercuts; its about the basics done well. Simple eh? No, you never fully master it. But those steps; what a brilliant journey of discovery!