21-15-9 and How Compound Interest Effects Fitness (and Life)

Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.
— Albert Einstein

In CrossFit (if you hate CrossFit skip this part, I will not be offended) there is a common workout that involves repetitions of 21-15-9. It starts with 21 reps (short for repetitions), then 15, where you finish off with 9 reps. It often involves a combination of barbell work and some sort of pull-uppy movement — either toes to bar or chest to bar.

In the CrossFit Games Open this year, workout 19.5 (19 for the year and .5 for the number of workouts spanned over 5 weeks) was similar. The only difference, however, was it involved a shit load more reps. It went 33-27-21-15-9. The workout was thrusters and chest to bars.

Helpless, I lay on the pavement after reaching the very lengthy and lenient time cap of 20 minutes. Genuinely concerned for my health, a couple of random passerby's actually asked me if I was ok. They offered me water. Still in a state of confusion, I declined politely while panting like a dog and said that I was ok, it was just from the workout I did. Not good marketing for Motley Crew CrossFit (sorry Ty).

Although I would not wish that workout on Hitler himself, while I was being humiliated in the box (weird word we use for CrossFit gym), I had a thought. This thought involved compounding and the effect it has on fitness and life.

When you embark on a workout like 19.5, the beginning is always the ball-buster. It will literally take your balls, and throw them in the nearest water source if you are not careful. I, was NOT careful. I came out way to hot. Anyway, this is not about my mistakes, it’s about solutions — of which, I may have some.

A workout like 19.5 (or something similar) only gets easier with time (at least for most, for some — like me — it didn’t seem to go that way at the time). I may be the only one, but similar to a long-ish run like a 10K, the last 1 or 2 kilometers are a breeze.

As many of you know, this is indicative to investing. The power of compounding — consistently placing an amount of money away, over time, will yield insane returns later in life. If you need examples just search a couple of names along the lines of Munger and Buffet in Google.

The Compound Effect of Fitness

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Starting your fitness journey can seem daunting. For most, this is the sole reason they do not begin in the first place.

Let me paint you a mental picture.  There was a boy. A rather chubby one. During his schooling career, he hated running — and any physical activity really — so much so that he would fake being sick every time the school hosted a sporting event. You probably guessed that chubby kid was me. I would quiver at thought of moving my body in any way that forced my man boobs to break a sweat.

Today, however, I cannot imagine a day without moving my body. I get anxious at the thought of not moving.

I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal here (although in most cases it helps because I am really short), but this is a testament to the power of compounding.

In 2014 when I started my “journey,” it began kind of intuitively. I did fasted cardio 3 times a week, ate less carbs and sodas...you know, the usual shit*. And guess what? I lost weight. Overtime, training just got easier and easier. Going for a run — or in todays case, lifting weights and/or running nearly 2 times per day — just got easier. In other words, the mental discipline it takes to get started is far less.

There comes a point where all the little things you do, compound.

I used to look at some people and wonder how the fuck they looked like they did. As my one mate puts it: “that oak is more ripped than a racing snake.” But, now — and only now — I can see it’s the compounding effect. For them, it’s in their nature to stay fit.

Humans will do everything in their power to follow through on who they say they are. If you tell your friends you are fit, happy and optimistic — you have a consistency bias to live up to. More than likely, you will be just that. If you jokingly tell your friends you’re an anxious, lazy person — “ha ha you know me Sue, I’m a lazy shnubab, I don’t go to the gym ha ha ha i hate my life haha” — you will be exactly that. Watch how you speak to yourself and others.

The Compound Effect on Life

In life, it is no different to fitness. A daily practice like meditation or priming, seems stupid and obscure at first. Why would I want to sit still for 10 minutes and practice breathing techniques?

Just like compounding, the start is scattered with uncertainty. You are stashing small wods of cash into the minds bank account. In a few years — even less in this case — the compound interest will pay huge dividends. So much so, that you will be able to live comfortably off those dividends and “retire.”

When I say retire, I don’t mean just give up. I mean you are retiring from the major mental effort that it takes to do the practice. This is because it is now a ritual. You don’t even think about it. You are just mindful as a default.

So, if you keep at it, preferably daily, it just gets easier.

Make Things Easy!

I think it is safe to say I’m in one of the best shapes of my life. I do go out often and indulge in less than ideal food/alcohol* on the weekends, but I’m fairly strict with myself in the week.

I attribute my physical success to a combination of being very happy — which is a result of meditation, mostly — and my consistency in the CrossFit box.

Next time you are feeling mentally drained, questioning your actions, wondering if this run will be worth it — or this little self-improvement sesh will even help — just remember the power of compounding.

The start will always be the hardest. Even if you roll out of bed, put on your running shoes, walk 5 meters out the door and decide to go back to bed. Guess fucking what!? You did more than the part of you that just stayed in bed!

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today
— Jordan B. Peterson (12 Rules for Life)

Lower your expectations and make things easy. Some of the longest runs and best CrossFit workouts I’ve had have been where I had little to no expectations, went out there, and just enjoyed it.

Happiness and enjoyment are underrated. I think if you focus on prioritising that — I’m not saying go looking solely for happiness, that is also destructive — instead of worrying about the mechanics behind the endeavour, you will go far beyond your wild dreams.

I truly hope you gained some value from this post.

If you are starting your journey or are a veteran racing snake, I wish you the best going forward. Remember we are all in this shit show we call life together. Go out, design great days, as Mr. Ferriss would say, and create a great life.

I believe that living an examined life and designing it instead of living it via default is what makes being human, human.

Have a great day,


*I say usual shit because it really is that fucking simple. Honestly. The entire point of my blog (and life journey really), in case you have not noticed, is simplicity. Taking away bad foods and sedentary lifestyle activities should be your primary concern. Not adding pointless green smoothies while you shmut about as usual.

*In terms of alcohol, I go for vodka and soda water usually. Very middle-class white girl living in Cape Town, I know, but hey…it’s the best in terms of limiting fat gain. To be honest, I really don’t mind it now.