"Push the envelope so hard that it doesn't look like a fucking envelope." - Coach B.
Coach B was fired up during the warmup this morning. It was 5AM, and he was talking about leg swings. As I dutifully channeled my inner Rockette and swung my legs, my mind wandered. When would someone literally push an envelope? And if it was being pushed from the inside as Coach's encouragement seemed to imply, wouldn't it just break?
On my way home, I Googled. Lo and behold, envelope is a mathematical term. (Perhaps people know that; I didn't. I suppose that's what I get for taking historic linguistics for math credit in college.) Per Wikipedia, "an envelope of a family of curves in the plane is a curve that is tangent to each member of the family at some point."
The phrase "envelope" in the phrase "push the envelope" refers specifically the flight envelopes of aircraft. Per Google's dictionary, a flight envelope is "the range of combinations of speed, altitude, angle of attack, etc., within which a flying object is aerodynamically stable." When test pilots fly aircraft outside of this envelope to test the true boundaries of an aircraft's capacity, they are said to "push" the envelope. (See, here.)
The phrase was popularized by Tom Wolf's 1979 book The Right Stuff. (This makes the proverbial envelope my age - woot!)
Though I'm not sure how you'd go about plotting one out on a graph, our envelopes are our comfort zones. They are safe spaces delineated by previous PRs, weights, times, and the reps under our belts. CrossFit challenges us to reject those boundaries, to will ourselves past the point where our bodies would surrender, to hang out in that uncomfortable place and to own it. Pushing the envelope is the perfect metaphor we do.
Challenge the limits of your capacity. Change the shape of your envelope. Fly free.