Day 61 – What I Learned From Lifting Really Heavy Weights

You are far stronger than you think.

Lifting weights assiduously shows you what you’re really made of, and your potential strength, both physical and mental, simmering within you.  I remember distinctly feeling something change inside me when I became capable of deadlifting and squatting my entire bodyweight.  I looked down at the bar and thought:  ‘That’s me.  That’s my entire body. I can support all of me through my own strength!’  It was fascinating in an abstract sense, but more practically it made me realize the incredible physical potential we all have.  We carry the genetic inheritance of life in a brutal and punishing wilderness.  Capable of running long distances, fighting beasts for sustenance, and bearing incredible weights to survive.  I carry this concept into the gym with me, and nearly every time I impress myself.  I know part of it is neurological, that lifting heavy weights brings incredible boons to brain chemistry and stress coping, but additionally those small weekly victories began to leak out of the gym and into my every day life.  ‘I just lifted 300 pounds, OF COURSE I’ll nail this interview!’  ‘It felt like I couldn’t do one more rep, and I did three, going to work with a cold is NOTHING!’   These new internal dialogues replaced the older mantras of dissatisfaction and grumpiness at a sudden challenge.  Grinding yourself down to the core and putting your might to the test is a vitalizing, validating, and victorious venture.  Verily.

The body is a fragile gift.

A biokinetic structure as complex, reliant, and beautiful as your ball & socket joints deserve respect and love.  Every day, many people take utterly for granted the fact that they have perfectly healthy and well-functioning bodies, right down to the cells.  Weightlifting has taught me just how fragile some of my parts really are, and shown me that I need to treat them like good friends.  As the weights I was lifting grew heavier and heavier, I realized just how easy it could be to cause a critical injury to my body.  If I dropped form, curved my back, or jerked my shoulder, I could very well face a nagging medical problem for the rest of my life.

            Risk and respect are bedfellows.  Knowing the risk of a heavy load and the results of bad form has given me a new perspective to all physical movement outside the gym.  I rarely bend over at the waist, and never stoop down with straight legs to pick something off the ground.  My posture has improved dramatically, shoulders back and chin up, not because I feel boastful or vain, but knowing that my spine deserves to be cared for gently.  I am always aware of the musculature in my back and shoulders as I do more demanding chores, as a sign of respect to my body and it’s well functioning.

Judgment Is Nothing.

The irony of judging others is that it comes from the same mental posture that we judge ourselves with.  Excessive judgment sharpens the knives that we eventually fall on.

I’ve worked out as an outpatient, while recovering from surgery, my weights reduced to a fifth of normal.  After feeling the embarrassment of what felt like lifting twigs and toothpicks, it dawned on me just how little I knew about the people lifting in the racks beside me.  Anyone could be recovering from surgery, or chemotherapy, or just trying to work off the worst day of their lives.  What do I know?  Sizing yourself up and inventing narratives to explain other people is a quick road to narcissism, envy, and guilt.  I’ve had an 21 year old girl step up to a neighboring rack and out-squat me like childsplay.  Likewise, I’ve seen a man complete a 45lb push press and it looked like the greatest victory of the decade.  Everyone’s history is different, and what I see in the gym is a laughably minute sliver of who they really are. 

Getting excited is an Artform

Hyping yourself up for a big lift, especially a personal record, takes finesse.  Being able to tap into your emotions and inhabit the right headspace is critical.  When you are at your limit, sometimes even a small intrusive doubt can be the difference between success and failure.  Everyone operates differently in this, but eventually people find their own magic spell of words, thoughts and affirmations to push them beyond their perceived limits.  Of course, this skill set is more valuable than gold in the working world, or just motivating yourself to achieve independent goals.  The honed ability to imbue your work with passion and courage is the candleflame of your life.  Without it, daily existence can feel like cold wax.

Failure is Crucial for growth

It is through failing that we learn our limitations.  It is though learning our limitations that we lay the foundation for growth.  I can’t think of a more apt delineation of your physical limits than being too weak to complete a lift.  You learn quickly underneath a bar that failure happens, and happens often.  It must be accepted as an inevitable and vital reality of growing stronger.  In fact, the fear or embarrassment toward failure can actually harm you in the long run;  breaking form in order to just lift the bar and ‘safe face’ can lead to injury, but recognizing when you are too weak to complete a set and ‘failing’ the lift shows you exactly where you are, and clarifies the next step.

             

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