I saw a great quote the other day that made me stop and think:
She was a girl who knew how to be happy even when she was sad.
And that’s important.
There are training sessions in which you haul your ass into the gym wearily and wonder if you’ve got enough in you to face that bar. There are sessions in which you question your sanity and in which your legs ache so much that warming up is a torture, but you do it in the hopes that the ache will subside in the face of more work (it usually does). There are days, and we all have them, where the thing that appeals most is crawling back home and into bed, maybe with food, and just not picking anything up.
And then there are those other days, when even if the weights feel heavy, you’re up for the battle. Those are days when you welcome the challenge, when you lift for the sheer exuberance of being the reason that weight moves through the air. Even when your legs ache and your soul is wearied by the rest of Life, you hit the gym like a kid at the playground and each lift makes you realize just how much damned fun it is.
And they can be the same day.
Not every workout is going to result in a personal best. The weights are going to feel heavy more than light. You’re going to hit the gym sore and tired in mid-training cycle most days and if you don’t you’re probably not doing it right. There will ALWAYS be something in your life outside the gym that’s off-kilter; work stress (even in jobs you love), relationship stress (even in a good relationship), household crap that tired you out like mowing the neglected lawn, your food intake being slightly wonky, not having consumed enough water, dealing with kids…. Try as you will, you’re just not going to go into every gym session firing at 90-100% unless you’re a full-time athlete. I’d guess that most people hit the gym having ticked about 50% of the optimal markers (and I’m being generous). Truly dedicated athletes may regularly hit the 70-85% range. But there’s always something. When you add in training heavily, recovery starts to become a critical issue, beyond that of your average gym goer. This article is quite long, but there’s one part near the beginning in which a points system is assigned for recovery components that I found quite eye-opening, as it quantified the bits and pieces that let me train, effectively prioritizing them and making it clear the effect that missing some sleep, for instance, could have on recovery.
The difference between a good day in the gym and a bad day isn’t so much about those curve balls life launches at you, though, but about how you handle the pitches. It’s about making a decision to make the best of what you are, right then and there, and to put forward your best attitude in that session. How to do that is a learned skill, as much as lifting the weights.
A good friend once said to me that during a coaching seminar, they had discussed why people participate in sport. What is it that keeps people coming back for more punishment? It’s not the money gleaned; most of us spend a lot of money to be participants. It’s not the fame; short of social media among our friends, most of us aren’t terribly famous. It’s sure as hell not the immediate gratification, since getting anywhere meaningful in powerlifting takes years.
It’s the fun.
When people participate in powerlifting, they do it because it’s fun. It’s rewarding. It lets them test their potential and pit themselves against a possibility. The constancy of the weights provides a ready measure of progress. The weights never lie (if you’re honest with yourself and you make certain that your technique is good – if you half-squat or hitch your deadlifts the weights will not respect you and may deliberately mislead you).
When I put myself under that bar, I don’t do it out of a sense of obligation or a need to burn calories, I do it because it makes me feel alive. Yes, there’s a sense of purpose as I have goals, but it’s a sense of purpose borne of knowing that what I am doing gives me joy and my body and mind are built for this. I lift because it’s fun and on tough days, I remind myself that the fun is paramount, because the fun is what will keep me coming back for more. I am damned lucky to be able to do something that gives me as much satisfaction as lifting. Not everyone can.
On days when the weights feel excruciatingly heavy or I sense doubt or self-pity creeping in, I step back from the bar, accept that whatever I can do on that day is enough if it’s my best for that day, and I lift for the joy and privilege of being able to make my body work hard. Once you accept that there is no such thing as a perfect day, that you need to simply shrug off excuses and get to work, you are suddenly free to make of a day whatever you can, often with pleasantly surprising results. If I have training partners around, I use banter and camaraderie to mitigate frustration (that’s one of the greatest parts of having good training partners). Sometimes I find myself laughing after a set that I know was less than I can optimally lift, not because I am discouraged or don’t take it seriously, but because I accepted that the point of that set on that day was just to enjoy the fight, and I did. On days like that, I know that the better lifts will come in time, just not right then. But the work, done with good attitude, is what makes them return the sooner.
I spend five or ten minutes before each workout, sorting in my own mind why I’m there (I always have a realistic goal or two for each session to focus me), acknowledging how I feel (body and mind), and deciding to face the hour or two with whatever joy and focus I can muster. I put down whatever I can of the outside world, flip the cellphone into airplane mode (I forgot to do this yesterday and was quickly reminded of why), and just lift.
Because it’s fun. And I can.