What a Year of Lifting Heavy Taught Me
Goals are important.
I find goals to be the ultimate inspiration. You can dream about being stronger. You can wish you were thinner. You can resolve to get in shape. But those things do not matter unless you have goals. Dreams, wishes, and resolutions are just arbitrary thoughts regarding your current state of being. Actually visualizing your goal and you accomplishing that goal will get you a whole of a lot farther than looking at numerous pictures of hot people you wished you look like. Goals provide focus and force someone to acknowledge their current state in correlation with the state (whether physical or mental) they would like to achieve.And not only do goals provide inspiration directly related you, but they also give a framework by which to work towards that goal. Having a larger goal allows one to develop microgoals.Goals provide focus. In order for you reach a goal, you have to take small baby steps for progress. No one is able to jump from being a couch potato do deadlifting 2x body weight overnight and having a goal makes one realize that everything, including changing your body, takes time. To run a marathon, you have to first run a mile, and then 3 miles, and then 10 miles, and so on, until you are able to run the entire 26.2 miles.Having goals really forces a person to look inside themselves and figure out what they truly desire and the steps they will need take to make it there.Stop wishing and make some goals. Your dreams don’t work unless you do.
Sometimes, you have to train smarter…
If you get serious about lifting, or any other physical activity, chances are you will hit a plateau. For example, my bench shot up like a rocket until 115 lbs. It took about a month to squeak it to 120 lbs. And then I was stuck at a 120 lbs. For my 1 rep max for almost 4 months. It was emotionally debilitating. I went from dreading bench days to refusing to do them. Benching just made me angry and frustrated.
After some moping around, I finally let some wisdom sink into my skull: You have to switch it up. In order to blast through any plateau, and any problem where the answer is not obvious, you have to go at it from a different direction. Up until that point, I had continued the 5×5 rep scheme on all of my lifts. If I made all my lifts for 5 sets of 5 reps, I would then increase my weight by 5 lbs the next time. This routine was not working for me any longer and I needed to change what I was doing.
After some tinkering, my training partner and I finally settled on Smolov Jr. for bench. We were given recommendations to try this program from some people we trusted. We were a little wary of what people claimed it was doing to their bench, but decided to give it a try anyway. What could it hurt? We had both been stalling for some time and at least, trying something new would alleviate some of the boredom we had from our normal rep schemes.
Well, Smolov might be a motherflippin’ genius. I was able to put 10 lbs. on my bench in just 3 weeks! All-in-all, it really does pay to do your research, instead of repeatedly bashing your head against a wall.
…And sometimes, you have to work harder.
Squats have been my nemesis from the get-go. I have had some issues with my tailbone and sciatic nerve due to falling on my ass one too many times, as well as a severe lack of flexibility in my hips due to too many years of sitting on my ass in school. And, when I started, I couldn’t even hold the bar on my back. I had to start my squat journey with two 20 lbs dumbbells. And, so, I worked.
I worked on building flexibility. I worked on building up my back muscles so that I could hold the bar on my back without it resting on my bones. I worked on my form. I worked on getting stronger. I worked.
But as one would suspect, I would frequently plateau on my worst lift. And it got frustrating. And in response, I would try to switch up my routine. I tried different rep schemes. I tried squatting more. I tried squatting less. Nothing worked.
The only thing that has worked for me to improve my squat (form and weight) was to just work harder and harder. Sometimes, you just have to repeatedly hit your head against the wall until the wall crumbles.
Have a strategy.
Fuckarounditis is not a good strategy to take with anything in life. Not with school. Not with relationships. Not with life. And, especially not with lifting. If you want to win, you must formulate a plan of attack. Plan a strategy.
You are stronger than other people think you are.
I remember my first squat 1RM attempt. I was hoping to hit something like 165 lbs. I was in the power rack and my boyfriend/training partner was putting weights on the bar.
165 lbs went down and up. Easy peasey. Next, 175 lbs. And then 185 lbs. And THEN 195 lbs. While my form wasn’t perfect, my boyfriend was blown away. Neither of us had expected me to move anything near that much weight. Especially not for my first 1 RM.
Yesterday, even, the guy who was training me guessed that my deadlift max was around 250 lbs. When I told him that is was actually 275 lbs, he responded “That is pretty darn good.”
For better or for worse, people will underestimate you (especially if you are female). Use this to your advantage. It is to your advantage to know what others think you are capable of doing. The key is to know what they think, but not to believe them. Use their ignorance of your abilities to shine, not only in the gym, but in all aspects of your life. It feels really great to surprise people by surpassing their expectations of you.
And you are stronger than you think you are.
Both mentally and physically.
I cannot tell you how many times I have entered them gym and told my training partner, “I doubt that I will be able to do all the planned sets. The weight feels really heavy today.”
I also cannot tell you how many times I have said those words only to blow through all of my planned sets. I am stronger than I often give myself credit for.
One day, I was fretting over my upcoming job interview. I asked for some advice to calm my nerves via Tumblr. The best response that was given to me? “You can deadlift 250 lbs. This will be easy.” I have taken this piece of advice and turned into my own personal pep-talk. “I did 4 sets. 4 sets remaining. This will be easy.” “I can do 12 pull-ups, talking to this stranger will be easy.” “I can deadlift 275 lbs, pitching this idea will be easy.”
It is easy to doubt oneself. It is easy to set limits on the things we think we can accomplish. My favorite quote and motivation is from Maryanne Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
If we learn to trust ourselves then there is no saying what we can accomplish. If you are willing to push yourself and your limits, to step outside your comfort zone, you will be surprised with how much you can accomplish.
Having a community is necessary.
Everyone needs support, tips, advice, and sometimes, a little motivation. A community, whether it is one person or a thousand, provides these things.
Mind over body.
Will power is key. There have been countless times when the weight just felt glued to the floor.. Countless times when my body was shaking and my breaths were ragged. Times where I felt as though it was too hard and that there was no way I would be able to do it. But I pushed. I pulled. I willed myself to do it because I would not accept failure. The mind is a really powerful device. Use it.
(I originally posted this article on my personal blog on January 15, 2012.)