Thursday, May 15, 2014

On Being Afraid Of The Bar

I lift weights in my free time, as an occasional reader of this blog might know. As forms of fitness go, it's probably the best bang for your buck: three days a week, half an hour or so in the gym, get in, lift heavy things, get done.

If I'm short on time, I can cut it even closer than that and still get a decent workout. There's a nigh-infinite variety of exercises to choose from, a myriad of different approaches, depending on what goals you want to shoot for. If you get sick with one thing, you can do something else. It's relatively safe compared to many forms of exercise, as long as you remember to keep it in your pants and use proper technique.

There gets to be a point, however, when progressing gets mentally hard. You find yourself flat on your back on the bench, psyching yourself up for the next set, which is going to be at a higher weight than any you've attempted before. Worst-case scenarios play through your head.

You think about that Youtube clip where a powerlifter dropped nine hundred pounds on his chest, turning his rib cage into a dented sack of wet noodles. You go over the horror stories friends have told you about their myriad of bad lifting experiences, things which happened to them when they lifted too much too fast. How your buddy Brock deadlifted too enthusiastically one day with a double-supinated grip, resulting in his biceps both tearing at once, flapping up his arms like two window blinds gone out of control. You queasily remember that kid on the high school football team who could slide his patella entirely around his knee joint because of his bad squat form. The bad things get more real the more you think about them.

You double-check the plates on the bar: they look big. Is it too much? You think you can handle it, but you're not absolutely sure, because, yeah, it's only ten pounds more, but you never know. Maybe your muscles will randomly hate you. Lock up at the wrong moment. Maybe the bar will be a bit too sweaty and you'll drop the weight on your head. Maybe there's some weakness in your lifting technique you don't know about that will suddenly flare up at the wrong moment.

The weight racked on the bar looks bigger and heavier the more you think about it. The more you think, the less you can see yourself lifting it. You psych yourself out.

And then, hopefully, you push through it anyway and it's not so bad. You get over it.

The initial fear of the bar is a bad thing, though. You've never done that much weight before, so of course you can't imagine yourself doing it. You have no frame of comparison; no direct experience to visualize the end result.

When I was sixteen, I was worried to death about learning to drive. I hadn't gotten in the business end of a car before. My only real knowledge of driving was osmosis, watching people who'd done it for years, in real life or on film. I had no idea what to expect when I turned the ignition. Life after a driver's license was a big blank that I couldn't really picture.

And then I actually did it and it was no big deal. In hindsight, I should've realized that. Plenty of idiots drive all the time without much issue. I'm no stupider than any of those guys; no point in doubting I wouldn't be able to do it myself.

Other grown-up things were worse: living on my own, for example. Paying bills, paying rent, making enough money to not have to worry about having food on the table. Not having anybody to really tell you what to do or where to go. It was moderately terrifying. And it still was for a while, even when I was doing it for a couple of years.

But I got over that, too.

Other things: grad school, learning to Scuba dive, learning to swim. Writing stories. Learning finances, learning to code. Speaking another language. Travel. None of these are things I saw myself doing, exactly, before I started doing them.

The thing is, it's pretty easy to psych yourself out of things which are worth doing simply because you've never tried them before. I'm about as guilty of this as anybody can be. In fact, I'm a poster boy. If there's ever a Department Of Psyching Yourself Out Of Doing Fucking Awesome Things, my picture's probably framed and hanging on the wall of the entrance lobby. The receptionist probably sticks her chewing gum to the back of it when it runs out of flavor and she's too lazy to reach for the trash can.

That's what I like about lifting weights. It's a constant reminder that few things in life worth having are going to be entirely comfortable or easy. That sometimes you just have to push through fear and trepidation and burst through the other side like the Kool-Aid Man about spring sugar-water on a roomful of screaming children.

And, holy shit, this looks like another short story week. Where does the time go?

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