Grab the bar, stand up straight. Pull the bar back against your thighs. Drop and repeat
I was at my gym, preparing for a deadlift session, and The Sound of Silence started playing. I commented to the other guy who was there about what a good training song it is, and that launched us into a lengthy conversation about appropriate training music. The Sound of Silence is a great example of something that helps me to focus – with that music playing I find it easier to achieve a single pointed focus, a Zen-like concentration if you will, or a calm attentiveness, and this serves me perfectly. It helps me to pay attention, to train truly. The last thing you want, when lifting heavy, is to be distracted.
I used to work at a different gym – it was new and not very busy and I was sick of the usual radio stations, so I used to play ABC Classic FM when I was there early in the morning. Lots of classical music, no ad breaks. A number of people commented favourably on the selection, but as the gym became busier over time, the demand pushed the radio station back to more poppy, upbeat, energetic music. Which is to say – boring or distracting.
Discussing this with my colleague, he made the interesting observation that people who demand the rockin’ music are usually those who aren’t going to be training hard anyway. So what gives? It comes down to the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – intrinsic, where your motivation comes from within – in the sense of positive desires and the pursuit of an enjoyable and satisfying training experience, which is generally where I like to place the emphasis – or extrinsic, where the motivation comes from the outside – rewards, threats, etc. It’s a topic I don’t know if I’ve written much about overtly – this division between the two – but I think it’s an important one. And the tricky thing is – it’s not always obvious, the difference, at first glance.
Put simply, and I’ve said this before in various ways – if you want your training to serve you for your health, for life, it absolutely must be satisfying and/or enjoyable. Merely indulging in masochistic urges isn’t going to cut it. There’s no other way you’re going to maintain an active lifestyle if you don’t like it. Does that mean we have to try harder at liking something we hate, or does it mean we need to seek out the things we like? Who knows. You do need to bring yourself to the activity at hand with an open mind. But we are guarded and skeptical - we’ve been burned before. If you’re plugging away at something that makes you feel terrible, like you’re participating in your own debasement, then one day your self-protective, rebellious nature is going to make you stop. And what do you do then, when for some reason you don’t quite understand, you feel like you’d prefer to stab out your own eyes than go back to that boot camp? Where does it leave us when exercise damages us more than it helps? All exercise is good for you! Except when it’s not.
Exercise isn’t always going to be fun, but it should be fun most of the time, and I feel like we’ve got it so confused these days. Exercise is enjoyable, naturally, if you don’t feel obliged, pressured, or marginalised – if you’re not training in an attempt to diminish yourself or pander to someone else’s propaganda or to be desirable or to fit in. If you stop believing you have to train so damn hard all the time to neutralise those calories, if you stop using forbidden foods as rewards – improved fitness – that’s your reward for training. That’s why you started in the first place. If you stop buying into all that manipulative bullshit, there’s a chance exercise will be fun again.
And there’s a chance you’ll get in touch with yourself, you’ll discover how you like to move, you’ll reconnect with your intuition, you’ll start experimenting and exploring on your own terms, you’ll see how hard or gently you like to work, how frequently and at what particular activities, because you’re free, and you’ll discover what it’s like to over- or under-do it, and you’ll learn about your strengths and weaknesses, and what it’s like to have a full physical experience of movement, with respect to your capacity, even though you might be trying to exceed it. And you’ll start to see through the lies. You’ll start to train without prejudice. If it actually was about health, we wouldn’t talk about it like we do. We wouldn’t be so damn dogmatic and prejudicial all the time. But what do we seem to do when we start to notice we’ve been lied to? We cling more desperately to the dogma, hoping we can make it true, through strength of will alone.
These days, many people think of personal trainers as bullies rather than specialists. These methods we employ cannot last forever. That kind of ‘motivation’ will only work as long as people believe they need to be compliant and obedient, seen but not heard. One day we won’t submit to the tyranny of those who would accuse us of slothfulness, of immorality because of our choice of food, and one day we’ll reject the judgements of the fitness ‘elite’.
Thems the plans, anyway.
I kinda feel I don’t look like someone who can deadlift 400 pounds. Is that because my idea of what someone who can deadlift 400 pounds looks like is off, or because of that pesky old body dysmorphia? Probably a little of both.
I can deadlift more than Jason Statham now – according to an old Men’s Health article I read a while ago. Maybe he can deadlift more by now, too. So why don’t I look like him? Oh yeah, that’s because that’s not how these things work. Our idea of fitness is contrived, much like our approach to fitness. People who are fit look different to people who look fit, and all of us look different to each other. There’s nothing new there.