How does calling someone soft help them to get strong? By exploiting them, rather than encouraging them. By shaming and manipulating them, rather than inspiring them. Is that method of motivation still going to be working for you after three years of lifting? I hope not. I hope you’d be better at standing up for yourself by then.
If a guy posts a video on youtube of his max effort deadlift, someone’s going to call him a pussy or a fag. Maybe because he isn’t lifting enough. Or maybe he’s lifting too much, and the critic feels threatened. Or his technique’s all wrong, and the bullying is excused with a phrase like just sayin’, as if nothing untoward has happened and being an asshole is okay because of free speech and blah-de-blah.
What does this mean for those of us who aren’t heavy lifters, who have self-respect and won’t put up with the shaming? Mostly it means we’re not interested in strength training, which is a shame (but in a different way), because I think it’s really cool. It’s the bee’s kness. But if you’re female, or male and you’re kindof a fringe-dweller, or you secretly enjoy your girly moments (for me that’s no secret) – you feel marginalised. And then you notice the hypocrisy. This thing, this magical amazing thing that’s supposed to make your life better, and make you look good, and be the envy of other men, and desired by women and some other men that we won’t talk about because we’re too manly – this amazing thing, that we’re all supposed to be doing, strength training – it’s also a secret club that you can’t get in to if you’re not already in it. As much as they say it is, it really isn’t accessible to everyone. You should be doing it, for your health, but sorry – you’re a pussy. You need to qualify first. And then you’re shamed again, for not wanting to be a part of the secret society that doesn’t want you anyway. It’s confusing.
So, fuck ‘em. I train by myself – I do actually find it more fun than training with most other people I know. It’s not the “well, they won’t have me so I’ll just train by myself and like it” thing – it’s something else. I’m working on different things to most people I know, I’m at a different stage of my progression, and training has become a much more internal thing than ever before. It’s for me, and I don’t always like to share (but sometimes I do, hence the blog).
So here’s what I get out of it, inspired by a great post about yoga, where they talk about the flashy moves.
I enjoy much simpler training methods than I used to, because I’m no longer concerned with being able to do the cool impressive thing, or being able to ‘take care of myself’ on the street. My training is comprised mostly of big, heavy lifts (squats, chin-ups, bench-press, deadlifts), lots of rest, very little ‘cardio’ because it’s pointless, and my whole training experience is very zenful (is that a word? It is now). Everything becomes more focused – the body and mind become one, united through pure intention and physical resistance. This is interesting, because training with weights is rarely regarded as a soulful pursuit, and only when you’ve been into it for a while, do you start to notice it teaching you things.
Simple, honest training gives me much more satisfaction in the moment than the flashy stuff ever did. You really become aware of the process, and there’s nowhere to hide – weightlifting exposes your weaknesses, but when it’s just you and a barbell – that happens without judgement. If you can be kind to yourself. And if you want to progress, start with kindness and awareness – that’s what you need to be able to build strength.
It doesn’t matter if you’re training to ‘failure’ or not – you’re always going to fail in the face of fifty kilos. It might happen on the third rep, the fifteenth rep – the weight’s going to win, you’ll get to a point where your strength of will won’t move the bar any more – and what do you learn about yourself when that happens? Resilience? Maybe? How to push through? When to stop? Wisdom? I don’t know. I’m learning stuff. Stuff and things!
I don’t really think about it when I’m training. And it might not sound like it, but you strip away the judgement when nobody’s looking, when you’re not trying to impress anyone, when you’re just working on what will help you to develop. How much training is enough? How much is too much?
Training with weights doesn’t make you strong – it makes you weak – in the immediate future. People leave the gym weak as kittens. But you recover and grow stronger later. If your training is going well. It’s a physical experience of balance, of action and consequence, and as long as you feel safe you can throw yourself into it. But as long as you feel judged, marginalised, and mistrustful, you just aren’t going to take yourself there, with truth or freedom.
Training teaches us things, but it’s not always what we think we’re going to learn. And the way in which we develop isn’t going to be the way we think we’re going to develop, and what we need help with will often turn out to be a surprise. Damn.
I started training the flashy stuff – I didn’t have patience for simpler methods. When you’re training something fancy, the focus is on that fancy thing, not you, not your internal development. But if I hadn’t started there, if I hadn’t felt the need to compensate for a body that always functioned differently than I had wished, would I have come to the realisations I have made? Who knows? It’s a helluva journey.