Spring is here, and it’s usually the time of the year people really start searching for motivation to hit the gym, join a fun-run, or just start finding ways to go through their days a little bit healthier. I hurt my back over the winter snowboarding, and I’ve spent the last few months rehabbing it, taking it pretty easy in the gym. Now just recently fully recovered, I really want to continue with the goals I have for this year and start training for some specific events I have in mind. So I decided to revive one of the first few posts I wrote when I started this blog, “One more rep.” It all pretty much still stands true, a few edits here and there, some typos… but I don’t think I could really say how I feel about about the interdependency of fitness and life-enjoyment any better. I needed a good reminder, anyways. I can’t preach what I don’t practice.
This is for anyone who ever ignored the snooze button to beat the morning heat of the open road. For the last available bike at spin class, and the open bench press on chest day. For the painful stitch in your side, the calluses on your hands…. for the “good sore.” For the towel you lay on the treadmill display so you have no idea how long you’ve ran, and for the moment you lift it off to see the extra 10 minutes you’ve never had in you before. To the new years resolutioners and their commitment which allows them to proudly separate themselves from the incoming pack the following January. For those who put in work in the gym to be stronger on the court, and the distant sight of the finish line at your very first 5K. Your sun salutation. This is for the 5 lb plate you added to the stack when you can finally declare you raised your max… and for eventually hitting it twice.
I don’t write this because I hold any expert knowledge in the area of physical fitness. I do a lot of reading, and ask a lot of questions, but I still don’t know much. Nor do I believe myself to be in any type of peak physical condition so that I should hold myself as an example to anyone else. I write this because I, like yourself, know what it means to take the step forward dedicated to be stronger, run faster, jump higher, feel healthier, and live better. I write this with hope that, there is at least one person who can relate when I say I understand what it feels to anxiously watch the clock pass, waiting until my daily obligations are fulfilled in order to get to the gym, and the way the mind makes you perceive yourself to becoming weaker just because your hectic schedule doesn’t allow you to go to the gym for three days. Similar to so many others, physical training– just like writing– has become over the years an outlet from external stressors, broken relationships, and demanding obligations; a form of therapy that has taught me much discipline in other aspects of my life along with valuable lessons I continue to learn.
I write this with nostalgic remembrance to the people I have crossed paths with in every weight room I’ve set foot in, taking the time to assist me and provide advice when asked. I hope that one day i can attain such in-depth knowledge so that I may justifiably provide it to others. I write this in dedication to my friends; who constantly tell me stories of their own training, their own accomplishments… for their dedication is my inspiration. For just as a spotter is there mentally as he is there physically, and how the presence of a running partner psychologically pushes you harder, these people in my life have constantly served as a mental spot to me.. in– as well as out– of the gym.
I consider the environment of the gym to be analagous to life itself… it’s facilities and resources- equally accessible to its patrons. Much like life, every individual is there for their own reasons, with their own goals, drives, their own ways of handling that same reality. There’s a thriving sense of community with a unique culture based on respect for one another just for being there in the first place. The gym is one of the few places where your achievements are not belittled–nor is your individuality judged– by the color of your skin, your age, sexual orientation, or how much money you make. It’s where language barriers are easily hurdled by understanding the universal gesture of- “Hey, would you mind giving me a spot?”
When I joined the military at 18 years old, I was 155 pounds, and barely spent any time in a weight room. A deployment to Kirkuk Air Base in Iraq would transition “barely spent any time” to “spending every available moment” in the gym. There’s very few things that pass the time sufficiently enough without losing your sanity, and the gym became a place to spend many nights relieving my mind from the stress of being away from the people closest to me, and from all you could imagine which accompanies the time being down range. Any military member who has spent time overseas can understand the commitment for self improvement and the psychological benefits of physical training. Initially, I could barely press anything over a hundred pounds. But from that point on, just as a runner craves the endorphins released during “the high,” I became physically and emotionally dependent to the weight room; a palce that even for just a brief moment of the day, became a type of sanctuary away from the pressures of life.
So, I began doing a lot of research, asked a lot of advice, and observed. I believe my experiences are not much different than many others…I too have asked the age old question- “How do you burn fat and build muscle?” That of which the answer entails the complexity of conflicting requirements. I have also wondered what a complex carbohydrate was, what are good supplements, imagined – only imagined- what it would be like to juice, learned the hard way by injury the fundamental need of good form, and my favorite-… the aromatic consequence of not immediately washing a shaker cup.
It’s quite amazing what the human body is capable of. In an ever changing world that continues to place a rising value on the development of technology, I believe technology only supplies a restricited, artificial model that ignores how we can truly act, interact, and create in our environment. So, in the hypothetical sense that if all technology comes to an end, we are only left with the bare essentials; That being our bodies and natural ability. “Natural ability” not referring to the intrinsic characteristics brought by heredity, but more so our bodies ability to “perform in nature.”
There’s a world out there just waiting for us to step away from our daily routines, so that we may experience all that it has to offer. So we hike, surf, explore, skate, rock climb, scuba dive… and simply “play”. Physical training allows us to develop our level of physicality so that we can optimally work and “play” in whatever way that caters to our individual needs of excitement and pleasure.
Yet, As some of us may strive for goals that are in part focused on the aesthetics of physique, I believe that we should first begin by being content and happy with our bodies, and strive not for visual improvement for the pleasure of others, but improvement of overall health and ability for the sake of ourselves. And only ourselves. Superficial change should not be a sole purpose, but only a result, dependent when you commit yourself to a regimen. Because when all we focus on is how we look, we will only be discouraged by the lack of expected results, rather than encouraged by the small continual goals we achieve by persistance. And always enjoying ourselves. Enjoyment allows freedom. Freedom is peace.
At the present moment, although I used to, I don’t count carbs, ensure a specific level of caloric intake, keep attention to detail my sugars, sodium, fats, etc. More so, my eating habits can best be explained by an analogy I once heard. The things you consume is like fuel for a car. The better the fuel, the better your motor performs. The more fuel you put in it, the longer you drive. But when you use bad fuel, and although the motor is still able to run, the waste that doesnt get processed compiles up and reduces the motor’s efficiency. That being said, in relationship to the body and eating, and motor and fuel, The stronger the motor works, the more fuel it burns.”Strength of the motor” not being the actual level of strength, but the level of exertion relative to your body.
So you HAVE to push yourself past your comfort zone in order to produce results. If you stay in one comfort zone, regardless of your level of strength, your body becomes complacent and having to work less, burning less. Because “A v 12 engine will burn more fuel than a 2 cylinder Daewoo when both are working at their peak, but yet- A v12 engine going 5 mph will burn less fuel than a 3 cylinder Daewoo redlining at well, 50?” It’s still redlining regardless.
I’ve experimented with dieting and eating plans, but I don’t have the discipline; and I highly respect anyone who does. I love food. I eat a slice of pizza if its there, and enjoy a nice cold beer when the occasion presents itself. Matter of fact, I actually wrote part of this post while indulging in a plate of “554.”(above) BBQ pork over rice, for those of you who are not Chicago natives or have never experienced the pleasure of Seven Treasures in Chinatown. Seriously. But I pay for it in the gym.
Today, most of my motivation does not derive from observing the people putting up extraordinary amounts of weight, nor is it the centerfold poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime during the 70′s I used to carry around in my military duffel when I was 19. My motivation comes from the people who choose to use there bodies to there highest potential, not taking for granted the opportunity to learn more about themselves through physical experience, never settling for failure in the face of a challenge.
Much like a particular man I consider to be a regular at the gym I presently go to; he’s no older than 40, and he has lived the majority of his life in a wheel chair due to his legs having never developed past the size of a 12 year old. But he’s still in the gym, sweating it out like everyone else, being grateful for what he is still capable of despite a handicap. That alone speaks volumes of character; his refusal to be restricted due to lacking the standard physicality completely undermines any perceived standard of what it takes to live happily active. He’s the epitome of how the only limitations are those we set for ourselves and no one else can ever determine what we are not able to do. So If he’s in the gym, I have no reason not to be. For that very reason, I’ll still be at the ripe old age of 70, still in the gym with a sweatband and an oversized T-shirt saying, “#1 Gramps.”
I can only hope for whoever takes the chance to read this, there is at least one person who can relate to my experiences and shares my mentality towards physical training. Ive come to realize there’s a defining moment that occurs precisely at the end of a run when you finally catch your breath; the moment when a mental “click” occurs that tells you that you can still keep going, or the moment approaching the brink of muscle failure while lifting, and you contemplate either racking the weight or pushing out one more. And that same moment happens at the end of an long day when you consider taking a day off from your workout schedule, or considering not losing the hour of sleep when the alarm goes off in the morning telling you to head to yoga class. At this precise moment, the mind balances out numerous factors, assessing the body, manifesting excuses, inclined to put it off for another day. So I can only hope, how others have motivated me throughout the years, this post will motivate them when this precise moment occurs; that at least one person will dig deep to push themselves past the limits, proudly experiencing how personal satisfaction outweighs succumbing to whatever excuses there are to not put forth the effort. And that’s not just in training, that applies to life itself. When we are constantly underestimated by others, what good is it to underestimate ourselves? So when the option is presented to either stop or keep going, (or to even go at all), see what happens when you choose the latter and tell yourself that it’s just a little time out of the day… just a few laps in the pool… just an hour of yoga… Just a bit longer… Just a bit farther…. Just five pounds more… Just one more set…
…Just one more rep.
You might surprise yourself.