It’s easy to quit in the middle of a workout.
Sure, you have fitness goals. Sure, you know that if you finish it, you’ll come out better for it. Sure, you probably could do it too, especially if it’s something a trainer gave you – after all, he wouldn’t have made you do it unless he was confident in your abilities.
But the weight’s too much. The cold iron is pressing down on your shoulders. Your legs are starting to buckle. Your breath is catching in your throat. It hurts too much to continue, to finish your current rep, let alone another one.
Suddenly you don’t care about your goals or your potential or what people think – you just want the goddamn barbell off you.
This is the most crucial moment of the most demanding workouts. Arguably it’s more important even than the race or the beach trip or the movie: you have to decide that what’s waiting for you on the other side of the crucible is more important than ridding yourself of the pain, or you aren’t going to get there.
Sometimes the voice inside is loud enough to spur you on. Sometimes that goal is so embedded in you that you can – for just a little longer – bear the weight and force yourself to keep moving.
And sometimes – perhaps in the worst of times – you need someone else there to drive you on. You need someone who understands how hard it is, but believes you’re still harder. It can’t be a pithy “I believe in you” – it works only when it is a true, honest proclamation of faith in the process that has led you to this point. They aren’t telling you something you don’t know – they’re reminding you of what you can do.
I have written repeatedly about Mark Twight and the Man of Steel training process because of my admiration for what Twight did for Henry Cavill and the rest of the cast. In particular, I draw inspiration from this video, in which Henry says one of the great things about Mark was how he helped Henry do things he didn’t think possible.
In the absence of a multi-million dollar movie or a clear career goal, I could use a Mark Twight right about now. Not necessarily to drive me through difficult training sessions – I can manage those well enough, amusingly – but to remind me that, yes, the circumstances are far less than ideal, and it feels like shit some days, but it’s nothing you cannot handle.
It isn’t that no one’s told me. It’s that I need them to make me believe.
5min Row @ progressive pace
5x10s hard / 50s light Row
5x Goblet Squat @ 20/25/30kg
1 set each @ 35/40/45/50kg
100x Back Squat @ body weight
20x Burpee Pull-up per drop / rack
- This may seem familiar to anyone who’s read my post on challenge workouts. It’s taken from the Mass Gain phase of Gym Jones’s Man of Steel training program, meant to be attacked in the sixth week. By this point you will have been training for about four months – plenty of time to develop your strength endurance, especially in the squat. When I took this on, I weighed 185lbs. That’s a lot of iron to load on your back for 100 reps, and I was unable to make it through without having to pay the penalty.
- The really hard part about dropping the barbell isn’t the penalty; it’s psyching yourself up to put it back and keep going, even if you’re barely 10 reps away from the end.
I haven’t had much reflection on the fitness world lately.
Truth be told, I haven’t had much reflection on anything but one very dark topic lately. For whatever reason – and my therapist came up with a couple of good ones – my depression has chosen to rear its head and start ruining things again. That discussion is for another time and place – I mention it only to provide context.
The hardest part about a mental illness is that there is no cure. You just have to accept that you’re going to have to learn to live with it. You will have to get used to the pitfalls, learn to navigate the roadblocks, and become accustomed to dragging yourself out of the holes your mind digs for you. It’s a daunting realization, and becomes more and more so every time it reappears.
Sometimes – more often than I am comfortable admitting – it’s all too tempting to just lie there and give up.
Now, what does this have to do with a fitness blog?
This may be just me and my experiences, but fitness – strength – is much the same way. You will have to work at it to keep it. You will have to slog away even when you don’t feel you have the energy. And sometimes it will fail you, and you will be sorely disappointed.
You don’t know why you finished that race three minutes slow – you beat your previous best on a training run!
You don’t know why you couldn’t hit that deadlift – last week you pulled ten kilos heavier.
You don’t understand why, despite all the hard work – all the dieting, all the training, all the deprivation and sacrifice and effort – you aren’t everything you wanted to be.
And you want to quit.
I can’t say I’d blame you. I can’t say I blame any of the people who give up on gym memberships after a year of little or no result. I can’t say I blame people who refuse to take on new trainers because their last one barely did anything for them. I get why you’d rather sleep in than get up early to hit the iron: what’s the use if it’s barely working, right?
I’m going to keep getting fat. I’m going to keep getting tired. I’m going to keep watching my performance numbers yoyo unless I slog through the muck day after day after fucking day, and I don’t know why I should bother.
That feeling of despair is me every day. And every day I once again have to decide to haul everything together for a few hours – just a few hours until I can disappear into my dark room and the safety of sleep.
The challenge, then, is to hope that you will come out better.
It isn’t easy. Your trainer says it’ll take six months to lose that excess weight. Your coach says you’ll need to work on your lifts for a year before you can consider competing.
Your therapist says it could be decades before you’ve even come close to everything you think you should be.
Possibly my favorite scene in Man of Steel was the one where Clark learns to fly. He doesn’t manage it on his first try, which ends with him crawling out of a crater. If he had successfully flown right away, it would have taken away a very real – if painful – factor sorely needed by the Superman mythos.
Superman failed, too. He tried to be everything, but couldn’t. Not at once. Not right away.
And maybe that’s the message we need to hold on to.
It’s a struggle to keep rising. I feel like I’ve hit those fucking mountains more times than is fair.
But as long as I can find a reason – even a small one – I will crawl out of that goddamn crater at least one more time.
I may not be a hero. I may not learn to fly. You won’t ever look like Stephen Amell. You may never hit a thousand-pound squat.
But that doesn’t mean it’s over.
10x Handstand Push-up
10x Decline Push-up
- This is by no means a formal workout. It’s something I did this morning to force myself to get energized to go to work. If I hadn’t, I don’t know that I might have made it – although the thought of someone there certainly helped.