What I Talk About When I Talk About Lifting #4

When I got to the gym Saturday morning I did not have a plan. No surprise. I showed up at 10:00 a.m. which, according to Google, is “very busy” at this time. I had no choice. I often have to plan my gym time while my son is at baseball practice. I had two hours before I had to pick him up. Plenty of time for a good workout. I started with hex-bar deadlifts. It had been a while since I’ve done these. A few weeks ago, I felt a tear in my hip while squatting and now there’s a tenderness there. I don’t know what it is. I rarely have things looked at. That signaled a layoff from squatting and some other leg exercises. Consequently, this past Thursday, I did a lighter leg workout to feel out my hip strength and stability. I did barbell step-ups and Bulgarian split squats. My hip felt okay but I could tell that it needed more time to heal, which, in my stubborn estimation, meant two days. I put 185 on the hex-bar, 10 reps, good warm-up. I walked around a bit. A few big guys in the gym, I told myself to mind my business. During my breathing, I talked to myself about where I thought I would end with these deadlifts. If 315 was the goal, “probably two” I told myself, “two sets, a few minutes apart? We’ll see.” I slapped 225 on the hex-bar and walked to get some chalk for my hands. When I got to the green chalk box, the thing was empty. Great, I need chalk. I asked the trainer on duty about the chalk. Mumble, mumble, something about it arriving on Monday. I nod, smile, turn around and long sigh. I walk back to the hex-bar. There’s nothing to be done. There’s no chalk. I can’t even tell you exactly what chalk does, I just know that I wanted some and that it would help against the calluses on my hand. I kept going. I put 275 on the bar for 6 reps before slapping three plates on each side for 315. At this weight, I did two sets for two reps. At each rep, the heavy weight opened the calluses on my hands or created new ones. I finish with this exercise and rack everything back, an exercise in itself with this much weight. Later, while I’m doing shrugs with 250, I see a guy grab chalk out of his gym bag. A smart fella. “Be prepared like that guy!” I tell myself. I have two calluses on one hand ripped open and one on the other hand. I peel the hanging skin off of them. This wouldn’t be a problem if there was chalk. I lean against the squat rack, breathing hard, I drink water, I see my reflection in a mirror and think.

There are good things, necessary things in life that we won’t always have access to, and many times, there’s nothing to do but to endure it and move forward. My mother died in 2019. She lived in California while I lived in Boise, Idaho. On the night of her death, I communicated mostly with my brother’s girlfriend through telephone. People gathered at the hospital, my family, my sister’s friends, friends, people that loved her showed up. I was 664 miles away, alone in a 2,395 square foot home, nobody to comfort me; the family I used to have, now lived somewhere else. That was a hard night.

We all have hard nights, we all have stories. Sometimes there’s not enough of what we need. Sometimes an evening drive reminds us there’s not enough road to clear our mind. Sometimes one pot of coffee is not enough when a good friend needs to go and the conversation’s not finished. Sometimes the talker needs to listen more. Sometimes a long walk talking to Jesus settles so much confusion, hurt, shame and regret. Yet so much still remains. What are these feelings and where are they in us? Are they in our skin, muscle tissue, our bones? It would be nice if these emotions were like a fluid we could simply have drained and removed, to observe in some receptacle and assured that all the gunk is out. It makes for good fiction at least.

Paradoxically, many times we don’t need much to keep moving forward. I’m reminded of specific scenes in movies where maybe a ship is capsizing and people are stuck inside. As these individuals struggle to survive, they desperately look for an air pocket they could swim to to breathe. Granted, these air pockets usually don’t last long and our victim tragically drowns but the principle remains. Good friends are like an air pocket; you’ve had a rough day or week, you spend some one-on-one time with a friend and after a while, you can breathe better, you feel lighter. I felt a little anxious Sunday morning. My mind scrolled through a number of tasks left undone. I had to get out. I thought of walking the dog. I put on a sweater and a beenie. My dog started sensing things, he’d seen this pattern before and knew he’d be getting a walk. I grabbed his leash and he rushed the door. It was a thirty minute walk and we both needed it. Being out in the cold, with a sky mixed with dark blue and purple-pink, as if a cold fire brewed above. The walk didn’t make anything go away but along the way, I did find a healthier perspective. And that was enough. Little things help so much, little resets to our mindset, a prayer, recalling a Bible verse, a nap, a walk, a bath, time with a friend.

For me, and I suspect, for many others, lifting heavy weights isn’t just about moving weight up and down. It reminds me of journaling. When I journal, I don’t know where I will end up but I know the process of sitting, reflecting and writing will bring to my awareness truths I need to hold to and keep close. Lifting is my metronome, the pace at which I move and exercise corresponds with my thoughtful disposition and regulates me, keeping me balanced, helping me to see me clearer. At the same time, lifting should not be an activity that replaces right and better actions. Being able to deadlift 315 is vanity if it doesn’t also make you strong enough to offer an apology, to admit mistakes, and to take inventory of areas for further development. That is real growth.

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