Tuesday, July 23, 2013

You're Better Than You Think

An unfortunate truth I've come to accept is that I'm a hater. Have been for a long time. I don't think it's entirely accurate in my mind, but my friends would probably disagree. It's not so much that I'm an angry or resentful person I just have an incredibly low tolerance for bullshit and niceties for the sake of being pleasant and not hurting peoples feelings. If you've spent any amount of time reading my blog, you've seen examples of this. Most people probably wouldn't choose Embrace The Suck as the title for their first post.

But I'm special.

Like I said I've never seen myself as a hater other than for a few years back in high school and early college and I blame that on angst. Yeah. Angst. Whatever-the-f*ck that might be. I'm a strength and conditioning professional. My job is to take people and make them better. You can't sharpen a blade with a feather and you don't build machines with pillows. Being nice and pleasant for the sake of being nice and pleasant serves me no purpose in helping people acknowledge their flaws and beat them into submission with cold, hard iron (and occasionally ropes and rubber bands). Doesn't mean I'm not a nice guy nor does it mean I'm not a positive person. You can't do what I do well if you aren't a positive person at heart and I genuinely believe you can't do what I do if you don't care about people.

So, yes, in between all the cursing and ranting and veiled insults the reality is that if you're here and you're taking the time to read my thoughts I care about you. Really. Tough love is still love at it's foundation.
My sister posted this on my FB timeline literally as I was writing this post. She's so sweet.
So what's the point of me telling you all of this, you may ask. Well, I felt I needed a lenghty preamble to justify the unabashedly, wholeheartedly positive thing I'm about to tell you. What I want you to know is this. If you go to the gym and you work hard, hell, if you work hard at any aspect of your life, really truly, there's a good chance you're doing better than you think. Too often we get caught up in what we or society decide is a definite indicator of something when it may only be a partial indicator or in some cases may be completely irrelevant.

Story time. I have a friend who goes through spats of fitness and then binges of unhealthy life. Whatever direction he goes in he goes freakin' hard. When he works out and diets he does his research and intelligently programs his workouts; sh*t he even CHARTS his diet plan dude (something I don't necessarily encourage or find healthy but another story for another day). He loses weight like it's his job but then gets discouraged and throws all his progress out the window for months long binges of Dominos and McDonalds. You know why he got discouraged last time? Because despite all of his effort he did not yet look like a Men's Health cover model.
Three cheers for steroids, airbrushes and photoshop. Hip hip, hooray!
I spent hours trying to convince him that wasn't a realistic standard when he was in the throes of his workout heavy lifestyle. He would just get mad and dismissive; tell me that I wasn't being productive and one time he even accused me of jealousy. You're right. Me telling you that you shouldn't compare yourself to someone who makes a living by looking pretty is due to my own personal jealousy about....what...exactly? I wasn't trying to cut him down I've just seen this road traveled thousands of times. It's well worn and even though it looks like it's going to the top of the mountain when you're half way up it dead ends at a painfully high cliff. That's where you need to change your game plan. You can either go off the obvious and easily traveled beaten path to forge your own trail to the top or you can do what an unfortunately high number of people do: you can fall right back down.

This whole series of thoughts occurred to me this morning. I have a client who I just started working with about a month ago. Her initial goal was to drop thirty pounds. In a month. Because that's super realistic. I was totally honest with her about what she could expect in thirty days, but lo and behold 26 days later she's feeling incredibly discouraged because she thinks she's maybe a little skinnier but still looks the same as she did 4 weeks ago. As my client I empathize with her but a huge part of me is always incredibly frustrated by this response.

I'm not going to tell you that working out, for me, has nothing to do with aesthetics. Of course I like the way it makes my body look. Hell, that's why I got into it in the first place. There's no pedestal for me to stand on there. What I would say is that as my journey progressed I became much more interested in what fitness allowed me to do. I was a fat kid who used to get my ass kicked when I was younger. Now I can outrun and out play most of my friends and I'm the guy everyone calls when they need some heavy stuff moved around their house. Yea, I know, being everyone's go to guy for manual labor may not sound exciting but coming form the kid who used to get picked last for dodgeball I gotta tell you, being picked first for anything physical is pretty fantastic. 

Another one of my clients, my longest standing client actually, totally gets this. It's a huge part of what makes him so amazing to work with. He's gotten stronger and built a lot of muscle. He's even lost some weight. Without fail, however, the thing he always brings up to me is how easy it is for him to do everything now. Now, my client is 53, so it may be a little difficult for some of us youngsters to understand just how important basic day to day functionality is but at least once a week he tells me a story about something he did easily that all of his friends were having trouble with while sporting a huge smile on his face. He's made some of the best progress of any of my clients for three simple reasons: he's consistent, he works hard and he never gets discouraged.

Getting frustrated you don't have a six pack or the shoulders of a professional gymnast after a month of working out is like being angry you don't have a ferrari after being employed for four weeks. Yea, you know what, some of us are just lucky. Some people have the genes or the connections to end up with a six pack and a ferrari and not have to work much for either. Chances are you're probably not one of these people. It's no big deal, you just need to re-align your priorities. 

The reason my client this morning frustrates me is because she moves immensely better today than she did a month ago. I know she had lofty girls of looking like a beauty queen in her bridesmaids dress (which, cmon, we all know it doesn't pan out that way. It ain't yo wedding, ladies) but this is a girl who never played sports or did anything physical her whole life. She has no foundation to work off of. She can't hold her body with proper posture or maintain the correct position of her joints for a huge number of exercises. I know some of you guys want to just jump in and start hammering away but it doesn't work like that. You have to walk before you can run. You need to learn arithmetic before algebra and algebra before calculus.

 Now I understand that it may take a trained eye to see the significant improvement in her movement capacity, but even she can see that a month ago she was struggling with fifteen lbs. for certain lifts and now she's using twenty fives with significantly better form. These are the benchmarks I wish people would focus on. I mentioned this briefly in my post about setting goals. You need to choose something concrete and measurable and I think it bears repeating here. All she's doing is looking in the mirror and watching the scale. She didn't notice she went from a 30 sec plank to a minute plank until I told her. She didn't realize she can get through a series of tabata intervals now without taking a break when a month ago she was struggling with half of that load. I point these things out to her and they make her happy for a bit, but then she notices something else about her physique she doesn't like and we're back at square one.

We all have insecurities that plague and torment us; pushing us to think we're too fat or too ugly, too slow or too stupid. This internal struggle is one of the defining aspects of human experience. We are our own worst enemies and overcoming that obstacle is one of the greatest accomplishments on the road to Becoming Invincible. We must all become masters of ourselves in order to achieve our greatest potential. I'm hard on people because I'm hard on myself and it has been incredibly productive in pushing me to do more and be better. I'm hard on you guys because I care and because I believe you can be better, otherwise I'd just be wasting my time. Society puts absurd pressures on us to embody unrealistic ideals of beauty and I'm here to remind you guys it's bullshit. I'm sorry if I do it in an abrasive manner. The reality is that we've all got too much on our plates to allow an imaginary societal hive mind guilt trip us for not looking like dolls. F*ck that noise.

We've all got goals and we've all got hurdles. Life isn't easy and we all know that.  All I would ask is for you to stop kicking yourself for not being at the finish line already. Becoming Invincible is a journey and a long one at that. Sit back and enjoy the ride. You're doing better than you think you are.

Good luck and good lifting.


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