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You are for lifting some heavy weights?

13 February 2013

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When I started going to the gym again about two months ago, I was well out of shape, feeling like hammered shit most of the time, and more than a little depressed. Now that the weight has started coming off, I’m feeling better, looking slightly better, and my outlook is much improved. But…

When I was a kid, it seemed like it took no time at all to get into crazy shape. Two weeks at the gym equaled ten pounds of upper-body muscle. If I had a gut, I could burn it off by going for a jog twice a month. It was easy.

That doesn’t happen anymore. In fact, I had to put in a solid month at the gym before I saw any results at all (I started feeling better after a couple of days, though). Even now, two months in, it’s obviously not happening as fast as it would ten years ago.

But the night before last, I realized why things seem to be crawling along. Part of it is metabolism, sure. When you get into your mid-30s, your body decides it’s time to take it easy. But there was another reason, and one I couldn’t blame on genetics or the passage of time: I just wasn’t pushing myself.

When I was a young pup, a trip to the gym meant my arms and legs were useless for at least an hour after a workout — I was lucky to have the motor skills to pilot my car home (and it was a pretty damn sweet ride).

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Recently, I’ve been cautious at the gym, at least as far as weights go (cardio has always seemed like suffering to me, so I haven’t noticed any difference there). I was lifting a fairly safe amount, making sure not to hurt myself, and, unconsciously, not to do too much actual work — partially because yeah, I was afraid of injuring myself… but unfortunately, there was another reason. If I actually tried when I lifted weights, there was the danger of not doing as well as I thought I might. I know me (rather well, actually), and I know I would unfairly compare any current bad performance with my peak at, say, 19 years old.

I wasn’t trying, because I didn’t know how to handle it when I didn’t live up to my own expectations.

So, Monday night, I made a blanket decision. I would set a minimum weight on each excercise that was, in almost all cases, more than the maximum I’d been doing. I would try that minimum and only back it down if I absolutely could not lift the bar. And the thing is, it worked. It wasn’t pretty, but I got my reps done on Monday, and came back for more on Tuesday. Sure, my arms and shoulder blades feel sketchy right now… but that’s a sign I made them work. They’re not in real, actual, “help, I’m injured” pain.

This does scale to writing, I promise. It’s not just another douchey gym story. (OK, it is, but there’s a writing parallel, too.)

When I’m writing something, the temptation is to go with what I know, to tell stories that are easy for me to tell. To write the thing that’s easiest, and to put off the stories I have on my docket that are going to be tougher to pull off. But it’s only when I push myself — force myself out of my comfort zone even on those “easy stories” — that I get anything really decent written. It’s only when I stop making excuses for why I’m not doing something and hold my own feet to the flames that I actually produce work of any quality.

(OK, my quality is debatable. Just ask 47 Echo’s Amazon reviews. I should say “work that I would actually want to read.”)

There are plenty of reasons to talk yourself out of doing something, but when you really look at it, most of those reasons boil down to fear. Fear of failure; fear of learning you’re not as good as you thought you were; fear of public opinion (or even just exposure); fear of no one noticing. Tons of fears, and nothing to do about them except tell yourself not to listen to them.

So, question for the day: what are you working on?

Alternate question: Top Five gym songs of all time?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 13 February 2013 0724

    You can definitely see the results of your efforts; noticed when you stopped by last Saturday to record podcasts. I know it’s totally possible to get in shape in one’s mid 30s, having done it myself. Of course, I let it slide and it’s not easy in one’s early 40s to get back, but having that success in the past means I believe I can do it right now. I’m getting back to it; in part, because you doing it is a reminder of, “Oh yeah, I once did all this and…liked it!”

    I agree with you about pushing yourself when writing. I’d classify the last thing I wrote as mainstream. What I’m working on now borders on literary, perhaps. Not prose for the sake of prose, but…I’m not just relying on story and characters like I usually do. I’m pushing myself with the words I’m using; I’ve never really done that before. Not pretty for the sake of pretty, but…plot and place and characters and prose all rolled together much more than I’ve ever considered. It’s not easy, but I’ve liked the results.

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