Today was Legs Day. Yeah, that’s in caps. Legs Day is always the hardest and it happens twice a week. I learned a few good lessons while kicking my own ass at the gym today.
I started off strong. Despite feeling a little disconnected and self-conscious since I was trying out a brand new gym for the first time, I was determined to crush it! But I have to admit, I hated feeling like a newbie while I wandered around getting a lay of the land. Also, this gym is much larger and busier than my normal little boutique gym that is next door to my office. More people equals more opportunity for me to compare myself to other people – which never turns out well.
I usually start Legs Day with a strong dynamic warm-up to really get my legs ready. My first lift is always on the squat rack doing Barbell Squats. Admittedly, my form still sucks – but I’ve gotten so much better! I know that if I keep doing it eventually I will master it. I have a hard time keeping my chest lifted and sitting back; my body still wants to bend in half. I was doing OK – I felt a little weak today as I pushed through my warm-up sets 95 lbs. I increased to 110 lbs and on my fourth set I nearly folded over and had a mini-panic attack about whether or not I was going to be able to get up out of the full squat I was in. I made it – although it wasn’t pretty. The weight had shifted squarely onto my shoulders and I lifted it all up with my back. No bueno.
Lesson #1: I realized I lost it in my fourth set because I had no mental focus on what I was lifting. My mind had wandered – and I was obsessing over my car and the new Bachelor’s program I’m starting in January. Lifting is as much about mental focus and true concentration as it is brute strength. Maybe more mental than physical, even. Don’t quote me. That’s just my experience. I’m hoping to increase my focus by spending more time out of the gym doing some meditation. I have a small practice where I sit in silence every morning for about 7 minutes – and that is a struggle for me! Sometimes I find that the entire 7 minutes is me sitting there thinking, or thinking about trying hard not to think. Sometimes I fall asleep.
I moved onto the Leg Press. My legs were on fire already but I pushed through 2 sets of 15 reps at 90 lbs. I stood up to stretch out and that’s when I saw Her. She was doing barbell squats with amazing form! Stiff, strong back – she literally looked like she was just sitting down on a very small chair and standing back up effortlessly. Obviously she also had an incredible physique – perfect butt, tiny waist, her arms toned and strong. I sat back down and literally almost cried. I fought tears back as my mind attacked me: “There’s no way you’ll ever get there. You’re never gonna look like that. You can’t reach this goal. What are you thinking? This is so stupid. You are so stupid. Quit now! Even if you are able to ignore or suppress these thoughts right now, they’ll creep up again and reality will set in and you will quit long before the competition in February. You can’t finish this goal. Why are you lying to yourself? Besides, she’s special – she’s doing something that you don’t know about. All the girls in February are going to look like her and you’re going to be a fucking joke.”
WTF?! Ouch. The mental beat down I gave myself was worse than the flash of jealousy I felt upon seeing that chick. It was crushing. The craziest thing was that it came out of nowhere. I don’t think I’ve ever had that thought in the gym before! Besides, most of the people I follow on Instagram look just like her – even better! – and I loving seeing those pictures because they totally motivate me. Why was I falling apart in the gym?
Good news: I didn’t quit. I went harder. I chose to move on and decided to analyze my little mental-breakdown later. I did two more sets on the Leg Press with 140 lbs and wobbled downstairs and did some walking lunges with with a 40 lb barbell and hip abductions. I usually go till failure on the Hip Abductor. I push my back against the pad and lift my butt a few inches above the seat – I don’t sit down on it directly. I took deep breaths and gave it my all. It was a 1.5 hr workout and my legs felt like jello by the time I hobbled outta there.
Lesson #2: There was a time in my life where I was literally killing myself with drugs and alcohol. I would go to 12 step meetings and see people living beautiful amazing lives – completely sober. I used to think to myself then, “I could never do that. That will never happen.” Through a chain of events, I ended up in my fourth rehab (yes, #4) on July 7, 2006. One day I was high, and the next I wasn’t. Twenty four hours turned into forty-eight and then seventy two hours. Hour by hour, day by day, month by month I built a new life – one baby step at a time. I transformed. Eight years later, I am one of those happy shiny people with an awesome life I never thought possible. And yet, despite all evidence to the contrary – my mind can still be my own worst enemy. It’s not often, but sometimes it happens.
Here’s the what I think my mini-mind-fuck boils down to: I still compare my insides to other people’s outsides. In this case, I saw Her and thought “If I only I could look like her I would be happy. If only I had started earlier and I would be happy right now.” Sam Harris, an awesome awesome dude you should check out, talks about this in his new book Waking Up. He describes how people actually “avoid happiness by struggling to achieve happiness”. WHOA. That hit home. I set these goals and tell myself once I achieve x (fill in the blank) only then will I be happy. Ignoring, in the meantime, all the awesome shit that’s happening around me. When I’m in that head space, I can kinda behave like the “non-contributing zero” that Louis CK talks about in this awesome clip.
I can’t see my abs yet. My butt is not perfect. And sometimes I nearly fall over on the squat rack. But that is OK! I have to approach this goal one day at a time. The only thing that counts is what I’m doing today to reach that goal. As the video that started this whole damn thing (posted in my first blog) points out: “Greatness is a series of small things done well, over and over and over again.” So, here I stand, ready to take a million tiny steps towards that stage in February.