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Monday, February 20, 2023

Growth: I made the bar my bitch.

 I have a little blue notebook I take to the gym every day to record my workouts. I write down my PRs (personal records) for various exercises. Deadlift, back squat, etc. It helps me to challenge myself and keeps me accountable when I fall into a rut. Without it, I would most likely forget my PRs. I also leave a line to describe how I felt. Some popular entries are I felt like: Death, ok, struggle bus, good, bad ass.. Last year I lost a lot of physical strength. I had an emotionally challenging year and although I kept my workouts consistent, my stamina just wasn't there. Today I was told to bench a heavy 5. What this means is that you work up to your "heavy 5 reps". I flipped through my notebook, going to the pink tab marked PR (yes, I'm that much of a dork) but I already knew what my bench press record was. It has been the same for at least 6 years. 127 lbs. No matter how hard I tried I could not lift any heavier. 

 To prepare, to reach the heavy 5 that goal you lift a lighter weight, and with each set you build. I stood staring at the bar. Where do I even start? 85 lbs? Half the battle for me is adding up the bar weight plus the plates. I have no shame in saying that I'm mathematically challenged, plus it is really fricking early in the morning. When I got under the bar, my first set was easy. But due to a human error, as I began to add weight I realized that my heavy five was going to be close to my one rep PR. "Well, crap." I thought. Sure, 115 lb. was heavy but could have done more? Maybe? I opened my notebook again to double-check. Yep, 127 was my max and that was 6 years ago and there was no way I was going to be able to bench 125 lbs. 5 times. But something inside me got angry. It might have been the song that began to echo throughout the gym. I had told my coach that my entrance song to enter the boxing ring to compete for the lightweight champion of the world is Uprising by Muse (look it up, it's ridiculously appropriate). Also, I have never and will never have the opportunity to do this, except in my living room. Nonetheless, the lyrics speak to me. 
 "We will be victorious..." 

The truth is, there is an ember of anger that sits just beneath the surface. This ember that mostly sits dormant until something creates a spark. In this case, it was the thought that I couldn't do something I wanted to do. Somewhere along the way, I started playing the victim card and I was just so tired of subscribing to this belief and began acting like I'm weak. I had told myself that I had hit my peak and I just settled and got ready for my decline. I searched and only read articles to support the claim that women should just maintain strength and not worry about getting stronger once they hit a certain age. But after awhile I grew tired of this argument and more tired of being told what I couldn't do. I was tired of being told that women shouldn't lift heavy. Or reading another question like "Will lifting weights make me look like a dude?"

 I added the weight to the bar and I told myself to do it. Telling myself something is one thing, actually believing I can is another thing. I was under the bar, lining my thumbs up in the correct spot, and lifted it. The first, second... third rep were solid. The fourth is when things got a little shaky. My coach was spotting me. The bar was so close to my chest that I felt the embers of doubt and fear start to heat up and I began questioning my ability. I felt the weight of everything, not just the plates, but everything, sadness, regret, fear, guilt, and then anger stepped up and said "hold my beer." I pushed the weight up and held it suspended above my face, that was FOUR. I lowered the bar to my chest for my final rep. When I started to push it didn't move. I have been in that position so many times. Where I'm stuck under a weight I don't think I can get out from under. When I have been in a dark place and I want someone to help me but I don't want to ask. Or I muster up the courage to ask and get blown off. When I repeat all the painful things that have been said to me in a lifetime so many times, that I begin to believe them and the heaviness of those thoughts sit on my chest making it hard to breathe.

Growth is realizing that hurtful things don't need to occupy a permanent residence in your body but can be useful if you need motivation to kick some ass. I decided to push with everything I had. It hurt, it was slow and it was UGLY. I squirmed like a worm that is partially stuck on the sidewalk when the puddle evaporates. And with a guttural yell, I got it up. I grabbed my phone, took a pic, and sent it to my friend with a text, " I made that bar my bitch!" I don't exactly know where that came from...  I don't even like that word but it just came out. I even wrote it in my little blue notebook. It felt exhilarating to finally push through all the pain and come out the other side feeling stronger than when I started. I'm not suggesting to anyone that they go out and start making every challenge they face "their bitch". Unless they want to.

For me, however, growth begins by getting angry enough to break out of the box or a belief that no longer fits me. For muscles to grow they must tear and break down. When this happens the body sends blood, and good nutrition to the area to heal, grow and rebuild. You have to tear muscle down to build it back stronger. So, growth happens in discomfort. 

Anger is an emotion that makes me very uncomfortable. Being on the receiving end as well as feeling it. In the past, I would try and do anything I could to avoid, pacify or ignore it. But I realized that it can teach me something when I allow myself to feel it. It may even be (when used safely), be the impetus that fuels the necessary strength needed to push through the pain and grow. And it is a much slower process than I prefer. I didn't bench press a lot of weight without adding a manageable amount of weight each time over several years. And if I would have added too much weight before I was ready I would have literally crushed myself... possibly my heart, and most certainly my soul. 

This clearly applies to every other aspect of my life that I'm seeking growth. It will take time, maybe a long time, but with each moment, I can give up, stay the same, or put in the work to get stronger. It will be ugly and painful, but not nearly as damaging as allowing negativity to be a squatter in my mind.