I want you to turn all your weight training over to me, he said that first day. When you’re working on your own, you can do whatever you want in terms of cardio or stretching or yoga, whatever. But leave your strength to me. This was exactly what I wanted to hear.
I wanted to be strong, so I signed up with a personal trainer and started lifting heavy weights. Every week, I listened hard, I worked hard, and I got it all wrong. We do as many reps as we need in order to get your muscles to failure, he told me. That’s the goal here: we’re training to failure. I took this in as a life lesson, and when I left the training floor, I kept lifting weights that were far, far too heavy.
What a dope I was: I was hearing everything as a metaphor, and I kept missing the real lesson. Perhaps I think in terms of metaphor too much. Perhaps I should just focus on things themselves.
We started with single plane movements, worked up to compound joint movements. I worked on the mondo floor, alongside serious bodybuilders. In every session, I did something that involved a push, a pull, a squat, and a lift. I did balance challenges, first using just my own body weight as resistance, and then adding additional weight, because that improves stability and balance. As my upper body strength grew, I moved to the pull-up machine – where the ultimate goal is to lift your entire body weight up, unassisted, with your arms. I hate that machine. I also want to beat that machine, but I always need the assistance. I can’t lift myself, and that feels like failure.
Can you see the allure of metaphor here? These were all things I wanted for myself – to push, to pull, to lift, to balance. Of course, my great mistake was in thinking that my body was myself. It’s not. It’s just my body. Sure, I thought I was something of a badass the morning I leg pressed 410 pounds (and you’ll note how casually I’ve mentioned that fact in two straight blog posts) – but quad strength gave me no help when I was blindsided in a meeting later that afternoon. My excellent range of motion didn’t help me manage stress; cardiovascular conditioning offered no advantage when I was running up against a deadline; stability on the bosu ball couldn’t help me comfort my son after he’s been cruelly insulted by a friend. My hamstrings are really strong, and sure, that’s great. But that’s just physical strength.
All that time, I was utterly aware of my own basic assumption. I thought that everything connected to my strength training worked on the transitive property, that physical strength would automatically correlate, would saturate and transform every layer of my self. It didn’t. I’ve learned a lot about the body: you build up resistance, you add load, you pay attention to your form, you watch your breath. But how do I train for the strength I really crave?