Well it finally happened.
Last week, jacked up on caffeine and a Two Steps From Hell playlist, I dove headfirst into a blog post investigating the murky world of intrinsic motivation and skill acquisition as it pertains to lifting weights. Looking into the reasons why we all find great satisfaction behind learning a new skill, and exploring why we feel the need to keep progressing as human beings.
Now I’m talking ’bout dem biceps.
I get a huge amount of my education and entertainment from podcasts. Whether I am walking to the gym, killing time on a Watt Bike, or just taking a stroll through town (to pick up more Montezuma’s buttons); I always have a podcast on the go. They range from the obvious field of health & fitness, to comedians on Joe Rogan’s show and analysis of Biblical stories from Dr Jordan Peterson. I think it’s safe to say; whatever your interests, there is a podcast out there for you.
Every now and again I stumble across a great episode and I’m sure, like many of you, find myself re-listening to my favourite podcasts to uncover that gem of information I may have missed the first time.
To say I “stumbled across” one of my more recently enjoyed podcasts would be an error in my telling of the story. From my recollection, I think it was from more of a gentle prod (read: social media blitzkrieg) that I found myself downloading the latest Ben Mudge podcast. So I set about my weekly session on the Watt Bike (I really must invest in a better gel seat), with the intention of dropping in and out of the episode whilst I line up the perfect Taylor Swift playlist.
And now, less than a week later, here I sit, inspired by an episode I would have (if not for the barrage of social media recommendations) most likely never have listened to.
It wasn’t the details of fat loss or training protocols that really spiked my interest, or the solid reviews on protein bars. Instead of a well-read coach or elite athlete, the guest took the form of someone who had experienced multiple facets of the fitness industry without working within it. Which in itself was immediately refreshing.
And even though his physical transformation over the years is nothing to downplay, the lessons learnt on the road were of far more interest to me.
These lessons that can be learnt are for more interesting to me than the physical changes, simply because the side effects of training hard and eating well are obvious. You gain a bit of muscle, you lose a bit of fat, your fitness improves, as does your posture. A whole myriad of physical changes take place when people start to take their movement and their food a little more seriously (but not too seriously). You can argue about the methodology all day long.
Paleo vs High Carb
Bodybuilding vs Powerlifting
Portion Control vs Calorie Tracking
Interval Training vs Steady State Cardio
But you’d be wasting your time splitting hairs. What matters most is consistency, and if you enjoy something, you’ll do more of it, and you’ll do it a hell of a lot more consistently. And that’s exactly what this un-assuming guest himself stumbled into head first:
For many, the initial reaction when considering starting resistance training, is one of reluctance.
” I don’t want to get too big”
“Lifting weights isn’t for me”
“You don’t need to do that stuff to be healthy”
The list goes on, and I am sure you have either used one of these excuses yourself or at least heard it from a friend/family member. God forbid you could ever find yourself having fun lifting a barbell. And if you have tried resistance training; barbells, dumbbells and the like, and genuinely hated every moment of it, then fair’s fair you are free to chase your 5K run time and long bike rides.
But, just like mum said about the spinach on your plate when you were five;
“If you don’t try it, how do you know you won’t like it”
And this is exactly what Mr Mudge’s guest found himself doing; writing off “weights” for more traditional cardio exercise; running, cycling, swimming.
Then something miraculous happened.
He invested in some high-quality coaching, and dove headfirst into the weight lifting aspect of health & fitness. And found that he did actually enjoy it all, and now the bulk of his exercise stems from this form of fitness.
As I said before, the side effects are clear to see to all; you get a little stronger, a little fitter. You eat well, you train hard and your body starts to change. But the real changes aren’t always visible to the naked eye. And I truly believe the gym offers something that not many other avenues do.
It’s easy to simplify the barbell back squat, don’t believe me? Watch I’ll prove it:
Squat down with the weight.
Stand back up with it.
I’ll go one step further, and simplify most movements in the gym:
Sometimes we go completely off the rails and switch it around though:
^(Try wrapping your head around that one you dumb meathead)^
But ask anybody who is in the process of learning the fundamentals of the squat and they will testify to just how technical this seemingly simple movement is. Ask any personal trainer or coach worth their salt and they will give you a lengthy list of things to consider before you have even picked a barbell up. There are steps to follow. Steps to ensure two outcomes stay in the positive column; safety and performance.
It is this process that causes people to fall in love with the gym. The great sense of achievement and pride in gradually learning a new skill. And you see examples of this outside the gym too.
Whether it’s the budding artist who slowly goes from failing to draw a stick-man, to mastering water colours and creating something so aesthetically pleasing that their family hangs it up in the downstairs bathroom.
The same can be said for the office worker who spends his evenings slowly piecing together an Airfix Spitfire. The first few attempts end with broken wings and smudged paint. But finally there sits a model with all the details and finery accounted for, only to sit on top of a shelf and spend the rest of it’s days gathering dust.
There is no financial or physical rewards for these endeavours, so why do people spend years of their life working so tirelessly at something so inevitably and clearly pointless?
Nobody really cares that you can pop an empty barbell across your back and execute a textbook squat. There will be a moment of celebration from other gym-goers when you finally hit that PB, but it will be short lived and fleeting, chances are they will move on by the next day.
The true reward lies in the progress you have made to arrive at your destination. Nobody needs to squat 100kg, but ask someone who has spent years working towards it and they will tell you how much it meant to them. Ask the artist or the model-enthusiast and they will tell you the same. That just-about-held-together-with-superglue Spitfire and the slightly smudged oil painting mean the world to them.
In the gym you can put the phone down, turn off the notifications and switch off from the world around you. Live in the present, engage with those in the room, not on some distant social media platform that connects you to the rest of the world 24-7. Turn on your favourite song, chalk up your hands and approach the bar. This presence of thought, this existence in the moment clears your mind. You stand in front of the squat rack. Ready. And now you see the path you have taken to get here.
12 months ago you had never lifted a weight in your life.
6 months ago you didn’t realise how to properly position your feet.
3 months ago you had yet to perfect your manner of breathing so you could lift more weight.
1 month ago you didn’t realise how little you knew.
Now you do. Now you know. Now you have a cast iron bar slowing trying to break you.
You lower with 100kg across your shoulders. A weight that seemed unfathomable to you for the last year of training. An accomplishment reserved only for the warriors of Instagram, not for you. You descend down. Abs braced, grip strong, in control. The mere fact you can squat to parallel is an achievement in and of itself. You reverse your movement, pushing the floor away from you, driving with all your strength, straining against the bar.
For a moment you are light-headed, time passes you by in a glaze. You slump to a nearby bench after racking the bar, and see your friends uploading your success onto their social media pages.
The comments and likes feel good. That little red notification that flashes up when you refresh the page puts a smile across your face. You are glad you can share this moment with others. But truly you are more thrilled with the sense of pride that ensues. Your previously perceived limitations have been shattered. You have made another step, made another small improvement, you have made progress.
And DAMN if it doesn’t feel good.
You have spent hours working on your craft. Sitting down now, exhausted, your mind travels over all the blood sweat and tears that have lead you to this point. You are closer to mastery now than you ever were before.
But there is still a decal out of place on the wing of that Spitfire, you have missed a speck of green in that grassy field you painted. Mastery is never reached, perfection is never truly achieved, for it is the journey onwards that holds the real reward. You can feel it within reach, so close. You can’t stop now.
Your friends clap you on the back, congratulating you on the performance. You share smiles, a high five or two, and take a big swig of water. Chalk from your hands has fallen into the bottle, souring the taste, but you do not notice such a trivial thing.
The atmosphere quietens down, fellow trainees head back to their stations. The crowd moves on. Absent mindedly, more from reaction than a planned train of thought, a friend mutters “105kg next month then eh!”. And the realisation dawns on you; this is just the beginning.
So chalk up your hands, wipe the sweat from your brow, and give those tired legs a quick shake.
There’s work to do.
Back to the bar you go.
That’s it, you’ve made your mind up; it’s about time you put on a little lean muscle tissue. Maybe you’re looking to tone up? Perhaps your shirt sleeves are just feeling a little loose? Or your rugby coach told you “hey, you’re a great player but you’re just not big enough”.
What to do next? Easy!
You train hard, and eat lots of good food.
You sink £50 on protein shakes.
The weights seem to be going up, and you feel stronger.
But for some reason the results seem to be coming on slower than you expected.
Fed up of coming in last every race you compete in? Tired of not seeing those sprint times improve despite how much running you do? Curious as to how you can go from being the slowest in your team, to the fastest? Well here are a few easy-to-implement tips just for YOU! Read More
It’s pre-season here in Chichester (already), which means running… lots! And my ankles hurt. The Sun has been out in full force around Sussex, the ground feels like concrete, and I’m sure some of you are having the same trouble in your training as I am.