It’s a Lie

This morning, I arrived at the gym feeling like crap.  Tired, sluggish, weak; mostly, I just wanted to go home and get back into bed.  Even carrying the empty bar felt hard.  As a friend used to joke, it seemed like a ‘heavy gravity day.’

Despite my own whiny objections, I buckled down, and starting lifting according to plan.  Lo and behold, I still felt like crap.  But I also managed to hit every one of my lifts.

In the bodybuilding world, a lot of gurus push the idea of “instinctive training” – crafting each day’s workout on the fly, based on what your body tells you it needs.  And, indeed, for some small set of experienced professional bodybuilders, that approach (plus a bucket-full of steroids) seems to work wonders.  For pretty much everyone else, it quickly devolves into blindly wandering the gym, randomly doing whatever exercise someone else happened to have just done nearby.

To be sure, there’s real value in listening to your body.  Don’t be stupid, and if something hurts, stop.  (Or, to quote the orthopedic advice of my old friend and famed physical therapist Kelly Starrett: “If it feels sketchy, it is sketchy.”)  But, for the most part, when people skip workouts, reduce the weight on a lift, or cut the speed or distance on a swim, bike, or run, it’s mostly because they just don’t feel like doing it.

That’s one of the best reasons to hire a good coach: with the distance of an outside perspective, it’s easier to craft workouts based on what’s beneficial, rather than on just what you’d like to do.  Even without a coach, you can simulate some of that yourself (as I do the roughly 50% of the time I write my own programming), by separating the planning and doing by at least several days in time; a week in advance, I’ll wisely assign myself something valuable but unpleasant that I’d otherwise never have chosen the day of.

But, however you get there, ideally, when a workout comes around, you should be able to turn off your brain, and power through.  Even if, like me this morning, you’re not sure you can pull it off.  In fact, you might be right.  But, more often, you’ll be surprised by how well things go once you get started.  As the great weightlifting coach John Broz once told me: “just pick up the weight, bro; how you feel is a lie.”

October 30, 2017