Archive for July, 2008

Life Lessons from the Weight Room

July 13, 2008

If I’m paying attention, everything in life validates what I already know, teaches me something new, or advises me on some issue I have at the moment. The weight room at my gym is no exception. While I have been a runner for many years (though I run neither as far nor as fast as I once did), I have only been doing weight resistence training for a little under three years. During that time, the equipment and free weights have had their way with me, using their unique language to remind me of some very important things about life. Here are a few.

    Beginner’s Mind Makes All the Difference

Adventure often means being willing to return to beginner’s mind. Among other things, that requires a willingness to make a fool out of yourself as you try something new. We adults have mastered enough things over time that it can be disconcerting to stumble, bumble, and otherwise be a novice.

My first day at the gym, I wisely had a session with a trainer. Jay (Jay Willy, something of a living legend in Broomfield, Colorado) showed me how to use enough pieces of equipment to get me started. He even took notes on the settings. Of course, when I returned for my next visit, I couldn’t make much sense out of the notes and spent some time at each piece of equipment, just staring at it, as if staring would reveal its secrets. It took some time before it became second nature. Before it did, I got to experience the thrill and challenge of being consciously incompetent at something. It’s humbling. It’s also exciting. And it’s how we learn.

    Showing Up is Half of It

I get up very early on the mornings I go to the gym. I run, return home and record the dreams I’ve had during the night, meditate, and then pull myself together enough to get to the gym, work out for an hour, and get home before many people have begun their work days. Some of the people in my life think this is an admirable routine and others think I’m crazy. I know that I’m not doing anything special. I’m just showing up for life.

In truth, I could easily talk myself out of the run, the gym, the meditation, and the journaling if I allowed myself to think about the work involved or the time these things take. Instead, I just show up. It all falls into place once I’ve done that. Any of the elements of my early morning routine may be difficult or easy that particular day, but once I’ve shown up and am in the process of doing them, there is momentum to carry me through. Showing up is really half the battle.

    Form is Important

It is true that form follows function, but that doesn’t mean form is unimportant. At the gym, form is critical. Use a piece of equipment without attention to form and, at best, you will simply not work the muscle group you are trying to work. At worst, you will injury yourself.

Fortunate for me, Jay is often in the weight room when I am. Even though I only schedule a session with him once in a blue moon, he keeps an eye on me and my form, gently correcting me when I am a bit off. Staying in form requires vigilence. Caring about form is something else again. I often see men and women (men more often than women) applying incredible weight and losing form. They grimmace. They power through. And they may not actually be accomplishing as much as they think. They may look tough, but when the form is off, there is a great deal of waste to the effort.

    Consistency Matters

If it is a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’m usually at the gym. I’m willing to make sacrifices in other areas of my life to manage that (like going to bed on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights at roughly the time a six year old would). I am consistent. Some people call it disciplined. I sometimes call it persistent. Whatever you call it, it is easier to show up when you decide you are going to do it on a regular basis.

Consistency is related to, but not the same as, showing up. Showing up gets you there on any particular day. Consistency gives you a plan for showing up. Consistency turns a concept into an ongoing practice. And, at the gym as well as in many other life experiences, mastery requires ongoing practice.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but if I were not consistent in my practice, I would never make those small but meaningful gains in strength. Instead, I would begin to develop strength, lose what I have begun when I dropped out of the practice a while, and have to start over when I came back to it.

Interestingly, it is actually easier to be consistent than sporadic. And the gains come from the consistency.

    You Can Talk About it or You Can Do It

I have met some wonderful, inspiring men and women at the gym and I always look forward to seeing them. That doesn’t mean I spend half of my time at the gym chatting. On the contrary, the time I spend on weight resistence machines and with free weights is darned near aerobic because I am very focused.

There is pausing between sets and there is killing time. I’m friendly with my fellow weight trainees, but I don’t use other people to avoid working out. It would be easy to do that and I see folks talking themselves right out of their workouts on a regular basis.

As with almost anything else in life, we can plan, posture, and circle around things endlessly or we can do them. We can talk about what we plan to do ad nauseam or we can do what we plan. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize that I spent it thinking and talking about the grand things I wanted to do instead of putting one foot in front of the other and actually doing those things.

So . . . those are just a few of the things the gym has shown me. Have I perfected the learning? Hardly! I’m still a pilgrim going down the road. And I translate those learnings to other areas of my life better in some places than others.

But tomorrow is Monday, which means another opportunity to learn something about myself and life at the gym. And you can bet I’ll be there. Look for me in the weight room of the Paul Derda Recreation Center in Broomfield, Colorado at about 6 a.m. I’ll be the very short, aging but determined woman who looks like she means business.