Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

More Life Lesson from the Weight Room

August 3, 2008

I want to thank everyone who commented on the last post. It confirmed my belief that life, itself, will tell us everything we need to know if we are just paying attention.

Here are a few more lessons from the weight room.

You Will Be Asked to Take Risks

For many years, I had a small clipping on my refrigerator that I had taken from a magazine. It read, The Only Risk is Not Taking One. No, I don’t do extreme sports. I have climbed a Fourteener or two (that’s shorthand for one of Colorado’s 14,000 ft. mountains), but I don’t make a habit of taking risks just for the sake of taking risks. But life itself is a risk and a well-lived life requires a willingness to take frequent, calculated risks, as well as some that feel like a trusting jump into the abyss.

Even getting to the weight room in the first place is a risk. I really didn’t know until I tried it if weight resistance training was something I would love enough to do consistently so I could have the stronger body I wanted. It was. And while I will not suggest for a moment that I have a body to envy, it is stronger thanks to the training. Every time I have tried something new at the gym or increased the weight on a machine or the free weights, it has been a risk. Can I do it? Will I hate it so much I’ll avoid it? Will I embrace it? Will I stick with it?

In the gym, there are trainers to help us and colleagues to encourage us. In the rest of life, there are those to teach and encourage us as well. But we have to take the first step. We have to be willing to take the risk.

Meditation Can Be Practiced Anywhere

The gym is a very meditative place for me. Yes, I do sitting meditation, as well as other forms and other activities I view as meditation–including my workout in the weight room. Counting repetitions is similar to repeating a mantra, though, admittedly, one without the spiritual underpinnings. Not every weight room session is meditative, but they often are. What makes it so meditative? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty quiet in the weight room. While there is always a certain amount of chatter, most folks are intent on their workouts. And by intent, I mean focused. My own experience is that of turning inward, concentrating on what I am doing in the present moment, and keeping that focus relatively narrow during the practice. And, yes, there is the counting of repetitions.

Am I suggesting that I am not engaged in thinking? No. Just as with other kinds of meditation, the mind continues to think and, just as with other forms of meditation, I just choose not to pay attention to it.

To be sure, one can enter a meditative state practically anywhere (so long as it is mindfulness meditation when we are doing things like driving a vehicle). The weight room is just one example.
Meditation happens.

A Bit of Courtesy Makes Everything Run More Smoothly

Gyms have rules meant to make things run smoothly. At my gym, there are both official and unofficial rules. For instance, we are asked to use antiseptic spray when wiping down the equipment after use. The implication here is, of course, that we are also asked to wipe down the equipment in the first place. We are also asked not to tie up a piece of equipment for more than twenty minutes, so others have access to it. And we are asked not to rest on the machines, which is not an admonition to eliminate pauses between sets but, rather, a gentle request to not just sit on a machine for a long period of time without using it as one talks to a colleague or gets lost in reverie.

It is also understood, though not an official “rule,” that it is bad form to interupt someone else’s workout by trying to nudge them off a machine or other piece of equipment. Likewise, it would be considered bad form to tie up more than one machine at a time.

What all of these guidelines have in common is that they encourage those in practice to employ a bit of courtesy. Consequently, the weight room is a fundamentally civilized place to be. For the most part, folks get along.

It is a reminder that a bit of courtesy goes a long way.

There Are Good Days and There Are . . . Not as Good Days

Some days are good in the weight room. The machines and the free weights flow, one to another, and you accomplish your practice with ease. Even the machine on which you have just increased your weight seems relatively effortless. On other days, even the things you have been doing for months or years seem difficult, or some of them do. I know this is more than my personal experience because we trade notes on these things at the gym.

Is it biorhythms? Does it have to do with how much sleep we got the previous night, what we have eaten (or drank), or the massage we did or did no get a few days earlier? Who knows? It’s not a bad idea to sort it out, but no amount of sorting it out can always explain it.

The moon waxes and wanes. Our lives move more in a wave form than cyclically. Sometimes things are good. Sometimes they are not as good. The weight room reminds me of this. But would it be better if I were not actually in the weight room on those not so good days? I think not. Would life be better if we tried to cocoon ourselves from everything unpleasant? Not only do many forms of spiritual practice suggest that it wouldn’t be, life itself teaches us that life, in all its aspects, cannot be denied.

Without Superficial Distractions, People Get Along Naturally

We are all wearing one version or another of gym clothes in the weight room and, for the most part, that clothing is ubiquitous. It is not just not trendy, it is pretty much anti-trendy. There is something very useful about that. No, I am not suggesting we all go through our days wearing uniforms. I shudder at the thought. For me, how I put myself together is a form of self-expression, as well as a way in which I entertain myself. But one effect of the nondescript attire is that it cancels out socio-economic distinctions.

True, gender and racial differences are still obvious, as well as age and ethnic differences. But removing the trappings of status, class, and vocation has has an incredibly freeing effect–and a leveling effect. In the weight room, we are all just humans faced with the challenges provided by a collection of equipment and our relationships with that equipment. We may have wildly different goals–from training for competition to just trying to forestall the physical effects of aging–but we are all facing down the same equipment. There is a bond created by that and that bond is forged more easily because there are not the usual distractions of occupation, community standing, and financial status to intrude.

Is there something to be learned about individuals and nations getting along in the weight room? Is there the potential for that elusive sense of oneness? I think so. And I try to carry the reminder out into the rest of my life.

Copyright 2008 by Melanie Mulhall

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.