Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble: Weightlifting And Humility

Lifting weights requires humility. Two weeks ago, a couple of days before I began a week-long vacation with my family–a road-trip to Cincinnati to visit my in-laws, that is, my daughter’s grandparents–I squatted 255lbs for three sets of six repetitions. (The sixth rep in there aims to add a little volume to my training.) I finished my sets satisfactorily; they were heavy and tiring, but still manageable. I looked forward to adding five pounds to my barbell for my next lifting session. Because I was going on vacation, I planned to visit a gym in Cincinnati and do my next squatting workout there.

But vacations can disrupt the most well-laid of plans. Once ensconced in Cincinnati, I sought the couch everyday, and proceeded to stuff myself with sundry goodies on a day-long basis. (These goodies included desserts of many stripes.) I did not run, lift weights, or do a single push-up, pull-up, or sit-up for those seven glorious sedentary days.

This indulgence left its mark. I returned from vacation an indeterminate number of pounds heavier, feeling bloated and sluggish and stiff. I dreaded the return to the gym. And for good reason: last Wednesday, my front-squat warm-ups felt ponderous and painfully heavy. I had squatted 225lbs at 3×3 before I left, but there was no way I could hit 230 now. I settled for a single at 215lbs and then squatted 185 lbs for nine reps. On a good day i.e., with no interruptions after my last lifting session, I could easily have easily squatted this for 15, but now, I walked the weight back in. I was humbled.

Then, today, I returned to the back squat. I would have been scheduled to lift 260x6x3 if I had continued after my last workout but I had to reconsider given my two-week break. I settled for trying 255x5x3. The weight would be the same as the last attempted load, and the reps would be just a little less. There would be no moving onward and upward for now, just an attempt to hold on.

I warmed up as usual: 45×5, 135×5, 185×3, 225×1 and finished the first set at a slow grind. Every rep felt heavy; my knees did not stay out entirely. Unsurprisingly. In the second set, I forgot to check the barbell before I began my lift, and paid for this lack of attention. One side was loaded with an extra twenty-five pound plate. As I stepped out of the rack, the imbalanced load pulled me off-kilter. My re-rack attempts were comically inept, and I needed some help from my spotters. When I stepped out again with the correct weight, my mind was still awhirl and distracted. The reps felt heavier; the struggle under an incorrectly loaded bar had taken a lot out of me physically and mentally. Reps three and four were a real struggle, and suddenly, I was not sure I would finish the fifth rep.

So I walked the weight back in to the rack. It was an admission of defeat, a surrender of sorts; I did not fight it out on the fifth rep. But I did not want to bail the barbell on the fifth rep either. I hate bailing on squats; a failed squat stays in my head for weeks. I would rather pack up a set early than take a chance on an awkward bail–especially when I could already sense I was distracted and still processing a less than ideal set-up for lifting heavy. So that was that.

But I still wanted to do the third set. All five reps of it. Which I did. And which worked as a nice confirmation that I wasn’t completely wrecked as a lifter.

So two nice lessons for the day: one, a modest return to resuming lifting is a good idea–not only do you need to get the body firing again, you need to get your mind used to heavy weights; two, during training, don’t bail unless you absolutely have to; it’s perfectly all right to live to fight another day.

Perhaps next week, I’ll feel like I did two weeks ago. Two steps forward, one step back, and all that other good stuff.

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