Trainers Are The Worst

barbell

I was in the locker room the other day and overheard two women talking in the next alcove over.

“You coming to spin class today?” asked one.

“No, I need to get my strength program done,” the other replied.

“I don’t know how you work out around the trainers,” the first one said. “I only do group fitness because I can’t stand being around them. They’re always watching everyone out of the corners of their eyes, judging and critiquing in their heads. Trainers are the worst.”eyeroll

There was another woman in the alcove with me and up until that moment we had been quietly changing. She knew who I was though, and at that moment she leaned over and whispered, “for the record, I don’t feel that way.” I thanked her and she headed out to do her workout. I loitered in the alcove for a few more minutes so as not to pop out and embarrass anyone and make them hate trainers more…

But, okay, I guess this is a thing that needs addressing because it’s not the first time I’ve heard someone say something like that. I’m probably preaching to the choir here but hopefully this clears up some misconceptions.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions, but they are based on working with a lot of other trainers over the last dozen years or so and I think my generalizations will apply to 90% of the trainers out there. (There are exceptions and that sucks, but that’s the reality in any field.)

  1. Yes, we are watching you. Being a trainer in a big gym, especially at peak times, is a little like being a lifeguard at a swimming pool. When you exercise, you are subjecting your body to a physiological stress that lots of people in the gym are not accustomed to, and the unexpected can happen in a hurry. I’ve been in situations many times where I had to react quickly to someone (not the client I was working with) fainting, greying out, or throwing up. It happens. We are also on the lookout for impending injuries – recently I was working out with my trainer and the guy on the next bench over accidentally loaded two plates onto one side of his barbell and only one on the other one. Had that guy tried to bench press that kind of lopsided weight it might have ruined his day. I didn’t notice myself because I was focused on what I was doing, but my trainer was paying attention to what was going on around him. So, while we are mostly focused on our clients, we usually maintain some degree of peripheral awareness to make sure everyone stays safe.Big-Brother-is-Watching-Your-Squat
  2. We are not judging you. Let me say that again: WE ARE NOT JUDGING YOU. Everyone has to start somewhere and we see some bizarre things go down in the gym…but unless you are about to hurt yourself or someone else we usually keep a lid on it. If you’re in the gym and exploring and having fun and moving, all the power to you. If you have a question, we’re here to help and support and educate…you know, if you want us to. Which leads me to #3:
  3. Some people get upset that that guy over there has a crappy squat set up or she’s arching her back bench pressing or whatever, and we’re not stopping them and fixing them. But you know what? Unsolicited advice doesn’t usually go over very well because seriously who wants to get interrupted in the middle of their workout? I was working out incognito at a different gym a few months ago and a young trainer sidled up to me and gave me a 10-minute mansplain on how I could improve my deadlift…and it took some serious effort on my part to stay polite and thank him for his advice in hopes that it would make him go away. So again, unless someone is going to hurt themselves or someone else, usually we will let them be. That said, most of us establish some degree of rapport with the regulars where we work, and being on a first-name basis with you makes it way easier to offer assistance with cleaning up your technique if and when it’s needed…squat2
  4. …but the other thing to remember is that most of the time that we’re out there on the gym floor, that person (or people) we’re working with is paying for our time and attention, so if we’re focused on them and not so much on everyone else, don’t be offended – that’s really what we’re there for. If you have a quick question or need help finding something feel free to approach us but if you want your form critiqued or measurements done or something that will take more than a minute or two, please book an appointment. We’re happy to spend the time getting to know you whether or not you are looking to train over the long term.
  5. Finally, almost all trainers do what they do out of a genuine desire to help people. Methods differ (wildly, sometimes) but those of us who end up in this field for years on end do it because we get great satisfaction out of helping our clients find a better quality of life. We’re not judging or laughing or critiquing or thinking any less of you for anything you’re doing. If you want help, we’re happy to assist in any way we can but if you want to be left alone to do your thing, that’s cool too.thumbsup6

 

Advertisements

Making Space

toughlove_LI (2)Anyone need a little bit of tough love today? You know, since it’s the beginning of a new week and we all have a nice clean slate to write on? Yeah, I thought maybe it was time.

I was in the gym locker room right at lunch hour the other day when two ladies walked in, mid-conversation.

“I’m soooo tired,” said one. “It’s a good thing I have you to drag me here or I’d never have come.”

Her friend shrugged and said, “I’m tired too, but I’ve figured out that I’m better – more awake and more productive and happier for the rest of the day if I get here at noon and get my workout in. If I have to I’ll stay later at work if I’m behind on stuff, but noon is my workout time.”

So…let’s say you want to start doing something new. Just for arguments’ sake, let’s say it’s something that will make you feel better and significantly improve the quality of your life over the long term, like…oh, I don’t know…exercise. Exercise can be HARD to fit in. I mean, sure, it looks like there’s time available in your schedule; all you have to do is show up and do it. That’s what all those buff internet trainers say, right? But if that was all there was to it, wouldn’t it be easier?

mug_on_wood

And here’s why: time is a limited resource. We know that. So why do we keep trying to add shit to our schedules? It’s a lovely idea; to be all productive and stuff, but here’s the reality: we all have 24 hours in a day and they are all full. If you decide to make a lifestyle change and take up exercise (a class or a sport or just going for a walk every day; doesn’t matter what you do) you can’t just MAKE more time in the day, you have to STEAL that time from something else. The question then becomes, what are you willing to give up in order to make space for activity? Because if you are going to add something, it means that something else has to go; that’s just physics. Beware, though: DO NOT TRY AND STEAL TIME FROM YOUR SLEEP. Lots of people go there first, but it’s a recipe for disaster (I wrote about that here.) – you can’t just decide to sleep an hour less over the long term.notime

Assume for example, that you spend an hour each evening surfing the internet, looking at tumblr or kittens or playing Farmville (is that still a thing?). That’s fair – you’re tired at night and getting up the energy to go to the gym seems unrealistic…but that’s the only available time. What if you went to bed instead of playing candy crush or scrolling through IG until it feels like someone peed in your eyes? Then you could actually consider getting up a little earlier and getting exercise in. But you will have to give up time you spend on SOMETHING to make room for something else, otherwise life will get overwhelming in a hurry – you can’t do everything. You know what happens to people who try to do it all? They get paralyzed and do nothing. It’s not a character flaw when that happens, it’s just part of being a person. So decide what needs to go: maybe your house is just going to have to be a little messier. Maybe you’ll have to outsource some stuff, like laundry or using a premade meal service.

Here’s the thing though: you made the promise to yourself that you’d kick that pain in the face/get comfortable in your skin/look good naked. You’re going to go hit the gym every day at lunch/after work/whenever.  Now that you’ve decided when that will happen, move it up a couple of notches on the priority list. Make that date with yourself and DON’T BREAK IT. It’s one hour (give or take) that you have decided to invest in yourself so that you can be better – what’s more important than that? Stuck in a meeting at work? Sorry guys, I have an appointment, gotta go. Contractor coming sometime between 8am and 8pm? Nope, that won’t work for me. Some days you will have to play some commitment Tetris and move things around so that they fit – that’s ok as long as you leave working out among the things that need to get done. Because if that workout doesn’t happen, what then? Are you (YOU) going to be better off? Or are you going to feel ashamed/sluggish/resentful/disappointed/tired/etc for the rest of the day? Are you in danger of thinking ‘meh, it’s Wednesday and I’ve fallen off the wagon – I’ll just drown my sorrows and bad feelings in gravy and start again Monday’? SAY NO to whatever else is going on – you are no good to anyone else if you don’t look after yourself. There’s a good reason that the flight attendants always advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you think about helping other people.selfcare

Now, of course there will be days that are legitimately NOT work out days: illness and emergencies happen and when they do you officially have a pass from me to cut yourself some slack and deal with what’s in front of you, as long as that doesn’t become a habit. Sniffles or a deadline at work don’t qualify – if you’re tired or a little under the weather or stressed, show up anyway and give it what you have. Follow the 10-minute rule. If you’re working with a trainer you trust, he or she will modify as needed to make the workout fit whatever you’re going through, and he or she will make sure that you do not die within the hour they are responsible for your well-being. And ladies? Your period is not a reason to bail on workouts (of course there are extreme cases where working out really isn’t a good idea, but those are rare). I know sometimes it feels like your uterus is trying to kill you. It won’t. Chances are, if you’re having kind of an off day, your workout will leave you feeling a whole lot better.

The take-home message here is that 100% of the time, you will not get the results you want if you don’t show up. So schedule it in – figure out what can be eliminated so that you can add doing something positive for yourself to your timetable, don’t give yourself room to think too much about it, and get it done. Because you know what will happen if you don’t? Nothing.

if-you-change-nothing

Weight Bait

barbell

It was 1 degree Celcius outside, and there I was in a sports bra and booty shorts, striking a pose in front of a metal container in a deserted shipping yard. “I don’t want you to lean against it; it’s too cold,” the photographer told me.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I have plenty of insulation!”

“Actually, you don’t,” she replied. “I know you still feel like it’s there, but it’s not. It takes longer to get rid of the weight in your head than it does to shed it from your body.”

HLXU-container2

She was right. And you know, I know the weight is gone. I do. I mean, that’s why I was there – I booked that photo shoot for a bunch of reasons, but one is that I reached my goal weight. The weight I was at when I finished high school. The weight where I promised myself I’d stop the weight loss mindfuckery and just learn to maintain.

Except…except that since that photo shoot I’ve dropped five pounds. I didn’t do it on purpose; in fact since CPU Westerns (the first week of September) I have put zero effort into losing weight. I stopped tracking, I stopped weighing myself regularly, I stopped being careful about what I was putting into my mouth…I just, you know, kept on eating the same way I was used to eating, and training the way I was used to training. And the other day I was driving home from the gym and pondering life, and a strange thought hit me:

I could try and drop to the next (powerlifting) weight class down. It’s not that far away.

NOPE, I told myself. I’m not playing that game anymore.

mug_on_wood

See, I’ve been either dieting or letting my weight spiral out of control since I was 13 years old. The last four months of paying zero attention and maintaining have been a major anomaly, although if I’m honest I have to confess that the last year or so of tracking macros and training hard has been a labour of love. I actually enjoyed the process – it wasn’t about control and self-loathing anymore. It wasn’t punishment for letting myself go; I was driven purely by my big-ass crush on strength sports.

But there’s always the next goal. The next opportunity for improvement. The next mountain peak….actually fuck mountain climbing. The next set of plates on the bar! That’s how I roll, yo.

So the real question is, how do you learn to trust yourself after 25+ years of bungee-cord dieting?

bungee-jumping-victoria-falls-zimbabwe

We are the sum of our habits – how we live dictates who we are. And if the outside of us doesn’t match what’s inside, you’ve got a great recipe for shame and unhappiness brewing.

Because weight loss is never just about carrying around less fat. The number on the scale, while it can seem all-encompassing when it doesn’t jive with how we see ourselves, doesn’t matter – not really. The real battleground is inside our braincase – whether you think have 5lbs to lose or 50lbs to lose, the feelings are the same when you look in the mirror and think, “ugh.”

pinkamena___ugh_face_by_skitt_less-d5kkvbt

Every weight loss program out there teaches you (in whatever roundabout way) to eat less calories, but a big piece of the puzzle that most of them miss is that you have to learn to stop defining yourself as an overweight person and start thinking like the person you want to become. Otherwise, no matter how much success you have on whatever plan you’re using, that phantom flesh hangs on and keeps messing with you – and if you ask me, THAT is the reason why most people fail at weight loss. That’s certainly why I failed, over and over and over again – it took a massive shift in how I saw myself to lose the weight and keep it off…and I clearly still have work to do in that department.

women-think-they-are-fat

I might still have work to do in the weight loss department, too. Because do I stop here? I could. For the first time in my life I feel at home in my body; like my meat suit reflects what I value, and the past few months have taught me that that I actually can trust myself to maintain; at least over the short term. Or I could keep pushing for a few more months and see what happens. Either way we’re in uncharted territory.

One Weird Trick – Seriously

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You work out, you eat right – mostly – and you just. Arent. Seeing. Results.

Probably you also have a job that takes up some time. And maybe family that needs a lot of your attention. Hobbies. Email. A home that needs looking after. Candy Crush.

Yvonne* has been training with a colleague of mine for a few weeks now, and despite her best efforts she is just not seeing the results she’s working so hard for in the gym. She’s training three times a week with her trainer, she’s doing an hour of cardio on the off days and tracking what she’s eating. Her trainer asked me to sit down with her to discuss her nutrition because she’s starting to wonder if there’s something wrong with her…

But after talking to her for a few minutes I realized that the missing link had nothing to do with her workout program, or her nutrition. Sure, there’s room for improvement – there ALWAYS is – but neither factor was the deal breaker.

See, Yvonne works full time. She has two busy teenage kids. She and her husband just sold their house and are moving in two weeks. They have dogs that need walking morning and night.

Most nights she’s up until midnight, catching up on work email so that she can put her mind at rest before she goes to sleep…and then she’s up at 5:30am to do it all again.

Any guesses what the missing puzzle piece here is?

Yup, y’all were right: the missing link that is holding her back is…(drumroll please) SLEEP.

Because nobody can do it all on five and a half hours’ sleep at night.

gothefucktosleep

Yvonne’s story is not unusual – we all tend to put sleep last on our list of priorities, especially when life gets stressful. Here’s the problem though: life IS stressful, and that pattern of putting sleep last on the priority list can become a habit. Often we don’t even notice it at first. When that happens and we slowly but surely start to burn out, we start eating absentmindedly, we develop digestive issues (heartburn, anyone?), we crave sugar, the number on the scale starts creeping up, we work out harder and try harder to control calories…and the cycle continues until we burn out.

Does this pattern sound familiar? Forgive me if I need to get on my soapbox here and lecture through my bullhorn: if you are not getting adequate sleep, you will not see the results you are looking for. Think of your overall health and wellness as a triangle: on one side there’s exercise, on the other side there’s nutrition, and on the bottom – the base of the whole operation – there’s sleep. Your body needs adequate rest and recovery for your muscles to grow, for your brain to process information, for all your systems to recover and find some balance again. When that doesn’t happen, the wheels start to fall off.

But don’t just take my word for it: the National Institute of Health recommends that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night. Everybody’s a little different but for most people 7 hours is the bare minimum before serious health problems start to manifest. “She’s full of it,” you might be thinking right now, “I get by just fine on six hours a night. Besides, I don’t have time for more sleep; I have too much to do – so much that I can’t even remember what’s next on my to-do list.” If that’s you, do yourself a favour: take off your martyr hat and go take a nap – you’ll have an easier time remembering stuff when you wake up.

tiredtocare

Sleep loss is linked to all sorts of health nastiness that I could go on about for days – memory problems, brain fog, speech problems (ever feel tongue-tied on Friday afternoons? I know I do) but that might get long and boring and put people to sleep…so we’ll focus on most people’s primary goals in the gym: muscle gain and fat loss.

So you’ve been busting your ass in the gym in order to get bigger muscles – a noble pursuit! But it’s not the hours in the gym that are going to give you sick guns or delts that look like the great pumpkin; it’s the hours you spend sleeping. Why? Because when you work out you are actually causing damage to your muscles.  When you’re sleeping, your body produces growth hormone, prompting your body to repair that damage and lay down more muscle tissue. If you don’t get enough sleep, you don’t grow.

tiredlion

Ever get really tired? Stupid question, I know – but think back to the last time you were freaking exhausted but you were at work or doing something where just going to sleep wasn’t an option. How did you feel? Hungry, right? That’s because sleep loss increases ghrelin production – the hormone that stimulates hunger and prompts us to reduce our energy expenditure. Basically what happens is that when we get tired and don’t have the energy to keep going, our bodies crave sugar – gotta get energy from somewhere! Being short on sleep also decreases leptin production, the hormone that tells us to stop eating when we’re full, making it easy to overeat.

But the biggest factor – the one that shoots most people in the foot – is that sleepiness makes it really hard to give a fuck about fitness goals. When was the last time you had a “fuck it” moment at 9am and ate a bunch of stuff you know you shouldn’t? Probably hard to remember, because at that time of day we’re focused. We’re rested, on our best behaviour, and ready to kick some ass! At 9pm, though – that’s a different story. Put the cheezies down and go to bed!

tiredcat

Getting Started

IMG_1470 (1)

I was cleaning some stuff up this morning (hey, it happens sometimes) when I came across a pile of dumbells and little interchangeable plates. I pulled them all out from their hiding place in the dark recesses under my desk and looked at them, sitting there in the sunlight. My husband turned from what he was doing and saw them sitting on the floor. “Wow,” he said. “Remember when you bought those? I bet the you from back then wouldn’t even recognize you today.”

He’s right.

Because what I found under my desk was my very first set of weights. I bought them from Canadian Tire in 1998, along with a workout video on strength training. I bought them because even though I detested exercise, part of me knew that I needed to get stronger if I was going to be able to live with myself – see, at that point I was 21 years old, dangerously obese, and slowly but surely losing my mind because of back pain. At that point I was also investigating the possibility of breast reduction surgery because clearly that was the only permanent solution to the consistent ache between my shoulder blades.

So I did the first 15-minute section of that workout video a couple of times. I was doing 1-arm dumbbell rows with a 6lb dumbbell (for context I use ten times that today) and it was hard work. It temporarily relieved the pain in my back, but it made me feel weak and angry and my muscles hurt for days afterward…so I stopped. Fuck that shit; it wasn’t fun. I was just not an exercise girl.

Here’s the thing though: exercise is a skill. Getting better at it takes patience and practice and time. It’s uncomfortable and it sucks sometimes…but a big part of why it sucks is that we have this idea that we *should* be able to just do it (because who’s heard that slogan before?). But consider this: nobody ever air-dropped into the Kalahari and was suddenly fluent in Khoisan. Nobody ever picked up a trumpet and was able to play it well the first time. When you learn a new skill, you have to start at the beginning. You have to suck for a little while; that’s what makes getting better worth the effort – if you started out awesome then you’d never see progress and how fun would that be?

Start where you are. Adjust your expectations. Learn. Play. And most importantly, don’t quit.

40 Gray (sic) Hairs

I turned forty last month. FORTY. I have very mixed feelings about the idea but I won’t go on about them; I think I am mostly ok with this whole aging thing. Except for the odd moment when I look in the bathroom mirror and see more grey hair than I remember seeing the last time…and then full-out panic hits.

But oh well. I have mixed feelings about the grey hair, too: on one hand I kind of like it; it shows that I’ve been around the block a few times and I would like to think I have gained some wisdom from the experience. On the other hand, JESUS FUCK GREY HAIR! COLOUR THAT SHIT QUICK! Which is clearly just a byproduct of growing up in a youth-worshipping society. The smarter part of me is refusing to play that game…for now.

cat

Anyway. In honor of reaching forty, I have compiled a list of forty things that I am pretty sure I know, that I kinda wish I had maybe figured out sooner. What’s funny about this list is that I set about making it, thinking that it would be pretty easy – I mean, for sure life has taught me forty lessons that are worth passing on. Right?

Not so much. I got to, like, number eleven before I had to stop and mull things over for a few days. Turns out that mining the deepest recesses of my brain for forty pieces of wisdom that I am relatively sure about was really difficult – so you’re welcome! Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. Meal planning and prepping for five days at a time is bullshit. By the third day those meals will smell weird and you won’t want to even look at them. Plan and prep for 2, maybe three days at a time.
  2. It’s okay if you’re scared. Everybody is. Some people hide it better than others and sources of fear differ, but everyone lives with it. No exceptions.
  3. Meaningful connections between people are worth nurturing. It takes a little extra time and effort but the payoff is gold.
  4. There is no such thing as unconditional love – love is ALWAYS conditional. That may seem cynical of me, but I don’t really mean for it to be. Love is amazing BECAUSE it’s conditional: without conditions it’s just attachment.
  5. Sleep is necessary. You can run from it all you want but it WILL catch up with you – might as well just embrace it. Better yet, make it a priority. If you don’t, it will make itself a priority at the most inopportune time.elephant
  6. Having stuff is overrated. It ends up owning you. Think about the last time you gave something away – the relief is tangible, right? Hang onto and take care of the things you need and get rid of everything else.
  7. Institutionalized education is mostly bullshit and academic credentials are borderline meaningless.
  8. Learning, on the other hand, is awesome. Never stop finding stuff to learn about – keep your mind open and stay curious.
  9. Eating more vegetables is always a good idea.
  10. People will always judge. ALWAYS. We can’t help judging and comparing and competing. Embrace it; it’s what makes us better.
  11. Take care of the people around you and be kind. Kindness is never wasted.
  12. We are all more dorky and ridiculous than we’d care to admit. Might as well laugh at it.urkel
  13. Caffeine will only get you so far.
  14. Taking care of yourself first is the best thing you can do for other people. You can try and be a martyr and put everyone else’s needs before your own, but like caffeine, its benefits are finite. You can’t be at your best unless you look after yourself.
  15. Chocolate, ice cream, and wine are just about the best things in the world…and they are ALWAYS available. They are more awesome when they’re special treats you can look forward to.
  16. Letting the hurt show a little bit is a great way to draw the people around you a little closer.
  17. There will always be people who are better than you. At everything.
  18. If you want to get better, find those people and hang out with them.
  19. Never believe what you read the first time. Question everything, play the devil’s advocate, and find more sources before forming an opinion on something.
  20. Never trust people who are 100% sure.
  21. We all need each other. Even the world’s most introverted trolls still need other people.
  22. Learning to take good care of your body is a skill that is worth practicing. It takes some mental muscle at first but it will pay off once you have some momentum.
  23. Everybody needs an outlet where they can take their mind off the day-to-day grind. It could be meditating or knitting or playing a sport. For me it’s lifting: you can’t be thinking about all the other stuff you need to do today, or making a shopping list, or wondering if you’re good enough, when there’s a loaded bar waiting to crush you if you lose focus on it.
  24. Nobody can do it for you.
  25. Making sure that the people around you feel loved and appreciated and understood  is worth a little bit of extra effort.
  26. Getting angry is almost never worth the energy.
  27. Make room for what’s important. If you can’t, for whatever reason, it’s not that important – and that is totally ok. Other people’s priorities don’t have to be yours.
  28. People are just people. The ones who stick out (virtuosi, celebrities, etc.) have quirks, fears, and bad body smells just like the rest of us. Nobody needs to be up on a pedestal.
  29. Showing enthusiasm is almost always a good thing.
  30. If your gut tells you you’ve taken a wrong turn, listen.
  31. Find something to do every day that you’re enthusiastic about. If it’s not your job, join a community of like-minded peeps that you can visit on a daily basis.
  32. Be willing to put yourself out there. It’s easy to find support when you take the first step on your own.
  33. Mornings are the very best time of day. Seriously.notamorningperson
  34. Being physically strong feels awesome and it is worth putting time and effort into.
  35. What you do to make yourself physically strong will give you mental strength too.
  36. The space inside your head is yours. Anything you want can happen in there. No one can take that away from you.
  37. Healing sometimes just takes time. Not effort, not treatment, not anything else. Time.
  38. Bad days happen. When they do, it can be hard to roll with the punches…but taking it personally makes things worse. Minimize the damage by accepting it and knowing that tomorrow will be better.
  39. There’s going to be physical pain – most of the time we have a choice between the pain of degeneration…or the pain of development. I’d rather push through some pain of development.
  40. Time will keep marching on whether you make what you want happen or not. Might as well get it done.

Comparison and Competition

Hands up, who among you want to be better versions of yourselves? Everybody? Yeah, I thought so. Ok, let’s have another show of hands: how many of you have quit going after something worthwhile because someone else’s success made it seem impossible?

barbell

The comparison game is not always a fun one to play, and I dare say that in the pursuit of better health and fitness it is the one single thing that scares more people away than anything else. It’s not the gym (or the people in it), it’s not the lifestyle, it’s not lack of time…it’s our inherent need to measure ourselves against the people around us. Most of the time we come up short. When this happens, people tend toward one of two categories: they either get motivated to compete with everyone else (and join a Crossfit box) or they retreat to an environment where their weaknesses aren’t on display. Fight or flight.

Except that with your health/fitness, flight isn’t really an option. Sure, you could bury your head in the sand for five or ten years and pretend that you don’t have time, don’t like the lifestyle, can’t afford it, etc. But EVERYONE needs to take care of their health sooner or later…and if you wait until you’re hurting to start looking after it, well, you may end up wishing you had started sooner. Anyway, people end up starting and stopping ad nauseum; trying this or that quick fix, spending crazy amounts of money to make it happen faster, and growing resentful of the process, the fitness industry in general, and the people who appear to have it together…because they’re the ones making everyone else look bad, right?

If learning ANY OTHER SKILL damages your calm and makes you feel bad about yourself, you have the option to just stop. Zero consequences. Not so with health and fitness.

Storytime: I hit a big milestone last week – I lost 50lbs. FINALLY. It was a long, S L O W process, and hitting that milestone coincided perfectly with the 2-year anniversary of my return to work at World Health after an 18-month hiatus. (There’s lots more to say about the weight loss thang but it’s going to wait for another day.) Suffice it to say that on that June 1st, 2015, I was happy to be back. They took a picture of me that day to put on the social media page, so taking and posting a pic two years later to document the changes that have happened seemed like the thing to do.

tbtpic

The next day, one of my training clients mentioned the post to me. “I liked your before and after pictures,” she said. “They were inspiring. But they also made me feel bad about myself.”

I was floored. What? I had to pause for a moment to think about how to answer, because it simply had never occurred to me that a post like that would make someone else feel bad – I mean, even having lost 50lbs I am nothing special to look at; I’m not shredded or jacked or model material by any stretch and in fact being in front of a camera gives me the heebie-jeebies. More importantly though, she and I are very different people with different lives, different demands on our time, and different priorities. Comparing weight loss success is kind of irrelevant, of which the logical side of her was fully aware…but my success still got under her skin a little bit and made her question whether it was worth continuing.

And then? Then the same thing happened to me.

A couple of days later I was on my couch with a glass of wine. My kids were outside jumping on the trampoline and my dog was fast asleep with her head in my lap. The windows were open and there was a soft breeze blowing: one of those early summer evenings where all is right with the world. I started idly scrolling through social media. Now, under normal circumstances I love seeing what everybody in my little corner of the world is lifting, what they’re struggling with and what battles they have won, whether it’s in person in the gym or on social media later. It’s terrifically inspiring and gets me excited to go hit the iron hard, even on days that I might not really want to otherwise. On the flipside, I always hope that the stuff I send out into the interwebs does the same for someone else. But, every once in a while the opposite happens: I let my ego get bruised and it sends me into a tailspin.

flower

What I saw that wigged me out that night was one of my powerlifting/social media buddies, who happens to be roughly half my size and also roughly half my age bench pressing the kind of weight in the gym that I have only ever hit once in competition. I got angry at myself for not making faster progress, I ate a bunch of junk food (to distract from the bad feelings? To punish myself? Fucked if I know), ultimately decided that I was a terrible waste of space, and went to bed feeling ill.  Hello, my name is Hannah and my entire sense of self-worth is tied to the weight on my barbell.

Ridiculous, right? Everything is going right in my life, and I get hella bent out of shape because someone else (someone who I know and like and would under any other circumstances be totally cheering for) has a bigger bench press than me?  I mean, seriously – I can’t even tell that story with a straight face, because FIRST WORLD MEATHEAD PROBLEMS. On the other hand – I admit it – I get bugged about my bench press. It is the weakest of my big three lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press) and it is a constant source of niggling frustration. It’s easy to see why, when I was feeling exhausted and fragile and primed to come apart, my bench press poverty was the fault line.comp

Here’s the thing though: we all compare ourselves to each other mercilessly. It’s human. We aren’t likely to stop so we may as well find a way to accept that tendency and do something constructive with it, rather than let it eat away at our own successes. Which, it is worth noting, we are (consciously or unconsciously) choosing to turn a blind eye to in the heat of the moment, while we are busy comparing what may be someone else’s best qualities to our own weak points.

jubal

There are a million and a half self-help articles out there on how to stop comparing ourselves to others. I would submit that it just ain’t gonna happen so we might as well turn that tendency into fuel for our own fire…because if we didn’t see other people out there succeeding at stuff, why would we strive to be great at anything? If we were all alone in the world there would be no reason to pursue…oh, I don’t know…a bigger bench press, for example.

But how do you do that? HOW do you make that tendency to compare into something constructive instead of destructive?

I don’t have a simple answer for that question. I do know that I used to let other people’s successes drag me down a lot more than I do now, and meltdowns like last week happen less and less. I think that happened in part because I learned to get outside myself enough to realize that other people’s successes don’t detract from my own, and in part because I got old and chilled out a little bit. And I started drinking more.

Just kidding, on that last part – sort of.

I have conversations with people about this stuff on a pretty regular basis, and the mentality that the gym is a discouraging/unhealthy/undesirable/unwelcoming environment is pervasive. I’m calling bullshit on that one; most (not all) fitness facilities make a huge effort to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Methods and degrees of success vary but suffice it to say that the gym isn’t comparing anyone to anyone else. It’s just a big ass room with some heavy stuff in it; it doesn’t have a brain. The baggage we bring in is all our own: our insecurities, our anger, our fear of the unknown, and our fear of looking stupid. So how do you let go of those fears? I actually do have a fairly simple answer for that one: practice. Keep showing up. Get better at the skill of fitness. Hey, I said it was simple – simple and easy are not the same.

comparison

Competence leads to confidence. When we can see the way forward; when we can see HOW to get from point A to point B, we can let go of comparing ourselves to everyone else and just do what needs to be done. There’s no time for stewing or wondering what other people are thinking or justifying our existence in spite of our shortcomings. Feeling competent is the key to checking all that baggage at the door and taking care of business…and maybe even having some fun in the process.

When we see other people doing awesome shit, invariably it’s because they’ve put in a lot of hard work. Yeah, maybe they have great genetics, more talent, or anabolic steroids, but they also put in the time….which is why when I look at someone doing something awesome that I aspire to, more often than not I see the hours of work that went into getting to that point and it inspires me to work harder. Yes, I am forty years old and I’m not going to progress as fast as the younger women who are working as hard or harder than me. Does that annoy me? Hell yes it does. But I have a choice: I can a) let that girl’s beastly bench press get me down and use it as an excuse to eat lots of crap and sit on my ass and feel sorry for myself, or b) get excited for her because she’s reaping the benefits of hours of training by getting super strong, and vow to myself that my old ass is going to keep up with her every step of the way.

I choose b).