I’m getting much better at listening to my gut and to my body. When you’re stubborn like I am, that’s tough to do. But last month, I listened to both and stopped lifting heavy, and I’m so happy I did.
Let’s go back a few weeks. Things at the gym were going really well in March. I had PR’d my back squat and was working on increasing my deadlift. I was feeling strong.
But I was also feeling sore and tight a lot of the time — in and out of the gym. Even my warm-up stretches were tough. And I was starting to dread my visits to the squat rack. Heavy barbell lifts — the core movements in most of my workouts for the past five years — felt daunting and frustrating most days. I just wasn’t feeling the same joy that I had in the past.
And no joy means no commitment.
I certainly didn’t want to stop strength training. So I had to find more joy.
It was time to revisit my goals. What was the point of all of this? What was I trying to achieve? And what could I afford — energy and time wise — to give at the gym considering everything else that was happening in my life?
At certain times in our lives, our goals are a fixed destination on the horizon that we’re wholeheartedly committed to and steadfastly working towards.
At other times, our goals are moving targets that shift and change as the priorities in our life change. Putting one goal aside to pursue another can sometimes feel like failure. We feel like quitters. But often we change our goals because we’ve learned something about ourselves along the way. Those moments of self-realization are essential to our growth. And so giving yourself permission to change your goals is actually liberating.
Back at the gym, I had to ask myself, “What is the goal of all of these hours of training?”
For the longest time, the goal was get stronger. Keep lifting more. Keep adding more plates to the bar. But why?
I often see videos of women competing in power-lifting competitions in my social media feeds and I wonder if I should try to make that my goal. Do I want to work towards some really big numbers and PRs? Do I want to compete and find out how I rank among my peers?
My gut said, “No.” Those women are amazing! Hats off to anyone pursuing this awesome goal. But training for and entering a strength competition just doesn’t interest me. It would demand a lot more time in the gym as well as a trainer, and my current lifestyle just doesn’t have room for these things. I love the idea of being intensely strong, but deadlifting 350lbs is probably more strong than I need right now.
In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I cared about significantly increasing my strength at this point. But if my goal wasn’t to keep adding weight to the bar, then what was it? What’s the end game here?
Maybe, for now, there is no end game. And that’s OK.
Maybe sometimes it’s about the enjoying the ride.
I reminded myself that one of my training goals has always been to simply develop and maintain functional strength — strength that lets me accomplish everyday tasks with ease and without pain, such as piggy-backing my 60lb child up two flights of stairs or carrying all of the groceries to the house in one load. And who am I kidding — it feels pretty kick-ass when someone sees you carrying a giant box and remarks, “Wow, you’re strong!” Damn right, I am.
Enjoying my body’s abilities also makes me feel younger (a feeling you crave more and more as you age). Sadly, a loss of mobility and the aches and pains that sneak up on us in our 40s and beyond can sideline a lot of people. I don’t want to be sidelined — I want to enjoy all that life has to offer for years to come. (Did you know that strength training helps fight the effects of aging better than any other form of exercise?)
My other goal when I go to the gym is to have fun. Fun! If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you’re not going to stick with it. No joy, no commitment.
So when April rolled around on the calendar, I stopped going near the squat rack. It was time to have some fun again.
I started doing more kettlebell workouts, because I find kettlebells inherently more fun than other equipment. (The name just sounds more fun, doesn’t it?) I tried machines I had never tried before, like the endless rope machine, and went back to equipment I had stopped using, such as the sled and TRX straps. And I added back in more plyometrics, like box jumps and jumping lunges.
Each workout has been different, interesting, fun, and completely satisfying.
(And my body has changed a bit too. Heavy squats are great for increasing your glutes. But when you start with um, larger glutes and quads than most, this isn’t necessarily desirable. It makes buying pants a pain. So I’m happy with the decrease in size here that I’m already noticing.)
I’m now enjoying my workouts so much that one month off from heavy lifting has turned into two. And I don’t have a plan for when I’ll go back to the squat rack. I will, I know I will. But for now, the goals have changed. My body doesn’t ache the way it used to. I can squat deeper than I have been able to in months, and without pain. My endurance is increasing. And my workouts are a joy again.