Many years ago – when I first started lifting back in Germany – one of my greatest teachers was a bodybuilding champion. She and her husband owned a gym and took me under their wing. During one of the first sessions she put a blindfold on me.
“Don’t attach your ego to the weight and look at the expectation of what comes from lifting heavy weight,” she said. “Close your eyes and feel the weight, don’t look at it.”
She taught me how to breathe properly and lift with the perfect tempo, and she guided my form precisely. I had a great pump, and when I took the blindfold off I was lifting just the bar.
“Yeah don’t come in here and let your ego put a big wheel (plate) on… have your butt in the air or stand or lift with bad form, or you’ll end up with an an injury as a result,” she said.
That was a seminal moment in my bodybuilding life. From the beginning it wasn’t about how the muscle looked or how much weight I lifted it was about how the muscle felt.
This is what happens when you lift with a lighter weight, slower tempo, proper breathing and precise form. You’re not using as many secondary muscles when your form is precise. The goal is to isolate the muscle. The muscle is going to have to do more work. You’re not swinging the weight, you’re not throwing the weight, you’re completely isolating the muscle. Isolation is rarely 100%. But the more weight you’re using the more you’re forcing the body to use other muscles that you’re not wanting to trigger. Biceps for instance. If you use a heavy weight, you use your back to throw it ,and your shoulders to lift. Your arms will barely be getting the benefit of the results even though you throw a bunch of weight at it.
The way you do it is with tempo. You use the same tempo on the way up and the way down. If you start shaking and can’t manage the weight safely you are using too much weight. By the 13th of 15 reps you should be feeling pain. Here is where we know the muscle is getting the proper work load, and that feels a certain way. A workload feeling is a lactic acid build up that is coursing through the muscle.
This is where the growth happens. This is where we push through the pain barrier. In other words, we tolerate the pain because we actually can feel the pain. This is where we feel the muscle working and use breathing to push through and finish our set. We call this pushing through the pain barrier.
Now how or why is this important for a newcomer to recovery? When you’re new you want to work right up to that point and then one or two reps into this burn. This is your body signaling you to slow down — you’re working too hard. It is important for a newcomer to hear this. If you push past this pain barrier with heavy unmanageable weight you’re gonna get hurt. Your body is designed this way as a signaling system to stop. You’re entering danger territory. So, when we listen to our body signaling and choose a manageable weight we are in the present moment. This is the key to this exercise for a person in recovery. We are present enough to identify right-sized messaging from our bodies.
Now perhaps this is a stretch but bear with me. You can apply this theory to how you manage your daily life. Especially during this holiday season. When the burden of emotions or stress of the season pile on to our already complicated lives we shut down. Whether it’s, “I don’t have enough time.” “I have no money for presents.” “I can’t stand being with family” or “I can’t stand being alone.”
Add to it all the expectations we have of having fun… of being as happy as everyone is on TV in holiday commercials, or the sappy family stories on TV. All of this stress just compounds our already stressful, unmanageable lives and for an addict it’s a recipe for misery. The stress masks our ability to really hear and listen to or feel our body’s messaging. Instead we react. The weight of it all is too heavy. We overdo it. We magnify the unmanageability. Be it with food or rushing around trying to be everywhere to do everything all at once. We say things like: “My life is unmanageable!!! I can’t do it! I am powerless to these circumstances.”
But are you really?
It’s just like that moment in the gym when you are staring at the weight that is too much for you and/or trying to lift it perfectly. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Sit in silence for a moment. Feel this unmanageability. That’s where we start. We choose the appropriate weight. We right size to the moment. Acceptance is the key.
As one addict writing to another addict I am certainly no pro in handling the stresses of the holiday season. I struggle like you do. I keep searching for the magic solution. If I had the perfect solution to the holiday stresses I would be a millionaire. All I am suggesting here is that do have tools for the everyday solution. And if we step back and lean on the tools that we already know work, things will improve. When our lives are unmanageable, the first step is to accept that we are powerless. Take a step back. Close your eyes, and step out of the hustle and bustle to listen to your body. When we slow down to listen to and feel our body we will be much more able to “right size” the situation. The answers will come. That I know is true.
Now take this back to the gym for a moment. You are there for the first time in years. Mirrors surround you. Perfection at every corner. You compare yourself and live in despair. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths. Listen to your body. Choose an appropriate weight and slowly lift the weight and feel the muscle.
This is one key aspect of the methodology of Sober Fitness. Just like in recovery, if we step back and apply a spiritual principle to the situation, the solutions come whether it be in the gym or in everyday life.
If you’re lonely, overwhelmed, stressed and feel like the holidays have left you behind, please reach out to someone. I am always available on Instagram or Facebook. I am going to a lot of meetings in the L.A. area and would love nothing more than to share my fellowship with you this holiday season.
If you are fearful of the Spirit of the Holidays, lean in to the fear. You are not alone! Close your eyes, take three deep breaths and feel the Spirit of the Holidays.
And with that I wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah or Happy Holidays – whichever applies to you!
REMEMBER FEELING GOOD IS THE NEW LOOKING GOOD!
P.S. Let’s read and learn together, and if you have any questions, comments or anything you want to know I will gladly work on the issue.
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