For the past 4 weeks I have been following a specific Strength Training program with my flatmate Lisa Brown from Innervate Health and Fitness. It is the first one I have stuck to in YEARS and it is only due to the amazing programming of Bret Contreras (THE Glute Guy!!) that I am sticking to it.
We’ve only been into it a short time but the benefits are already starting to show; I have less pain in my joints, I am moving freely, I can run up a flight of stairs without fatiguing in my legs and I am getting stronger (which is the whole point of the program).
Normally following a program so strictly would bore be to tears but I am really enjoying the structure and routine of it all. I especially enjoy training with Lisa (I have given a shout out to my other training buddy Josie in this article here – Why I Still Pay For A Personal Trainer).
But apart from the camaraderie involved I truly believe that lifting heavy weights is a metaphor for life. There are so many lessons that can be learnt from being under a bar, and well, since I am a firm believer in the saying ‘how you do anything is how you everything’ I am being confronted with some interesting truths.
The aim of the program is to progressively add weights, to challenge ourselves session to session in order to get the gains that we are after. This seems quite straightforward but when we are dealing with heavy weights (weights that seem ridiculously heavy and scary) it becomes a mental game.
Mental fitness kicks in (or the lack of mental fitness becomes apparent!).
For days now Lisa and I have been nudging our weights up to our red zone. The zone that is extremely physically and mentally challenging. The zone that is beyond our cozy, comfortable and happy place to be. The danger zone if you will (much like Maverick in Top Gun).
Today as we were pushing to go heavier in our Squats I said something that was pure genius (in my head it was). Before I enlighten you with my endorphin charged thought I want to give you some useful background information about how Lisa and I roll as personal trainers.
We both come from the same school of thought that encourages perfect technique and form in everything we and our clients do. It has been drilled in us since we were baby trainers. We pride ourselves on our technical knowledge and coaching and client safety is always at the centre of everything we do.
We also appreciate pretty movement. And by that I mean we stick to the idea that true strength lies in being able to execute movement with control and form. Another way of describing this is to borrow form the ancient greek words Kalos Sthenos which translates into ‘Beautiful Strength’.
Kalos Sthenos is one of my core philosophies professionally and personally and I draw on it all the time (in fact the first blog I EVER wrote was titled Kalos Sthenos … cue montage of me sitting at my desk all Hemingway-like punching on the keyboard….).
So whilst this philosophy serves me well 99% of the time it is now starting to hold me back.
Here’s why – I am so accustomed to having near perfect form in all my movements that I cannot allow myself to have ‘ugly’ form. However, and this is the big kicker right here – I will NEVER get stronger trying to stay ‘perfect’ as it means I will never push through my red zone.
Strength gains require break down points.
Strength is obtained when we find the weakness and improve it.
We can’t get stronger if we aren’t allowing ourselves to find our weakness.
So, going back to my moment of pure post-squat genius thinking I said to Lisa “our obsession with pretty is stopping us from reaching our goals; we need to let to learn how to play with imperfect form and be OK with it”
Boom. Mic drop.
We have to learn to be ok with it not just from an aesthetic perspective but also from a TRUST perspective. In my head anything less than perfect form signals potential for injury, therefore moving away from ‘safe’ triggers fear.
Where there is fear there is retreat. Fear in this situation keeps me small and weak.
Small and weak is not a space I want to play in. I want to be big, strong and confident – under the bar and in real life. As I mentioned prior lifting weights is a metaphor for life and in this specific scenario I cannot think of a better lesson.
From here on in I am committed to letting go of pretty in order to find strong – in ALL areas of my life. And as Lisa and I continue on our strength journey I will continue to embrace the ugly, uncomfortable and downright scary.
Let go of pretty peeps.
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