After a disappointing lift on Thursday, one where I not only missed reps on my press but downright failed, my lift Saturday felt great. Of course it is always a sweet feeling to be able to get all your sets and reps with a new, heavier weight on the bar, but I realized as I was driving home, that this was only a piece of why my Saturday lift left me feeling so happy. The bigger piece of it came down to environment, to the supportive lifting community at Fivex3 Training.
Necessity dictated that I did my Thursday lift on my own at a nearby gym. From the get go, things were out of whack: different environment, mirrors everywhere, work issues filtering into my consciousness, and critical people. There are many different approaches to lifting weights and the approach one takes depends on one’s goals. There ought to be room to accommodate different types of lifting in any commercial gym, but there are usually a few individuals who don’t understand and criticize heavy lifting and feel perfectly comfortable expressing their views. Many people misperceive it as dangerous or possibly inappropriate for women or older trainees. Just look through the comments on Beau Bryant’s post and follow-up article from Westminster Strength and Conditioning about 88-year old Mrs. Fox’s 88# deadlift to get an idea. When I walked into the weightroom to lift that Thursday, one such outspoken individual was there, a woman who had stood next to me a few days prior, while one of my clients was doing weighted squats, and said loudly “Oh my God. The cartilage in my knees is shredding just watching you do that!” So when she started talking to me again that Thursday as I was warming up for my press, ideally I would have had the mental discipline to focus only on my lift and not on her follow-up commentary. Apparently my mental discipline is still a work in progress.
Conversely, when I went in for my Saturday lift at Fivex3, I was greeted by a much more encouraging environment. No mirrors or work issues to distract me, but more importantly no opinionated and critical people. Everyone was on the same page about lifting heavy weights as the most effective way to build strength and about its appropriateness for all people, regardless of age or gender. The trainees at Fivex3 were working on different lifts and different programs, some building pure strength, some working on conditioning, some training for Strong Woman/Man competitions, but there there was no judgment or negativity. The similarities in our lifts allow us to learn from each other, to spot each other, and to offer observations and suggestions when requested. If someone misses a rep, you will never hear “well, that’s because you shouldn’t be lifting so much weight”. Instead you might hear an empathetic, “Bar didn’t want to move. That’s ok. You’ll get it next time.” When I missed a rep on my bench press, Christian coached me to keep my back tighter and puff my chest more, so then when I easily got all my reps on the subsequent sets Coach Bob (aka: “Silent Bob”) noticed the difference and responded with a “Fuck Yeah!” and a fist bump.
The starting perspective for any of the interactions between coaches or trainees at Fivex3 is that you can and should lift heavy weights and build strength. It is an attitude of empowerment, an expectation that you can and will do amazing things. That’s the beauty of a shared experience, of understanding what someone else is struggling with because you’ve struggled with it too. Those shared experiences become the building blocks of a supportive community. But that kind of support doesn’t need to be born just from shared experiences; it can also be forged from a desire to set judgement aside and attempt to understand another person’s perspective. What if that woman in the gym had asked why I had my client doing weighted squats, had tried to learn about the benefits of the exercise instead of standing behind her preconceived ideas? What if I hadn’t gotten rattled by her apparent criticism and instead tried to find out how she had formulated her opinion? For me that is clearly easier said than done, especially under a heavy load. In reality though we are all usually under some kind of heavy load, struggling with something that is far less obvious than a weighted barbell. Maybe if we begin with that recognition, it becomes easier to be understanding of the critical and judgemental people we encounter. And in reality, empathy and understanding offered to the difficult people in our lives is also pretty amazing.