It's Not All About the Gains
I’m really not that strong. I don’t bench a ton of weight or load up my deadlifts with plates. I’m not squatting more every time or trying to reach new maximums. My curls aren’t anything crazy, so my biceps aren’t massive like some guys. I took a picture the other day and thought they looked strangely thin. Maybe it was the camera angle. But despite working out almost every day, I’m not the bulging, massive dude rippling with muscles like the guys I used to watch (and sometimes aspire to) on fitness videos. I’ve got some muscles, but I’m actually pretty lean. That’s fine with me. I prefer it, honestly. Life isn’t all about the gains.
It’s a lot better than I used to be, though, which is what’s important. When I first started working out, I could not do a single pull-up. Seriously, I tried. It was in January of 2020, and I had put on some serious baby weight in the years after the birth of my son. I’m not sure whose cheeks are chubbier in those early pictures, his or mine. So I finally decided to get into shape. I had never intentionally worked out in my life, even during my tennis years, so I figured p90x would be an easy way to start. The 30-minute version, still 90 days. The online course said I needed a single light weight and a pull-up bar. Amazon had plenty, so I ordered one and hung it up in the doorway of our living room.
I hadn’t done a pull-up in a while, no doubt, maybe a decade or two, but I was Presidential Physical Fitness award winner in elementary school, so I still remembered how it worked. I figured it was like riding a bike. That may have been a little ambitious. I was good at the pulling. I pulled really hard. I just didn’t go up. That was more than a little embarrassing. But good motivation, too. I moved to Plan B, bands. My wife had some laying around from her Physical Therapist days, so I hooked them onto the pull up bar and used those while the muscular guys on p90x did the real thing. Also a little embarrassing. But it worked. After a few months pulling on on the bands, and losing a little bit of the weight holding me down, I finally did a real pull-up. What a great feeling.
I can do a pull-up. I no longer have the cheeks of a 1-year-old. I’ve seen what my abs look like. That’s enough for me. You can’t go up forever. I don’t need bigger biceps or more defined delts or bulging pecs. I just want to hold on to what I’ve got, stay lean, and not get burnt out or frustrated. Every once in a while I will go on a strict diet, just for the discipline of it or to show I can still do it if needed or find what my limit is. At first it’s easy, and I’m motivated, and maybe I’ll hit the goal, but it always ends with me, very hungry, staring into the pantry while I eat my single allotted bowl of yogurt, asking myself, “why am I doing this? I’ve already reached my goal, I’ve proven my point, I still look pretty good, my pants still fit, I would be better off, physically and mentally, eating those chips and salsa.” And then I do.
A good habit maintained over a long period is better than the continual, exhausting push for more and more. Get yourself to a good spot and be content to stay there. That still takes daily effort and discipline, but save your energy and sanity and motivation for those few times when you truly need to make a big improvement or to accomplish something new or to get back on track after a lapse. Otherwise, you’ll soon end up hungry and miserable, not making the progress you want, trying to remember the reason why you were doing all this in the first place.
Maybe you’re expecting me to relate this to parenting or career or life or whatever, but I think it’s pretty self-evident. Being strong isn’t only about making gains. You can draw your own conclusions.
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