Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Restart

Tomorrow I hit ‘restart.’ A month and a half has passed since I last lifted a heavy weight. And I won’t lift heavy tomorrow either, or for a while. The surgery was only two and a half weeks ago and if I learned only one thing in all this, it’s to respect my limits.

But I will at least be getting back into a gym which will feel so good, I’ll be learning how my new trainer works, and learning how my body works now in this new reality. I know I’ve lost strength, and you don’t lose 7 pounds when you were 15% bodyfat to start without losing muscle, and I could weep for that muscle that took so many months to build. I’ve done a couple of very light workouts at home in my garage (where I could also weep every time I see the squat cage I bought at Christmas) and have alternated between glee at just moving my body again again and dismally humbled at how hard everything is now. I’m doing modified push-ups, chin-ups with a band, the lightest of the light weights on bench and curls, doing the mobility work I began with in my earliest days — in short, returning to being a beginner. The blessing and the curse is that while I know I can get strong again, I also know how hard it will be. So I can cry about doing assisted chin-ups, or I can be glad I’m not still curled up in a ball of pain crying about a real problem.

I also need a mental restart. I’ve spent a lot of energy being mad, and lately, sad, that I can’t powerlift any more. While I was a free weights-loving, barbell-loading lifter I, with lots of others in that community, sneered at machines and isolated movements. Sometimes it’s like the universe just smacks you in the head for being a jerk, because machines and isolated movements are what I can do now. And I’m not going to sugar-coat it. I couldn’t be any less excited about using a leg press. In fact, I’m pretty cranky about it. There’s nothing fun or incredible or amazing about lying down pushing a stack of weight with your feet. But I’m not willing to give up being strong, so if a leg press is what I can do, then by God, I’ll find out just how much weight I can move. When it’s time. And I’ll use whatever combination of things I have to do to work all the same muscles the squat and deadlift worked. And I’ll have to find a way to make it fun, not just a chore. I know I won’t have the passion I had for the barbell, but seriously, I should be grateful I can do anything at all after what I went through.

And besides, that’s why I’m going to try new sports. Strength will become a means to an end, not the the goal in and of itself. I don’t know yet how I’m going to accomplish this mental restart, and if you have any suggestions I’d sure like to hear them. I want to learn to measure my worth as an athlete not in numbers on a barbell (or machine, as the case may be) but in how I feel and how my body responds to challenges. And I want to have fun, just plain, no-pressure, no agonizing over Wilkes scores, playing like it’s recess, fun.

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2 responses

  1. I wish you the best! I was told as a teenager that I would never be able to carry a pregnancy or lift anything over 10 lbs due to a birth defect in my lower back. Being as stubborn as I am, I found a therapist who worked with me and we slowly built strenght in my back (it took about four years of therapy in my teens). Now, I’m a mother of two lovely girls and do bodyweight excercises and while I always knew I would never be able to powerlift like you do, I still was inspired by you and did my best effort.

    There’s always ligth at the end of the tunnel, even if you come out of it not exactly where you planned.

    I won’t stop saying, you are amazing, Dana

    March 1, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    • Wow, thank you so much for your kind words, and for sharing your experience. What you’ve been able to do is amazing!

      March 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm

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