Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Back where I belong

I’m back in baby’s arms;
How I missed those loving arms.
I’m back where I belong,
Back in baby’s arms.

Yeah, I’m singing Patsy Cline to a piece of iron.

I’m finished being broken, being afraid. (I’m also finished with any scrap of snobbery about a Smith machine.)

My trainer has been saying that the Smith machine would let me get under a barbell in a way that’s safe for my lumbar spine. I was afraid to try though — what if it hurt me, made things even worse? I trust that he knows what he’s talking about, but after having a scalpel in my spine because of a barbell it’s a scary thought to get back under one, even though I dreamed of it. Literally. I dream about getting under some iron at least once a week.

I dreamed about it again last night and woke up determined this would be the day. Time to just do it.  The last time I squatted was January 12.(Yes, I know the date.) I put 165 pounds on my back for 8 reps that day. Today I got into a machine with nothing but a bar (minus the princess padding, thank you) and learned a newfangled position for squats — leaning back against the bar in a way that takes the load off the spine and distributes it to my lower half. It felt weird, not at all what I knew before, but my legs remembered the feeling.

I did some pretty heavy barbell lunges, and it all came back, the sensation of driving up against gravity and a weight that seeks to keep me down. Well, a lot of stuff has tried to keep me down lately, and I’m done with that.  After a couple sets, my legs quivering with fatigue, muscles on fire and crazy swole, I had to remind myself that this was what I wanted. Because machine or no machine, it was freaking hard. I didn’t  feel  so much as a twinge in my back, but my legs were thrashed by the time I was done.

I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face leaving the gym on still-trembling legs, red spots on my shoulders attesting to the barbell recently across them. I’ve felt broken, damaged, defective for more than three months, and for the first time this morning felt some vestige of my inner badass returning. Changing and getting ready after working out  I could see a shine in my eyes and a glow on my face that I hadn’t seen in too long.

In my 1.0 training days I came to think I was invincible. Now I know all too painfully that I’m not. But in a way, knowing that I can be broken and come back fighting, doing whatever I have to do, makes me feel even stronger.

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8 responses

  1. woo hoo! glad to hear you finally made it back where you belong :)

    April 27, 2012 at 1:37 pm

  2. I loved this post. Really loved it

    April 27, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  3. This post makes me so happy. I remember quite often what you posted awhile ago about being a badass instead of a dumbass… and I’m glad you’re remembering to be smart about your badass-ness! :)

    I know how it is to love the barbell, and though not to your extent, I injured myself about the same time you did… just a little hip flexor issue that took me away from the barbell for about a month. It was excruciating. It messes with your mentality and self-image so much. It’s so refreshing to feel that barbell in your hands once again… and there is NOTHING like the permagrin that satisfaction gives you. :)

    I read an awesome quote once: The squat is the perfect analogy for life. It’s about standing back up after something heavy gets you down.

    Awesome job. I can feel your joy in your writing! Keep up the great work!

    April 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    • Thank you so much Mariah! Sounds like you know exactly where I’m coming from. Happy lifting to you!

      April 28, 2012 at 7:33 am

  4. Robert Wynne

    Be open minded. Try single-leg training. Considering that your strength-to-bodyweight ratio isn’t quite as good as Laura Phelps, it wouldn’t take much of a load (if any) to actually get even STRONGER than before…one leg at a time. Here’s the process: 1st, Read up on Mike Boyle’s and Gray Cook’s stuff. 2nd, become more enlightened. 3rd, Apply your new knowledge into action. Your injured transmission system will catch up to your legs very quickly once it has recovered. Good Luck!

    April 27, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    • Thanks Robert, nope, my raw, natural lifting totals never remotely approached Laura’s (who got me my first 100lb bench, she’s great!) but I have to admit, I don’t see ever being as strong as I was when I squatted 200lbs at 104 bodyweight. (And that’s ok, because I hurt seven days a week during that training, and I am finding now I can still be “strong as shit” to quote my new trainer, and *not* hurt.)

      April 28, 2012 at 7:32 am

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