Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

I don’t want to be a kit car

Ever seen a racy car — a Ferrari or Lamborghini or some such with a V12 and zillion horsepower? Sleek, shiny, 0 to 60 in 0.001 seconds? Or close  enough, at any rate. Then come to find out, it’s a kit car. The outside looks fabulous, but it’s no faster than your average teenager’s muscle car. You have to wonder — what’s the point?

I will get back on track, but these days I’m having a bit of a wallow in self-pity because I’m starting to feel like a kit car. Sure, I’ve got muscles. Thanks to the paces my trainer puts me through my triceps and biceps are popping more than they ever did before. I feel like freaking Popeye. My legs are like rock and my back is getting carved up. But it feels like it’s just for show.

Back when I was powerlifting sometimes I wished I could work on the showy muscles, but really I was so happy to be strong it didn’t matter. I loved being strong, loved what it did for me, the confidence it built, the sense of being able to tackle anything. Now that I can only lift weights in a controlled environment, under supervision, I don’t see the point as much.

What good is being strong if you don’t use it? Before, my arms looked like they did because I did a million chin-ups, one of my most favorite exercises.  I can’t do chin-ups anymore, so I build my arms with machines, bicep curls, and funky push-ups with one hand elevated (even then on my knees to protect my back).  My muscular back came from the king of full-body exercises; deadlifts — now I have to carefully work it in sections, so the muscles are  machine built. And we won’t even talk about squats. As exhilarating (and scary — my hands were shaking, my heart racing) as it was to get under the bar for some heavy Smith machine squats last week, I know full well that those dozen reps at 165 pounds aren’t equal to one real squat at 165. And I’m still nowhere near over the loss of my sport.

Maybe if I were interested in bodybuilding or physique competitions it would be different, but I loved strength training for the simple fact that I loved getting strong. When I can’t carry heavy things now for fear of re-injury, and I can’t try nearly all the sports I want to learn for the same fear, I see less and less point in being strong. I still prefer a muscular look to a skinny or soft appearance, but that’s really not enough. I don’t want to be a kit car. I want something useful and amazing under the hood.

My husband tells me to give it time, that it’s only been three months since surgery. But I still can’t even do so much as jump rope, I’ll only ever deadlift in my dreams (which I do) and I’m lucky/maybe even tempting fate to even be using a machine so loathed by real weight lifters for my new ‘squats.’ It’s a constant battle to find challenging workouts that won’t damage my spine further.  Since the surgery didn’t fully repair the damage to begin with, I can’t take risks any greater than I already am. And that’s the worst of the injury’s legacy. Strong = limitless. And now I push up against limits every day.

Do  kit cars ever get to transform into real supercars?

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10 responses

  1. I feel for you. I had wrist surgery about three years ago after years of chronic problems from playing mandolin and guitar. It’s never really felt “right” since, so I don’t spend nearly as much time playing as I used to. Getting healthier and getting under a bar took the place that music used to have in my life… fitness being the thing I neglected for so long so I could spend as much time as possible playing music.

    Your ability to squat may come back in time, or it may not. It’s an extremely bitter pill, one that I gather is made only more bitter by having to resort to a Smith machine. Patience–not time–is your friend here. I very seriously doubt that you will accept this as the end of the road in terms of strength training. Hang in there and do not give up.

    May 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    • Thank you J.T. It sounds like you’ve been there – it’s good to hear you found something to take the place of music (maybe I should take the opposite tactic and learn to finally play my dulcimer!)

      May 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm

  2. Tonee Hurst

    Don’t give up, you beautiful, strong, inspiring woman! It’s only too late when you’re dead!

    I don’t believe that burning desire would be placed in your heart if there were no way you could bring it to fruition. You’ve just learned a very expensive lesson!

    In any event, do what you want to do. I’m a new fan, but I don’t believe you could do otherwise. :)

    May 21, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    • Thanks so much Tonee, I really appreciate your kind words!

      May 21, 2012 at 7:20 pm

  3. Andrea

    Having watched my father and numerous aunts and uncles wither away and die from not taking care of their health I feel you need to give yourself some points for just being and caring at all. Sure it sucks not to get to do exactly what you want to do physically but the biggest point is that you are still doing something and you didn’t let an incredibly extensive injury stop you altogether. Be grateful for what you have and keep pushing for what makes you better!

    May 23, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    • Thanks for the very good reminder to appreciate what I have and not whine so much about what I don’t.

      May 24, 2012 at 8:30 am

  4. s.a.

    I found your blog via Lift Big Eat Big. I am a Crossfitter and enjoy lifting heavy weights. You are grieving the loss of powerlifting, truly grieving- and the infuriating fact is that nothing helps grief except for time. I think that in time there will be space in your heart and mind for a new sport, but right now it is just too soon. I mean, how unlikely was it that a wee thing like you would become a powerlifter? Right? There is another sport out there that is right for you, that will fire you up- but you need to give yourself some time.

    May 24, 2012 at 4:24 am

    • Thanks for taking the time to write. You’re very understanding!

      May 24, 2012 at 8:31 am

  5. Paul

    I read your article in June issue of Elle and encourage all who have questions about the Coach/trainee relationship to review it.

    May 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm

  6. I second what s.a. said about grieving… Be patient with yourself!

    May 27, 2012 at 10:05 pm

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