Use it or lose it?

I read a book when I was a kid called Flowers for Algernon. It’s the story of a young man who is transformed in an experiment from having a very low to IQ, where he’s perfectly happy, to a beyond-brilliant genius. The effects of the experiment fade, though, and he begins to creep back down the intelligence scale. Only this time he knows what it was like to have been super smart, and he’s devastated by the loss of intelligence. Kind of depressing, I know.

I never knew what it was like to be strong until the past few months. And my fear since learning what it’s like is that I will lose it. Now that I know how amazing it feels to be strong, I never want to be weak again. Like poor Charlie in the book who miserably watched his IQ fall, I don’t want to see my numbers drop in any of my lifts. So the past five weeks of almost no squatting because of injury, and then only a few light squats when I was finally able to start again, have been hugely frustrating. I didn’t know if it was all in my head or not, but I could almost feel my legs getting weaker as days and days went by without challenging the muscles. With the meet in August looming and the calendar counting down, I was, frankly, pretty miserable about my training, beginning to feel like a 98-pound weakling instead of the badass I wanted to be.

Then, at my last workout, I got to get back under a heavy weight. I’d proven to Ben’s satisfaction over a couple (seemingly endless) weeks that I could maintain form at first 85 lbs, then 105, then 125 and 135.  150 has been a significant number for me since the first time I did it. It terrified me my first time, and as my first real accomplishment in lifting, the number is like a talisman in my mind. So when I saw 150×3 on the whiteboard when I came in for my workout, I was thrilled and scared. I got to lift heavy again. But what if I’d gotten too weak?

I warmed up, Ben making me repeat my sets at 95 until I could keep my lower back tight, avoiding the “butt wink” as he calls it, which makes me giggle even as serious as I am about this. At 94 degrees in the gym, by the time I got to the heavier sets, I was more worried about bar sliding off my sweat-slicked back than making the weight. I wasn’t sure what was on the bar, because Ben was loading it, so I continued with warm-up sets, doing three reps of each. I got under the bar, raised it, and stepped back. It was a little heavy, but I sank down and stood right up, then twice, then three times, with plenty left. I racked it. “Am I still warming up?” I asked Ben. “No,” he said. “That was your weight.”

That was it. I’d done 150 for three like it was a warm-up. Which it is, for my goal 0f 195 next month. Relief swam through me. I wasn’t weak. I didn’t lose it. There’s no guarantee I still have 180, or will meet my new goal, but I’m back on the path, and that’s all that counts for now. Turns out coach knew what he was talking about when he told me a few weeks ago “you don’t lose it in a day because you don’t build it in a day.”

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