Getting started and moving past limits

The journey begins

My journey into fitness did not have an auspicious beginning. After going to a small commercial gym somewhat regularly for 3 weeks I decided that running on the treadmill and using the nautilus equipment wasn’t going to get me to my goals. I was tired of doing the ordinary. A magazine article suggested that doing back squats, with a barbell, was good for strength development. I thought, “back squats are for me!”

Over the previous few weeks I had used the leg press machine. I was setting it to a weight I thought was moderately heavy. So on this particular day, instead of using the machine again I decided to challenge myself a little. Testing my limits, I loaded up a barbell with a 135lbs (two big metal plates). The weight was less than I had been doing on the press machine — so I figured, “no problem. I got this”.

I stepped under the bar — got it settled on my back and (shakily) walked the weight out. As soon as I started the descent I began tipping over. Immediately I was filled with panic thinking I would get crushed under the weight and be severely hurt. Luckily — a friend was walking by. He quickly stepped in and stabilized me. He helped me safely stand the weight back up.

It was not pretty.

In that moment I wanted to walk (run!) out of the gym. I was so embarrassed. I was already thinking things like, “looks like I’m not built for squatting after all…..” “Getting stronger is a dumb goal.” I was ready to accept that the leg press machine, and moderate weights were my limit. I had no business going any further.

Luckily, as these thoughts were going through my head — my friend brought me back to reality. He made a joke of how lucky I was that he was nearby (and not afraid to get up close). He told me to try again (with a little less weight this time).

Challenge the limits

So instead of going off to hide, or back to the safety of the machines — I swallowed my ego, reduced the weight on the bar, and got myself set up. After a few slow, scary reps, I become comfortable with the movement and my friend was able to step away.

By the next time I was at the gym, I was confidently squatting that 135lbs for reps and thinking about adding more weight. (Here is a good technique video on back squatting correctly.)

In that little moment, I had learned one of the basic principles of life also applies to training — we grow when we push ourselves up to and through our current limits. Even (or especially) when it’s scary.

Whether you are stepping into the gym for the first time, have a goal of getting your first unassisted pull-up, or are about to try to deadlift double bodyweight — be prepared to push past your current limits. Sure — there will be a little fear and trepidation there. Expect it, It’s part of the process. We can’t move forward by standing still.

You may need the guidance of a trusted friend — but if we are willing to push a little further, a little harder — we can reach beyond what we thought we were capable of.

Believe in yourself

We all have stories from our own lives, where we attempted something beyond our current limits — and succeeded! We may fail numerous times along the way — falling back to where we were. However, when we persist and eventually achieve that goal (even if it was never a formal goal) we get that feeling of accomplishment. This is what propels us to the next bigger thing.

When I started I couldn’t back squat my bodyweight. After several years of consistent, hard work, I’ve made progress and now squat more than double my bodyweight. It doesn’t matter where you start — just that you start and keep moving forward, pushing through those limits along the way.

Dad, husband, thinker, writer, exerciser. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — Dumbledore

Dad, husband, thinker, writer, exerciser. “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” — Dumbledore