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.