I enjoy lifting heavy weight. This is something I am vaguely embarrassed by, as it intersects with some rather poor style references to the steroid-pumped beefy-bodybuilder lifestyle and a certain very nerdy data tracking obsession I have.
Yoga seems cool. It looks sexy, it has a spiritual component to it, and seems to fit more in the sustainable green thinking that is so vital today. I aspire to be a yogi, I really do. But I find yoga incredibly boring. It is good for me, so I do it, but I just don’t get off on it the way I do with lifting.
Running…If I could, I would.
Running is something I was quite good at and loved. There is nothing like trail running on a brisk fall morning. But alas, I no longer live near anything approximating nature, and knocking out 10 miles as I used to is not in the cards today. But if I could, I would run. It gets me high, really high, which is something I greatly enjoy.
Biking? Yikes. Not so much in LA
Biking is another sport that I used to do. I was a huge bike fan, a lifelong enthusiast of that perfect speed for moving through space while enjoying the scenery. It’s the best. I was a fearless bicyclist — living in Manhattan, splitting traffic down Broadway was a daily occurrence. Now I live in Los Angeles. Drivers here are not as used to chaos on the streets and are not that attuned to things like pedestrians or bikes. It is less congested here, but more dangerous. The other, more important, change is with me. My ambition for movement has stayed the same, while my reflexes have not. Bad combination. Thus, I walk. A bike accident can be a minor scarp, but more often it involves something quite severe.
Lifting Big, Dumb Weights. Why not?
So I lift big, dumb weights. It is a silly pursuit, and yet an incredibly satisfying one. Years-long charts of reps, weights, rest periods…it is a trail of supremely satisfying accomplishment. Progress! Hard work does lead to very quantifiable results, so perfectly Calvinist. If everything else has gone sideways in my workday, hitting some new level of strength fills me with a sense of redemption. I may not conquer whatever that work problem is, but dang, I just knocked out 20 straight pull-ups. Killer!
Today I can pick something up that is almost twice my body weight. It took me about 2 years to get to this point. It feels amazing. As many yoga poses as I have done, as many miles as I have run, there is nothing like a personal best deadlift to flood my body with hormones and pride. I may be 61, which is, in fact, a bit on the old side, but when I pick up that bar I feel powerful, because I am. In fact, I am far stronger now than at any time in my life.
Clear Success Markers
I lift very closely to my personal max, so I know every day what sort of shape I am in. Working at these weights, plus or minus a tiny amount of weight is the difference between being able to do the lift or not. This gives me very accurate feedback as to how well-rested I am, or how much other stress is in my life. It also forces a very simple question: can I pick it up or can’t I? It is a simple binary outcome. That day last month when I broke through, after years of trying, improving my overhead press (my weakest lift), was glorious. Ha! Take that, Father Time.
Health and Longevity
There are all manner of studies, fitness blogs, posts, podcasts and videos about how to lift and all the yummy things it does for the body. The health and longevity benefits are real, as we loose muscle and bone density as we age. Stronger bones, stronger muscles, better balance, better coordination all mean that you have less chance of falling and if you do you have less chance of being hurt. Both muscle and bone have positive hormone feedback loops. It is true that less hormonal activity leads to a loss of muscle and bone tissue; it is also true that it works in reverse- more muscle and more bone cause hormone production. That is, however, about 10% of my motivation for weight lifting. I do it because it perfectly fits my need to track accomplishment and to feel strong. It’s fun. It is stupid, dumb fun to lift stupid, dumb weight. I realize this may not be the most enlightened attitude, but it works for me.
Lifting Chills Me Out, Opens Me Up
To those who don’t do this sort of thing, it may all sound a bit ridiculous. Picking up a bar loaded with iron and setting it down again is not going to solve the climate crisis or bring on world peace. As expected, lifting really chills me out, and all the predicted positive effects on sleeping and metabolism are true. But by staying strong, and getting stronger, there is a nice mental-emotional upside. I have found that when I feel physically weak, I feel vulnerable. This causes me to be mentally less open to new ideas, and emotionally less open to other people. New things are scary, and if I am feeling weak, I am more resistant to them. If I feel physically strong, it bleeds over into the rest of my being and I can take on all manner of newness with less judgment.
Simple Pleasures for Complex Times
As with every new year, I recalibrate what my goals and ambitions are for the coming 12 months. There is so much that we have put into motion at AGEIST that is just about to pop into fruition. Thrilling. But what I am really focused on is: how can I do 100 burpees in 10 minutes? How can I get my squat form better so that I can deep squat a personal best? Simple pleasures for complex times keep a smile on my face.