I feel like I've found myself at a bit of a landmark recently, and I want to share some of the story with you. But not because it's finished; only because I feel I've finally emerged from those woods after about a year of hard work. Of course, it took me well over a year to crawl my way in there in the first place, so I guess the punishment fit the crime. I'm not doing this because I want to brag (although I do a little), but because I think it's a good example of something we will all likely have to do at some point in our lives. Some of you may be in the woods right now and not even know it. Some of you may have just turned around and still have a long journey back out ahead of you. But I think there are a couple things I've learned along the way that might be helpful to just about anybody, no matter where you are or how much forestry you're surrounded by at the moment.
FYI, sometimes you meet a creepy-ass deer up in those woods. Bring a rifle.
It's important to note that this didn't happen overnight. It never does, right? I didn't wake up one day and decide that I wanted to stop getting my heart-rate up, grow some juicy man-boobs, and pile up a bunch of injury and frustration. It was a slow burn, one small thing after another, a gradual process so subtle that I hardly noticed it taking place around me. It always is. Until one day we finally wake up and start to wonder how we got so deep into these woods, why it's so dark, and why is there a squirrel gnawing on my foot?
Of course the awakening isn't always a distinct smack in the face either. Mine happened in two separate phases. The first was nutrition, and to be honest I'm not sure exactly what triggered it. Maybe it was the fact that I had been diligently tracking my food intake for nearly a year and basically saw zero results from it, in the gym or in the mirror. Or maybe it was the fact that I owned a f***ing gym and I was still too embarrassed to take my shirt off on my own honeymoon. I was a fat guy who owned a gym, a failure, a hypocrite, and to top it all off I can't even fully enjoy some sweet pool time in the sun. What has become of me?
The honeymoon was the first time I toyed around with reaching out for help when I saw some nutrition coaching was available on the Catalyst website. This is important. It's also important to note that I didn't do anything about it until nearly 3 months later. This is how the mind works, I guess. Or at least how mine does ... slowly. But for the first time I was becoming comfortable with the very ideas that would eventually pull me out of the woods: I didn't know everything, I couldn't go it alone, and I needed help. It was almost a bit of a relief, like I could finally stop carrying around this burden all on my own. Can't I farm some of this pressure out to someone else for crap's sake?
The training and programming epiphany however, I remember like it was yesterday. I had finally worked myself back up to snatching 200 pounds, and everything was seeming to fall back into place after a year or so of misery and no progress (because I'd been healthy for like 6 weeks). And then one Saturday I nearly ripped my own neck and shoulder off trying to snatch 205. It scared the crap out of me, and really pissed me off. But mostly it just depressed me. I went home that day and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and sulk (this is incredibly unlike me, by the way). I just wanted to drown in my misery and failure and lament how I will never hit another PR again and so I need to find a way to make peace with it. I sat on the couch, drank vodka, and contemplated focusing on my career or maybe really getting into Fantasy Football. Or ...
At the time I had been working with my nutrition coach for about 6 weeks, and I'd already lost around 7 pounds and was feeling pretty good about it. So in short, it was working. And then I thought: why not programming and strength coaching too? I mean, it's working for nutrition so why not something else? So lying there on the couch - half-drunk and trying not to move my sore neck too abruptly - I emailed some dude named Zach I'd been following on the Internet for a few months and asked him how much it would cost for some coaching. I didn't care, I was going to do it regardless. Even if it's just for a month to see what I could learn.
As an aside, if your hobbies start leading you to this point it might also be a good idea to stop taking yourself so seriously. But that's a post for another day.
And the rest - as they say - is history. Not to gloss over all the gory details or belittle all the help I've had along the way1, but it's pretty boring. We crawl out the same way we crawl in: slowly and agonizingly. It was a lot of grinding. It was a lot of 5 pound PRs in lifts I'd never bothered to do before, and a lot of coming back and hitting old numbers I never thought I'd see again. But most importantly, it was also a lot of letting go. This was the hardest thing for me, but I had to find a way to stop believing so firmly in certain things, and I had to relinquish some control. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? But it is certainly the most powerful lesson I've learned so far. I realized that over the years I had cultivated so many beliefs about training and diet, things that I held as Truth (capitalized on purpose) and would never deviate from - all without even realizing it. All of these things have been let go of, or at the very least relaxed in some way - and it's done nothing but good for me. This is important. This is probably the underlying driver of all of my success over the last year: I had to stop thinking that I knew so much. I had to stop believing in things so blindly. I had to let go a little bit.
I like to preach the importance of rules, of structure, and consistency. But what if the rules we follow bring us to man-boobs? What if the rules we follow slowly lead us deep into the woods? Well then maybe it's time to let them go, or we may never get out. This is something very hard to overcome. We all want to believe deeply that our underlying faith and assumptions are what keep us moving forward. But what if those are the very things holding us back?
1 It would be a bit of dick move if I were to finish this post and fail to mention Zach from Strength Ratio and Francesco from Working Against Gravity. Thank you both for your guidance. But your work is only just beginning. ↩
2 "If you the rule you followed" is an obscure line borrowed from one of the greatest movies of all time No Country For Old Men, to which I also owe a debt of gratitude for teaching me that someday we all gonna die. ↩