Be Your Own Measuring Stick
This is dedicated to all who have ever looked at themselves in the mirror and, even if for the briefest of moments, felt resentment. And then felt guilty about that resentment.
This is me about a month ago. You can tell how hard this is for me. Some experienced lifters might scoff at the amount of weight I'm lifting for a 5 x 5 workout (235 lbs), and some others yet might not be able to imagine a world where they can lift this much. Everything is relative, and truthfully, it doesn't matter.
But this is one of the biggest reasons I got into training and coaching, and why I continue to love it. Even 9 months ago, I struggled to be able to back squat 95 lbs without pretty severe knee and low back pain (that's just a 25 lb plate on each side of the bar). Coming from a childhood and adolescence filled with all sorts of athletic endeavors, this was an incredibly unwelcomed side-effect of my years of playing hard, and playing through the pain. Allow me to back up a few years.
Around the age of 22, I had essentially given up being able to train my entire lower body. I spent my senior year of collegiate soccer playing in the one or two games per week, and then essentially staying out of 90% of our training sessions to alleviate my knee pains. I ended up undergoing three knee surgeries later that year in hopes of patching things up.
"This is a routine procedure; you could be back to normal in 1-2 weeks," said the surgeon.
"No way, you idiot!" said my body.
My goal was to play professional soccer, if not as a life-long career, then at least to prove to myself that I could do it. I was an athlete. I identified, more than anything else in life, with being an athlete. And then suddenly, I had lost it. I was never able to bounce back enough to be able to give this dream a shot. My heart wanted it, but my body wouldn't allow it. F**k.
In high school, I had given little thought to careers. I was a smart kid who always did well in school, but all I knew definitively was that I wanted to play soccer, and that was that. In college, same story. The odds were against me, playing collegiately at a Division III school, but it was all I thought of, and I held out hope that I would make it happen.
Alas, life had other plans for me. I ended up graduating with a Spanish Language degree (Muy bien!), increasingly thinning knee cartilage, and abso-****ing-lutely no idea what my future held, or what I would do with it.
Depression. It happens when you pour your entire self-worth and hopes for the future into one fragile container, and then that container shatters.
But this is not a pity story- not in the slightest. Fast forward to the present. With the help of a couple of absolute rock stars in similar health fields, I began to finally regain a pain-free range of motion that I never dreamed would be possible.
Hence this grainy video of my back squat. To come from struggling Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda-been to now, no matter how much irrelevant iron is on that bar, I couldn't be any happier. Limitations could have stopped me in my tracks long ago (and indeed, for a while, I did allow them to) and I would be in a completely different place physically, mentally and emotionally.
And that is why I love what I do. Surely, seeing clients get stronger, more powerful, faster, leaner is always a hugely inspiring development and one of the biggest reasons I became a coach and trainer. But helping a client discover freedom within his or her body where there once was pain, limitation, frustration and often abandonment, might be the most gratifying feeling of all. Because that is one of the biggest sources of hope I have ever personally experienced. And that is where I have found that hope finally turns into a reality worth pursuing vehemently.
Leave ego out of the equation. You are your own benchmark for success and improvement, not anybody else. You've heard this message over and over again for a reason. We must never look to others to shape our own self-esteem.
My 235 lb. back squat could be your finally doing a strict pushup; or finally getting back to your high school waist size; or finally getting to the gym; or finally being able to touch your toes again; or one of the infinite ailments that may hold you back, regardless of its physical nature.
The specificity and degrees of your trials and tribulations don't matter. Your standing in relation to others' trials and tribulations doesn't matter. Improvement matters. Be proud of each and every step forward you take. (Because you do have to take these steps; they are not given to you).
And please, don't give up on yourself. Know that, somewhere out there, there is hope. Injury and dysfunction will certainly restrict and limit your abilities, causing numerous aches, pains and frustrations along the sometimes very bumpy road. You may never come back to your full potential and ability. Hell, I know I won't. But perfection is overrated anyhow. There is always room for improvement, against all odds. Endure the pitfalls, and you will enjoy the triumphs.
Be strong, and get after it.