Bench-pressing 300: Three lessons learned while striving for a goal

I was recently reminded of three valuable lessons about life. I thought I’d lead into them with a little story about my quest to reach a goal.

 

I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, but it wasn’t until last year that someone mentioned to me that he was in the “300 Club”. This is an informal term referring to people who have bench-pressed 300 pounds. Well, this sounded like a club I wanted to join! So I found a nearby gym and decided to get started.

 

When I did a diagnostic “maxing out” session, my maximum weight was 240 lbs, so I knew I had a way to go. I started by making some great progress, but then seemed to reach a “plateau” at around 280 after several months. Try as I might, I couldn’t get past it, even when I started including more red meat in my diet.

 

I was determined to reach my goal, and now it had reached eight months with very minor progress, despite a rigid workout schedule. I was getting a bit frustrated, and starting to worry that my age (39) was a factor in the lack of improvement. And then, on top of all that, I was informed that my gym was closing. True, there were other gyms in the city, but I had become rather used to this one, and liked it — and it was within walking distance.

 

It took me a few days to find another gym nearby, and when I did, I wasn’t exactly impressed. It was crowded, didn’t have the same set-up, and had Michael Bolton blaring on the stereo system (I prefer rock and roll!). On my first visit, I couldn’t even get a bench to use, and right after that, I had to go on a business trip to the other side of the globe. All told, I would have to suspend my bench-pressing schedule for over two weeks, which would surely set me back.

 

I returned from my trip and knew I had some catching up to do. I made sure to get to the gym as soon as it opened, and walked into a beautifully empty gym that morning. There was a friendly trainer there who could “spot” me, and after two warm-up sets, I went straight to my max of 280 lbs. To my surprise, I was able to do several repetitions, which was unusual. I added on weights, and before I knew it, I had bench-pressed my goal of 300 pounds! Things were going so well that I even pushed myself to 310.

 

 

Despite my exultation, I was a bit confused. How did this actually happen? The answer is simple. I’ve written before about overdoing one’s exercise schedule, and about not giving oneself time to recover. The world of the 21st century seems to only have contempt for taking a rest or even a short break. But the fact is, the human body — and mind — are not designed for non-stop operation. In my case, I’d had eight months with a workout schedule that was so rigorous that it was actually wearing my body down. My muscles were not being given sufficient recovery time. This was evident from all the soreness and stiffness I was experiencing, but I had chosen to ignore them, adhering to the simplistic and faulty “More is better” philosophy. Ultimately, it was that break of over two weeks that refreshed my muscles and gave them an opportunity to attack the 300 pounds with maximum force.

 

I said at the beginning of this post that I was reminded of three life lessons from this experience. The first was that change is generally a good thing. In this case, two things forced me to rest: one, a need to change gyms, which I initially found annoying; and two, a significant change in my schedule, viz. a long business trip that gave me lots of hours on airplanes with no opportunities for chest exercises. Yes, the change was not exactly what I wanted, but it was definitely for the better. So often in life, we resist change, or run away from it, not realizing that in order for our lives to improve, we have to allow things to change.

 

Secondly, as stated above, an uncompromising devotion to a goal, which ignores signs to slow down or take a break, results in a stultification of your progress. If doing more was always better, then success would only depend on putting in more hours at the gym — or the office. The best and happiest people in any field know when to take breaks.

 

Third, and more broadly, don’t let your initial perceptions dictate your judgment. Our first reaction to things is usually instinctive or emotional. Always keep this in mind when changes come into your life. Human nature has endowed us with a “fight or flight” mentality, but we also have the ability to mentally process things in a rational manner. Rather than make a hasty decision, wait for your rational side to kick in.

 

Always try to be positive about change when it comes into your life. Choose to look on the bright side. Sure, I didn’t enjoy hearing Love Radio at the gym, but there was also an inspiring picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the wall, in his peak bodybuilding condition. I chose to focus on that rather than Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You”, and I got a very positive result. We always have a choice to focus on the positive, and that is always the way forward.

 

By Tom McKinley, author of Winning the Fight to Be Happy and Make the Right Decisions Early.

www.tommckinley.com

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