This week's post is a little different. Rather than a separate blog post, I've decided to share a segment from my upcoming ebook: Injury Free: Through-Line Skills for Safe and Effective Workouts.
In this section, I tell an embarrassing story of how I let my ego get the better of me in the gym, and why you should learn from my mistake.
Skill #1: Checking Your Ego At The Door
It might sound odd to describe this as a skill, but in practice it falls very nicely into the category. It can be difficult to set your ego aside and work from a place of un-self-consciousness, but with repeated practice it becomes easier and easier to do.
Let me tell you a quick story…
I have lifted weights—at first, poorly and with hardly a clue of what I was really doing—off and on since childhood. I worked out as a little kid with my father, I lifted some in high school, and I belonged to a few different gyms during and right after college. But when I moved to Chicago in 2009, I went more than a year without access to a gym (because I couldn’t afford one).
During this time, I got pretty small. I was a little bit skinny-fat, but mostly just skinny. All of my muscle mass (not that I had a ton to begin with) had dissipated due to poor nutrition and lack of physical activity.
After a while, I finally had a steady enough income that I could get back into the gym and start lifting again. It was great, but it was also a little nerve-wracking. I was in a new gym, in a new city, roaming around the weight room with what are still some of the most massive people I’ve ever encountered.
It was intimidating.
But I’d been lifting weights off and on my whole life! Why should I be intimidated? I could show these guys that I knew what I was doing, and that I wasn’t some tiny little pipsqueak novice.
On my first day back in the gym, I started with some bench pressing and loaded up a barbell, after a few warm-up sets, with 135 pounds. For those unfamiliar with the game, that’s one 45-pound weight plate on each side of a standard 45-pound barbell. In other words, incredibly small potatoes for the majority of people my age and gender. Heck, even though I was never very big, even I’d bench pressed more than that in my time, so what was the big deal?
Apparently, the big deal was the weight.
On my very first attempt, I got the bar stuck on my chest. I couldn’t move it at all! And though it wasn’t enough weight to crush my lungs or anything, it was clear that I was struggling. Luckily, a nice, anonymous gentleman came by, lifted the bar off my chest, re-racked it, and then vanished into the ether without so much as a word.
So there I was. My first day back in the gym, and I’d let my ego get the better of me. I was unable to think “What can I realistically do here?” and instead went to a dangerous place of “Pfft – I ain’t no punk.”
The same ego that wouldn’t let me start with a smaller weight for fear of being embarrassed ended up getting me into an even more embarrassing—not to mention potentially dangerous—situation.
Ego can manifest itself in other ways, too. Here are a few examples...
Having to employ all manner of compensations to perform an exercise because the weight is too heavy (in other words, hurling weights around rather than exercising with them).
- Using weights so heavy that, after you’re done with them, you have “no choice” but to drop them and make a loud noise (usually preceded by the above).
- Tossing smaller weights when you’re done with them because they’re just so light and you’re just so strong.
- Leaving a mess of weights strewn about and plates loaded onto machines because, let’s face it, you’re way too important to clean up after yourself, and your workout is way too extreme to have the time to clean up before you move on to the next area.
Aside from appearing much less tough and much more douchey than the people above probably expect, there is also the issue of safety. Having to make compensations to move a weight that’s too heavy for you can wreak havoc on your muscles and joints, and the risk of dropping the weight is increased. Dropping or tossing weights poses a threat to the user, the equipment, and anyone standing within bouncing-distance. And leaving a mess causes a tripping hazard and renders the area unusable for anyone who might be unable to clean up after you (no, sir, the old lady can’t take all 10 plates off the leg press machine to use it after you [happens more than you’d think]).
Don’t let your ego get the better of you.
- If a weight is too heavy, lower it.
- If a weight might become too heavy by the end of a set, ask for a spotter.
- If you don’t know how to properly use a machine or perform an exercise, ask someone.
- Treat everyone and everything around you with respect.