You know what’s strange about working out? Half the battle is your fear.
I know this firsthand. I’ve had my share of ups and downs at the gym. During my junior year of college softball you could find me in the gym every day. I’m not kidding. But then my senior year I was struggling with heel pain and somehow got it into my head that working out would only make the pain worse…so I took about a three month break from weight lifting and struggled getting back into it.
The battle was all internal. I’d convince myself that I was too busy to go to the gym, that I had too many things to do, that it would re-injure my heel. I even drew mental scenarios in my head: here’s me, in my little workout t-shirt and shorts, looking like a fragile girl trying to muster up the courage to walk over to the squat rack.
I had it in my head that I would look timid and hesitant—thus I became timid and hesitant. Something that I’d done for months: squats, hang cleans, clean and jerks suddenly gave me instant stomach-twisting anxiety.
It took me about another month to step foot in my college’s workout room. It was a sunny summer day, and the head trainer recognized me and asked me how I’d been. I literally had to fight back tears, I kid you not (I’m a little more emotional than the average person, I’ll admit) but I felt such turmoil over the whole situation. See, I knew that my battle had been largely mental. When I’d stopped going to the gym, it was because I got it in my head that taking a break was the right idea. Facing my coach was a physical, visual reminder that I was wrong. And I had stupidly let my fear take over.
The first time stepping up to the squat rack was scary. I’m not going to deny that fact. After talking to my coach, I stretched (and took my time, talking myself through the next steps). Then I did some light squats and lunges to get myself ready. Then the walk through sweaty football and basketball players to the rack in the furthest back-right corner.
A squat rack can be intimidating even if you’ve used it a hundred times before. There’s the forty-five pound metal bar that’s usually too high and you have to adjust; there’s the weights all lined up on either side like circular, metal eyeballs staring at you. Just knowing how to set everything up is a challenge. As I set up, I took my time, feeling the smooth metal of the weight in my fingers. Since I hadn’t squatted in months, I started with a lower weight. This was another battle—the battle of where I’d been vs. where I now was. I had to remind myself that taking it easy was fine, that starting low and pushing forward was smart, that I had lost strength but was still strong. I ran the rough ridges of the bar under my palms. I stepped forward, locked my wrists, and pushed my shoulder blades up, feeling the pressure of the bar against my neck. I looked forward, took a deep breath, and stepped back, lifting the bar from the rack. Okay, Marisa. You can do this. I set my feet shoulder-length apart, stood for a second to balance, then pushed my butt back and down. I could feel the muscles in my legs, bottom, and back tighten and flex as I went as far to ninety degrees that I could go. Then I pushed up, making sure to stay back on my heels, back into my starting position. My first squat!
It felt weird, sort of like starting from the beginning again, but I smiled internally. I could do this, I always could. There was tightness in my muscles, but not in a painful way. In a you’re-going-to-be-super-sore-tomorrow type of way (and oh boy, I was). With a new surge of confidence, I set for my next squat and the next and the next. And by the time I left the gym, I had done three sets of squats, three sets of hang cleans, lunges with weight, dumbbell bench press, push-ups, dumbbell push-press, rows, and abs.
A sweaty mess, I stepped out into the sunshine and started the walk back to my house. I felt physically exhausted but mentally renewed. All I needed was to face my fear. Fear aside, I could do anything.