That guy’s shoulder caps are bigger than my head.
Look at her! Why can’t I lose these last 10lbs?
I just wish I had her genes (the DNA kind).
If you’ve frequented any gym, chances are these thoughts have trickled into your self-talk regimen. It’s unfortunate, unhealthy, and yet it’s automatic behaviour. Comparative and competitive instincts are just human nature and take a lot of conscious correcting to control.
I started this blog to talk about fitness, but also to remain transparent about my experiences as I take baby steps into the world of powerlifting. A few days ago, I had a meltdown on bench day. Bench press was (or still is?) my best lift, but my numbers aren’t budging. I’ve been stuck at a 110lb bench for a few months now, and I became so frustrated after my third failed attempt the other day that tears began to form. Y’all can bug me about crying at the gym (what a wimp, amirite???). My meet in September is so important to me, and this “off” day became the straw that broke my perfectly arched back. I furiously scrolled through my Instagram feed to find some insight into how I’m failing. Are there cues I’m missing? Is my form off? Am I just not meant for powerlifting? I see all of these incredibly strong women benching 135lbs like it was an empty bar, and the inferiority sets in all over again. I’m not worthy! I wanted to quit.
I am my own worst enemy. I’m finding that as I progress further into training, my mental barriers are the toughest part of lifting. I can have my form and mobility down, but my mind tells me I’ll never hit this personal record squat. It’s something that has been ingrained, rehearsed, and is seemingly impossible to unlearn.
I am by no means free of this self-deprecating monologue, but I’m actively acknowledging it. I’m slowly learning to catch myself at these low points and remember the ONLY comparison I should be making: it’s me vs. me.
Fitness in a digital age
In one of my earlier posts, I talk about fitness as an industry and boy, has the industry changed as technology makes fitness more popular. Instead of just seeing our favourite celebs on the big screen, we can now follow their daily activities with ease. We can see Kim K’s workout selfies on Snapchat, Instagram… I’ve even seen her gym selfies on the national news (um, how is that national news?) Celebrities reveal their workout secrets and if you’re following Kim’s workout regimen every day (she runs 4 miles a day followed by 1000 jump ropes), you might be strapped for time if you don’t call yourself a seasoned runner.
The reality is that if you’re a single mom with two jobs, it’s no surprise that you can’t achieve a Kardashian body. Kim probably has two chefs, three personal trainers, and a surgeon on-call. Her life is all about looking her best. Your life is about bringing home the bacon for your kids. Actors and sponsored athletes make a living off of their bodies. Their gym sessions can range from 4-6 hours. For all of us common folk, this is outrageously unrealistic.
The other troublesome fact is that images online or in print are manipulated. From the documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger, here is a clip of some photographers talking about editing:
The “after” image for the supplement absolutely astonished me, because to me, that transformation looks very real. The key takeaway is that what you see isn’t always what you get. Photographers and athletes rely on a bunch of different factors (lighting, blurring, etc) in order to project their ideal body to the digital world.
Having a You vs. You Mentality
Because walking into the gym with blinders on isn’t very productive, here are a few things I try to remember when the self-doubts surface:
1. I’m on a path
This path is no one else’s. It is my own. It is full of individual obstacles and triumphs that are completely unique to me.
2. Everyone has a story
We assume that the girl with the flawless curves at the gym also has a perfect life. This is a fallacy. Great body ≠ Perfect life.
3. Everyone brings experiences with them
Some people have been lifting since they were adolescents, others have started in their mid 30’s. If you’ve been lifting for a year, you won’t be hitting big lifts like someone who has been lifting for their whole adult life.
4. My body is unique to me
It has its own quirks and while some of these quirks are the opposite of a blessing, they are unique to me and I should honour them.
5. Failure and plateaus are normal
Not every week is going to be stellar. You won’t hit records reliably. Each time you fail you get another opportunity to learn and grow in order to battle your weaknesses.
The next time you get mad that a 13 year-old girl can bench press more than you, try to remember that this is all about being better. Feel the cold steel in your hands and tune out the static telling you you’re not good enough because you are good enough – even better than your were before.