deadlift

Hey, Brain, Shut Up for a Second

Something happened recently that has left me feeling excited enough to think about maybe kissing Donald Trump’s golden wet dog of a mane if the world depended on it and my body feeling sooooo tired. Before I get into it, this very fitness-oriented post would make more sense if I first gave a bit more background.

Today’s tale goes back to August 2015 when I still worked at Bodybuilding.com, a popular fitness website with a more “hardcore” slant. By hardcore, I mean just imagine that the Wolverine version of Hugh Jackman was your coworker, except the whole office had many Huge Jackedmen so Hugh was actually just the norm.

The peer pressure to be strong and fit as hell was immense. With everyone else pushing and pulling impressive numbers in the gym, I’d decided I wanted to become a “deadlifting badass” myself. To me, that meant deadlifting 300 pounds.

Why 300? Why not, like, 275 or 315?

World-class throwing coach and fitness figurehead Dan John once said that one of the ultimate tests of strength is to be able to deadlift at least twice your body weight. And so I decided that 300 was a pretty well-rounded number…and that was that.

My good friend and mentor JC Deen drew up a training program that was geared toward deadlifting, which I was able to do consistently for five weeks before I left and peaced out for this grand new chapter of my now nomadic life. I’d worked up to 215 pounds, using a conventional stance.

That was in September 2015.

Today I still haven’t gotten to 300. But, but…a couple of days ago, in honor of Fuck Yes! Saturday, I got closer to that 300 than I ever have in the past year–actually, in my life.

After a failed first attempt, where the weight had barely budged and I tried to play it off with a hyena-like giggle, I got one rep of 250 pounds in sumo stance. The heaviest I’d ever gotten in sumo was 195. Picking up the 250 was a struggle, but not a battle so I’m secretly hoping I have a bit more in me. That’s for another time to find out. I wasn’t going to crap on my own victory parade.

A video posted by Stephanie Lee (@superlee7) on

New personal best aside, I was a fucking giddy little girl, and I know I just wrote this story sort of backwards, giving you the high point so early on.

Well, it wasn’t until after that I realized two important things.

First, I gained a new appreciation in my training. In all the time of going around from place to place, I never stopped working out. I made sure I still worked out consistently and hard, using bodyweight stuff (also thanks to JC) and going to a gym whenever I did have access. In fact, I wrote about my experiences on Lifehacker about using a bodyweight program to maintain my strength, and in some ways, got even stronger! (Click here to read about it, then come back!)

Even though I wasn’t able to directly work on deadlifts, I discovered I was able to build up my strength with certain substituted movements that still benefitted my deadlifts and overall physical strength. I didn’t have to deadlift all of the time in order to be a baller at deadlifts! I caught a whiff of this idea when I was in Korea, around July 2016, but hadn’t fully put 2 and 2 together, and surprised myself by picking up 220 fairly easily despite how “rusty” I was (that’s the cover photo of this post!).

This actually reminds me of another thing I said about whooshes, where you just never know you’re actually doing good until that good thing just happens all of a sudden.

Second, I realized that I was the reason I held myself back.

I must confess that when I first left for Japan last year, I’d resigned myself to losing some strength. I expected it. I also expected I wouldn’t be able to meet my goal of becoming a deadlifting Super Saiyan Jedi Ninja Master. And so for the past year, I gave myself way too many excuses to avoid trying to deadlift so heavy anymore:

“I can’t even practice deadlifting consistently enough.”

“I’m not in a stable environment and don’t have access to a gym all of the time.”

“I’m worried about my back.”

“It’s not a reasonable goal during this time of flux.”

“I don’t like the feel of sumo. I feel better doing conventional.”

“Actually, conventional feels weird. My body just isn’t built for deadlifting.”

And so on. The inherent message in all of these was: Why even bother trying because I know I’ll fail?

Lightbulb.

My mind did everything in its power to tell me to stay the same. Granted, the excuses seemed logical; I do tend to err on the side of caution to prevent lifting injuries, if I could help it. But for the longest time, I listened and accepted that I couldn’t do it right now and that was okay.

I limited myself in order to protect my ego because I couldn’t fail so spectacularly and so publicly.

The reason I even made a 250-pound attempt on this day was that the idea had suddenly sprung up in the middle of a run a couple of days prior. Two hundred and fifty would’ve been the most I’d ever deadlifted, in sumo no less; but it’d also be only 50 pounds (which is often lightyears away in weightlifting) away from 300! Did I want this? Fuck Yes! 

In the spirit of FY!S, I threw down the gauntlet and told myself to go for it. What’s the worst that could happen?

With a deadlift, I just wouldn’t be able to pick it up, plain and simple.

To be quite honest, I had thought about backing out several times because no one would’ve even known, and we’d all just go back to trawling Buzzfeed and arguing on the internet.

I forced myself to go to the gym that Saturday, even though it was actually my day off from the gym. I warmed up, pulling single reps in sumo style up to what I knew I could do: 135, 165, 185, 205, 215, and then…I tried 225.

Okay, it went up more easily than I thought, so maybe 250 wasn’t me being overconfident. I had to try.

I failed on my first attempt. I have it on video, which I kept as a reminder that this shit is going to happen.

My mind sneered, “I told you so.” But my friend told me, “You had it. You just had to pull as fucking hard as you could.” Another lightbulb. I hesitated because I was still trying to protect my ego. What a dumb, fragile ego.

On my second attempt, I did what my friend said and pulled as fucking hard as I could. My main trouble area is always around my shins; the completion of the deadlift–the lockout–is usually fine. I met a bit of resistance getting the bar off the floor and past my knees, but after putting on that grind face, the bar came up and the rest was breezy.

AWWWWW YEAH.

This huge weightlifting victory made me really believe in my training. It made me believe in the hip thrusts and lunges and squats and all the other stuff I was doing. And more importantly, it made me believe in myself again…d’awwwww. 

Srsly.

Our brain is always going to try to rationalize everything. Sometimes it’s good because it protects us. But other times it’s just purely to shelter our ego and keep us from ever trying to move forward.

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