its way off topic but its about weight lifting so i figured you guys might wanna read it. lemme know what you think. ----------------------------------------------------------------- My headphones are way too loud, but I refuse to let the pop music on the speakers overhead ruin my concentration. A high pitched chorus or a whiny teenager’s cliché love story will not prepare me for what is coming. I need constant, heavy, thumping bass notes and angry rap. I step up to the barbell loaded with weight and move around to stay limber. I grab the cold iron bar in front of my face and swing my body underneath it so that it is resting on my back. My reflection looks back at me, with the same intense stare full of purpose and determination. My eyes are focused, my mouth is closed, and my jaw is set. The only things moving are my nostrils, flaring with the rise and fall of my shoulders. I look back at the mirror, into his eyes, and know that I will squat this weight seven times. Why? Because right now, it’s what matters. I started working out about four years ago, when it really didn’t matter. I just needed a hobby, and I knew weight lifting was healthy and the girls loved it. I have come a long way since then – realizing my goals, now accomplishing them consistently, and learning more than many certified personal trainers. The gym is not just an activity that I like to do anymore; it is an exercise in effort, determination, and accomplishment that helps me deal with life in the same way. I set the bar on my back where it always goes (when I look in the mirror later tonight, before my shower, I will have red lines there). When I un-rack the weight my body immediately tenses. I begin to inhale deeper, each breath more meaningful, and my hands hold tight on either side of the barbell. My leg and back muscles tighten, as I have just become twice as heavy. The air going into my lungs is no longer an involuntary means of survival – it is an elixir of sweet smelling energy. Eminem is screaming at me: “what you gonna do when sh** hits the fan? Are you gonna stand and fight like a man? Are you gonna be as hard as you say you are? Or are you gonna run and go get yo bodyguards?...” Even over his piercing interrogation, backed by thunderous bass and earsplitting snare drum beats, I can hear the air rushing in and out of my lungs as I prepare to fight gravity. An error of most novice “gym-goers” is to concentrate too much on the little things. They worry too much about how to perform a certain exercise or if they are taking protein shakes or if they are doing the right number of reps. These things are good to know, but the most crucial part is just getting into the gym and busting your ass. I find that concentrating on the minute details sometimes takes the place of good old fashioned work ethic. Worrying about the little things is a good sign in that you are caring about what you are doing, but sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and realize that the big things are what matter the most. If it is something you want to do, the intensity will be there, just focus on the big things and the rest will fall into place. Nike’s motto says it best: “Just Do It.” Right before I begin, I get “tunnel vision.” My eyes only regard what is important to the raising of the weight. I don’t know if it is a survival instinct or just intense concentration, but everything else is toned down – it really doesn’t matter. Looking straight ahead, I inhale forcefully and sit down and back until my legs are below parallel. Keeping a strict arch in my back, with my head still up, I reverse direction and exhale: “tssssssssssss.” I don’t like the sound my breathing creates but it’s a combination of my clenched jaw and forceful exhale that I can’t really help. Like everything I do in the gym, it has its own distinct purpose. Some people that come to the gym don’t have a purpose, or if they do, they don’t know what it is. They sit on a machine, doing exactly what it tells them to do, looking around while the exercise they are “doing” doesn’t even make them break a sweat. They may as well be listening to a lecture on the primordial degeneration of matricular cellophytes. How can they go through the motions so mindlessly? Why are they here if they aren’t going to do it one hundred percent? Where is the concentration? Where is the intensity? I am on my sixth rep when the shaking begins. The last couple of repetitions usually take longer than the others, and when I reach my sticking (weakest) point I sometimes shake uncontrollably. It is a violent shaking caused by antagonistic muscles and tendons jerkily contracting in alternate succession. Basically my quadriceps, hamstrings, and lower back are all trying to get the weight up at slightly different paces –exploding rapidly like a pack of firecrackers. Sometimes I want to explode when I see someone jerking weights up or just mindlessly doing a hundred curls with 2 pounds. I think such zombie-like people I see bother me because they are obviously doing something that really doesn’t matter to them. To make it worse, it is something that matters to me. There is a reason they are there and I don’t understand why they choose to not try at something important to them. If it’s not important to them I don’t know why they are doing it. Power lifters work on three primary lifts: the bench press, dead-lift, and squat. They are called the “big three” because they are the 3 lifts scored in a meet - whoever lifts the most combined weight wins. Power lifters do not just do these lifts however; there are accessory lifts as well. These are used to help strengthen weak points in one of the big three. If you ask any power lifter, the accessory lifts are a huge help, but don’t do squat (no pun intended) if you don’t bust your butt on the big lifts. After I leave the gym I realize that the things I might usually worry about don’t matter as much. I just dead-lifted 400 pounds, does it really matter that I lost my ID card? Does it matter that the beautiful girl I met last week hasn’t called me back? Sure these things matter, but the focus and determination I get out of the gym helps me put it all in perspective. Does it matter that I didn’t do my crunches today? Does it matter that I only got 8 reps for my curls? These things matter, but I need to worry about the bigger things: I got to the gym today. I didn’t get injured. I squatted a lot of weight. I can honestly say I worked as hard as I could. “TssssssSSSSSeven! Whew! Yeah!” I take off my headphones because I’m not sure how much of that I said out loud. Some scrawny kids with cut off t-shirts, headbands, and knee-socks are looking at me quizzically, or maybe with wonder? Maybe they are just admiring the caption on my shirt: “Contains Low Carb Sperm.” Either way I am too satisfied and happy to have met my goal to care. I walk purposefully to my cubby, chug some Gatorade, and go sit down. I have accomplished what I came here to do – nothing else matters. The endorphins in my system are being released, creating a euphoric high. My breaths soothe me like the sounds of waves. The harsh fluorescent lights overhead seem more like a warm tropical sun. The sweat that has dripped onto my lips is salty like seawater: it tastes weird, sour and bitter. I know I shouldn’t want more but I kind of want to taste it just one more time. Part of me wants to stop “working” right now, but the other part – the one constantly getting stronger – makes me realize that it is only after I have given it my all when I will be able to appreciate what I have done. I stand back up and get under the bar again. Paradise, I’ll be right with you; I have a meeting with pain that I have to take care of first. The gym is a mini-version of my life. I’m learning to worry about my life’s “big three” – though mine may not be as succinctly defined as power lifters’. I am doing well in school. I have good friends. I am healthy. These are things that take hard work; the motions cannot just be performed mindlessly. There are more, and the tough part is figuring out what they are. Once you do, when you boil your life down to the things that really matter, the petty things that you might have been thinking about for most of your day seem really pointless. For me, the gym is the place that reminds me: some things matter – a lot. Some things don’t matter – at all. I’m not going to just do the things that matter, I’m going to bust my ass and do them well.