And Then I Had No Job: Uncertainty and Gratitude

At 6 am on December 21st, I stood outside my job, at David Barton Gym Limelight. There was a padlock on the door, and a note saying that the gym, the entire franchise, was closed. Effective immediately.

Permanently.
Just like that, I had no job.

I won’t try to summarize my whole year – it would take a while, and it would not be that interesting to read (I don’t find lists of events that compelling, even if they are about me). But, 2016 was crazy, right? That is the pop culture consensus. Sad. Savage. Lit. Woke. A whole bunch of other strange adjectives we made up (language is a living creature, yo). Personally, this year, was incredibly challenging, fun, scary, joyful, and full of adventure. It was pretty great for me, in some obvious ways (heyyy Mark!) and in some less than obvious ways (bombing at Nationals, being stressed about money).  

 

Thank you to everyone who contributed so immensely to making my life better this year. Thank you to those who supported me. Thank you to those who challenged me. Thank you to those who pushed me, loved me, told me I could do better, told me I could be more, say more, and do more more. Thank you to those who reminded me that I am enough. Thank you to those who reminded me that the story we tell ourselves matters. To those who reminded me that humility, patience and the mind of a student are essential to true success. To those who reminded me that boldness, self love, and delight in myself are mine to savor and explore. Thank you to the global and cultural climate for reminding me of the good work that needs doing and the ways I can help make my world a better place. Thank you to my stupid cats for keeping it real. Thank you. Thank you Mark, Danny, Jack, Jae, Julia and Justin and my found Family. Thank you Chad, Caitlin, Cynthia, Alyssa, Linden, Nate Todd, Chris L., Marcy, Linnea, Terrance, Dianna and everyone who trained with me or has supported my athletic life. Thank you, Mom, dad, Marianne, Charlie, John and the babies. Thank you Fancy, Lulu, Celine, Vivian, Elin, Kathy, Gracie, Joe, Jenna, Mel, Kristin, Heidi, Allyson, Steve, Leah, Raheela, Susan and everyone else who trusted me with their bodies. Thank you Chris, Derek, Max, John, Octavia, Johanna, Sherri, Ru, Ashley, Ray, Sean, Brett, Devon and all of my DBG friends and colleagues. Thank you Gina, Charlie S., Charlie L., David T., Theik, Maud, Mel and all my old friends I didn't get to see much and to the new ones I got to know better. Thank you. . . . . . . #strongwoman #masteryourself #practicegratitude #2016 #2017 #happynewyear #striveharder #playyourlife #womenwholift #weareenough #selflove #daregreatly #whodareswins #audentesfortunaiuvat

A photo posted by Cara Brennan (@captainstarbuck) on

In striving and achieving and falling short of various goals, I learned a lot about how I learn, and about who I am.
I fell in love. Like, really in love. We just celebrated our one year, and that is very rad.

That has demanded more vulnerability, more change, and more scary raw emotion than I ever realized.

I got a lot stronger physically, and mentally. I got bigger, physically, and emotionally. I got more uncertain, and more positive.

It was a really full year, and it seems incredibly appropriate that it end with one more paradigm shift/mega-life-change.

You know that somewhat childish fantasy we all have occasionally, that one day you’ll wake up and go to work but work doesn’t exist anymore? Just, poof, no job! And you’re like “Yes, snow day! Forever!”
Well, that happened.

The events are still unfolding. David Barton Gym is liquidating. They gave us no notice, at all. We, the former employees of DBG, are still waiting for our final paychecks (which would have been issued December 25th had things progressed normally), and it seems like everyone has been scrambling to find a new job and get themselves and their clients set up somewhere new. I know I have. The first 36 hours after the shut-down, I spent almost entirely on my tablet (did I mention my phone died the Tuesday night prior? Good timing!) emailing my clients and colleagues, trying to make plans.

It was quite a week.

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT I showed up to work at David Barton Gym today to find the gym shuttered leaving me out of a full-time job and employment safety net. My heart hurts for all my friends and colleagues suddenly jobless right before Christmas. I have already received dozens of messages of support and potential leads, and I'm so so grateful for my wonderful support system. I am a very lucky human. I have found at least one training facility in Manhattan that is welcoming me and my gymless clients a place to work out and I am very excited about some of the opportunities already arising from this situation. I am still looking for potential training or group class instructor jobs, so if you're in NYC and have some leads, hit me up. And if you are interested in training with me and found DBG a little out of your $range, DM me today for an intro rate session offer. Thank you for your support #strengthculture #strongwoman #nycfitness #nyctraining #nyctrainer #davidbartongym #fitfam

A photo posted by Cara Brennan (@captainstarbuck) on

In the aftermath, a lot of people have been asking me “Oh my god, are you OKAY?” and declaring that what had happened was terrible (it was) and unethical (also true) and bizarre (yeah, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, standing outside that gym in the dark of the morning, with no one around and no idea what to do next). I was incredibly touched by how many people reached out to me; I am very grateful to have the support system that I do.

It took a few days for the loss to set in, but I wasted no time.  I found somewhere to train my clients, and I ended up only really taking two days off of working, which was a relief.

Being a personal trainer, like any essentially freelance job, has many degrees of insecurity, but when you work out of a big box gym, you feel like you have consistent work, even if that’s not strictly true. I learned a lot working for DBG, and I will forever be grateful for the ways it has changed me and for the people it brought into my life (hey clients! You are the best). When it sank in that I no longer had an employer, I felt a bizarre mix of emotions – relief, astonishment, amusement, sadness, confusion. I also realized that all that much-vaunted job security was, in many ways, a total lie.

Nothing is certain. Anything can happen, at any time. This is terrifying, but it can also be freeing. 

I am excited because I am learning how to cherish the unknown. When you have a certain type of job or lifestyle, it becomes easy to believe that things will always be a certain way, or you will always experience certain kinds of outcomes. For me, this manifested as my expectations trapping me into certain patterns that were not necessarily benefiting me.In some ways, even though I wanted so much more, I got complacement. 

While I will miss David Barton and the people I worked with, I am grateful for this opportunity to recreate my expectations for how I work and how I run my life.

 

By acknowledging that tomorrow I could wake up and my whole life could be different,that that can happen at any time, in any infinite number of ways, I remind myself to be grateful.

To stay present and not assume or take my future for granted.

That I have no ability to predict what will happen around me.

That I am strong beyond my own comprehension, and that when these catastrophes or miracles or freak accidents occur, I will adapt, I will grow, and I will continue to live.

That I control how I engage with my life.

That the greatest gift I can keep giving myself is not worrying about what happens to me, but trusting that I will come through any “what” having learned more about myself or the world around me.

How does one deal with the constant ghost of the unknown?

I have started to be able to answer that question confidently.


My year was about learning myself more deeply, understanding what I need in order to grow, understanding how to better care for and love myself, understanding that I DON’T KNOW what is going to happen next, and that is okay. No one does.

So I am going into 2017 with my eyes open, grateful and excited for how next year changes me. The end of 2017 will see me a completely different person, just like the end of 2016 did. And I am grateful and excited.

Happy New Year.

Cara

P.S. I also looked at a lot of memes, but I don’t know that that is a good thing.

 

“Every aspect of your life will improve,” – How I Killed My Ultimate Bad Habit

We all love before and afters, right?

I wish I had a before and after of a picture of my lungs, but that might actually be too scary, so here’s a cute picture of me of when I was smoking and out of shape and then once I had ascended to swoledom, with the adorable benefit of Snapchat stickers:

 

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Sadz to radz, my friends

Honestly, there wasn’t a single quick fix that got me to quit smoking for good, so much as it was gradual buildup of positives currents that were pushing me toward a certain outcome, so that when I got the final push, it was like just cutting the anchor loose and letting the waves push me where I was already trying to go. But in looking back on the process of getting healthy and and kicking my smoking habit, I realize that the worst habits I had were  often manifestations of the negatives beliefs I had about myself, and smoking was a clear example of this.

In 2010 I was depressed, unhealthy, and nursed a serious Marlboro habit. I don’t have a ton of regrets, but smoking is definitely one of the big ones. I don’t know if it would have worked, but I wish more of my friends had gotten in my face about it,  but a lot of them were smokers too – they were in no position to look out for my health and well-being. But I am deeply grateful for the ones that did.

When I was almost ready to quit, the push that was the most effective was when my roommate and good friend/creative partner Jack Payne  of Lonely Cow Productions,  looked at me while I was climbing out onto our fire escape to light up and said, “You know if you quit, every aspect of your life will change.”

And I knew he was right.

“You know if you quit,

every aspect of your life will improve.”

– My roommate not letting me off the hook. Thank you, Jack!

And Danny, for all the subtle “you shouldn’t smoke,” shade.

Now, I was already well into my current self-betterment process – I was eating well, drinking less, and lifting consistently. I was even personal training (trainers: we’re people with problems too!).

Not only was I physically healthier, I had started to really  identify with my ability to set habit-based goals and reach them. I was attracted to the archetype of the warrior monk – someone who had achieved an active balance of mental/spiritual acuity and physical mastery and control. My pursuit of embodying this archetype would be characterized by an intimate understanding of what my body needed to be healthy and happy. Clearly a smoking habit was not in alignment with this desire.

“It was a product of my hesitancy to change and my fear of owning my desires to change. It was a ghost of my insecurities.”

I was not blind to the hypocrisy of my smoking habit of course, I was just a) chemically addicted and b)psychologically addicted. Earlier I mentioned that my worst habits were often direct manifestations of my worst ideas or beliefs about myself. Smoking was like the Super Villain of these beliefs. The ultimate Big Bad standing in-between me and the realization that I could be whole and happy and healthy.

So then you take a second, breath, and then get that shit. #strongwoman #deadliftordie

A video posted by Cara Brennan (@captainstarbuck) on

It was a product of my hesitancy to change and my fear of owning my desires to change. It was a ghost of my insecurities – it was haunting my attempts to reclaim myself and create a happier reality. It was a representation of a belief existing within me still, the belief that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to change.

That I would not ever truly own myself.

This idea had to die.

You can see the entanglement of this. I was harboring a potentially life-threatening addiction while trying earnestly to become healthy. This is a common trap for many, I’m sure. We desperately want one thing, while blindly clinging to things that keep us from that thing. Self-sabotage, whoohoo! So how do you get rid of something that you may aren’t even aware of? Or are aware of, but are so afraid of that you can’t look directly at it?

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Doing dope things I couldn’t have done just a few years ago. Photo: Spotted Owl Photography

In my case, I made the habit as hard to continue as I could. I recommitted to the part of my job that holds me up as an example to my clients. I avoided hanging out with people who I knew would offer me a cigarette. I limited my involvement in activities that I knew would tempt me to smoke. I worked out even more. I did more cardio. I gave myself lots of areas to succeed in, and lots of small ways to prove to myself that I could change.  I put my focus on the things I felt confident doing, and that built more confidence.

That positive feedback loop gave me power; power to make the final big change I needed to.

I didn’t focus on the thing I couldn’t do (quitting smoking) but focused on all the things I could do that made me not want to smoke. 

This attitude can apply to a lot of different types of challenges and goals. So often, the things we want appear unattainable and terrifying and seem insurmountable. We see the mountain, not the tiny next step in front of us that is totally doable.

You want to eat better? Just commit to adding one fibrous vegetable to your next meal. That’s it. Then do it again.

You want to be in better shape? Lay out your gym clothes before you go to bed, or go for a walk right now. Then do it again.

You want to stop staying out late at the bar? Make a an early appointment with a friend to go to breakfast or a workout before work at 7 am. You probably won’t be out til 2 am.

Changing big habits is incredibly difficult. Many who try, fail. Many more don’t try. Do not let this discourage you. I have managed to come back from and change many destructive and unproductive habits, and I did it by surrounding myself with supportive, loving people, and by taking teeny tiny steps toward the things I wanted to do and be.

It’s not easy. But it can be simple. Start now.

-Cara

 

You’re Not Shallow For Liking/Wanting Compliments

I read a post on This is Female Powerlifting that I enjoyed; wrote a whole thing and then realized I had a blog post! So let’s talk about external validation and wanting to look a certain way (maybe because of said validations, maybe not!).
 
I empathize with the writer’s many points and she touches on some things that I have also noticed in the lifting world and without. There is a laudable endeavor to transition away from making conscious assumptions about bodies’ capabilities based on observation and preconceived ideas/bias about what an athletic strong body ought to look like. I appreciate that in its complexity and I think general good-intent. The author expressed anxiety about having that view while still wanting to look a certain way, and being conflicted about that, so I write this to share my on take on this topic (and of course, welcome discussion!). Anyone who has spent any time in strength sports knows that those strong and capable bodies look like lots of different things. But I think it’s okay to want yours to be one thing while not holding that standard for everyone else.
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I am gloriously turnt up about my muscles because I made them for me. Also, I AM vain. So are you, maybe. It’s okay. 
I also sympathize with the author in that I was not ever categorized as “athletic” growing up. Now (in part to compensate), I actively endeavor to “look strong” – that is, to look visibly muscular. I find the aesthetic attractive and desirable for reasons that are more about telling a story with my appearance than about generally appearing sexually “desirable” (something usually assumed to be a root cause when it comes to how women present themselves,not without cause). My narrative is sometimes about demonstrating that I am strong – big muscles on women aren’t common, and thus I may automatically be labelled an “uncommon woman” as well as a strong one (as well as potentially less flattering things). I like it, and it makes me feel good and powerful. It’s something I am happy to invest extra energy into, and I utterly respect that many people choose not to/don’t want to/etc.
I do not assume that my goal is every female lifter’s goal, and I also make an active effort not to assume I know something about someone’s body based on its appearance (my work and experiences have taught me that those assumptions are often wrong). However, people are always going to have general assumptions about basic visible characteristics. Most people also don’t know enough about strength training or muscle in general to know that you can lift hundreds of pounds and not look like a physique competitor. That may very gradually be changing, but it’s going to take a while (I am happy to contribute to changing it).
 
I don’t think anyone needs to feel guilty or conflicted about wanting to look a certain way; it is a pretty basic human concern. We make millions of unconscious decisions based on what we see, and wanting to control or design your visible body is really, really understandable and it doesn’t make you a narcissist, or not hardcore enough about strength. It also doesn’t mean you tacitly endorse judging people based on how they look. It just means you care about how YOU look, and that is okay. It doesn’t make you anymore vain than the average person, and it doesn’t make you anti-feminist, or exclusionary to people with different goals and bodies. It also seems unrealistic to expect oneself to cast off all desire for external validation, especially regarding something you work really hard for. If a stranger looked at me and said “I bet you have a really fast Farmer’s carry,” I would BE SO FLATTERED. I also do not live for that to occur. I can be pleased by the external validation of an old coworker telling me my arms are getting bigger but also self-validate. For some of us, this may be something we have to practice, and that’s okay.
 
Your goals are YOUR GOALS and you do not owe to the world to tailor your goals or your desires to appear a certain way to anyone but you. Of course, many women are under a variety of pressures with regard to our appearances, many of which can be incredibly damaging. That is not what I am talking about (and is its own topic deserving of LOTS more discussion, of course). I am saying if you want to get jacked to “show” people you lift, GO DO IT, it won’t hurt anyone else, and it might make you feel great. It’s okay to enjoy external validation. It is clear that that cannot be your only motivator; that’s not healthy or reasonably sustainable (and for something as difficult as bodybuilding, external motivation probably won’t get you far). But you don’t have to throw the gainz-baby out with the old wheywater (<—trying desperately to make a lifty joke huehuehue).
 
I would love to hear other women’s thoughts on the article, as well as their take on getting external validation/learning to internally validate their progress, which is something we could talk about at length!)
 
C

Nationals and Celebrating a Year of Growth

​In six days I will be flying to Iowa for my second Strongman Corporation Nationals and my 2nd National competition of any kind. Even though it’s a bit surreal, I know exactly how I got here. I worked harder than I ever have for anything in my life and I learned how to truly take care of myself through that work.

This fool is my Nats roommate and I can’t wait

After Nationals last year, I remember on our journey home talking about how training was going to change, how we were going to comprehensively rebuild ourselves from the ground up.  And that’s exactly what we did. With my coach Chad’s guidance, I have become more explosive, more conditioned, and stronger than I have ever been, with much better technique, body awareness and coordination, and I feel like a completely different animal. I AM different. 

It’s been a year of really, really hard work.

My year in a nutshell: me suffering while Chad inflicts.

It’s been a year of going to bed early, of not going out, of eating my vegetables and my carbs and  not drinking much and generally being kind of boring. Sometimes I got tired of saying “no” to friends asking me to come out on weekday nights. There were many small moments where I felt like I was missing out a little bit. But everytime I turned down something, I knew I was saying yes to taking care of myself. It wasn’t just for the sake of optimizing recovery, it wasn’t obsessive worrying about doing everything it took to be the best. It was about, for maybe the most consistent period ever, saying yes to taking care of myself. 

Nationals last year (Photo credit: Seth Miller)

There is no “woe is me” spirit to my self-imposed restrictions, because they are responsible for some of the most important physical, mental, and emotional developments I have experienced yet. There are countless ways for a person to grow, and right now I choose Strongman as the main facilitator for my personal growth. When I put my energy into competing and training, I am also putting  energy into eating well, sleeping enough and doing the selfcare that has become an agent of radical in change in how I treat myself. It’s been a year of learning profound love for myself.

It’s been a year of  effort, of all the literal and metaphorical sweat, blood and tears. Outside of Strongman, I have experienced personal and professional highs and lows and learning opportunities. One of the things that loving and doing Strongman has reinforced, is that if you are really passionate about something and you let yourself love it and move yourself through it, that passion will wake you up to other opportunities and joys you forgot about or didn’t know you needed or wanted.

Nationals next week is going to be a party. It is going to be a ccelebratin of a year of lessons, love, and self-discovery. I know I will PR in many ways, and I leave myself open to the surprise of what this training cycle accomplished. I want to place high of course, but that’s an end result I am not worrying about right now. Right now, I am just feeling so very lucky to have had the year of Strongman that I have had. If you were in any way part of it, thank you.

I am excited. I am ready.

A good training session usually involves Caitlin and/or a pupper

Find That Joy


Celebrate your victories; live in them. Celebrate where you are, even if it doesn’t feel like victory yet. Today I hit some big Personal Bests, and I am so, so happy and grateful .  Two of the events for 2016 Nationals are the axle deadlift, with about a 12-13 in pick height, and circus dumbbell. Today Chad had me work up to 1 Rep Maxes on those two lifts, as well as Floor Press (a chest press variation). After this training session I realized that a few things have changed in my training this year, and they are subtle; both physical and mental, and I am really glad I am learning these lessons relatively early in my lifting career. But first, numbers!
The dumbbell went okay, and my best rep was 95 lbs on my right, though I couldn’t quite get it on my left. I was satisfied. I have hit 100 lbs for one on my right in competition, but that was my heaviest training rep ever.  I also hit a solid 90lbs on each side, my PR weight at Nationals last year. 
The floor press I did last, pressed a solid but slow 150lbsx1, followed by a somewhat assisted 155lbsx1. That was after the deadlift.
One of the many benefits of having a coach for something like Strongman is that I can relinquish the burden of knowledge a little. It’s easy to psych yourself out when it comes to big numbers. So when I pulled 375lbsx1 for a huge PR, I had no idea what I’d just done, and went on to try 390lbs, and really WENT for it. It was not to be, but when I asked Chad how much I HAD pulled and he answered “375,” I yelled “WHAT??!!”  And proceeded to run around and whoop like a drunk fratboy. 

I advocate ridiculous joy. This was after last week’s deadlift session.

It was awesome. I laughed, whooped, nearly cried. So I was riding my happy PR feels, and reflecting on the fact that I have been finding the joy in training in a big way lately and that is because of those subtle changes I mentioned above. I can break them thusly:

-I’m progressing better because I’m eating more appropriately and thus recovering better and getting stronger faster. This is clearly very gratifying. The linked article goes into this more indepth, but in short, I got really honest with A) What I wanted and B)what I was actually doing to get there. 

-I have totally surrendered to the program. I trust Chad completely. I do what he says, and I try to run any extra assitance work I do by him for approval. I’m NOT extra intensity cardio or heavy lifts. I surrendered to the program, and my progress anxiety has disappeared.  Obviously it is helpful to have a coach, but I think you could acheive a similar effect by, once you’ve decided on a program, really swearing to stick to it. For a minimum of 6 weeks. 8 is better, but most of us have zero attention span, so 6 might be more realistic. Most programs will get you stronger. If you DO THEM.

-I slowed down. It finally sank in that I am not on a timeline to success, or heavy lifts, and I have to relax and stop comparing myself to the champs (including my very accomplished lifter friends). I can let them motivate me, but ultimately I have to be in this FOR me, to feel, savor and enjoy every PR, every training session, and every day I get to be active, strong, and healthy. 

I am feeling very grateful for the many successes I have had this year, and for the most part the best ones have come when I relaxed, trusted the people I have chosen to rely on, and trusted myself.

So I say this as much to remind myself as others; I can reread this the next time I get frustrated about a failure. There is no rushing the best types of growth. Don’t compare yourself. Your experiences of this life are utterly unique. Enjoy them. Learn in them. Breathe into them, don’t push past. Open yourself into them, don’t blind yourself with false ideas of where you “should be.”

You should be right here, right now. 

Loving the Fight – What I Learned at The Kumite

A month ago I woke up with a sore throat and terrible aches. I felt stiff and when I got out of bed everything spun. I laid back down and texted all of my personal training clients. I was calling out. I was to compete in the hardest competition of my year-long Strongwoman career (and my ninth to date) in 5 days and I felt weak and terrified.

Continue reading “Loving the Fight – What I Learned at The Kumite”

Off the Edge – Fatigue and Recovery

What does your rock bottom look like? How do you feel when you’re there? How bout your not-quite-rock-bottom? It’s easy to picture the worst. It’s very dramatic and there’s tears and broken plates and tight fists and maybe a sad animal.

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Sad Rabbit empathizes

Back it up a little. Nothing is broken, not yet. No one died. In fact, things are fine. Work is busy maybe, you’ve got some side projects, some upcoming social obligations, and you feel good about life. But your edges are foggy. Your weights feel really heavy. You’ve been sleeping okay,  but not enough. It seems like someone always needs something from you.

Suddenly you can’t focus. You feel like a baby deer in training, weak and wobbly. You feel sloppy at work, and you can’t answer the questions fast enough. Everything just seems a tiny bit harder, for no easily discernible reason.

Then BAM. Splat. You topple off the edge of the cliff you didn’t know you were creeping along. And you fall. And you keep falling, scrambling for anything to hold onto. You’re upset at everything. You’re slow, you’re weak, nothing works. You sleep, it doesn’t help. You eat, it doesn’t help.

This is what happens when fatigue builds up.  The symptoms can be different for everyone, and sometimes it feels life-wrecking, and sometimes it’s just annoying. And if this happens, you need to stop what you’re doing and evaluate what is happening.

This happened to me recently. I was rolling along at a pretty brisk pace and feeling like a badass at everything. It was pretty great. Steady gains in the gym, bustling schedule of clients at work, and my social life was peeping it’s face out of winter hibernation finally. Then I had one of the hardest training days of my life and it knocked me flat on my ass.

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This was my social life this winter, so I’ve been making up for lost time this spring

Then it all seemed to avalanche down from there. Lifting was so hard, work took so much more extra focus and by the end of every day I felt like a total zombie. Next thing I knew I was crying in the post office (I mean, have you been to a post office? Not THAT weird). That hard training day didn’t cause the fatigue, it was a product of it.

Fatigue doesn’t just mean tired or sleepy, it’s total system wear and tear. Mind, body, emotions, spirit. When it comes to managing fatigue, they might as well all be the same thing. 

Really stressed at work? That’s going to contribute to fatigue. Having trouble with your partner? That too. Your kid is sick? Yep. Having an existential crisis? Oh yeah. And then there’s the obvious stuff like under/poor-eating, poor quality of sleep (THIS one though) and the cumulative build up of an intense training program cycle. All of these things affect each other.

Unless you’re a pro athlete (and hey, even then), chances are you are going to need to back off your training every once in a while. This can be really difficult to accept and do, especially if you got into lifting to manage your demons and center yourself. If lifting is your happy place, it really really sucks to feel like you are failing at that. It sucks to feel like one of the best parts of your day, your YOU time, is now betraying you.

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You are not literally the Hulk even if you make your non-lifter friends call you that when you’re drunk

But your body is not betraying you. It is just trying to get you to listen to it and give it the nurturing it needs. What do you do to nurture yourself? How much time do you take every day just to stop, check in with yourself and see how you’re doing? Ask yourself what you might need?

And sometimes you may still burn out. And THAT IS OKAY. You cannot be a hard-training-hyper-productive-machine all the time. You shouldn’t be, because you are not a machine. You cannot linearly  perform at increasing intensity over and over and over again. And THAT IS OKAY.

In fact, its more than okay. It might be great to spend a little time getting to know down-and-out- You. Sometimes it is when we are feeling extra vulnerable and weak  that we can really honestly evaluate what we need, whether in life or in training. It might just be a hot bath or two, it might be total overhaul of how we spend our free time, and how we choose to decompress.

You need to burn out a little here and there. And when you do, do not beat yourself up. Do not get frustrated. Do not pound your head against the wall and “push through,” hoping it will get better. You should be doing something, but it is not working harder (You’ve had quite enough of that). It is laying down and getting a few good nights’ sleep in a row. It is resetting. It is nurturing yourself. It is looking at your rock-bottom-or-not-quite and noticing what is there and what needs attention. It is taking stock without judgement. It is backing off.

It is rest. It is recovery. It is essential. Savor it, and treat your recovery with the same reverence and respect you treat your work or training. Then recover.

Gratitude for the Grind

There are hard days. And then there are days where you feel like the universe has conspired for no particular reason to utterly upend your shit. Be grateful for these days. Greet these days begrudgingly but with an affirmative nod. Because sometimes they’re the days that have something really important to teach you. And sometimes they have come just to remind you what you’re working for.

I had a training day like this recently. It was like in a scifi movie where the heroes are being attacked by an alien ship and the captain’s like “Return fire!” and the weapons guy is like “We can’t, they’ve blown off our cannons!” and then the cap is like “Well then raise the back-up shields, we are getting clobbered!” and the crusty engineer is like “No can do, they’ve disabled our power converters!” And then you think everyone is going to die and it’s really tense, but then some deus ex machina or cleverly established earlier plot point comes along and saves the day.

My training day was like that except there was no cleverly established earlier plot point to save me. “Fire the biceps! No? What about my traps? Fried? Gods dammit, Apollo!” and so on. There was no positive thinking my way into a more powerful workout, there was no more technique to fall back on, I was tapped.

I was taken by surprise; my workouts earlier in the week were solid, and I felt fast, powerful and strong. That day was the opposite. I struggled. My body felt like I’d never touched a weight or run or pressed or pulled.

And my internal mantra was “just get through it,”

And when I did finally get through it, I was totally spent and very proud of myself. I felt that I just exercised something deeper inside of me that had nothing to do with how physically strong I was, but had something more to do with personal grit, and with the mind I will need to have when I find myself in hard situations, whether in competition or in life.

I’m not proud of the fact that I felt like shit even at the start of the workout. Running yourself into the ground on purpose because it’s the “Beastmode” thing to do isn’t smart or admirable. But I am proud of what I mentally kept choosing while in the midst of a hard session.  Our willpower is being constantly tested by the minutiae of our lives, and I embrace fiercely a moment where I can make my will stretch on my terms, to choose something hard that totally belongs to me and ultimately is going to make me better.

This is not unique to strength training or Strongman, though that is my medium. The training of willpower, cultivating personal discipline, has become so much more than a way to help me be healthier and more productive. It has become a way for me to meet myself.

When I decide, or am forced, to do something difficult, I do not fear it the way I used to, because I have grown to trust myself through my discipline. I am less of an uncertainty, I am less of a question to myself.

When I experience hard days like this, I remind myself what I’m made of, and I remind myself what I have been building all those hours in the gym. My body, yes. But also something deeper and just as important.

Now, sometimes the stress outweighs the benefit. Talking about it later with my boyfriend, he pointed out that “You know, it’s okay to just stop and go home sometimes.” In this case I am happy with what I took from the workout (including a plan to increase my caloric intake, heyyooo), but next time I’m struggling, I will make sure I stop and really ask myself if it’s worth it. I think this is especially important for strength athletes for safety reasons. Pushing yourself to such exhaustion that you injure yourself is clearly no good.

But if your day, training or otherwise is really hard and you have to dig a little deeper to get through, make sure you thank yourself and acknowledge what that digging means.

It means you’re strong and you keep getting stronger.

How to Go Through Hell – Training and Living Through Anxiety

Sometimes nothing in particular is wrong, YOU just feel wrong. Unsure, unconfident, like you’re making the wrong choices. Sometimes you get stuck there for days, weeks. Everything you say sounds wrong. Every decision you make seems like a terrible idea.

Ah, anxiety you sure know how to make life suck for absolutely no reason.

If you’re like me, and anxiety is not a constant battlefield so much as an annoying ex roommate who drops in to visit with no forewarning text, then you can probably relate.

It goes like this: One morning you wake up and feel like your brain got spun around inside your skull, and everything you do SUCKS. You start messing up small things, and then leaving your wallet at home and having to add 20 minutes to your commute to go back and get it suddenly feels like a metaphor for how you should have picked a different major in college and oh God that guy you’re into really secretly thinks you’re disgusting and you’re a talentless failure that no one will ever love.

Yes,  non-anxiety-havers, it’s THAT dramatic sometimes.

And if you’re a lifter like me, sometimes anxiety sounds like this:

“You can’t get your legs into your deadlift. You suck at deadlifting. You will always suck at deadlifting. Why do you compete again? So other people can see how bad you suck? Who the fuck do you think you are? Why do you even bother?”

Yyyyyupp. One of my favorite not-so-inspirational inspirational quotes is from famous British curmudgeon-quipper Winston Churchill:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Well, damn,  okay then. But how does one do that, when to keep going exacerbates the panic in your brain?

1. Stop Caring

Make a deal with yourself to temporarily suspend all fucks-giving. All caring about The Big Picture of Your Life. Decide that for the next 24 hours (or however long it takes), you will make no value judegements about your life in the larger sense, no decisions about any future course of action, and make no opinion about your life. This alone is very hard, but if you can at least attempt that, move onto Step 2.

2. Work

Clean your kitchen. Write some boring work emails. Call the plumber. Train and do your best to forget the reps and the amount of weight on the bar. Right now it doesn’t matter. All that matters is getting yourself to a better state of mind. Will any of these one things cure that anxiety, that gnawing sense of misplacement, of ongoing error, of confusion? No, not necessarily, but they may give you something to focus on that isn’t your Whole Life and Every Choice You’ve Made So Far. Or your next competition. Or your next career move. Or whatever Anxiety the Annoying Ex Roommate is choking up your brain with. Once you’ve done a few small things and feel remotely functional, move on to Step 3.

3. Finish Something

Once you have met your basic needs, a sense of well-being, accomplishment, and confidence is really only acquired one way, through finishing something. So in the effort to redirect your mental and physical energy away from your anxiety, pick something you like doing, but pick the very simplest easiest version of it. I’m talking “You could do this with the flu, on an empty stomach, blind-folded and on no sleep” level easy. Do it once. Then do it again. Then maybe make it a little harder or more elaborate and keep doing it.

If your powerclean is making you feel like a total idiot, do some lat pull downs. And fucking MURDER THOSE LAT PULL DOWNS. Make them the greatest pull downs to have ever been pulled down. Feel that shit deep in your arms pits, deep in your soul. Or wherever. You know what I’m saying.

The point of this is to give yourself a focus, a task, and then an easy win. Lots of easy wins eventually turn into moderate wins, and into hard wins.

So on top of the more long term solutions to anxiety (seeking profesional help, medication, meditation practice and other methods of coping/living with anxiety), sometimes it’s the really normal small stuff that will save you. Routine. Discipline. The work. This is part of why I am such a big believer in having a specific and simple daily routine. It can be the lifeboat you need when you feel like your ship is a hot damn mess of holes.

If hell for you right now is your power clean, then get it done, and move on to something you know you can knock out of the park. If hell is your creative passion (writer’s block whaattuppp!!), write a grocery list. Then write a list of your favorite colors. Then a word association game. If hell is something you feel like you “should” be better at, pick the kindergarten version and do that until you start to feel like yourself again.

Anxiety sucks. It takes and takes and doesn’t care how much of your precious energy it steals. So reclaim your energy and put it back into yourself.

Just Do the Damn Thing (And How)

Right about now is when we start losing steam. All of that New-year vigor has run out and we have sunk pretty firmly back into the trenches of established routines. Work, drink, hang with friends, watch TV. Some of the goals we swore up and down would change our life this year have dimmed in the brightness of their importance. Even those of us with maybe an advanced ability to set and achieve goals have relaxed a little. The year is steaming on ahead, as life does. Now is about the time everyone is saying “Can you believe its almost April?” Hell, that’s practically summer. This is normal, it’s natural and in many ways inevitable. But in realizing that I’ve let up a little in the pursuit of my goals, how do I get back to them? It’s about understanding why I’ve let up.

1. You’re Doing Too Much

A new habit takes about 3 weeks to cement in the mind. With this in mind, I thought,  “Well there’s four weeks in a month so I should Totally be able to add a new habit or fine tune an exisiting one EVERY month.”
This was a nice thought in theory,  but 3 months into the year I’ve realized that just maybe I bit off more than I could chew. I work full time, I train upwards of 6 hours a week, am attempting to maintain a social life, have downtime, and actually sleep. Adding a new ritual  (meditation, reading, etc) EVERY month has turned out to be a little too

2. Okay, But I Still Want To ______

So now that I’ve been honest with myself about what I’m actually reasonably capable of, I can plan how to keep making progress. There is no need for feeling guilty or down on myself. That isn’t helpful. I just have to be real with myself, which is different. It means honestly examining what I want, and what I might be afraid of that’s stopping me. Maybe I’m not afraid, maybe I’m just too overwhelmed in another area of my life, and that is stressing me out to the point where this Other Goal I Have gets neglected as a result. Those things are normal.
You may also have just added too much to an already full plate, and that’s okay. So maybe there’s another area of your life that you can do less in, in order to make room for something new.

3. DOING THE THING

Some questions to ask yourself about your goal/resolution

-“What am I afraid will happen if I actually accomplish this?”

This is a good question for many types of goals, including if not especially creative ones or health ones. Self sabotage and fear of success is very real.
For example, this blog. I decided I wanted to blog regularly, to share my training process, to encourage people, to connect. I have been sitting on a post about my last competition since January 20th. Why? It’s almost done, I’m proud of what I accomplished in that competition, and I had a great experience that I want to share. What gives?
Good old fashioned fear of rejection, of course! I’ve been afraid that people will think it’s boring, that my dissection of the mental and emotional side of competing is dumb, that I’m a bad writer, the list goes on.

Name your fear. Reassure yourself against it. Ask for validation from people you truly trust who build you up. Then DO THE thing.

“I’m too busy to do X, how can I make time for it?”

Imagine what the perfect conditions would be for X to occur. Does perfect conditions mean literally more hours in a day? Can you go to bed earlier and wake up earlier if you know you have more drive to do stuff in the morning? Experiment. Is it your roommates/partner/kids* knowing you need 20 minutes to yourself at 4 pm? Asking for help in creating your Perfect Conditions from your close loved ones may surprise you. Sometimes the outside perspective from people who know you really well can provide the answer.

“Maybe I don’t really want X?”

Okay, maybe! Make a list of all the possible reasons you made X resolution to begin with. Go through each one and dismiss or validate it. Maybe you decided to give up a food/drink/activity in support of or because a friend was and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but you’re not REALLY invested in that nor does it actually add anything to your life. Scrap it and don’t feel guilty. Or maybe it was a great idea to do for a month and you ambitiously decided to do it for a year, just because it sounds impressive. It’s okay to let that go too. You don’t have to prove anything.

The value of a resolution, whether it’s a new habit, goal, practice etc is what it adds to our life and how it can help us grow. If it’s not helping you grow and it’s stressing you out, dump it. You can always try again later if you want to.

My biggest realization of this month was that creativity has to start taking more priority in my life, specifically writing and performing  (reading my work or acting). But I was afraid to write. I butted heads with my creative insecurities, and still am. But I realized that if I want to keep growing, keep writing, keep thriving, then I must continue this active investigation of myself and sometimes FORCE myself to do the thing.

I wrote this post in one sitting at Barnes and Nobles between training clients, because I needed to force myself to post Something to get the ball rolling again. I realized that what I thought were  my perfect conditions for writing were actually just bad conditions. I can’t wait until I’m home at 7 pm, tired and ready for bed. I need to write when the sun is up and cruising around the city. I’m exploring what I actually need to do in order TO DO.

Examine your goals and resolutions. Recommit or scrap them and move on. Ask for help. Be kind to yourself.

And go do the things!

Cara