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Finding the strength within

There I was, happily heading into the very last repeat of my very last set of exercises of my workout, when bam! I fell over my feet and executed a perfect faceplant. In front of several other gym goers no less, one of whom was at the rack doing her own workout.

The experience was not a little surreal. I knew as I was reaching the last third of the sled pull that something was happening with my feet. They felt wrong, but I knew I was not able to right myself in time, that I was going to fall regardless, so I let go and met the floor.

It wasn’t graceful.

As I heard the concerned voice of my trainer asking me if I was all right, I was quickly running through all the body parts that hit the floor, checking nothing was damaged or broken, especially my knees and hands.

I was lucky. A couple of reddish spots where clothing and skin had rubbed the floor was all we could see. Nothing was bruised except my dignity. After several minutes to recover and gently flexing moving parts, I was up and getting ready to go as per usual.

Over the next couple of days, post super hot shower and prophylactic icing of problem areas like my knees, all was good. I checked with my trainer that any stiffness or soreness was the result of the new elements in the workout and not the after effect of my tumble.

Since then, though, I’ve spent some time thinking about what happens when your body does something you didn’t expect.

Not two weeks before, I had approached the bar to execute a military press to lift a new weight. It was a very small increase given it was the next to last set of repetitions so I wasn’t expecting any trouble. But when I put my hands on the bar, stepped back and prepared to lift, nothing happened.

The bar refused to go up. I tried twice to lift the bar I had lifted moments before. My body said “nope, not gonna.”

We stepped back into the rack. I figured my trainer was going to whip off the extra weight, but she asked me to shift my hands a little wider and to try again. Boom! This time the bar went up in response to my body’s command.

In thinking about what happened in each instance, I was struck by one main thought: I approach every exercise assuming I can perform. It may not be great, especially if the action is designed to fatigue and I’ve been going full tilt, but I do assume I can do it.

The fact that twice now I have not been able to make it do what I wanted, either lift or stop myself from falling, offered an opportunity to think about the difference between technique, fatigue, momentum, and energy.

Sometimes in a workout, when I have pushed and pushed, I feel I simply cannot even go one more rep. That’s exhaustion speaking and occasionally a little self-pity whining “there’s nothing left in the tank.”

Both of my trainers, with their experience of assessing and evaluating my performance, were and are able to see if I truly cannot do more, or if I just need that little shout of encouragement to reach that last rep.

In the case of the bar, it was an issue of technique, a matter of shifting my hand position so I could better leverage the weight and perform the press properly. In the case of my sled pull, the lower weight on the sled, coupled with my need (let’s be honest, my pride!) to finish my workout as John Stanton says of running, upright and smiling, drove my unexpected speed which led to my legs saying “nope, not gonna.”

Understanding that we need to adapt and still perform properly to avoid injury is always important. I have arthritis so some days my grip strength on one side is not what it should be. I pay attention, I add more chalk, or I adjust position.

But with my tumble, I also learned that sometimes, when you think your tank is empty, and you start anyway because who doesn’t want to perform their best and call your workout not just done but fabulous, you find, amazingly, you still have power and strength left, and that feeling? It feels glorious.

— Martha Muzychka is still learning all the wonderful ways it means to be strong and fit.

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