“Failure” in lifting, and life (Guest post)

I wanna talk about failure in lifting for a sec. Not muscle failure like being unable to complete a rep–well, that might be part of it too. But when things don’t go as planned.

I’ve been inspired these days by the super strong women over at Women’s Strength Coalition (check our their Facebook) doing some killer lifts and thought, “What the hell, maybe I should film myself lifting.”

I’m not focusing on strength right now, but reps/endurance (higher repetitions with lighter weight for a max of 12 reps). But I have been killing this routine. Got my deadlifts at 205lbs for 12 reps solid. Today was the last hoorah before changing routines, so I figured it was a good time to see what I could capture on film.

But from the moment I picked up the very first weight, everything felt heavy. Even the warm up. Ugh.

I went in for my first set of deadlifts and it was brutal. Each rep felt like a ton. And I failed. Totally failed. Barely initiated the 10th rep and had to let it go. Put the bar down. The second set–I don’t even want to think about the second set!–was way worse. 5 reps. 5 reps of my 12-rep weight! And I was filming all this. Beautiful. *sarcasm*

I finished off with a set of Romanian deadlifts and managed my usual 10 at my 10-rep weight. But, boy, were they ugly. I just muscled through it.

After all that, I watched the videos of my disappointing lifts. And it got me thinking about failure. Online we usually only see images of awesome feats, but rarely do we see any posts about the lifts that “failed.” (Unless they are nastily mocking people, but that’s a whole other topic).

In my academic life, I’ve been engaged in discussions about how it’s important to be more transparent about failure (e.g., grants not awarded, papers rejected, etc.) to create a more supportive (and healthy) academic culture. (Jennifer Diascro has a fabulous blog about tenure denial and failure in the academy if you’re interested.) This made me wonder about lifting as well. Maybe we should share some of our “failed” lifts too? Not just the most impressive ones? Is that part of how we build an inclusive and supportive community of strength (training) that welcomes all?

Every day in the gym can’t be our best and that’s part of training. Figuring out why things didn’t go as planned, and learning to accept that, is what helps us move forward. In lifting, and in life.

So here are my “failed” lifts today.

Stephanie Coen is a postdoctoral associate in geography at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. Her research focuses on the role of place and environment in the gendering of physical activity. She recently published a study about gender and gyms. Her passion for equity in physical activity and health opportunities drives her research. She can be found tweeting at @steph_coen.