I remember when I started running, and my shins hurt, friends said to me in encouragement, “wait until you get the runner’s high – you will feel fantastic.”
And it is true, you do. But to be honest, the emotion I usually felt when I worked out, or learned a new sport, was frustration. I had to work at learning all of it: how to stretch, how to move my feet, how to move my arms, how to recover, how to prevent injury and stress. I was not a natural athlete.
Often I would drag myself home, physically, and emotionally, in a lather muttering imprecations and not a few curses.
Of course, there were great moments. I remember the joy I felt at completing two ten-mile road races and competing in two regattas. I remember how thrilled I was to take five minutes off my time from one year to the next in the road race, and how excited I got when I finally felt at home in the boat with the team and the oars.
I remember how sad I felt when the season ended, when my rowing team members decided to pursue other interests, when my knees said no to running.
When I started weight training, I figured there would be similar highs and lows. And yes, there were times when I gritted my teeth doing the last set of split squats, or when I sat in the change room wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into.
Generally though, I liked, and still like, what I was doing. I was so happy when I started working with the trap bar, and then, when I graduated to the squat, bench and deadlift. So I have run the gamut – frustration, delight, excitement, anticipation, and sadness.
In one of my most recent training sessions, though, I encountered a new one: anger.
My trainer has suggested over the last couple of months that I work on my mental approach as well as thinking about my tactical approach to lifting large weights. I’ve been liking the ideas very much, and can see the difference in my squats.
The most consistent advice has been to focus on attacking the bar, whether I jam it in the right spot on my shoulders, or if it’s saying to myself, ”this weight is super heavy, but I am going to really go after this lift.“
The fact is, I’m not used to physical aggression, or being physically aggressive. Now getting angry with inanimate objects was not foreign to me; I have wrestled with my share of awkward pie doughs, nasty zippers on toddler snow suits, and resistant corks in wine bottles. But getting angry in public, in a gym?
That was new, and it was uncomfortable and it was unsettling.
But I usually try anything my trainer suggests at least once, because so far I have received good advice and excellent coaching. So I attacked the bar. I was not going to be defeated by pieces of metal. I lifted that weight, and I did it seven times.
I expected to be wrung out, because we were on our next to last set, but instead I was buzzing with the power of the focused anger. It was overwhelming and confusing at once.
That night as I was thinking about that session, I wondered if, too often, we let those social roles set for women as peaceable, as accommodating, as flexible means we don’t get to own our aggression, passion, and anger in disciplined ways. It’s not just in weight and powerlifting, of course; it’s also in boxing and martial arts, to just name two.
Women aren’t supposed to show anger or aggression. If we feel it, we are supposed to swallow it, or hide it, because expressing those strong emotions means we are challenging the status quo, speaking our truths loud, and standing our ground.
But I have come to the conclusion that we need to show our strength, and if that means being loud, angry, and aggressive with the weight, then so be it. There are lots of lessons in the weight room that can carry over into the board room and perhaps it’s high time more of us were learning to harness that particular power effectively.
— MarthaFitAt55 has decided to replace her striped tabby cat inner self with a sleek black jaguar. So far so good.