Ability to Walk Away

24 Nov

Every weekend I see the girl and her boyfriend at the gym. Doing Clean and Jerks. And Snatches. Usually 4 sets of them. It takes them 2 hours.

Sometimes, I feel bad. Because wouldn’t you want a return on your 2 hour gym investment?  Doing 4 sets of any exercise will not get you that.

Sometimes, I feel smug. Walking to the gym I burn 4x as many calories as they do their entire time in the gym.

But always I feel sad. Because between each set, they spent 25-30 minutes dissecting each set. “Your arms were off by 4 degrees” he says. “How could you not notice that your toe came off the ground?”  He berates. She listens. He acts as if he is some authority (even my untrained eye knows he isn’t too confident in his moves). He convinces her that it’s not worth doing at all if she can’t do it right. And she never does it right.

Maybe I would view this differently if they looked like they lifted professionally.  If there was money or fame or glory attached to the incorrect 4 degree angle she is apparently using. But they are just average people in not-so-great shape.

My view is entirely shaped by my own complicated gym past. I have been there. I have lifted with the guy who said I did it all wrong. That I was all wrong. That I was hopeless but because he was a great person, he was willing to help me so I could get better. Except, in his eyes, I never did get better. I have lifted next to the guy who thought lifting was only for guys. I have survived countless explanations on how to deadlift correctly. And I have heard the suspicion in voices when I do “pushups like a guy” and I do “a lot of them.”

It’s no wonder that I transitioned into running and biking more and more. Running I did alone or with friends I trusted. Biking I did with a friend who always had something positive to say. Some days he treated me like an equal. Some days he treated me like I was a better/faster rider than he was. By the time he started giving me tips on efficiency and gear-shifting, I was ready to listen.

And then when I ran myself into the ground and my IT band decided to take a rest, I found myself back in the gym. Determined to fall in love with lifting again. Because I wanted to. No matter what others said.

I was never happy with the high reps/low weight. It works well for lots of women but it made me bored. And so I learned, by trial and error (and some incredibly patient guy friends) to adjust what they were doing and dial back to a weight range that felt good to me. I was not a natural (I still start too quickly on the Bench Press which often makes me wobbly for the first rep or two) but I was a quick study. I became comfortable spotting for others and was just as proud the first time I helped replace 300lbs on the bar as the first time I benched over 100lbs.

There were slip-ups like the winter night a friend made a criticism of my lifting style (well, about 5 critiques in 5 minutes) and I took it as a criticism of me. And waves of hurt and shame came pouring back as I thought of all the verbal abuse I’d dealt with before in the gym. I stood outside and cried. “Why do I do everything wrong,” I said.  “It was just one little critique” he said. “Put on your coat, it’s freezing” he said. “I can never go back to the gym” I said. Conversations with me at times like this are fairly useless. I have to calm myself down and decide how to move on.  One hug, a winter coat and a few deep breaths later, I said “Unless I ask for advice/suggestions/comments, I think you should only make one critique a night unless it is something dangerous that could lead to injury.”  “I think that’s fair,” he said.  “I didn’t realize people had been mean to you in the past. I didn’t realize going back with me was a big step. I’m sorry.”

People never realize the big steps we take to combat fear, to move forward, to regain our confidence. And not everyone needs to know. A friend drew a hilarious comic strip critiquing one of my signature issues at the gym (going too fast, not taking adequate recovery time).  It was funny. I laughed, I shared it with others. Only later, during a quiet moment, did I realize just how far that means I have come. I can laugh at my inabilities now because I also have abilities. And because I am learning to recognize and strengthen my own inabilities, rather than let someone else dictate to me what exactly they are.

I still cringe when the girl and her boyfriend work out. I want to say something. I want to somehow pull her aside and make sure she is okay and tell her that her form is fine and she shouldn’t let him treat her like that. And I want to do this without being overbearing or a know-it-all or sticking my nose in someone else’s business.

Maybe someday, I will be able to. To explain that people don’t always change. And that walking away is sometimes healthy. That not everything can or should be salvaged.

And I hope that someday she experiences what I have – entire days at the gym without the voice in my head saying anything negative. Compliments that are given offhandedly but that I carefully wrap and store away like fine china. Moments when I see the progress I have made both physically and emotionally.

Moments when I realize that what I can do is not who I am.

And that I was never as strong a person as when I walked away.

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