Fitness is full of meaningless platitudes, and I try to avoid trafficking in them as much as possible. So when I use social media to post some turn of phrase, I try my best to ensure that there’s meat behind it.
We have a chalkboard at Present Tense Fitness that I use to convey different messages. Sometimes it’s just exposition like, “hey we’re doing this thing on Sunday.” Other times I just try to write something that’s been on my mind.
This week I changed the chalkboard to say “You’re quite likely exponentially stronger than you perceive yourself to be.” I posted the picture to Instagram while cleaning the gym, and I woke up to find such an incredible response that I thought I’d explore the chalkboard idea a bit more in this space.
I tend to think about fitness metaphorically, though I try to avoid that as much as possible because connections between the gym and life can become overwrought very quickly. (No, you’re not a warrior just because you worked out hard in the gym.) But I want to tell you about specific experiences I’ve had as a trainer that I think are directly linked to the sentiment expressed on that chalkboard and why that messaging resonated so much with people.
Women have asked me about training just as they were escaping abusive relationships. The language they’ve used in explaining why they were interested in getting stronger was strikingly similar, so much so that these conversations have stayed with me in a truly meaningful way.
“I want to get stronger because I’ve been abused and I want to feel strong. I want to do something for myself.” It’s as if these women wanted to express their physical strength to remind themselves how strong they can be everywhere else. They’re not living some Wonder Woman fantasy in which they beat up their abuser. But they understand the connection between their own physical being, their emotional being, and their health.
I was speaking to a client recently about a big promotion for which he’s aiming, the kind of promotion that makes careers. He’s close to getting it, but he has a a time-intensive application and interview process looming. He told me that while we’ve been working out recently he’s been thinking about that promotion. Each difficult repetition and the focus required to complete it successfully teaches him, he said, how to focus on what he wants outside of the gym. His physical being is one with his intellectual and professional being. There is no separation.
I’ve had older clients tell me about how strength training has reminded them how to be alive (!). I’ve had parents of adolescents I’ve worked with tell me that strength training changed their children’s lives forever.
Understand that this extraordinary feedback isn’t about me, and also understand that I’m not trying to be falsely modest. I was having a conversation with someone this week who attends Speakeasy, and they described a transcendent experience. Your coach or yoga teacher needs to be competent; I’ve seen terrible training or direction in yoga destroy someone’s drive to exercise. But assuming you have a competent and engaged teacher, these experiences that people describe go beyond the teacher. These experiences are about discovering the self, the connectivity between mind and body. The coach is there sometimes just to give you a nudge here or there, but mostly he’s there to allow you to find that connection yourself.
If you’ve never experienced what it feels like to be strong, I’m writing this for you. You feel like you’ve never been strong, and therefore you can’t be strong. But there is strength in you. I know this from working with countless people who viewed themselves as too fat/weak/thin/black/gay/female/clumsy/average/damaged/scatter-brained/smart/stupid/broken/abused/distracted who eventually discovered their own strength. Sometimes it takes only one session. Sometimes it takes half a year. But it’s in there.
I think that Instagram post resonated because people actually know this to be true already. They’re just waiting for someone else to recognize it too before taking the leap into running/yoga/strength training/Crossfit/Pilates. Maybe that’s you. I know it’s me on some days. But you’ll never know how strong you can be until you lace up the shoes and go.
Just go, and in the process you’ll learn to be in a way you previously thought unimaginable.