What motivates people to train in the strength sports? Ask 100 different lifters why they lift and you will no doubt get a 100 different answers that are just variations of the same theme. The common thread running through their answers would be that it’s that it’s just flat out fun being strong. Being stronger than you ever imagined you’d be is a hoot.
Everyone is familiar with runners’ high and “getting a pump” as just 2 examples of an immediate positive consequence or feedback from physical activity. Whether you’re a natural powerlifter, strong man competitor or Olympic lifter, one of the best things about lifting is working towards a well-defined goal and achieving it. For strength athletes, the broad goal is to get stronger in your competition lifts. You do this by working your ass off, yes, but also by careful training and nutritional programming so that you are at your peak on the day of the competition. Thus we get an even more potent high; the elation of hitting a PR as result of weeks or months of hard training or the “contact high” of seeing a training buddy hit theirs. These are highs that can last for days.
What, though, are the unintended consequences of lifting? These are those things that happen as a result of your training but aren’t the reason you train and/or are something you would have anticipated. Below are some of my personal unintended consequences – I’d like to this post to be more of a forum thread and would love to hear about your “top” unanticipated consequences in the comments section below.
- Diet and nutrition – Once I hit middle-age, became serious about strength training and decided I was not going to take any Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs), I developed a healthy (yes, there will be puns) interest in achieving optimal performance via nutrition. While none of this interested me before I now know why GMOs are bad, the value of organically raised produce, why processed “food” is so unhealthy and a number of other subjects that I once thought was the sole preserve of the patchouli-scented self-righteous. This is probably the subject for another post, but suffice to say when you drive a Ferrari to the gas station, you don’t put diesel into it. So why would you ingest something your body is not designed to handle? Taken in a wider context, why would you poison an ecosystem in the same manner?
- Quieting the monkey mind – Yes, meditation. Once I started down the slippery slope of optimal performance via natural methods, I heard mediation referred to many times by too many disparate sources to ignore it any longer. I’m still very much in the beginner stage of meditation and mindfulness training. Considering how much of a difference it makes already, I think it might be analogous to the “beginner gains” phenomenon that all weightlifters have experienced.
- Negative reactions – I have never engaged in a sport that has garnered this much negative feedback – and that includes boxing, kickboxing, “point” sparring in Karate tournaments and running marathons. Much of this sort of reaction is out of genuine albeit uninformed concern, as in “Me: “Hey, I had a 190KG squat PR the other day!” Concerned family member: “You know, you could really hurt yourself”. Really? You don’t run a marathon without putting in some serious training nor do you put 190KG on your back and squat it on a whim. To further the marathon analogy, when you run that marathon you’re going to be suffering the effects for days after. You hit a squat PR, you’re just going to have a PR “high” for days after. Another type of negative feedback is a lingering but common place feeling that people who engage in strength sports are illiterate knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. People who don’t know you often make snap judgements which hopefully they are disabused of once they make your acquaintance. And, finally, I’ve had more than a few female friends/past girlfriends/ex-wife as well as a few male acquaintances be kind enough to share their opinions of one of my favorite past-times, or at least its physical manifestation. The script always as follows, ” You know, this weight training thing, don’t you thing you want to tone it down a bit? The muscle-bound look isn’t great and, honestly, women don’t find it attractive” That’s fair, people are entitled to their opinions but what I find so interesting in this case is why these people are so eager to share this particular opinion when they wouldn’t do it to a fat person, a skinny person, a really gaunt but athletic type (think triathlon, etc) or pretty any other body type. My thinking on the subject is as follows: I’m (quite obviously) not a bodybuilder. My physical appearance is just the byproduct of what I do and I’m aware that a person with an above-average amount of muscle combined with an average percentage of body fat will look much bulkier than a skinny-fat dude (less muscle, higher body fat percentage). However, I do this activity because I like it makes me feel so how it makes me look is of secondary or even tertiary importance. As far as women are concerned, no doubt some if not many find this look not to their liking. However, one of the benefits of living 50 years is that I have realized that pretty much all women dislike a man who has no passion and only does whatever he thinks will please them in a given moment. So I do what I do because it makes me happy. To quote from Slaughterhouse 5 (yes, I could say “Kurt Vonnegut’s” but I like to think that would superfluous for any reader of this blog) “So it goes”.
- Sex: Don’t worry, I will not, repeat, will not go into detail. Suffice it to say this, strength training will certainly not interfere with one’s sex drive. In most cases (embarrassed cough) it will help things. For one, all that exercise and attention to proper nutrition means that, hormonally speaking, you’re firing on all cylinders. And being able to “pick things up and put them down” can be kind of fun in the bedroom. Also, and in spite of the negative feedback I’ve described above, I’ve found that some women do quite like the look. It is a double-edged sword, I’m aware, to have somebody interested in you for purely physical reasons or whatever they think you represent, but that is the subject for another post. Interestingly, I’ve often found that I’ve garnered the most interest from women in the “entourage” of the same people who freely offered me their opinion. (let me be clear, I’m divorced and currently not seeing anybody lest anyone think I’m a cad).
- Happiness/Contentment: Sustained physical activity done with focus and intent is or should be an integral part of everyone’s life. A sound body does indeed help to foster a sound mind. To be honest, if my schedule allowed for it, my main activity would once again be some sort of martial art, but my living situation, work schedule, etc precludes a long-term commitment to be consistently in the same place at the same time week after week. With powerlifting all I need is access to good gyms and to occasionally check in with my coach and my home “club”. The feeling of physical well-being after a heavy squat session is, for me, almost indescribable. (high praise for squats, to be honest, as I’m well above average in bench press, OK at squats and have a “poverty” deadlift”.) Endorphins, stress reduction and the, as I mentioned earlier, the flat out fun of being strong are a potent combination.
What are your top “unintended consequences”?