A lot of folks I coach get into bad relationships. Like, some are seriously abusive. But they stick with them anyway.
Now common sense and popular ideals tell us that if you were in a bad relationship, you ought to choose between two options: either find a mutually agreed upon method of work to improve things, or just break up.
Only fools stay in those bad relationships, hoping if they turn a blind eye often enough the lopsided situation will right itself.
And while we think of these situations mostly in terms of two people, we often overlook the fact that we have relationships with many other types of things other than our fellow human beings. We have relationships with our jobs, the neighborhoods in which we live, money, food, even our ideas and wants. And those relationships can go south just like any we have with people. And soon we find ourselves being drained, ruined and dragged down by a relationship with a car, the weather, or even the gym.
That last one – the gym – is what brought this coaching point to the surface.
So many athletes take to the gym and lifting and competing with a passion and zeal. It helps them organize their lives, develop as individuals and find a sense of themselves. It becomes for many an awakening of self care, healthful attention and remarkable advancement of personal assets.
"It's a DREAM relationship! Swoon!"
Yet too often we inadvertently allow our relationship and lifting and strength sports – even if only with with specific lifts or exercises — gradually and sadly devolve into "bad relationships." We become obsessed, feel let down, get frustrated and bitter, and the more we stick with it the more crapy we feel inside.
"When did things go wrong? We were SO in love!"
Just like bad relationships with people, we didn't plan it to go this way. We didn't even guess that it would. Bad relationships get that way incrementally and slowly; they gradually decline, in sometimes the teeniest of steps. Typically we don't even notice it worsening until were in the midst of the chaos. Then we feel resistant, lost and alone.
"Man, I don't want to go to the gym."
"I am sore and in pain, but I need to finish what I started."
"I feel stuck."
These bad relationships take all kinds of shapes. Sometimes they are only due to some aspects of the situation, and other times the negativity is viral in every aspect of our relationship to training.
Sometimes the problem is because we are just not enough yet to be a match for the object we desire. I had an athlete who was recently daunted in competition about his overhead press abilities. No matter how bad he WANTED them to be better, the reason for his "bad relationship with overhead presses" was clear:
"Right now she's too good for you, dude. You have to put aside the chase, man. But don't worry. As you grow over time you will eventually become good enough for her, and the two of you will have a great relationship.")
To improve that bad relationship, we have to put aside the desire, and work on oursef in other ways. We need to make smaller steps, and assess other ways to grow strong in order to "bring to the table" everything that relationship demands of us.
Athletes too often take this "not enough" kind of bad relationship FAR too personally. They take it as a challenge; they want to prove they are good enough. This is like demanding that someone keeps dating you when they are justness into you; it only makes an ass of you, causes you to lose valuable growth time, and even hurts you more. Likewise, you set yourself up for far greater losses.
The idea that something is out of your league is not an excuse to chase it harder. It is a call to figure out what else you can do to ascend to that league. In the case of those presses, there are concerns of quickness, grip strength and coordination at play; that athlete can eventually "become good enough for her" if he instead focuses on those elements, instead of just chasing the big overhead press.
Other times, the opposite is true and we are too good for the thing we are maintaining a relationship with. Our relationship is not good enough for us; without it we can do more and be more so have to spend less time and investment in something that isn't really pulling his weight.
I saw this recently with an athlete who keeps wanting to compete, over and over. he barely grows, barely gains. The thrill of competition is fun, but even that is becoming more work than return. yet he sticks with it "because I committed to it." he uses the excuse of his own commitment as the reason. And his sense of pride is what binds him; he misperceives that commitment he has to competition. he doesn't understand he is becoming less admirable by sticking to these demands than if he stepped away from this crappy relationship.
We must not let our vanity with our commitments rule our relationship to the gym or exercise, just as we mustn't stay in a relationship with a person who drags us down. It may be time to find a more enriching object of our attention. For that athlete, maybe a different format of competition, or a longer break of independence before making that commitment again. The thrill of the commitment can be invigorating, but like any well it can run dry. We mustn't keep trying to draw from it just because the first sip was so refreshing.
Are you sticking it through with an exercise, training strategy or goal "just because you said you would?" That is just you flattering your mind, and not complementing your body. It doesn't mean not having any goals or objectives; it just means to know when your desire is taking more away from you than you would receive by finishing it.
Don't make your life am personal hell just so you can say "yeah I stuck it out." Sure, a conquest of challenge always feels good, but it also requires you surrender so many assets that you often are left only with that feeling of conquest. And trust me: that feeling fades. Just like the chick who stays with the deadbeat boyfriend until one day he gets a job; sure she can brag about "standing by her man," but often she ran up financial debt, turned aside personal opportunities, and surrendered tons of time just to say she did it. it's one thing to face challenges and obstacles in a relationship and grow from the experience, but quite another to let a relationship ruin you just so you can say you went go through that process.
If you can't demand that "deadbeat" goal improve, then shift the goal, or even break up with it. Some goals can be groomed and modified and begin to give back to us. I once watched a young man being driven to the brink of depression by his diet. His abs and shape were nothing short of phenomenal, but his mood sucked and his social life was non existent. Yet he "said he was going to make it through." Through coaching he soon began to realize he was causing huge deficits in his life. He shifted the parameters of his approach and was able to keep the goal under newer, more self-loving rules. The relationship got back on track.
But very often that "not good enough goal" needs to just simply be "kicked to the curb." As Dave from The Brick used to quip: "Don't chase. Replace."
Finally, some relationships burn out and become bitter, resentful and even abusive. Horrible, violent and self-destroying, we promised ourselves to never get like this. But there we are: deteriorating and feeling completely trapped and without any resources.
Maybe we won a lot of contests and accolades, and not our relationship with "being a StrongMan" or "being a physique athlete" has gone sour due to being bombarded with expectations. We are expected at every turn to be a certain way. We no longer get to choose for ourselves, and we are bullied by the demands of our very identity.
I see this so often with my more advanced athletes. They feel literally beaten up by the demands of their own successes. They have accomplished so much, but now the maintenance of strength, shape and their ability to "win" is a controlling, unkind and selfish ogre ruling so many aspects of their lives.
It sucks. As a coach, I hate it. I know everyone wants to "be the best," but often that "best" choice has a dark secret: it is a relationship that would just assume use you up and spit you out.
How do we let it get so far? How did we come to this point of resentment and brooding and pain? We have injury. We have strained friendships. We are still broke. And this relationship with powerlifting or dynamics training or bodybuilding still demands, demands, demands that we obey it.
"You're mine, bitch. Now shut up and do was you're told."
And we stayed for so long in these horrible relationships with exercise accomplishment simply because we "remember the good times." Back in the beginning we were bolstered and raised up. We trusted the relationship with our diet or our weights to be there for us always. We put so much hope in the status we gained.
But we forgot that we have to regularly clean those relationships out, tidy them up, address the problems and set things right in order to move forward. We just let them run on autopilot, as if the excitement and achievement would be there for us always. Yet the load of work never decreased – in fact, it typically increases – and the support gradually shifted from helping to demanding. We get permanent injuries. We lost the loves of our lives due to focusing too much on what we wanted. We misguided our careers and financial objectives based on what we decided to label "big dreams." We lost our chance to maintain things regularly and back toward a healthy state of relating.
And then our successes as physique athletes and strength stars becomes a horrible, horrible spouse.
Too often we let our relationship with lifting, the gym, sports and eating operate on autopilot like that. Too often we don't stop and take a closer look at those relationships; a better look at our attitudes, our perceptions, whether we are over demanding, or even being dishonest about what we think we "should be getting."
We too often keep repeating lies to ourselves.
"If I keep at it, things will get better."
"It's just because of where things are right now. I know it can't be like this forever."
"I know that it's a good thing. I am sure that good isn;t gone forever. I will just keep at it and be patient."
Man, we love bullshitting ourselves.
Our relationship with lifting and exercise can – and many think ought – not become dark and abusive. But it requires all the same love and attention as a healthy relationship with a human being does. if you are not willing to put in that kind of work, you mustn't sling blame when you burn out. It's not because "that isn't for me, I guess." It's because you didn't manage it right.
We have to own our stakes in burn out. Just as we have to own our stakes in bad relationship.s There are no victims here; there are only volunteers. If you want to "have it easy" and "just let it flow as it will," then you have to accept that it can flow right into the gutter.
Like every relationship, we must regularly step back, get some perspective, and address the points that aren't working in favor of tactics that can help create better growth.
You can prevent burn out. You can prevent injury. You can maintain a longevity of benefit and joy. But only if you pay attention to the relationship, find the willingness to change, and drop your stubborn insistence of "how you want things to be."
You have to show it love, not just attention. And love is work.
No go rethink how you are loving your relationship with training and the gym.
And maybe even, while you're at it, with all those other relationships you hold dear.