new hex deadlift bar

Bought this rustic beauty right out of a gym. Isn't it great?

How Ghost School prepared me for weightlifting

How Ghost School prepared me for weightlifting

Do you have a white sheet?

Can you emit mysterious, spooky sounds?

Can you fly?

Mrs. Smith looked up from the
Ghost School applications.

“So, Miss Kathrin, you can fly?”
Heads went up.
“Yes. A little bit.”
“Let’s see you fly right now, then.”
They started to sense the joke.
“Well, I need like a running start,
and something to jump off of, like a chair.”
“I want to see you fly. Come on, fly around the room, right now.”

Everybody laughed.

When I got home, I asked Ma what “gullible” meant.
It meant no Ghost School.

. . .

But I knew the grip of space
in the instant I tipped off a chair,
or charged off a hill
and leapt –
into air –
touching nothing at all.

For that instant
before gravity called me down

I flew,

and I knew that with the right training,
like a Ghost School could give me,
I could hone this moment,
learn how to catch that pause,
turn up from that dip toward the ground
and keep flying –
a little farther,
a little farther,
until I could lift off the ground from nothing,
veer up and hover
at the ceiling
like I did in dreams.

That was worth sleeping for.

. . .

I hoped Mrs. Smith was wrong,
that somehow the Ghost School people
would pick up those forms from school
and call my parents,
and send for me,
and we could get the training going.

But Halloween passed, and I never
heard anything else about it.

. . .

For a while I walked
underwater in my dreams,
breathing just like on land.
That was worth sleeping, too,
but no match for flying.
The best were the rare times
when I knew I was dreaming, but I could still
do it,
and soared to the top of the room,
over unsuspecting heads
and out into the sky.
. . .

I found that moment
30 years later
in my living room
when I stood on the hardwood floor
before the computer screen
and clean and jerked
my preacher bar with its small metal plates,
like the tiny, animated weightlifter avatar.

This was worth waking for.

Now I chase it
on the platform.
Drive –
I throw my feet apart,
and for an instant,
touching nothing at all,

I fly.

Photos: Sundown gate by me; Chip Conrad competing at Tommy Kono Open V by Allyson Goble

Who am I? My physical identity

Lately, I've been reflecting on how I define myself and what I do in my physical life. I'm coming to the idea that it may be more valuable for me to focus on defining my traits as an athlete rather than trying to validate myself as a competitor/leader/expert in any one field. (I hope this isn't some sort of cop out.) I am heartened when folks who I respect respect me as a lifter, yet in my darker moments of doubting my abilities, I wonder what they see that they are responding to. Through some deep reflection, I've come to the conclusions that I excel in strength (physical and other forms), discipline (I've been consistently working out for 20 years and under challenging circumstances), determination (I can and have pushed myself to the detriment of my health, something I have grown mature enough to avoid), and the ability to work at high levels of intensity. Something tells me this last one may be the most significant; I'm not sure how.

Defining myself by field or discipline, the typical way of identifying oneself in the physical realm, is trickier. I competed well enough in bodybuilding when I was doing that, and I'm a knowledgeable trainer therein, but it takes many years to achieve the ranks of "highly accomplished bodybuilder", and compared to a pro, I was just a rank amateur competitor by the time I left it. I train as a weightlifter and have competed respectably as far as stats go, but I'm far from exemplary in performing the lifts, so I struggle with my own legitimacy in wearing the mantle of weightlifter (a Hack with Heart - how's that?). Over the decades, I've evolved and changed and adapted my physical life to the point that it's hard to characterize who I am easily to others, yet the progression feels logical to me, and with a common, emerging thread. But I can't really define it cleanly right now - how the logic goes, what that thread is (moving to full-body force?). So here are some lists to help me sort it out. I love lists.

Things I love to do.

  • Jerk - I'm good at this.
  • Snatch - I like them when I can get them right.
  • Overhead squat - A recent conquest I'm growing stronger in
  • Overhead work with the bar, like Push Press and Jerk Squat & Recovery - I love working with weight over my head. I feel most powerful this way. The feeling through the back is sublime.
  • Overhead work with other objects, like club swinging and windmills with kettlebell or bar - Newer stuff I've picked up over the past year. Don't know how good I am at it, but I'm enjoying it.
  • Deadlift - Like comfort food, this is my comfort lift. Newest tasty twist is off pins.
  • Powershots on the heavybag - Oh, yeah. I don't care much about speed drills; I just like throwing focused, heavy punches.
  • Throwing a sandbag from ground to shoulder - Really specific, but I love that one movement.
  • Tire flips - My coach uses this on me as a reward.
  • Throwing things - the feeling of throwing the weight, as in weightlifting, throwing punches
  • Carrying things - the bar across my back, even overhead; Farmer's Walk
  • Squatting with Vibrams on (works best with safety bar squat and back squat)
Things I don't like but do anyway
  • Clean - My form is in the toilet. Trying to correct my "original technique" - a combo of muscling up the bar and power cleaning. (Muscling up the bar isn't supposed to be a problem for chicks, dammit!)
  • Front squat - Always so hard and uncomfortable. Will it ever feel natural?

Things I used to like the most
  • Cleans, when I thought I was doing them right.
  • Pull-ups of all kinds - Used to be so good at these, but I weighed less. How valid is that excuse? Now I have lost motivation and don't make the time.
  • Push-ups of various kinds - Have backed off with shoulder problems, but the strength is there. I just don't take the time.
  • Plyometrics - I get this now through weightlifting instead.
  • Specific muscle group work (bodybuilding stuff) - Used to love the burn and pump. Now it's old news, and the whole idea strikes me as a big time-sink.
Things I want to do
  • More, more more - more volume, more load, more frequency
  • Better, better, best - improve weightlifting technique and load
  • Pull-ups - Like I used to. I know I'm just lazy.
  • Push-ups - Like I used to. I know I'm just lazy.
  • Burpees - Have you seen Chip and Tav's burpee stuff? Fabulous.
  • Press work from behind the neck - Snatch-balance, push-press
  • More sandbag work - I have much to learn.
  • More kettlebell stuff - Not emulating weightlifting, but rather overhead passes and lateral stuff. More to learn.

Now that I've taken the time to make these lists, I'm surprised to see the list of things I like is actually as long as it is. Perhaps my awareness of what I don't like is so keen that I've distorted the proportions of what I like and don't to my own misconception. (I'm a big whiner.) I can see the beginnings of a plan as well. Overall, this exercise is encouraging.

So how do we define ourselves, especially when conventional labels don't fit?

Managing emotional fatigue for physical performance

It won't come as a surprise to anyone reading this that emotional stress and a general day at work can leave a person struggling to find the energy and willpower to hit the gym after work. A new study looks at why this is so and how to overcome it, and finds establishing patterns in willpower and work out schedules are keys to getting yourself moving despite energy vampires. This short article in Psyche Central is interesting (excerpt below). The study itself was conducted through McMaster University and is published in journal Psychology and Health.

“There are strategies to help people rejuvenate after their self-regulation is depleted,” says study author Martin Ginis.

“Listening to music can help, and we also found that if you make specific plans to exercise—in other words, making a commitment to go for a walk at 7 p.m. every evening—then that had a high rate of success.”

She says that by constantly challenging yourself to resist a piece of chocolate cake, or to force yourself to study an extra half-hour each night, then you can actually increase your self-regulatory capacity.

“Willpower is like a muscle: it needs to be challenged to build itself,” she says.

The study is published in the journal Psychology and Health.

Similarly, an article on mental fatigue impairing physical performance is online from the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Conversely, I've just been reading a chapter on coaching and attitude in Tommy Kono's new book Championship Weightlifting, and he presents several anecdotes about people who were troubled who started working out and ended up the better for it. In other words, Tommy didn't go into the psychological part of how emotionally fatigued/stressed folks got themselves to move the weight, but told of how much better they were once they did.

Volumes can be and have been written on such issues, and how to manage your motivation, energy and discipline despite stress. This may be the juggernaut behind the legendary success of Nike's slogan. Anyone have any techniques or insights to share on how you manage yourself?


Quick images from Ohio