Skip to main content

Pushing the limits... and learning more about your real potential

"I can't do that"

"My best is...."

"I can't live with/without..."

How often do we say things like this to ourselves? How often are we really sure it's true?

When I am coaching, I work with clients on developing a "growth mindset", which is a fancy psychology way of essentially being a little bit more open to your own possibilities.

"I can't do that... yet"

"this is the best I can do...today, but I could change that"

And it's fun and useful to talk about, but what I like even more, is seeing it in action. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how our little slip ups can give us real insight to work with. Today I want to talk about what happens when we take ourselves to the edge of failure, on purpose.

Gym revelations - or how I totally broke my RPE meter.


For the last few weeks I have had Ryan at Project Barbell coaching me for powerlifting (he's a great coach, go check him out).

At the end of this short block, we came to deadlift day (the best day...) and my working sets looked like this: 3 sets of 6 reps at 80% max [for me that is supposedly 96kg but since when have I ever behaved myself, I set up the bar at a round 100kg]. Then there was a 4th set, an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) the aim being to see how many reps I could get before I couldn't lift another or my form started to break down.

The sets of 6 felt hard, I would have given them an 8/10 for effort. They came up fast enough, but it was a fight to keep going back for another rep. I expected the 4th set to go for 5-8 reps, no more. So I put on my most epic lifting music and set out...

6 reps.

That was OK, as good as the previous sets, lets try another couple.

8 reps.

Not too bad, might still have some gas in this. Lets see if we can make 10.

10 reps.

Actually.... I might have 12 here...

12 reps

Whoa! well that happened, let's keep going.

13 reps.

Can't stop there....

14 reps.

At this point I felt a massive surge of stress and nearly spontaneously burst into tears. I recognised that I was finally hitting the wall in terms of what my body could handle.

15 reps

I finally started to feel my core lose strength and my back start to round through the lift. A definite point of form-failure. So I stopped.

I sat by the barbell for a couple of minutes until my hands stopped shaking, and loaded up my next lift.

15 reps.

Twice what I would have predicted. Also a lot more than most trainers would predict at this portion of my max lift.

What does this mean? Does it mean my 1 rep max is incorrect? I don't think so because I tested that last week and while I do think there is something "blocking" me there, not by that much.

I am more interested though not in how I did this, but in how I *didn't* do this before.

What was happening when I was getting to the 5th or 6th rep of a set, genuinely feeling that I was close to my limit - but in truth, nowhere near? Was I being lazy? I don't think so, I didn't feel like I was "flaking out" on the set or going easy on myself. So what makes me, or any other lifters, feel like they are close to failure, or lifting an appropriately challenging weight, when they aren't?

I often work with women, who are not familiar with strength training. I will pass her a weight to try and ask how it feels. "Heavy" is often the reply, but when I watch her lift I suspect they aren't challenged enough, so we go a bit heavier. "How's that?" I ask "REALLY HEAVY" she says, then bangs out 20 reps.

I'd usually put this down to inexperience. New lifters are often surprised by weight, but more able than they suspect. Sometimes more experienced lifters are too, which is why, for instance, powerlifters sometimes do "heavy walkouts" where they set up with a really heavy squat bar, but simply stand with it, without squatting, to get used to the feel of the load.

Our body often lies to us, about what is too much. Early strength training isn't about building muscle, it's about training the nervous system to understand that it is safe to allow the muscles to activate enough to lift more weight. To dial back the protective mechanisms that stop us from hurting ourselves, but tend to be overcautious in untrained individuals.

Inspiring photograph.
Are you not inspired?


The curse of being comfortable.


We generally live super comfortable lives. Most who read this will generally be warm, dry, well fed, reasonably rested. We aren't necessarily used to pain or discomfort, or if we are (like those of us with chronic pain) it becomes our "normal" and we set our dial there.

Anything outside of our "normal" becomes uncomfortable. Anything uncomfortable can be read as painful, or impossible.

That might be doing 8 reps at a weight you are used to lifting for 6. It might be going without a morning doughnut. It might be going to a class on a Wednesday instead of a Tuesday. It might be picking up the phone to call someone when you'd rather email.

And the gift of being uncomfortable.


When I look back at the things in my life that were a real driver for positive change, they were often also the hardest times in my life. Like when my kids taught me just how little sleep I could truly function on. Or when my appendix tried to kill me and I realised how amazing and precious good health really is. 

Sometimes these lessons come uninvited, but we can also invite them ourselves. Like smashing out an AMRAP, or picking up the phone to call a coaching client after years of phone phobia.

In my coaching, I like to build some small challenges, for just this reason. Free Living Fitness begins with a snack-free habit. Just for a couple of weeks, trying to confine eating to 3 or 4 mealtimes a day. This isn't essential for weight loss (though for some it really helps) but it can teach important lessons about which food choices are hunger, and which are habit. The first time I tried it I was ready to gnaw my arm off only an hour after a 600 calorie breakfast, just because I knew I wasn't going to be having a snack! I don't expect people to stay with this habit, just to try it out and see what they learn.

The Precision Nutrition plan I use with my private nutrition clients has some similar phases. Habits to practice not because they are to keep long term, but as a way of learning about the impact of certain ways of eating, and gaining a better understanding of what we are capable of. 

So while I am all about making wellbeing and fitness simple, sustainable and enjoyable, let's not forget the value of sometimes playing a little with uncomfortable. Because maybe there's hidden potential there, just waiting until it's needed.



I help amazing people get healthy, manage their weight and learn more about their awesome selves. Check out my 7 day reset for a completely free course to inspire you on your journey.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Training with Fibromyalgia - a primer for Fitness Professionals

Fitness and Fibromyalgia
The second of my posts about training clients with chronic illness (the first on EDS is here)

Learning how to achieve fitness in a chronically ill body was first my way of life, and later, my profession; as I train or programme for a number of Personal Training clients. I have EDS and Fibromyalgia (which commonly presents alongside EDS).

While the physiology and mechanisms behind EDS are relatively well understood, at least in terms of recognising the roles collagen plays in our bodies and the effects of an anomaly, fibromyalgia is a bit of a tricky one. The diagnosis, causes and management of fibromyalgia are not very well understood, and while progress is being made in terms of recognising physiological markers etc, we are still very much in the dark.

One thing that is generally agreed on however, is that exercise is good therapy for fibromyalgia, and that's where we come in.


Scope of practice
Here we go again...

Fitness professionals are there to help …

Training Ehlers Danlos Athletes - a primer for the Fitpro.

When you have a rare health condition, it's pretty exciting when you encounter someone who knows about it. Even more so when you encounter people who are interested in it and more importantly, understanding how to bridge the gap and work with it.

This is why I am really happy to be seeing more and more fitness professionals asking "I have a client with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, what do I need to know?"

As a fitpro, and athlete living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome I am always happy to chat to trainers looking to broaden their understanding, and as I am often answering the same questions, I thought it would be good to do a write up.


Quick disclaimer before we start - I'm not a medic, and this is not for medics. I'm going to provide you with as many references as I can, but please seek specific medical input from your/your client's health care professionals. And with that we get to our first point.

Scope of practice.
Quick, check your job title. Are you a personal tr…

But how can you be an athlete when you are sick?

Training through chronic illness - living life on the edge.
I'm living a double life.

My superhero persona goes to the gym and lifts enormous weights. She's vital and has her life together. Endless to-do lists in a bullet journal, juggling work and kids and being an athlete and performer with theatrical effortlessness.

Then there's the secret side people don't see, where I lie on the sofa in my flare day leggings and fleece, clutching a cup of tea for the slight relief the warmth affords my stiff, clawed hands.

I know I'm not the only one. I know a lot of athletes living with chronic illness. Outwardly fitter and busier than the average person, inwardly wracked with pain and fatigue.

There are two ways people tend to interpret this. Either we are not as sick as we claim, or we are stupidly putting our health at risk doing sport that seems counter-intuitive to our well being. The reality is a lot more complicated. I wanted to formulate a decent answer to "why …

Step away from the New Year weight loss.

I was helping my son get ready for school this week, and we discovered that his school trousers would no longer do up.

"Oooh, looks like you've done some growing in the holiday!" I said, to which he retorted;

"Well, yeah... it IS 2019"

Of course. Silly me. How could I not have considered that.

On reflection I realised that this is exactly what I would like to say to most people who come to me concerned about festive weight gain.

Why the New Year Diet?
There's two types of New Year dieters.

The first type had resolved to get on a new health kick, to address some unhealthy habits or lose a bit of weight, probably before Christmas. But they left it until New Year, because that's a nice milestone to work with and starting a new regime in the chaos of the holidays is just asking for trouble - it's easier to build routine and discipline when things have calmed down a bit.

The others have gained weight over the holidays, and are now worrying about losing i…

Fitness goals for women...

...That don't involve getting smaller.
I've been thinking about body positive personal training again (OK, you got me, I never stopped...)

Specifically because Lift the Bar (a CPD provider for fitness professionals) brought it up recently.

It brought me back particularly to goal setting.

Goal setting for women.
It's often assumed that the reason a woman takes up any kind of "fitness" is to lose weight "tone up", get rid of a body part or otherwise alter the look of her body to one that is normatively considered correct for a women.

Often women turn up at a facility and have goals of this type thrust upon them, because that's got to be why they are there, right?

But more and more, it's not. Plenty of women are fed up with people telling them to get smaller, and whether you are one of those women, or someone trying to help those women, I'm going to throw you a primer.

Not sure what your new goal should be? Not sure what to offer a client who …