No Country For Old Lifters

I was personal trainer of this gym when I was twenty-five years old. Hard to believe. My grandfather was a personal trainer; father too. Me and him was trainers at the same time; him down in Plano and me out here. I think he’s pretty proud of that. I know I was. Some of the old time trainers never even held a foam roller. A lotta folks find that hard to believe. Justin Lascek never carried one; that’s the younger Justin. I always liked to hear about the oldtimers. Never missed a chance to do so. You can’t help but compare yourself against the oldtimers. Can’t help but wonder how they would have operated these times. There was this boy I sent to electro-stim at Collin Chiropractic here a while back. My client and my assessment. He strained a hamstring squatting 455 out of a monorack in knee wraps. Gym rumor was he juiced so his muscles trained faster than his tendons but he told me there wasn’t any juice to it. Told me he’d been planning on squatting 455 at 175lbs about as long as he could remember. Said that if he was released to lift he’d do it again. Said he knew he was going to SPF Nationals. “Be there in about fifteen months.” I don’t know what to make of that. I sure don’t. The lifting you see now, it’s hard to even take its measure. It’s not that I’m afraid of it. I always knew you had to be willing to throw away your dignity to even do this job. But I don’t want to load the bar and go out and do a lift I don’t even understand. A man would have to put his pride at hazard. He’d have to say, “O.K., I’ll be part of this circus.”

* * *

Lane Norse exhales slowly. He leans against a cold, 11 gauge steel squat rack. Then he methodically tightens his single-prong belt, gets under his squat bar, braces his trunk, and walks it out. He descends at his customary 2-count eccentric, then drives out of the hole the second he reaches 2″ below parallel. A good squat, he always said, should be like a good rifle shot. Precise, controlled, impeccable timing of breath and execution. It is about a 9RPE. He believes he can tack on another 15lbs for 500lbs even. He loosens his belt, then begins his march toward the weight rack near the middle of the gym floor to find the 2.5lbs discs.

When he gets to the weight tree, the 2.5lbs aren’t there. Instead he finds a tree devoid of all change plates, including the 25s. He sees a blood and chalk trail leading towards the open exercise floor area of the gym, on the first floor. Lane follows the trail to the stairs and stops to survey the scene. On the ground floor, a dozen barbells and kettle bells lay strewn about haphazardly. More than a dozen bodies among them, flopped on the chalky rubber. Blood stained the chrome knurling of the bars and the handles of the bells, clear evidence of torn callouses. The bars were loaded with all change plates. On the white board on one of the walls was written, “deficit clusters (clean + thruster) and kettlebell snatches, 21-15-9. For Time.”

Lane descends down the stairs. He finds a barely-conscious athlete collapsed against a stack of jerk boxes. He is shirtless. Glistening in sweat. Smells of musty chalk and high-end deodorant, maybe the Progenex Paleo line. About 11% bodyfat.

“Where’s the guy who finished first? The fire-breather. Must have been one.”

The athlete’s chest heaves with his labored breathing. “… whey isolate,” he pleads.

“I only got concentrate,” Lane mutters, then heads off. He is aware of isolate’s superiority, but doesn’t believe it’s worth the extra money.

The ground floor has two exits. One out to the lobby, the other into the back alley where some of the clients sometimes drag a $265 sled.

Or puke.

Lane finds the fire-breather collapsed on the concrete, his face buried in a puddle of his own vomit. Lying next to him is his gym bag – and open to the world, a case of vials filled with clear liquid. It doesn’t appear to belong to the fire-breather. The fire-breather wears Reebok and VIRUS Action Performance Wear. The gym bag is House of Pain, and the case only has the letters “WSBB” printed on it.

Lane looks up and down the alley. Nobody around, and certainly no one wearing a black T-shirt or tank top and black shorts and black Chucks. He takes the gym bag and finds a safe place for it, hopefully to sell to the highest bidder.

Later, after his post-workout meal, Lane is haunted by the thought of the low blood sugar athlete still lying on the ground floor. He goes back to the gym the next day with a shaker full of whey concentrate. The “HIIT” class only trains on Tues/Thurs/Saturday, and it is Friday. As Lane goes through his 5 minute warm up for his deadlift day (warrior stretch and banded glute activation), a trio of bald, red-faced, goatee’d men with disproportionate vascularity to visceral bodyfat ratio warm up on the next platform. They are wearing Chucks.

They eye Lane semi-conspicuously, gesturing towards him as he finishes his warm-up. They begin their deadlifts at 225lbs, each with an unusual pre-lift routine of raising their arms stiffly before diving down to grab the bar and rip it off the floor.

“BACK,” they tell each other, “PULL IT BACK, HIPS HIPS HIPS GOOD.”

Lane knows he has to pull heavier than these fucks.

They wage a deadlift war. They make jumps in 90lbs increments only. Smaller increases would be a sign of weakness. They lose thoracic extension at 405lbs. Lumbar extension at 495. Lane keeps pace with them up to 585. Their best puller doesn’t quite lock it out, but he and his friends credit it as a successful lift and slam the bar down with a war cry. Lane pretends to not notice, rockets the bar off the floor, then uses the momentum to grind the bar to a tough – but convincing – lockout. He controls the bar back down. The goatee’d men sneer at him.

They begin their back off sets and accessory work. Lane refuses to go lower than 405lbs, though his back is aching. His SLDLs are strict with a slow negative. They do what appear to be RDLs with 45 degrees of hip flexion for 15 reps.

When they are finished, Lane’s erectors are fried. The Chuck Taylor posse are even redder than before. They smell of tiger balm and onions.

Lane survives this time. He is unsure if he can the next. He needs to find refuge.

* * *

In another gym, more globo, Antoine Cantur power cleans 295lbs with iron plates and an Olympic-length bar that weighs somewhere between 35 and 45lbs. It is shiny and has rough center knurling that leaves abrasions on his throat. He pops the weight off his shoulders, catches it at his thighs, and lowers it under control back to the floor.

A gym employee, muscular forearms bulging out of his blue polo, his hair styled in spikes about 10 years out of style, approaches Cantur while he stands at rest, still hovering over the bar.

“Hey bud,” the trainer says, “You’re moving a lot of weight and it’s really impressive. But you’re using chalk, and we don’t allow that or the Olympic power lifts in the gym. It’s a danger to other customers. I can suggest rows or Russian deadlifts, but you gotta stop the power lifts.”

Cantur doesn’t remove his ear buds, but nods. He power cleans the bar – before the trainer can protest, Cantur squats it for a triple and walks it into the gym’s second squat rack. The one with the safety bars that aren’t adjustable and don’t allow for a legal squat, next to the power rack that people use for pull ups and barbell lunges.

The trainer smirks with a “huh” and leaves. A few sets in, as Cantur loads the bar to 315, then 365, the trainer returns, changed out of his dress pants and now wearing basketball shorts.

“Hey bud,” he says, “Mind if I work in? I had my leg day earlier but I had to skip out on some accessory stuff because a client came early.”

Cantur nods, still not removing his ear buds, and sits down on the narrow adjustable bench he has been using for his rest periods. The trainer strips the bar to 225, grips the bar with a cross-armed grip, and makes it to parallel. He loses thoracic extension and his hips shoot back at the bottom, then he drives through at the finish.

Breathing heavily, the trainer advises Cantur, “Hey, I noticed that you’re letting your knees come forward a lot. It lets you move a lot of weight now because you can bounce with your patellar tendons, but you need to use your hips with any squat you do. You see how I load my glutes and drive them through at the finish? That’s how you need front squat to protect your knees.”

Cantur front squats 405lbs wordlessly.

The trainer, incensed, jumps straight from 225 to 315. Not unaware that Cantur’s depth and consistent movement make him seem like more of a tough guy than he really is, the trainer huffs in a show of self-psyche up and then asks Cantur for a spot. He addresses the bar for 15 seconds, rocking back and forth before unracking the weight without stabilizing his torso. He dive-bombs and immediately gets pinned. He grunts out a “help” after a pause and visibly tries to bounce out of the hole, thoracic extension already gone.

In the mirror, Cantur’s hands remain on the bar, and his face is twisted into a maniacal grin.

Goyangi

I am used to my mother badgering me about a girlfriend, getting married, having a family. Her go-to suggestion, which she says in Korean –

“Why don’t you go to a Korean church this Sunday? Meet a girl there. She’ll be nice.”

“I’d rather lock every Korean inside the church and set it on fire,” I reply in English.

She hears me say it, but doesn’t understand, and ignores me. “Would you like me to find you a girlfriend? What do you think about [Korean lady from Wichita Falls, also single, probably more broken than I am]?”

A language barrier has widened between my mother and I. My Korean has gotten worse since adolescence and her English has gotten worse now that she only interacts with other Koreans. It means she understands that I’ve eaten, that I’ve worked that day, and that I’m not a doctor. It means that when she admonishes me for not having kids on her timeline, that any response I have isn’t adequate for her. I am only being an idiot.

“I don’t want to have kids,” I tell her.

“You only say that now,” she says. “It’s because you haven’t met a girl, fallen in love. It’s fun. Raising kids is fun. That’s what you need.”

“It’s not fun for everyone,” I say. “There are a not insignificant number of parents who are unhappy because they’ve had children. It is becoming more and more common for people to choose a life of leisure or a demanding career over having children. Some of this may be attributed to a shift in cultural values – the ‘nuclear family’ is a relic of the the 1950s. Now a growing number of Americans are more focused on actualization of self, which doesn’t necessarily mean building your own family unit.”

“What’d you say?”

“I’ll just get a cat, mom.”

“A what?”

I try to remember the Korean word for cat. “Goyangi.” If I had the vocabulary, the understanding of syntax, I’d go on to explain to her the future she can envision for me – old, frail, thoracic extension now a distant memory, perpetually wearing a blazer. Eating alone at the same diners and cafes on a rotating schedule, pretending that nobody notices me feeding the cat tucked in my jacket while I sip on decaf coffee.

“Why is my child so dumb?” my mother says.

I am used to this with my mother. This has been an ongoing theme since I graduated high school.

I know that I am now in the red because my dahd has started to do it as well.

“Brandt,” he tells me in the car, speaking in English, “Soon you’re going to be thirty. Then after that you’ll be forty, then fifty. It’s getting kinda late. When are you going to find a Korean girl, get married? You should go to a Korean church. A nice American-born Korean girl, like you. Do you want me to help you find one?”

“Thirty isn’t that old,” I tell him. I say this because work capacity doesn’t begin to decline until about mid-thirties, and it is still possible to develop strength well into your forties.

“I was 25 when I married your mother,” he says. I am reminded that this is the same guy who mocked his 13 year old son for not being able to do a pull up on the backyard swing set, and proceeded to pump out a set of 7.

I consider talking to them about why having kids isn’t something I have a priority, but I already know that in their minds, there is no justification for not having them. And while I have always been a “do your own thing, doesn’t have to be what everyone else wants” kind of guy, I also recognize that what you want and don’t want is a reflection of your own development. Some of the more progressive among us might say, my value as a person is derived from more than whether or not I’m paired with another person romantically. This is true. But being in a healthy, functional, romantic love-oriented relationship is generally indicative of being a healthy, functional person who can develop strong social bonds and is at least somewhat emotionally stable. The reason society generally perceives “are you married” as a marker of personal success is because it means you provide value to others, are socially functional, and can support and be supported by other people.

My parents haven’t seen Interstellar. They wouldn’t understand when I tell them I just want to be TARS.

Fight the future. Fulfill your destiny.

2015 is a new year for me. I can change who I am. When people ask me, “are you still lifting,” I redirect my identity to them. I don’t have to be “the guy who lifts but doesn’t look like it” to other people. I can be whoever I want to appear to them.

“No,” I say, “it’s time for me to put that hobby on the back burner. Now I’m pursuing other things, like roasting my own coffee beans.”

“Wow,” they say, with much more enthusiasm when I tell them I practice lifting weights for a fake sport, “that’s REALLY cool.”

And they’re right. It is pretty fucking cool.

Except it’s a lie. Bull fucking SHIT I’m gonna roast my own goddamn beans and smoke up the entire building. Yeah, I’ll fucking buy them from a local roaster and grind them fresh, that’s about as far as I’ll fucking go for this drug addiction (or drive to a third wave coffee shop).

As I’ve grown older, my love for lifting has only grown. It’s been a 9 year science experiment and I’ve enjoyed the journey. I’m just tired of talking about it with people who don’t understand it. And I’m tired of explaining why it doesn’t look like I actually lift. Now I don’t have to worry about “why do you always look the same.” Now I’m just the fucking piece of shit Asian guy with a trendy undercut who is a pretentious snob about coffee, which people can still relate to more than squatting 405lbs “because my 17 year old nephew has done that for high school football.” I can fit in and have a fake real hobby that I can have a fake real conversation about with other people. And that is what being a sociable person is about. Having conversations you don’t give a shit about and never talking about the things you care about because you’re the only fucking person out of the next 100,000 who gives a fucking shit to the extent that you do, you fucking loser.

At work, a girl complains about how heavy transporting the boxes of paper from the back to the front desk can be.

Another says, “You should have asked Muscles here to do it,” referring to me. She is being sarcastic.

Fight the future. Fulfill your destiny.

- – -

Do you remember the story of how I got walked in on at work taking a dump twice?

I have never forgotten to lock the door to the bathroom since then.

A few days ago, I was victorious three separate times in rapid succession while taking a dump. Someone would knock, then try to open the door, and get fucking denied. Yeah, you fucks, occupied until my sigmoid colon stops spasming. I enjoy the privacy. The solitude.

Fight the future.

A fourth time, there is a knock. Then a few moments of silence. And then the door pops open and reveals the male doctor with a screw driver, who jimmied it open because after three people knock on the door and try to open it while no one answers from the inside, everyone assumes the door handle might be broken.

“OohKAY,” I say, pants around my ankles, smart phone still in front of my face.

“I am so sorry,” he says, “We didn’t know someone was in there.”

When I am done, I walk back to my work area.

“Yeah,” a front desk girl says, “we just didn’t know who would be in there. Like none of us even knew you were missing or here. So we thought the door handle was jammed or something again.”

Fulfill your destiny.

- – -

I am having fun in training again, even if the weights I’m training with are pretty low right now. I’m experimenting with tempo clean pulls and tempo squats, mainly for “hypertrophy,” partly to “get stronger,” both fictitious phenomenons that only happen to people with big dicks and human personalities and motivations which truly drive them to become better. I have neither, but I commit all of my imagined emotion into training. Fight the future.

I snatch sets of 5 and do 2 cleans + 2 jerks for my heaviest training day. The others I snatch off stacked bumpers from above the knee, hopefully until I suffer a catastrophic injury from a miss, and do various iterations of cleans and multiple jerks or push press + jerk. It’s tough, but it’s fun. For my child-like upper body I do one day each of bench and press with sets of 6+ solely to feel a pump and lactic acid and push press + jerk with a few back off sets of just push press. If nothing else, I am enjoying my time more than I would doing anything else, because I am so fucking dead inside. I would write the program I am doing, but firstly I refuse to be a fucking poindexter about it, and secondly it doesn’t fucking matter anyways. I’ve picked the things I suck at and do subjectively hard things for them. If I were a fake powerlifter I’d say I’m doing the conjugate method and act like it’s rocket science. Instead I’m a fake weightlifter and act like any of this fucking matters.

Me and Chris talk about training at his gym. Big fucking surprise there. Chris tells me about how he’s building back up to do doing 600lbs+ for a set of 5 sometime soon. I talk to Chris about

“I changed how I squat a little – ” and then I just stop, because it just doesn’t mean anything.

Chris insists that I continue.

“I used to break at the hips first,” because in 2004 I read a fake Westside Barbell article written in 1999 that said you should do it that way. “But that usually meant I’d be more likely to tilt my pelvis and immediately over-extend, so now I break at the knees first, which helps me keep a neutral spine and while I feel my quads more in the squat, I think that’s how it should feel for a weightlifter, not that any of this fucking matters, I’ve been doing this for 9 years and I look the fucking same.”

Chris laughed hysterically.

Fulfill your destiny.

Only God Forgives is my favorite movie. TARS is my favorite movie character.

Have you seen Only God Forgives? I am going to spoil it in this post. It has a great soundtrack. People don’t talk in it. It is my favorite movie.

I am trying to be a person. This means just having basic self-respect. This means I am not in love with the girl from Starbucks. Beyond the five seconds of seeing her flip a page in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book, she is a figment of my imagination. A projection of my own insecurities and cognitive disorders that I allow to bubble to the surface in fake blogs and manufactured emotion.

I am just trying to be a person. Don’t worry about finding emotional validation in someone else. Don’t worry that she – whoever she may be – doesn’t care that I exist. Build my life. Pursue my passions. Be a good person. Don’t expect anything. If worst comes to worse, take care of a loyal dog. And that would be okay.

Until recently, I thought the term “I need to work on myself” in the context of being single and out of a relationship was a stupid idea. What the fuck does that even mean? Get over your fake fucking shit, and just be a person <– that's what I used to think. What I understand now is that it means you used to fill your life with someone else and how they validated you. Without that person and without their validation, you are otherwise empty. To work on yourself is to build your own life. To learn to derive self-value out of the things you do. To learn to be okay with who you are and what you're doing. In other words – get over your fake fucking shit, and just be a person.

I can do this. I can be a person. I can grow past my failings –

"Do you want to order pizza?" she asks me one day at work. We don't speak often – this is important to note.

"I can't," I say. You guys know why. Because I am 150lbs. Oh let me guess – you're wondering if I have cancer. If I even lift. If I have an adult habitus. The gist is – you're wondering if I'm a person, or something less.

"You're the worst work spouse ever." Again – we don't speak often.

Outwardly, I laugh. Worst work spouse. Tell that to the other three. Inwardly, I realize that I carry with me unconscious signals. In ways that I can't control, I am non-threatening, safe, and kind. It's not that people prey on these characteristics. It's just that I'm a good-looking, smart, funny, sexually-revolting guy. I am not treated maliciously. I am just not a person. I am NPC in everyone else’s life.

"Why don't you have a girlfriend?" a friend asks me. "Are you shy? Are you the guy who waits for a girl to come crying on your shoulder about her boyfriend?"

"That's pretty harsh," another says. "You're basically saying he's scummy."

I am just not a person, and I am scummy. Is it too late? Can I change who I am? Can I fight the future?

- – -

Only God Forgives is my favorite movie. Julian recognizes who he is, and the evil that he’s done. He tries to do right. But he is torn between doing right and being loyal to those he loves. He tries to avenge the death of his brother. His mother manipulates him into killing innocent people by using his conviction to protect her. When he realizes –

“That’s not what she said.”

“What did she say?”

“She said – ‘kill them all.'”

– he tries to stop it from happening.

But he knows he has to pay for all he’s done in the end. And he accepts that. My hands have sinned – let them be cut off, so that I cannot sin.

Only God Forgives is my favorite movie. I believe in the idea of justice. You have to pay for the wrongs you’ve done. I was a bad person. I realize that looking back. I am paying for it now – I don’t mean in a cosmic karma greater plan way. Let me explain.

- – -

One of the first windows of opportunity for language comes early in life. We know that infants start out able to distinguish the sound of all languages, but that by six months of age they are no longer able to recognize sounds that are not heard in their native tongue. As infants hear the patterns of sound in their own language, a different cluster of neurons in the auditory cortex of the brain responds to each sound. By six months of age, infants will have difficulty picking out sounds they have not heard repeated often.

Windows of opportunity for language development occur throughout life. The window for syntax or grammar is open during the preschool years and may close as early as five or six years of age.

- – -

There is a study about the relation between hours of practice and success in a given skill. It talks about why some can achieve elite levels without countless hours of practice, and why others won’t even with thousands of hours of practice.

One of the other factors in determining whether one reaches an elite level – how young they are when exposed to skill development.

This is (one of) the (many) reason(s) I am not good at lifting.

Is it also a reason I never became a real human bean?

We make decisions to change in our lives. Today, I will be a person. Today, I will work on my issues. Today, I will try to get gooder at lifting. The problem is that these decisions were made long before we realized we had to take action. Did you start developing the skills and work capacity to train at an elite level at age 12? No, I was playing StarCraft and writing Sailor Moon fanfiction. Being a person is like learning a language. There are social cues that you pick up on, subtle signals you learn to read. What if you miss the window of opportunity during which you learn to do these things? What if you crafted yourself into a loner during high school? What if you fill your life with haikus about magic pixie girls who don’t exist beyond the three sentences they said to you four months ago and wonder why none of them like you? What if 500 Days of Summer speaks to you on a spiritual level?

What happens when you decide it is time to be a person?

- – -

Only God Forgives is my favorite movie.

“Wanna fight?”

I don’t believe Julian said that because he thought he would win. I think he said it because he believed he had to. He was obligated to. A combination of facing the man responsible for his brother’s death, and trying to do right in his mother’s eyes.

“You know who he is?”

Julian knew. He is a fucking Thai boxing ex-champion. But it’s his destiny to trade hands with this guy.

In a religious context – it is man’s destiny to submit to his God, usually after defying him and consequently being destroyed.

In a practical context – humankind has always sought to try the impossible. To fight fate. Most of humanity fails. Every once in a while, someone a little smarter, someone a little stronger, someone a little better finds a way. It is okay to be one of the many who fail. There is a biological drive somewhere deep inside you which admonishes you to try, to desperately struggle with the resources you have and are given. In a way, you are a slave to your instincts to survive. They are a prison, you might say.

Only God Forgives is my favorite movie. If you try to get good at lifting at age 20 or later with the only prior athletic experience being fake shadow boxing in your parent’s garage, you are probably going to not be good, lose mobility, and get injured. If you try to be a person at age 28, you have to face the fact that you are scum because of who you used to be. It’s okay. Take a breath. Stand up. Straighten your shirt. Get your shit kicked in again.

The idea isn’t that you are doing it to succeed. You are just fulfilling your destiny. Fight against what you are doomed to become. Succumb to it. You are only human. Maybe even less than that.

- – -

I cried hysterically watching Interstellar for a cumulative total of 15 minutes. I know what you fucks are thinking – it was a moderately well-done sci-fi movie that took all the rational, theoretical build-up in the first 2 hours, vacuum sealed it in a bag, boiled it alive, and then hurled it through a glass window on the 51st floor to splatter on the pavement for the final 20 minutes. And it was beautiful.

It is a movie about love. More than just romantic love. More than family bonds. As cringe-worthy as Brand’s monologue about it being a universal force with perceivable effects in our reality was, I have to agree. Love speaks to us. It speaks to me.

It says, love exists for you. Somewhere off in the horizon. If you squint hard enough, you can see it, the barest speck somewhere in the distance. Beyond a vast ocean of your own emptiness. And you will drown in it trying to get there.

Love asks the question, have you built a boat, have you developed your aerobic capacity and muscular endurance to row it over a long distance?

I say, no, I spent my week nights watching Day[9] and two of his friends play Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. I did a mere 3×5 of tempo clean pulls every week to develop my back hypertrophy and pulling strength, to no avail. I get tired just from doing soft tissue mobilization, which fucking isn’t even a real thing.

- – -

Are the monolithic robots in Interstellar not fucking sick? A throwback to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and completely unexpected from the humanoid AIs that most modern sci-fi trend towards, i.e. Fassbender’s David in Prometheus. And TARS has a fucking humor setting that can’t actually be adjusted. TARS and CASE almost immediately became fan favorites. They are probably mine, second to Hathaway. Maybe not second to Hathaway, because I am trying to be a person who can overcome his faults. The character Brand isn’t real. Neither is TARS. Or the concept of the person I’ve built in my mind from the 40-second, 20-word, $19 transaction of buying a hamburger from the indie burger place in Deep Ellum with an attractive brown chick at the counter.

TARS, while not a person, is still useful. And likable. And has a personality. He is a robot which serves a purpose, builds meaningful bonds with his humans, and has a positive impact on his world.

Maybe it is too late for me to ever be a person. Is it too late for me to be a TARS?

Honesty setting at 90%. Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.

There is a story of a guy who smokes a hallucinogen and proceeds to envision that he was lost in a forest. Some “Other” entity comes from within the forest and begins to guide him, and took him on this journey through the forest and into some mountains. In the mountains there was a glimpse of a kingdom somewhere in the distance, a place where this Other came from. The guy remembers it being truly majestic, awe-inspiring. They trek through the mountains into this alien civilization which is empty but somehow in pristine condition. To the guy, this kingdom feels like some new world, but at the same time he feels a sense of belonging, a sense of one-ness. The Other speaks to this guy, but it isn’t in a human language. Somehow the dreamer understands what the Other is saying, something along the lines of, “You don’t belong here.” So the Other guides him back down the mountains, back into a forest, and then the guy is alone. But the guy realizes that he can’t shake that feeling of belonging, and he turns back up the mountain on his own to find the kingdom again. He comes out of the hallucination before he gets back, and while he understands that it was only a dream, a drug-induced series of images and emotions that have no basis in reality, he still remembers the feeling of belonging, the sense that he was in the absolute right place, and he still remembers how that fictitious kingdom made him feel an awe that he has been incapable of feeling in the real world.

So he spends every day with the memory of that feeling, belonging to a place that doesn’t exist, believing in some kind of beauty that he’ll never see again. The last thing he remembers about it is trying to get back.

- – -

Pay attention to how you feel under varying conditions. What happens when you have a cup of coffee? Do you wake up? Do you get a personality? Do things suddenly seem worth doing?

Doesn’t even have to be in the context of a drug. How do you feel when your blood sugar is low? Depressed? Irritable? Is this the same person you are otherwise?

What about during a high-stress training cycle? Your sleep gets disrupted, you feel muted, sluggish. If you cared enough, you could measure a few markers. Vertical leap. The Soviets supposedly used to use grip strength for their weightlifting team. Maybe some of you read somewhere that the Bulgarians measured resting heart rate and blood pressure. Some of the new school lifters are now real big on RPE, load drops, and fatigue.

“This weight used to feel like an 8,” some might say. “I have been doing a lot of volume and not recovering well, today it feels like a 9.”

Is some of it just “psychological?” A self-fulfilling prophecy? Depends on who you ask. On how you ask it.

But even if it 100% is, even if that hard number value for subjective effort is just an idea in their minds alone, and not in the physical world, doesn’t it still have meaning? Doesn’t it affect their beliefs?

I can, I can’t.

I will, I won’t.

It is. It isn’t.

- – -

The first time I consumed marijuana, it was with a girl I was dating a few years ago. It was a typical first-time experience. Food tasted amazingly good, music was mind-blowing, thoughts went in a billion different directions, perception of time was distorted, and everything felt like a Christopher Nolan moment – there was something absolutely profound about the emotions I felt and the words in my mind.

I was – and probably still am, despite whatever thought experiments and self-growth bullshit I can try to apply – a codependent piece of shit. I derived emotional validation out of feeling like my partner valued me. Under the influence of marijuana, my need for emotional validation from this girl intensified and became meaningful. Her reciprocation was meaningful. I am talking about me looking up at her, thinking she was pretty in dim chain restaurant lighting. Her smiling back at me, for real, for the first time, with upbeat curiosity. You and I can read this now and realize that this is some Mickey Mouse bullshit to be covering for a 25 year old guy (I am 28 now). “Oh she smiled at me,” fucking kill yourself.

My point is that even though these interactions at the time were subtle, barely even happening, they felt profound. They carried a weight that had more substance than any snatch, any front raise. And even when I sobered up, that sense of meaning stayed. In my memory, there was a sense of connection to her that just meant something more – something more that, if I could just believe in something beyond what I knew for just a second, would lead me to some kind of truth.

I came down. Everything felt normal again. I felt embarrassed at how I acted while under the influence. I was a worse kisser. And I had told her, “I haven’t felt love before, but I think I would describe what I’m feeling now as love.” It is some stoner bullshit, I recognize that now, but I still don’t take it back. I haven’t felt love. The closest I have gotten? Looking at someone in dim lighting. Getting a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

I would smoke or eat marijuana another handful of times, with her and later without her. It was fun, music still sounded better, chocolate and potato chips still tasted good, but the feeling that what I felt had meaning never came back. In fact, I felt the opposite – that all my feelings and beliefs were false. I smoked with friends – but under the influence of marijuana, I felt disconnected with them. The bonds I thought I had with them felt fabricated.

Take away the marijuana. Take away the dim lighting. Take away the girl. I can still remember a moment.

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The guy on firstpull.net wrote a great article on force components in the snatch pull. Hip extension is both a horizontal and vertical component. Knee extension is mainly a vertical component. Rely too much on hip extension, and you have to deal with bringing the bar back into the right place. Finish hard with knee extension, use leg drive, and the bar will stay closer. The overall extension of the body to propel the bar up will be sharper.

There are a dozen other factors to account for. Where you are balanced on your feet – pushing too far back towards the heels reduces how much leg drive you can incorporate. Pushing too far onto the toes leaves the bar out in front. Timing. Where your gaze is held.

Do enough things right, and you can feel it. Stay over the bar as long as possible, delay the final extension until the very last moment, find your balance on your feet, keep your chest up between extension and receiving the bar overhead.

Sometimes you can hold this harmony for a workout or two. Sometimes maybe just for a rep, one lift. Then it’s gone.

But you remember. You try to find your way back to it.