When I lift I talk to myself. Today I talked to myself an awful lot. And when I lift my self-talk is warm: "Attagirl," I say. "That's my girl. Come on, baby. You got this. You got this. You want to try another set? One more? You can stop if it's too much. You're a girl who tries." Like seriously I say these things aloud—I guess I mutter them under my breath, but I am really telling myself these things, and I am not faking it—this is the way I feel about myself when I lift. I feel proud, kind, encouraging, supportive. Sometimes I feel a gut-punch of sensation like the thing that happens when I am sitting on my couch with my boyfriend and he says something brilliant or funny and I realize how much I love him; it feels like a gentle vortex inside my ribcage, something that reaches out to someone else even as I experience its centrifuge. Except when I am lifting and I have that sensation, it is for me. It is me that I realize I love. This sounds cheesy as hell, but inexplicably, I am so serious.
My session today was fucking beautiful. I'm doing a little tinkering lately: a new warm-up approach (okay, fine, a warm-up approach that actually involves warming up; unsurprisingly, it is helpful! Although it also increases volume, which made the same squat weight feel a little more dubious at the end.) I added 5 pounds to my press—promised myself two sets at the new weight. Did the two. Had to gut it out to get lockout on the last rep; there was a second I thought I was going to have to bail out and let the bar crash onto the safety rails and make a terrible, embarrassing racket, but I got it. Took a recovery break. Thought about it. Did another set, easier than the one before. Took a recovery break. Thought about moving on to deadlifts; thought about what my warm-up progression should be. Thought maybe I'd just try one more set of presses. Had to fight for the last rep. Fought for it. Got it. I switched from touch-and-go deadlift sets to resetting between reps, to the tune of a 10-pound PR (although four reps instead of five: I'll get the five next time I deadlift, you mark my words).
And I took the bus home with a new gym friend—this guy who came up to me a couple weeks ago and asked, "You a former athlete?" When I told him no, he shook my hand. "You don't see too many women back here. You was getting real low on those squats, too." (The way to my heart is through my squat form. FYI, internet.) Today I ran into him at the bus stop and he sat himself down right next to me and we talked about how I got started lifting and how great it is and how it is a thing you can do all your life (I am looking forward to a lifetime of lifting). His name is Michael. I have gym friends. It is bizarre.
Engage your quads and your core when the press gets tough. Shove your knees out and spread the floor with your feet on the way down in the squat. Activate the posterior chain to drive up out of the hole. It is a million kinds of interesting: lifting lights my brain up, trying to monitor several things at once, and all the while attuned, experiencing. The initial gains you make when you start lifting are driven by neurological connection: it's not muscle mass that you're creating or even the potential of the muscle you've already got that you're tapping—it's the connection between the brain and the muscle. The brain is reaching its tendrilly little synapses out into your body, touching the parts of you that you didn't even know were there.