Brimming with elation, exhilaration, exuberance. Racing heart. Face-splitting grin. Did I win the lottery? No. I reached a goal – an epic, seemingly unattainable goal. I conquered a 200-pound – nearly double my bodyweight – lift.
Ten months earlier, fresh from my first powerlifting meet (where I hadn’t performed as well as I’d hoped), I’d decided that by the end of the year I would bench press 100 pounds, deadlift 200 pounds, and—with more than a little chutzpah—said I’d squat 200 pounds.
The first two goals were lofty, but attainable with a lot of work and support from my strength coach. But a 200-pound squat surpasses what’s considered an elite level of lifting for my weight by more than 20 pounds. New to powerlifting—to fitness, period —who was I to think I could reach that goal in less than a year? I was, that’s who. I was determined. I was dedicated. And I was confident.
To reach my lifting goals I have to believe in myself, which feels the polar opposite of setting a weight loss goal. I’ve done that too—I remember how excited I was when I lost my newlywed 25 pounds. But that was different. Depriving myself daily to reach an arbitrary (and temporary) number made me my own worst enemy. Crying in the kitchen because I desperately wanted a cookie was no path to glory. No, this is a goal of a different sort. One where I have to be on my own side, working to prove what I can do, not how much I can deny myself.
But that kind of utter strength and mental toughness doesn’t come easy, especially for a woman. (Men can be cocky, but compliment a woman and her knee-jerk reaction is to deny it.) It doesn’t feel natural to say, “I’m the greatest,” even if I only mean “I’m the greatest I can be for me”—will people think I’m being arrogant, overconfident? Maybe. But instead of worrying about that, I decided I’d rather spend energy convincing myself that I’m the greatest I can be. That I could and I would move that bar when it’s time.
And in fact I did move it on the bench and deadlift, even exceeding both goals by five pounds. Which just left the squat: My loftiest goal. The few seconds of fighting that weight were extraordinarily difficult, but the hardest part was the weeks and days leading up to the attempt. The closer I got, the more I feared failing. What if I wasn’t strong enough? What if my nerves overcame me? There were so many ways I could fail, so many reasons to call it off—and I nearly did, so agonizing was the prospect of failure.
To prepare I visualized each detail of the lift daily. I focused on keeping my knees out, chest up, hips forward. And when the time came…I did none of that. I was a mess. I caved. I didn’t make it. My coach thundered at me: “You didn’t get set, you didn’t take a big breath, your face didn’t even get red! This isn’t going to be pretty! You’ve got four minutes. You’d better bring it!”
This was it. I could bring it or go home. I was starkly terrified. I knew what 200 pounds on my back felt like, and I had to get back under it. And nobody could do it for me. It was just me and the weight. My four minutes were up. I tightened my belt, grabbed the bar and shook it, hard. Again, squeezing with a death grip. This was it. Battling for every inch, I rose and slammed the bar into the rack with a mighty roar.
None of my visualizing had prepared me for the surge of intense joy at what I had just done. I whirled around to my coach to be sure he hadn’t helped. “It was all you!” he said. The immense rush was better than Paris and Christmas morning and (I imagine) even the best of drugs combined. Adrenaline, bliss, every imaginable extreme feeling pulsed through me. I had never felt like this.
After my jubilant drive home pounding my fist ferociously along with my blasting stereo and a frenzied re-enactment for my husband, I pondered just what made this such an overwhelming experience. And I realized I had been through a rite of sorts. I had walked in afraid, faced those fears, and minutes later walked–floated–out a winner. In the course of a year I’d transformed from being physically incapable of something to doing it. That is a mighty powerful feeling–and an addictive one. My thoughts immediately turned to even bigger and scarier goals for next year. Do a bodyweight press (lift the bar over my head from a standstill)? That’s an extraordinary accomplishment.
But why not? The new me, the one that can squat 200 pounds, comes with a bonus that the post-weight-loss-goal skinny me didn’t come with: an unshakable conviction that I can make anything happen. While I surely feel strong and powerful because I can take on 200 pounds and win, my real strength and power lie in knowing that I can overcome fear and accomplish a serious goal. If I can do that, what can’t I do?
Gone are my days of resolving to eat less fat or more rice cakes. I want to set challenges that I have to work for, struggle for, probably even overcome fear for, because now I know: The scarier the goal, the more amazing it feels to reach it–and the stronger I’ll grow in the process.
Follow along as Dana works on her 2012 goals at It’s Always Going to Be Heavy and check out some photos from her training, below: