I am going through a slump right now. I know I should be writing the second installment on blood flow restriction (BFR) training, but instead I am here, getting off track yet again.
Plus, I want the BFR piece to be a good one. I feel this training tool is way too often misunderstood, or not pulled from the arsenal when it is the perfect weapon of choice.
Instead, what I want to talk about is the recent training slump I am currently going through. I have been in such a rut that I even stopped uploading weekly updates to my “Bulking in The Year 3000” series. I am by no means panicking or concerned about the negative emotions surrounding my training though. I see strength training/bodybuilding as my first love, and I have been married to the “old ball and chain” for 19 years now. I imagine most actual real human relationships experience the same ups and downs. Take a couple that has been married for 40 years, I am sure at some point Martha temporarily fell out of love with George. It is no different for me, but I am still no less committed than the day I started.
“Between years 18-21 I couldn’t stand the old fool, and during this time I couldn’t see how I would ever regain the spark we had.” I feel like this is something you might hear Martha say, and right now I relate!
The truth is that in my 19 years of lifting, I have gone through a few phases where I fell out of love with my training. The difference is, back then, I would totally freak out when I felt this way. I still recall being 16 years old and being caught mid-daydream by my disapproving English teacher. My teacher sighed at me, the look in the teacher’s eyes showing they knew nothing could be done about a boy in love. Except my love was the weights. I remember visualizing myself kicking up the 75 lb dumbbells on my top set of incline presses later that day – the idea of that much power was intoxicating. Thus, I was white-knuckling my pen, and the blank look on my face showed I wasn’t paying attention to the lesson. I remember running home after training to get on the all the big message board forums to read everything I could on bodybuilding. I recall waking up excited nearly every morning because at some point, I knew I would get to train. It was like this for the longest time, my great love seemed to grab me and take hold. But eventually the mental droughts happen, and you find yourself in a slump. I’ve had quite a few memorable ones, but there is one that always comes to mind and really puts everything into perspective for me.
I hurt my SI joint while training for a cluster of shows in 2008, it was my first time getting shredded, my first season where I did really well, and unfortunately such a serious injury that I could only do bodyweight squats for leg training at a certain point. After that unfortunate injury I recall spending the two subsequent years not enjoying my training for the first time in my life. Mostly because, I was unable to do whatever I wanted in the gym. For the first time ever, I felt I wasn’t invincible. The only reason I kept showing up was the promise that maybe today was the day everything would come back to normal. I convinced myself that I would get my old body back if I kept going. The drought lasted two years, and I during that time I would do my best to recall what the good days felt like. I believed that feeling that again would more than make-up for the way I was currently feeling. With a metaphorical baseball bat, I would step up to the plate, only to strikeout over and over again, while still believing that all I had to do was keep going, keep working hard. Fortunately, I was right. Eventually things sorted themselves out. In April of 2010, two long years later, I found myself having a good game or two. That injury caused my first major slump, and I have yet to experience anything like that since. I hope I won’t experience it again, but I did learn that it ends and that you can make it past it, if you are careful and you keep going.
I have had countless, typical slumps, the usual stuff. Post contest blues are expected, as are unsuccessful training blocks, and the way those make you feel. If you plan to make a lifelong commitment to lifting, you will without a doubt go through a few of these micro slumps, but also some major ones like the one I went through in 2008. Ask anyone who has put in at least a decade, and they will be able to recall moments when they weren’t all the way in love with their training. This is my situation now. But, it’s not the first time this has happened. When it does happen, I remind myself that I can’t always be in love with bodybuilding. But, I still love bodybuilding. So, I keep showing up, trusting that even when I am missing that last gear, it’s still there…that is enough to keep me progressing. In fact, trying to force the spark to come back is likely to prolong the mental drought and will make the situation more stressful than it already is. Sometimes, to get it back, you have to train without it.
I am sure many of you are wondering what the root of my current mental slump is. I can trace the roots of this slump to a recent minor tear to a forearm muscle. This actually happened out of the gym while I was screwing around on some monkey bars for fun…embarrassing, I know. Initially, when it did happen, I was under the impression that I tore my biceps. Once I was able to get myself to look down, I was relieved to see that wasn’t the case. However, it did confirm my sense of bodybuilding mortality. It confirmed that I am 35 years old now, and that I need to take more precautions going forward in order to not have my bodybuilding career die an early death. It was like I heard someone whisper “the end is near” in that moment or less ominously, it made me realize there is an end to this at some point. I’ve come to realize I have to play a slightly more defensive game from here on, relative to my invincible 20’s. I guess we can call it my bodybuilding “mid-life crisis” of lifting.
Regardless, I know the next few months will be missing that edge, and I don’t think I am the only bodybuilder to go through such phases. If you haven’t experienced anything like this before, you are likely pretty new to strength training, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense sometimes. If you have or are currently going through an unintentionally cruisy phase in your training, know that is normal. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself that you are feeling this way, and that you just need to do your best to keep showing up. Around the corner, you will find your training feeling the way it used to. In the meantime, keep your feet moving, and know that if you really do love this, a passionate athlete just going through the motions is still pretty damn productive.
So, that is where I am currently in my personal bodybuilding journey. But, I know that I better keep showing up, because the me of tomorrow will thank me for it. While my motivation is pretty low right now, I am no less committed to my training and I’m confident it is only a matter of time and commitment before I am back in the saddle again.