“I gave myself a full year to recover. Literally, I walked, did a little this and that, biked a bit, waded in the ocean and lived like what I call a “normal.” A normal human being. They are wonderful people, really, but they don’t wear singlets, weightlifting boots and smell of fear and chalk.” -Dan John
The above quote from Dan john is from a post he has on his blog about his return to Olympic lifting competition. The post, in general, can be said to be rather pedestrian – although John seems to do “pedestrian” better than most any other writers in this field – but this quote made me smile, and got me to thinking. Thinking about the times I lived as a “normal” myself – times that I sometimes look fondly upon, sometimes view it with little other than indifference, but, on the whole, look upon it with something akin to disdain. And then there’s the fact that I can’t really live as a “normal” even if I wanted to, even when I’ve tried to do such a thing. (Although I do, at times, at least attempt to give off the appearance that I’m living as a “normal” – it makes the Mrs and at least some of my family happy.)
When lifting gets in the blood, when you’ve been doing it so long that you no longer lift for any discernible reason other than the fact that you are a lifter, then you know there’s no going back at that point. “Give me lifting or give me death”, so to speak.
“Normals” are sort of to the lifting world what “muggles” are to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. Lifters look down upon them with varying degrees, ranging from tolerance to outright disdain. Of course, you may tolerate them – get along with them just fine, especially if they’re your parents, or your kids, or dear friends you’ve known your entire life – but still not really, truly capable of relating to them. They will always be “normal” and you will always be a lifter – ‘tis a chasm so deep and wide, that at times, it simply seems impossible to cross.
Sometimes, of course, the world of the “normals” crosses over into the lifting world, especially in the sense that there are, unfortunately, a great many “normals” who don’t see themselves any different from that of a lifter. For instance, there are plenty of “normals” who exercise on a regular basis, not just cardiovascular exercise, either, but intense lifting with barbells and dumbbells. (The latest fad in this ongoing trend “normals” pretending to be lifters is Crossfit, aka “lifting for normals”.) The problem lies in the confusion that “exercise” is the same as “lifting.”
I have never lifted weights for “health and fitness” except for my brief interludes and/or attempts at integration into the “normals” population. I don’t even understand why anyone would want to do such a thing. (Don’t get me wrong, as I get older, I do care about my health and about feeling good. There’s no reason, for instance, to be a fat slob in addition to being a lifter. But you can be healthy, you can care a great deal about your overall fitness, without reverting to “normalcy”.) I have always lifted to either be big, be strong, or to be some combination of both. I have, of course, been big without being incredibly strong, and I have been incredibly strong while also being very lean. But during my entire lifting career, I’ve never stopped being a lifter.
Then there is also the odd occurrence that rears its head on occasion in the lifting community, when certain lifters think they can be a lifter while also succumbing to the lifestyle of a “normal.” In this regard, I have the latter-day followers of Mike Mentzer in mind – buffoons so foolish (and so enamored of Ayn Rand-esque Objectivism – easily one of the worst philosophies mankind has ever seen – whether they even know it or not) as to think they can train as a lifter only one day – at the most two days – per week (and train each muscle group only about every 10 to 14 days to boot). If people actually undergo such a form of training, then only one of two outcomes can be the result: 1) the lifter within will rebel at such atrocious stupidity, and the lifter will emerge victorious, never to do such crappy-ass “training” ever again, or 2) the person training (for this person could never be called a lifter in the first place) will metamorphosize into a “normal”, enjoying such things as walks in the park, walks with the family through the neighborhood, and the occasional jog down to the local 7-11.
The longest I personally ever spent in the land of the “normal” was in 2006. I had several herniated cervical disks – apparently exacerbated by years of martial arts training, not necessarily lifting – which required surgery. The doctor assured me I would be back training within a few months. Truth be told, it took almost a year to fully heal, at which time I resumed a slightly more-friendly form of lifting that included not just all the usual barbell, dumbbell, and sandbag basics, but plenty of bodyweight training. But I did some training about 6 months after the surgery. Nevertheless, that meant that for almost half a year I did relatively little training. My wife (at the time) and I took plenty of walks with our children, I wrote many articles and a lot of fiction, sat zazen every morning and night, spent evenings on my back porch, drinking sweet tea, or sipping hot coffee, or (more often as not) seeing how many beers I could manage to drink – all the while enjoying the view of the woods from my house, watching as day turned to twilight turned to night. In short, lived as a “normal” human being.
By the end of those six months, the fog of normalcy hung over me so long that something odd happened – I could almost see myself living as one of the “normals” – assimilated into the population, becoming one of “them”, kind of like those pod-people that replace the real ones in the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or maybe even one of the aliens that only Rowdy Roddy Piper could see when he wore those out-of-the-world sunglasses in John Carpenter’s “They Live.” For all extensive purposes, I was becoming just like everyone else – the “normals” were taking me over. (It becomes worse, by the way, when your mother or your wife, or other of your “loved ones”, tells you how nice you look – which means skinny – since you stopped lifting weights and subsisting on a diet of steak, milk, and protein shakes, and instead replaced those things with walks around the neighborhood, salads, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Kashi bars.)
Of course, because I lived so long as not a “normal”, all it took to break the spell was two or three workouts consisting of squatting heavy stuff, picking heavy stuff off the ground, and pressing heavy stuff in various forms coupled with a few meals of T-bone steaks washed down with the “milkshake of beers” – Guinness.
Don’t get me wrong, as Dan John wrote at the beginning of this piece, the “normals” are wonderful people, really, but they don’t wear Inzer belts, think of farmer’s walks as a form of conditioning, or pick up really heavy crap at least four days out of the week.
In short, give me lifting or give me death, but for the love of God, don’t ever give me “normalcy”.