When you see a really good powerlifter, you aren’t that surprised that they’re really good. Because to be quite honest, they’re muscular as hell. Their quads jut out from their body in quadtastic glory. (There’s a powerlifter who can crush a fricken watermelon between her thighs!) Their triceps and biceps will make you cry. And lats! They always have such glorious lats! (This woman competed at my last competition and I am currently composing a long-form poem about her back.)
This should not come as much of a shocker. Form follows function and you need muscles to lift heavy stuff. Yet I am having trouble coming to terms with the idea.
To achieve greatness as a lifter, I will have to commit to changing the way my body looks. That’s intense. I lift about 8 hours a week. But I have to exist in my own body 100% of the time.
First things first, whether I want to or not, I seriously doubt I am capable of becoming extremely muscular. If you dig past the satire in my recent article, Women Should Avoid Lifting Weights Or They’ll Get Bulky, you will get a sense for how difficult it is to get really big. People pay nutrition coaches tons of money to get muscular and still can’t get achieve the look they are seeking because they lack the genetics. To achieve that look, you need to commit to 100% compliance to a very strict diet and that diet requires eating more than you feel like eating almost all of the time. You have to obsess and live and breathe building muscle.
Beyond my genetic inability to get extremely muscular, I know it is not the look that I most want for my own body. I think extremely muscular women are beautiful and inspiring and awesome but I personally do not want to walk around at 184 pounds.
It’s not that I am committed to staying where I am at right now. I definitely want bigger quads, more muscular arms, and more defined back muscles but looking like a deadly badass all the time doesn’t fit with my day job, my personality, and my lifestyle.
How do I square this with my commitment to becoming great at lifting?
I am starting to admit to myself that when it comes to seeking greatness in this sport, I will have to deliberately practice not just my lifting but my diet. I absolutely have to put on some muscle, which necessarily means gaining weight.
Most women, myself included, have a negative response to gaining weight. Those that don’t either have an incredibly healthy acceptance of their body (I salute you) or are the insane badassess with loads of muscles whom I have been describing throughout this article (I salute you too).
I fear gaining too much weight. I have never been overweight and have always liked my body but until recently, I walked around with a little bit of fat on my stomach. I finally got rid of my fat through committed dieting. Last August, I weighed 174 and had a 35 inch waist. Now, I weigh 160 and have a 32 inch waist. I am really scared of getting that fat stomach back again. For once in my life, I don’t have to suck my stomach in every time I take a picture. Can’t I have that and progress toward becoming a great lifter?
No, dumbass. Read the beginning of this article that you yourself wrote.
As Jordan Feigenbaum, MD and Starting Strength Coach explains,
If a person desires a high level of performance and/or optimal physical development [Counting calories, tracking macronutrients, weighing and measuring foods, and recording all of this data as it correlates to weight, body composition, and performance information] is a necessary task . . .
Well, shit. This whole blog is about my desiring high performance so I guess I have to do all this stuff now. I just wanted to lift and then just keep a loose eye on my diet. Can’t I do that and still be doing deliberate practice? Maybe Dr. Ericsson, who created the concept of deliberate practice, can bail me out. Let’s check in with him.
In my last deliberate practice article, How to Get Great at Anything, I discussed the six criterion for engaging in deliberate practice that I extracted from Dr. Ericsson’s work.
- Spends thousands of hours training under the watchful eye of a skilled coach.
- Have specific goals.
- Receive immediate and specific feedback about how you can improve.
- Routinely get out of your comfort zone and try things that are just beyond your current abilities.
- Keep your mind in the game. Never go on autopilot. Stay focused and engaged and constantly break down the skill into smaller elements.
- Remember, deliberate practice isn’t fun. It requires adhering to strict practice criteria over a lifetime.
Sonofabitch. Specific goals, not staying on autopilot, and adhering to strict practice criteria? Sounds suspiciously like Feigenbaum’s “counting calories, tracking macronutrients, weighing and measuring foods, and recording all this data as it correlates to weight,” doesn’t it?
Not only do I need to record everything I am eating but I need to purposely try to gain weight, which necessarily means gaining fat as well as muscle.
Feigenbaum has also stated,
you cannot gain muscle mass, skeletal muscle mass, without gaining weight… You just can’t. . . If you’re losing weight you’re not increasing skeletal muscle mass. It’s just not happening.
At some point, I have to face the music and be willing to just gain weight, including some extra fat. In the future, I can do another cut and lose that fat again but I will have to first commit to gaining that extra muscle to begin with.
But I don’t wanna.
I am getting married in September and this is not the time to put on extra fat. No woman tries to gain ten extra pounds before her big day and I am certainly not enlightened enough to be the exception.
So I am putting myself on maintenance for now. I am not cutting weight nor am I eating a massing diet where I am deliberately trying to put on tons of extra muscle.
After I come back from my honeymoon in October, I am going to commit to massing and gaining all that extra muscle. I am going to approach this massing diet process with the same commitment to deliberate practice as I do with lifting.
Plus once I am married, my fiancé is stuck with me and will have to put up with my bigger biceps.
For now, I am focused on getting my form to be perfect on all of my lifts and building strength as a skill, where I learn how to grind out every rep. Until I commit to deliberate practice with diet too, in my opinion, I am not deliberate practicing this lifting thing 100%.
That might make you less interested in my deliberate practice journey and make me seem uncommitted. If you think that, that’s fair.
But I don’t want to hide anything. I want these articles to be a true accounting of my deliberate practice journey so rather than hide my dieting approach, I want to be totally honest. Plus, once I do commit to massing in October, you can look forward to seeing the difference between then and now when I was only deliberately practicing the lifting and not the diet. Or you can just stop reading and go back to looking at genetically gifted Instagram models.
I will never be ripped but starting this fall, perhaps my quads will start to jut out a little bit more and I will get more of this muscle stuff that everyone is talking about. Until then, I am focusing on the components of lifting that go on between my ears.