Self Imposed Limits and Breaking Them – Gym Edition.

I’m feeling it, you guys. I am really feeling the pain. I’m going to be worse tomorrow, so I’m trying to be productive today, but holy guacamole, it’s a struggle. I have no ibuprofen in the house, either. This post is slightly motivational-y, sort of story-y and sort of word vomit-y. It’s also proud disbelief at what the human body is capable of when the mind doesn’t get in the way.

Yesterday I had my first Personal Training session in nearly a year, and I’m feeling it. I chose a competitive body builder to be my sadistic motivator and boy, did I choose right. I needed someone who knew their stuff, knew about my injuries and he’d gone through the same injuries I was currently experiencing. I needed someone who wouldn’t let me get in the way of my own progress.

Let me tell you a story of how my first session went.

I went in to the session too tired to be nervous. It was 6am and there were 9 of us already standing outside the gym waiting for it to be opened. When we got inside, I placed my bag in the locker, and headed out in search of someone who looked like the voice I had heard over the phone. I found him. Slightly taller than me, barell chested and well trimmed beard, I knew that was my man. We introduced ourselves and we walked over to the leg press.

Now, the PT and I had previously discussed my injuries, my goals, and my training style. I had explained what I wanted to gain from each session, but I also explained that when I joined this gym no one had shown me how to use some of the equipment. It was unlike any I’d seen in any gym before. He got me to lie down on the near-vertical leg press, loaded 40kg on to it and explained that all the weight was loaded through a pin. Fine.

I was looking at this 40 kg thinking “Cool, 40kg is a decent start point. I think I can maybe push 80 for a few reps before my legs will give out.” After all, I was and am recovering from a torn ankle ligament and I’d been avoiding any heavy leg workouts. I did 15 reps no problem. He loads two more plates to the bar. I push 10 reps- it was a tad harder. He loads two more plates to the bar and I can feel it. My back is being smooshed in to the backrest. My legs are shaking, but still stable. I manage to push 10 reps then lock the safety in to place.

“Gosh, I can’t believe 80kg is so hard these days” I said to him, laughing, but happy I’d managed what I thought was 80kgs. He looks at me with a confused smile. “The starting plate, with no weight loaded is 50 kilos. You opened at a 90 kilo press then finished on 130 at a 45 degree angle. Well done.” He muttered a little quip at how he felt I really could have pushed more.

Now, to me, that was insane. It is still insane. I looked at him with gormless disbelief. I spent all of yesterday telling people that I managed to leg press 130 kilos at a 45degree angle. That was my goal weight that I was aiming for in 4 months, not my start weight! I had accidentally and unassumingy smashed through my limitations because I had someone watching me, monitoring me and nonchalantly believing in my abilities. He didn’t give me a choice. He played a mind game with me. I didn’t know how much I was pushing, so I didn’t think it was heavy. I didn’t think it was heavy, so I didn’t approach it like it was heavy. I then proceeded to do 40 more minutes of leg workout.

Going to the gym and pushing through your self imposed limitations is psychological warfare. You have to fight through years of conditioning and disbelief. You’ll always see motivational posters saying “Your body can do it, it’s your mind you have to convince.” “Your body will not go where the mind won’t.” etc etc. And it’s really hard not to roll your eyes and shake your head and think what a load of rubbish it all is. When you’re staring at a bar loaded with more than double your body weight your brain starts to freak out. “There’s no way that’s possible. You’re not ready. You won’t be able to lift that unless you train for at least 7 more months.” If you’ve never trained before, chances are your brain is right and trying to protect you. But if you’ve been training for a while, there’s a pretty good chance your body is capable of doing surprising things.

I found I needed someone to break my limitations for me. I was never going to move past baby-sitting my ankle. I was never going to move past my brains ironclad belief that I was weak and useless because I have injuries down the whole right side of my body. I was stuck in a same-workout-day-in-and-out rut that wasn’t letting me get stronger and it was wearing me down. I found the method for breaking that cycle and it worked. I’m super pumped to do it all again next week with a different body part. I have drive and motivation to spare since discovering my body is capable of things I never dreamed of.


Until then,  I’ll continue to rub Deep Heat in to my glutes and legs, and complain loudly with a smile that I can’t sit down without everything hurting.

Stay silly, folks.

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