Where EVERYONE is a maker

Episode 10: Newbie Gains, Rest, and Being Good at Everything – Life Lessons from Weightlifting, Part 1

Did you know that what you do in the gym carries over to your life, and not just physically? This is part one of three covering some universal truths we can find in the gym and in our approach to life. You don’t have to learn them the hard way! Just listen to this episode so  you’ll understand why:

  • newbie gains are a privilege 
  • being good at one thing doesn’t mean you have to be good at everything, and 
  • better respect your need for rest 

Then stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 coming in subsequent episodes.

Scroll down for a full episode transcript.

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[00:00:00] Hola y welcome to The Maker Muse Podcast, the place where child-free Spanglish speaking mujeres fuertes are inspired to find their confidence through creativity. I’m Paulette Erato, the Maker Muse. And before we get too deep into this episode, I gotta let you know that season one is wrapping up real soon.

[00:00:22] This is episode 10. So there’s still two more to come before the season’s over. And I wanted to thank you for hanging out with me all this time. You’re all so funny with your comments. And the feedback has just made this a lot of fun. So thank you.

[00:00:36] Back to the topic at hand. What are some universal truths we can find in weightlifting? This is actually how we’re going to close out season one, because this is part one of a three-parter. It turns out the list was a lot longer than I expected, which is great because you know how I love using exercise metaphors here on the podcast. So buckle up because today you’re in for an entire episode relating weightlifting to the maker mindset. Yay!

[00:01:02] All right. So the first three lessons or universal truths that I’ll be covering today are one, it’s a privilege to be new at things. Two, just because you’re good at one thing doesn’t mean you have to be good at everything. And three, respect your need for rest.

[00:01:18] All right. Our first universal truth is that being new is a privilege. But another truth about the gym, weightlifting, and life is that we are all to one extent or another intimidated by new things. This is normal.

[00:01:31] I wasn’t comfortable the first time I went to the gym, the first time I went into a weight room. It looked like everyone knew what they were doing and it felt like if I did something wrong, the gym police were going to come kick me out. Or at least, you know, make fun of me.

[00:01:46] That’s a familiar feeling, right? You probably have a similar experience you could share, if not at the gym, then maybe walking into your first job or changing schools and not knowing anyone. Or “insert your situation here.” But what most of us get wrong about being new, is that we don’t realize it’s a gift. You only get to be new to a thing for a short time.

[00:02:05] And it’s something that as adults, we don’t get to experience as often as when we were kids. Because when you’re a kid, everything is new right? But as an adult you have experiences and expectations that after a certain age, then you know everything. And I’m happy to break it to you. That that is a lie. So you can let go of that belief now okay?

[00:02:26] Because that belief is actually part of the problem. And I’m going to explain that in more detail in the next lesson, but first I want to touch on something else you get to enjoy when you’re new.

[00:02:40] In the gym, we talk about something called newbie gains. This is a phenomenon where new lifters can put on a lot of muscle and develop a lot of strength in a short amount of time. But you can see it in all areas of learning too, if you’re paying attention.

[00:02:53] Because everyone starts at zero. Even Arnold Schwartzenegger had to work up to becoming the famous bodybuilder we all know him as. He didn’t walk into the gym on the first day and suddenly become Arnold. I mean, obviously he was Arnold because he’s Arnold, but not the Arnold we know today. He wasn’t a bodybuilder on his first day either.

[00:03:16] Anyway, when you first start working out, it’s very easy to double the amount of weight you can lift at the very beginning. Because it’s much easier to go from using five pound dumbbells to 10 pound dumbbells than it is from lifting 100 pounds to 200 pounds.

[00:03:32] So the way this translates into other areas, let’s say you’re learning to draw for the first time. What’s the first step to drawing? Let’s say it’s learning to draw a straight line. It’s just a line. And then you get comfortable with that, so what’s the next step? Well, then you take it up a notch and learn to draw a circle.

[00:03:50] That step is like moving from five pounds to 10 pounds. It doesn’t even seem like a huge jump, right? You’re like, okay, I can draw a line. I can draw a circle. But you just doubled the number of things that you could draw: a line and a circle. Congratulations! And you keep going along with that until you start learning to draw faces.

[00:04:10] The face starts off with a circle. Kind of, our faces are all kind of circley. But to draw a real face and not just, you know, a circle with two little eyes and a smile, but a real face? That takes effort. That’s like making the leap from a 100 pounds to 200 pounds. But all those little steps were foundational to getting to draw the face. You didn’t learn to draw the face, you didn’t learn to lift 200 pounds, before learning to draw the straight line, before picking up the lightest weight, and progressing from there.

[00:04:42] So the lesson here is to enjoy being new without expectations. You only get to be new for a short period of time and no one expects you to be any good at it during this time anyway. Because everyone starts at zero and you’re building a foundation now for where you’re going in the future. So revel in the new for as long as possible.

[00:05:05] To go along with our silly expectations and I’m calling them silly because we can all recognize that placing excessive expectations on ourselves is dumb. That’s just dumb. But we do it anyway. So to go along with that, the next lesson is that sometimes we expect that if we can do one thing, then something else related should be just as easy.

[00:05:26] And that’s just another one of those silly stories we tell ourselves. Remember that episode “Lies We Tell Ourselves”? Go check it out. The link is in the show notes.

[00:05:34] As we grow up, we start to expect that all of our life experience will make us better at everything. And that’s just not true. Mira, it can help you excel through stuff faster. Like when I was learning to play the piano, I already knew how to read music from playing the clarinet. So my teacher didn’t have to waste time teaching me that. But I still had to figure out where middle C was and how to place my hands and all that jazz. Plus the piano, is not the clarinet.

[00:06:02] This is a good time to talk about the difference between power lifting and Olympic lifting. Cause it’s gonna make my point. If you’re not familiar and you think all lifting is lifting well, my friend. You are not wrong. They’re both fighting gravity with weight, but they are different categories.

[00:06:17] Think of it like swimming versus diving. Both happen in the water and there’s an overlap in skills, but swimmers don’t dive, even though divers do have to swim. You get what I’m saying?

[00:06:27] So, yes, there is overlap between Olympic and power lifting, but they focus on different things. And I’m not about to jump into a debate about the superiority of one over the other, because people have very passionate opinions about this. Let’s just say that Olympic lifting is very technical and explosive while powerlifting focuses on slower single plane movements like benching, squatting, and my favorite, the deadlift.

[00:06:51] So I love powerlifting. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years now, minus the two cause of, you know. But Olympic moves? I’ve never tried those. And I wouldn’t try them not without some serious training and supervision.

[00:07:05] Let’s try another example, like cooking and baking. Anyone who has ever learned to try to bake and expected it to be as easy as cooking, will tell you: that is not the case. Those skills don’t all translate over just because they’re similar. Baking and cooking, yeah they both happen in the kitchen. You use the same tools like the oven. You can even use the same ingredients, but they are two very different animals. Cooking is free-flowing you throw in a pinch of this here and a pinch of that there. And voila! You have a delicious dish. But you can’t do that in baking. Baking is much more technical. If you try that, it’s not going to turn out nearly as good.

[00:07:43] Let’s try another example. I can drive a car. I can even drive a stick shift. But I’m only qualified to drive small passenger vehicles. I cannot drive a bus. But just because I have the experience of piloting a vehicle on the open road, in traffic, on the 405, that does not mean I know the first thing about driving a bus. Buses have air brakes and they carry a ton of people in them. That vehicle is much larger and it’s got way bigger blind spots. So even though I understand the mechanics of maneuvering a vehicle, that doesn’t mean I know the first thing about driving a bus.

[00:08:18] And you wouldn’t want me to, right? You wouldn’t want me on the road. Me an unqualified driver behind the wheel of a bus. Right? No!

[00:08:26] So suspend your belief that just because you’re good at one thing, you should be good at all the things related to that. It’s just not true.

[00:08:34] Lesson three is that you cannot lift without rest. And everyone, everyone has to take a rest break. You probably get a rest break at work that you look forward to, right? There’s a reason that rest breaks are legally required. Tired people are dangerous. They make mistakes, usually sloppy ones. You know, they say that driving tired is more risky than driving drunk. So let’s talk about rest breaks and lifting.

[00:09:02] Rest breaks are the short periods in between sets of lifts that you use to catch your breath and wait for your energy to power back up so you can go kick ass on the next set of reps. And these rest breaks are vital.

[00:09:13] I’m going to quote Healthline here: “strength can be maximized by rest intervals between two to five minutes in duration. This allows the muscles to recover enough, to produce a comparable amount of force for the next set.”

[00:09:27] What this means is that without a break, you’re not going to be able to lift as much on your next set. And that a minimum amount of rest is required in order to do just as much work or more in the next round.

[00:09:39] But all too often, this break or this pause, is something we don’t allow for ourselves in daily life. How many people do you know who work through their weekends or make themselves available to their teams when they’re on vacation? If they even take their vacations. This grind, grind, grind, mentality that too many people have is fucked up.

[00:09:59] Yeah, we grind in the gym, but we sure as hell take our rest breaks too. So why don’t we do this in real life? It makes total sense that when you exhaust yourself physically at the gym, you need a break. So why don’t we do the same when we’re mentally or emotionally drained too? We need to give up this idea that rest makes you lazy. In fact like the Healthline article stated there’s a minimum amount of rest you need in order to maximize your productivity. You can’t be productive without some rest.

[00:10:31] So let’s go back to talking about lifting for a minute. You know how I love me some deadlifts. If you’ve never seen one, it’s when there’s a big barbell on the ground, you bend over, grab it and stand up. It’s the same movement as if you’re picking a box up off the ground. When they say that you have to lift with your legs and not with your back, that is exactly what the dead lift teaches you. My current personal record for this is 260 pounds for reps, which I set two years ago. I haven’t done a lot of lifting in the past two years because of the, you know.

[00:10:58] So when I set that PR, as most of us do when we’re giving everything we’ve got, I exhausted all of my energy in making that lift and I gave it everything I had in that moment. Could I have done that if I hadn’t taken my two to five minute rest break? Probably not. So why do we continue to grind ourselves down in other areas of our lives without regularly scheduling in some downtime? They do it for computers and whatnot. How often do you get a message from your bank or from some other service that they’re going to be down for maintenance on such and such days? If machines get a break, why can’t you?

[00:11:34] Let me put this another way. You can’t continue to paint a portrait, if you’re out of paint, right? You can’t make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, if you’re out of peanut butter. This makes sense, right? So you can’t exhaust your energy and expect to be able to continue doing the thing, whether it’s lifting or teaching or whatever, after it’s all gone. Rest is important. And get out of here with the idea that rest is earned. No it’s required.

[00:12:02] And not just in between lifts, but rest days exist for a reason. Your muscles need rest. They need time to repair the damage they endured while you were forcing them to grow outside your comfort zone. If you keep working them and they don’t get time to rest, they will break down. You will break down and there aren’t as many spare replacement parts for humans as there are for say, cars or computers. You can’t just swap out a dead battery in a human being like we can for a car or…a remote control. So, if you want to keep yourself and your muscles healthy, you got to give ’em a breather.

[00:12:36] So we’ve established that rest is necessary for obvious reasons, but here’s a not so obvious one. Pausing gives us time to think, too. And this is a necessary skill no matter the situation. As humans, we have a fight flight freeze response that can be activated anytime we’re surprised or scared or tired. So learning to pause and assess the situation properly is an invaluable skill. Learning how not to react immediately, especially from a place of fear is essential. And it’ll keep your central nervous system from shorting out, like if you were constantly triggering it with a fight or flight response.

[00:13:15] Finally, another reason rest breaks are so important is that they give you time to concentrate on the next set. Especially when you’re going in for a new personal record, you need to be in the mindset that you can do it. I’ve spent many, a rest break visualizing what that next lift will look like, how the bar is going to feel in my hands, how it’s going to feel as I’m lifting it up. I think about it both in my body (like I’m imagining myself doing it) and also as if I’m watching it on my phone. So like it’s happening outside my body, like a movie. And I do watch it on my phone. If I recorded the previous set, then I can watch that video to not only prove to my brain that hi, I’m capable of this. But also to like check my form, make sure it looks good before I go adding more weight to it. And that visualization part also leads to the next weightlifting life lesson, which we will get to in the next episode.

[00:14:06] So let’s recap. The first three universal truths of weightlifting are: one, it is a privilege to be new at things because newbie gains are real. Two, just because you’re good at X does not mean you have to be good at Y so stop putting those silly expectations on yourself. And three, respect your need for rest.

[00:14:29] Next time, I’ll continue the list of a few more universal truths we can get from weightlifting. In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts with me. As always I welcome you to email me or DM me on Instagram. You can find the links for this in the show notes, always. And I’d love to hear from you.

[00:14:46] In the meantime. Stay hydrated. And that’s the burrito.

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