“If it’s only about inches on the arms, you probably won’t stay,” Iron Culture Podcast, Ep. 134- You Don’t Understand Genetic Limits

Well, the boys roped me in with some first class nerd shit right off the top on this one–applying the mathematical models of limits vs. asymptotes to help us contextualize our own growth as lifters and the inevitable stalls, whether measured in added mass on our bones or added weight on the bar. And we will all face plateaus, or even losses, of muscularity or strength from time to time, and how we contextualize those moments has a direct impact on how motivated we will be to keep getting under the bar to get the work done.

Throughout this conversation, Omar and Eric offer perspective on the different ways we might falsely contextualize these moments of seeming lack of progress–have we reached our genetic limits? How do we compare to other people and will we ever achieve at those levels? How are we doing now compared to our training age? Each of these questions have pitfalls that might encourage us to conclude that we don’t have more gainz on the table. The point I think they are making is basically that our attitudes during these moments of challenge can impact our longevity in the sport, and if we want to keep doing the work and surprising ourselves with our successes, we need to avoid assuming we’ve achieved all that we can achieve.

There is one quibble I’d like to make, however, and it relates to a point Eric made relatively early on. He says something along the lines of, “Our year one gainz have less meaning due to easy progress, and having to work harder later in our lifting careers makes it more meaningful.” I believe I understand his main point, that when a task comes easily to us, we don’t have to have as much inner strength, perseverance or self-reflection in order to keep going as we do when a task is more challenging. I don’t have a problem with that analysis. However, I feel that he’s describing all lifters like this is a universal experience–the easy gainz of a first-year lifter, and frankly, that’s a pretty ableist way of thinking about our community.

Speaking strictly for myself, I was in very poor condition when I started lifting–I was recovering from obesity, multiple chronic health challenges, and managing physical disabilities–and it took me years of habitual training to go from very poor strength and fitness to average levels of strength. My strength didn’t really take off until I was in good enough health to push myself, perhaps 5 years into my training history. I feel certain that I am not alone in these experiences, but since it isn’t something anyone is likely to brag about on social media, these sorts of stories aren’t often told. So, while Eric may be technically right that we don’t learn to push ourselves when the gainz are easy, it isn’t true that it’s easy for all of us when we first begin. And some of us may never experience lifting with ease. It may always be a balancing act between our desires and our limited abilities.

At the end of the day, the message is about mindset and it’s an important one. We need to find meaning in the work we’re doing, if we want it to be work we continue to do. Ableism isn’t a new challenge in the fitness world, and I’m actually grateful to have an opportunity to point it out in hopes that it will help folks begin to have a greater awareness of how human diversity changes our experiences.

Did you listen to the episode? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or find and follow Progressive Strength on Facebook to join the conversation!

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