Getting Past the Next Gate

a year ago - #health

My new trainer, Kenneth Ferrer, likes to push limits. For years, I had followed the model of exercise that you lift weights to a point of failure, then you sit around for a minute or two to recover and go again. Sometimes my trainer would do a super-set, meaning that there were three exercises in a row and you take a break at the end of the group of three. Kenneth doesn't follow that at all. His sets are endless-ultra-super sets. I lose track of how many exercises in a row we do. Sometimes the set lasts about 10 minutes or more. There isn't really a break in between sets - maybe just a minute to stop trying to inhale all the oxygen in the room. If I try to stop at any point in the set, the set becomes longer. If he says there's 15 more pushups to do and I go into downward-facing-dog to relieve the strain on my chest, he'll start counting "Now there's 16 more pushups...17 more pushups...18 more..." until I get back into position and keep going.

I'm not a wimp. I'm really not. I'm not saying "Gosh. My arms are kinda tired. I sure wish I could stop." No. This is like smashing into a brick wall. This is my body saying "YOU HAVE NOTHING LEFT!" No exaggeration, I feel like Richard Gere in this...

I don't want to paint Kenneth like a jerk or a drill sergeant. There's a little bit of that commanding tone, but the content is motivational. He's on my side and we're both fighting past my limitations. He's speaking to the best within me.

Oddly enough, when I hit a wall in his workouts (or similar bootcamp workouts), I have no idea what the actual problem is. Sometimes, I'm out of breath. But I've been more out of breath in my life and was able to keep going. You'd think it's perhaps muscle fatigue, but it doesn't seem to be that either. Sometimes we won't do a muscle group until we're at the end of set and all of a sudden, and even though I'm doing the first set of, say, biceps, my biceps can't move. Or we'll end a set with a series of pushups and even though we've been doing legs, my arms feel like they're made out of glue. A weight that is normally easily within my range becomes unbearable.

It is when I hit these walls that my trainer goes into high gear. There are many phrases that he uses to help me get past those limitations, but mainly he just keeps raising the bar higher and higher and expecting me to hit it. On my bad days, I am a pouty Luke Skywalker on Dagobah mentally telling Kenneth that what he wants is impossible...

(FYI: In addition to Kenneth not acting like a jerk of a drill sergeant, he is not small and green with pointy ears.)

More and more I've been able to push past these limits. What I thought was a solid wall turned out to be a gate. With a lot of focus, determination, and sometimes a bit of panic, I can open the gate. Usually, it's just a matter of figuring out what key opens the gate. The next thing that I discovered - there's always another gate. And the key you used on the last gate won't work on the next one. You have to find a new key. They are somewhat predictable and consistent. I started mentally documenting the keys and mapping out how I've been getting through them. Here's what I have so far.

Gate #1: Stop Creating Artificial Tension

There have been many days where I showed up to a session feeling like a super hero and full of unbounded optimism only to feel totally gassed within five minutes of the warm up. I think "How in the world is this going to happen today? My quads are already shot and we just got started!"

This is the easiest one to get past now. I've realized that it's usually just part of the warm up. I have to let go of artificial tension.

You know how sometimes you feel like something should be hard and so you make it hard? I do that a lot. I suspect that a lot of times I've so convinced myself that something is hard that I'm providing my own counter resistance. Sometimes counter resistance is important, but most of the time it's not. I've also realized this goes hand-in-hand with shallow breathing.

So now when I'm in the warm up and I hit that first gate, I just keep reminding myself to let go - over and over. Relax. Breath deeply. Maybe it's not hard. Maybe I just need to stop holding on to whatever I feel like I'm holding on to. I keep repeating that to myself and I'm through gate #1.

Gate #2: A Little Faith Is Required

This is the one I hit the majority of the time. As I'm telling myself "Maybe it's not hard" eventually my mind responds with "No. It's hard. This is really and truly hard. You cannot keep this up." This is where Kenneth excels. He has a million phrases to help me get past this one. It's usually just a matter of re-focusing, listening to Kenneth, and getting past this gate.

If you want to know more about this one, hire Kenneth. I'm not giving away his secrets.

Gate #3: The Surfboard

This is where things got weird.

We had a workout a couple of weeks ago that was ... intense. Kenneth was pushing me hard. I was having a hard time pushing past my own resistance and as soon as I did, Kenneth would raise the bar. The set was endless. I started becoming frustrated and exasperated. Couldn't he see that I had already gotten past my usual gates and that I was really and truly at the end of my abilities? No. The set kept going. I needed to go on and I didn't know how to get there. If I told myself "Keith, you can do this" my mind would respond with "You really can't. You're at the end of the road." No matter what I said to myself, there was a voice telling me the opposite. Unfortunately, the voice that told me I had hit a physical, real-world limit was a lot more confident and had far more resolve than my "cheerleader" voice. I had run out of any energy or will to convince myself.

I stopped. I literally didn't know how to force my body to keep moving. Kenneth started adding more time to the set since I had stopped. I panicked. I had to find a solution. And somewhere in that, I thought of standing on a surfboard. I just had to keep my balance. The waves may be crashing around me, but that's okay. Because all I'm going to focus on is not falling off my surfboard. And it worked. I banged out the last of the set, stood up with wild eyes, kendorphins surging through my system, and walked around in a circle trying to catch my breath and calm down. It was awesome.

I told Kenneth about it later and he has occasionally taken me to that place where I have nothing left to give and he says "Come on, Keith. Surfboard." So far it always works. I imagine that I'm just keeping my balance on a surfboard - I keep that image clear and strong in my head, and I can keep going. (Though it doesn't work earlier in the workout. You have to save it for when you really need it.)

I have a theory that it works because I reach a point where my internal voice is always going to come up with an excuse to stop. I say "black" and it says "white". My mind had to find a solution that involved forward direction to which there was no argument - a statement of non-resistance. It sought out an image of balance and tenacity; hence, a surfboard. Just maintain your balance and keep riding it out.

Gate #4: The Uber Gate

As I started mentally charting these various gates, I realized something. I was scared of the gates. I kept envisioning that there would be a day where I wouldn't hit the gates. The workout would be easier. I wanted to be free of the struggle. Part of me felt ashamed that I was hitting the gates at all and other people - people that are in good shape - don't hit gates as quickly or as frequently as I do. (super defeatist thinking, I know, but that's the attitude)

I realized that my attitude of fighting these gates was a gate of its own. If I felt like I got past a gate, I had an attitude of "I made it past. Good job. We're done. Let's stop."

Obviously, I needed to change my attitude about the gates.

One thing I've learned about changing habits through the years, is that if you want to change your behavior, you have to program yourself to love the thing you're scared of. I realized that I shouldn't be scared of the gates, I should relish them. Every time I hit that wall is an opportunity to knock that sucker down.

I extended my surfboard imagery. Previously, the surfboard imagery was viewed as a last resort - a talisman that may have limited use. I found a better emotional relationship to the surfboard. I'm not on the surfboard because I'm struggling to get past limitations, I'm on the surfboard because being on a surfboard is inherently awesome! Here we go, ride that wave for as long as you can! That's your bonus time! You're Mario and you've just grabbed the Super Star Power-Up! Live it up!

At the end of the week when I came to this realization, I hit my record numbers at FlyWheel.


I should point out that a lot of this is based on momentum. It is much, much easier to push past these gates when your diet is on point, you're hydrated, and you've been keeping up with stretching or body-rolling. It's also based on momentum in that the more I'm able to keep pushing past these limits, the easier it becomes to push past limits in general. It took me a while to even experience to gate #3.

One final note: please don't be concerned about me hurting myself. Everyone always says "Don't hurt yourself!" I'm not lifting a lot of weight. We never do one exercise over and over to the point of injury. Kenneth is very strict when it comes to form. It's the endurance and the mind-set that's a killer. Since I started these bootcamp workouts, I've felt much less likely to ever hurt myself than I have before in my life.

If people want to share their own motivations of how they get past difficult points in a workout, I'd really love to hear them.

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