The Lifter’s High

Running out of room for my deadlifts, sort of.

I lift to get strong. That’s always been my primary goal. The other stuff, aesthetics, health, etc are cool side-effects. But at the end of the day, I want to get stronger more than anything else. There’s a balance to that, of course, if you chase gains too much your diet will be just flat out unhealthy. If you want to be too shredded, you’ll never eat enough to pack on the strength. So, I err on the side of the strength, because that’s my primary goal, it’s my guiding principle in all of this.

Of course almost everyone knows that aesthetics and health along with strength can all come from working out. What gets under reported is another cool thing that comes from working out: the mental gains. I’m definitely not one of those people who thinks that people with clinical conditions can solve them with exercise alone. Those people are critically uninformed at best, and more like total jerks that don’t understand what it’s like to be nuerodivergent. I don’t know what it’s like to be neurodivergent either, as I am nuerotypical. But I have this thing called empathy that comes in handy when first hand experience isn’t available.

But the mental gains from the gym are real.

For me, there is a real release at the gym. I grind myself down to a pulp of a man to feel what it’s like to have all the piss and vinegar taken out of me. I’m sure some biologist or psychologist could tell me the exact what I’m making myself feel great by doing this, some sort of release of hormones. But hacking your own body to get the most of out it seems like a worthy endeavor, especially when there are so many, already mentioned, benefits. So, if I’m fooling my body into releasing a lot of hormones after putting it through an insane amount of stress, I’ll take that win.

While the runners high has been well documented, I can’t find much about the lifter’s high. I can’t get the runner’s high to work for me. I’m asthmatic, so for me to get a super intense cardio workout I just need to move faster than a walk and I’m already weezing. But the feeling of knowing that I’m putting a bunch of weight on a bar and then moving that bar is exciting. The way it pushes my body to its limit, so much so that even my brain can only focus on the here and now, feels to me how a lot of people describe meditation. Every other aspect of my life slips away and there is only the lift. My shoulders take the weight, I tense every fiber down to my toes and I push down against the ball of rock we’re riding in space. And for a moment it’s just me, my body and the weight.

The feeling of accomplishment after I do what’s required of me is probably not much different than the addictive feeling of accomplishment in say a video game or other activities that are made to push that pleasure button in our brain. I release the weight on to the rack and feel the tension leave my body. The brief respite sends my heart racing to clean up all the waste my muscles just created. I will honestly smile to myself at the end of super challenging sets because it feels that good. When I hit a PR, I sometimes even spring on the balls my feet, my calves pushing me up and away in short bursts.

Right now, I am doing the most demanding program I’ve ever done in my life (review coming in two months). And I love it. There’s so many theories of human behavior the rely on a big lie: that human beings want to do the least amount of work for the most amount of reward. I’ve been reading David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, which is largely a theory about how that’s very incorrect. That human beings actually find a lot of fulfillment in doing a lot of work itself, we seem to be practically programmed for it. I find that to ring true for me in most things I do. I am most fulfilled when I am useful. (This mentality follows me well outside of the gym, when I play multiplayer games, for example, I tend to go for support roles. Roles where I make the rest of the group most effective at their duties).

Sometimes I think about lifting from a long view. Why get this body strong, healthy or aesthetically pleasing when it takes so much of the limited time I have existing to do it? My existence is temporary, and it’s bound completely to this body. Treating it like garbage seems like a much bigger waste than not. I’m not just getting a body strong, I’m making myself strong. I am not pushing my body when I go for a personal best, I am pushing myself. In our society we value pushing our mental limits all the time, expanding our horizons, reading more, learning more. But are we not more when we do more physically too?

My answer is yes, yes we are.

We’re all different. Some people don’t like to be reminded that we’re a brain floating in a sack of water in a container made of skin. But, for me, lifting reminds me that I am body and it’s exhilarating to see what it can do. To make my vessel through this brief adventure into a hyper effective beast that can slash through the physical challenges in my way is one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my life. And its fleeting nature reminds me that I will die. That nothing in this world is permanent, but while it burns, it may as well burn bright.

I’m just one data point of what can make the actual work of working out enjoyable. What makes me happy about it might not be for everyone else. But if you feel disconnected from your body, overwhelmed by the world outside of yourself, or striving for a purpose or feeling of accomplishment, I would recommend lifting heavy things. Lift them until your lungs explode and your veins pump acid.

See the limits you have. Then beat them.




Hi. I make movies and lift weights. I write about the latter here.

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Hi. I make movies and lift weights. I write about the latter here.

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