When you ask some folks what their best days at the gym were, you may get a day when a personal record was shattered or when they entered the 1,000 lbs club; some milestone like that. You will probably also hear some talk about when they met a future best friend or lifting partner. And some, I’m sure, will say they don’t have any days that stick out.
But, for me, the best days I have are the ones that absolutely suck.
Let me give you an example: this past week I took my son to the dentist and he proceeded to empty most of the content of his stomach all over the exam chair. Turns out, in a case of really bad luck, he got a bad stomach bug that decided to have a go at him right at that moment. I had to take him home on the train and he finished the job he started in the dentist office three more time over the course of that trip.
He got it all over his shirt, so we took that off. Then, at the station near our home, he got it all over his jacket, so we took that off. I took off my shirt to give to him. There we were, standing by the station, child hunched over the grass puking and me without a shirt as the whole world walked past us. I carried him home, knowing full well that he was a loaded gun at and I was pointing the business end at myself.
That day sucked.
But rarely have I felt closer to my child. He was in a rough place, the color gone out of his skin and the light in his eyes a little dull. He clung to me in my way too big for him shirt and the cool autumn air cut through my chest hair. I’m not saying you have to be able to squat 450 pounds to carry a 40 pound child half a mile, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Parenting is a lot of different things, but for me personally, I felt more “dad” in that moment than I have most days in my life. It was one of the best days of parenting in my life.
That leads to one of the best days of lifting in my life. Because, of course, a couple of days later, it was me hunched over feeling sick. It’s always tough to gauge when one is truly recovered from a stomach bug, but after two days of rest, I went to the gym. I could tell right away that I probably wasn’t 100%, but I figure still good enough to lift some heavy things. It’s 5s week in 5/3/1, so the lowest weights I’ll do this month. But it’s still deadlift day, and those 5x10 deadlifts for supplemental work are looming over me.
I could just do the main work and bounce. After all, just coming in while my head still felt like it was swimming and my stomach was still a little tender was an accomplishment. But no, I powered ahead and hit those supplemental sets and then set on my assistance work: dips and chin-ups.
Now, I could skip those, after all Jim always says assistance work is not something to lose sleep over and I did the big movements for the day. But no, I dug down inside and just powered through 5x10 of each.
But, it also felt oddly satisfying. We know now that “sweating it out” is not really a thing with disease, but it still felt pleasant to feel my shirt get slowly soaked as I powered through all these movements. My brain felt like it was a step or two behind the world, but even in that state, I knew I was getting in one of my more important workouts. Because it’s easy to go to the gym when you fell great. It’s easy to find the motivation to go there when you’re itching to get out of your home or away from work. Those days you always get you the gains.
But days when it would be easy to talk yourself into not going to the gym, those are the days were you are really grabbing the gains. The real progress is made on rainy days, days when you’re not feeling your best, days that suck.
Those are my best days.