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My legs wobble with the weight of the bar, my hips refuse to do anything except gyrate like I’m twerking awkwardly at a Taylor Swift concert. David Cross – he’s the brave strength coach who took on the challenge of adding muscle mass to my fragile skeleton – is patiently talking me through the deadlift technique, but right now, my muscles, my joints, they all have other ideas.
I drop the bar. On my feet.
That was two weeks ago when it dawned on me that 26 years of slouching in front of computers, and never ever stepping foot in the gym had sapped my strength, badly. And those first few days? Those are big learning days.
But don’t start thinking this is a post about being defeated. This is a story of an uphill battle, that first hurdle you have to climb over when you start challenging yourself. And waiting for you on the other side? Well, for me, I persevered. I’m not struggling with the bar anymore. I’m deadlifting 50kg and still have 10 weeks left to reach my goal of breaking triple digits.
Want to rewind back to week 1, head here. For now, here are my the lessons I learnt lifting weights for the first time:
1. Prepare to Fail
I push myself hard in the gym, and Cross pushes me even harder. But the reality is that you’ll hit a point – and for me it’s usually on the last set of my suitcase carries – that your grip strength gives out and your kettle bell lands on the ground with a big metallic thwump.
In the moment: it doesn’t feel good. Imagine taking the world’s most efficient microscope and dialling it in on your weakness. Those first days you’re going to go home and lie on the couch, in a ball of agony and exhaustion, and tell yourself: “What the hell am I doing? My body can’t do this.”
But you’ll wake up the next morning (a slow process when every muscle is screaming at you to stay under the covers) and do it all over again. And yes, you’ll drop things, or lose your footing during a move and stumble awkwardly. But no matter how much you struggle, if you get through that hour, you’re stronger than you were the day before.
2. Form is Everything
Cross wouldn’t let me add weight until I had my technique nailed down. The result? Nights spent at home deadlifting with a broom and squatting with nothing more than my obedient 5kg Miniature Pincher in my hands.
“That’s the big thing,” he says. “I got to the gym and just see so many people doing it wrong. All I can think, that’s an injury, that’s an injury, that’s an injury”. There’s no point racking up the plates before you know what you’re doing. Why? “You’ll hurt yourself and be sidelined for weeks.”
And it’s not only that. If you aren’t doing a lift properly, you aren’t reaping the benefits. Put all the tension in your lower back, and you aren’t tapping into or strengthening your core. Pointless.
Take the time to perfect your form, even if you feel silly doing it. A slipped disc is going to hurt a lot more than having to endure a couple smirks from the bro at the gym – who is probably doing it wrong anyway.
3. Master Your Meals
Training doesn’t end with your final set that day. The way you look, and the way you lift, depends on the way you eat. And the secret? There is no secret, it’s simple. Hit your macros.
If you’re like me, you’ll be starting in the “noob gains” phase of lifting. That means you can eat at maintenance and still pack on muscle mass while cutting body fat. That’s the perfect formula, right?
This calculator will help you figure out exactly what you’re shooting for everyday and you want to make damn sure you hit those numbers.
4. This Week’s Workout
Courtesy of David Cross himself, find workout cards for my second week of training on the Official MHLife Instagram account. Just a disclaimer from the strength coach: “This plan is tailored to his strength level and goals. What works for him? It might not work just as well for you”.