Week seven is almost in the bag. It’s been a good one. The numbers are starting to come back. On Monday I Snatched 102kg from the blocks (no straps!) and scored a 220kg Back Squat. Yesterday I Cleaned 130kg from the blocks, a 2kg all-time record! I haven’t moved weights like that in over six months. Tuesday’s workout was lighter, but everything felt fluid and crisp. I feel confident enough to say that, not only am I returning to where I was. I’ve made a realization of sorts, though. I’ve been so fixated on returning to where I was that I never reflected on what that actually consisted of. I’m also reliving bad habits and attitudes that have held me back in the past. This whole pursuit of mine isn’t just about returning to my old strength levels; it’s about being the best I can be. Today I’m going to discuss the one thing none of us can escape in our training: the failure to reach our goals, big or small.

Last week started out really well. I got some solid Snatch work in on Monday, and matched my Clean from blocks record on Wednesday. Of course, I thought, Max Out Friday™ is going to be it! I’m for sure going to set new records! Nope. From the moment my hands first touched the bar everything felt off. My positions were all not quite right while my timing was slightly off. I’d adjust, fixing one thing, but then do something else wrong. I had been dreaming of numbers I wanted to hit since after Monday’s training, and I guess somehow convinced myself that these were simply going to happen. And yet, here I was, struggling to do 70% of my goal properly, still thinking: “no, this is happening, 100kg+ is coming off the blocks above my head today.” I was getting angry. I went quiet. Everyone around at the time noticed something was up, and for the most part, decided they should stay away from me (I don’t blame them). Still with a bit of cool left in me, I decided to wave and work back up. Then it happened…

The bench I was sitting on had a booby trap. Someone had left an open cup of pre-workout on the side of my seat, obscured by the chalk bucket. As I was putting my belt on, the end of it must have made contact with the cup because before I knew what had happened there was red pre-workout all over my platform, my feet, and the bench. I lost it. It must have looked ridiculous, but I threw the cup across the room, into the floor, then proceeded to hit three ugly reps when I was only supposed to do one, and finished my tantrum by slamming the bar back into the blocks. I was gone at this point, having given into rage and frustration. People – my friends, athletes and training partners – were walking on eggshells around me. As I recall it now, I had already failed by this point in that session. I let my anger dictate how I lifted. I was ripping the bar, sort of getting it, but it was ugly, and I surely was not going to hit my target with a lack of technical attention. I did the worst thing I could do: I stopped listening to what the bar was telling me, what I was feeling, and instead just reacted to my rage rather than calmly think about what needed to be done.

My friend and JustLift athlete, Justin Reeson, nonchalant and completely unphased by my frenzied acrimony, approached my bench and said: “Man, you should read your own articles. Relax. Feel what the bar is telling you, and just do what you can for the day” before moseying back to his platform. I laughed. He was totally right. I wanted a max – a record – but it really wasn’t in me that day. Deep down I knew that forcing it wasn’t going to make it happen. Still, I tried to force it. I’m stubborn (and occasionally dumb) like that. All my energy was going into sloppy technique and emotional nonsense. I was wasting my workout! The point of training is to get better, and better doesn’t always mean weight on the bar. If anything, I was de-training all the work I had previously put to being technically proficient.

I wish I could say my lifting, like in one of the many Rocky training montages, suddenly got better after this realization, but it didn’t. Well, no, that’s a lie. It did get better. The numbers just weren’t what I wanted. I ended up only Cleaning 115kg from the blocks that day, 13kg less than last Wednesday. I should be satisfied, though, because that’s all I was good for that night. I should have taken my own advice such as when, a few articles back, I mentioned assuming you’ve already failed in order to take the edge off of your anxieties. Quality matters. Especially for someone like me who still has many technical and physiological qualities to improve upon. In fact, for most of us, quality should matter the most. Sometimes you just have to accept what the bar is telling you… even if you really, really, don’t like it. Time for another metaphor…

You, as a trainee, are like a child, and the bar is like a well-intentioned, but nagging parent moulding you, telling you to do your homework, and park yourself in bed before it’s too late. Deep down you know they’re right, that being a diligent and well-rested student is probably in your best interest; not that that actually tempers your defiance. The difference is that each of us is (for the most part, anyway) no longer a child. We have the perspective to understand that a little bit of temperance goes a long way.

The next time you feel like losing your shit over a poor workout, don’t. Take a few deep breaths through the nose, into your belly. Then remind yourself that a complete training cycle is anywhere from 36-60 workouts. Not getting your way for a handful of them isn’t going to really screw you up, and no, going down in weight is not a waste of your time. What is a waste of your time is lifting like a jackass, throwing a fit or getting into a sour mood because the weight on the bar isn’t what you want right this minute.

Lifting better, as I am rapidly re-experiencing, pays dividends in the end. Less than a week after the worst workout I’ve had in recent memory I easily surpassed both the Snatch and Clean targets I had for that Friday. What matters most is, as I’ve said before, the process. This is proof of that.