Meaningful Lifting

by Thom Van Vleck

On May 28th of this year I will have been lifting for 35 years.   There have been times when life has kept me from training like I wanted.  There was a year when I worked on  my Master’s degree that I was taking a full load of classes, working a full time job as a counselor, and I had to do an 800 hour internship.   As an undergrad I worked full time but there was a point where I was needing the money so I took a night job (I could study while at this job) but for a 6 month period I averaged around 80 yours a week and went to school full time.  I know….I know….excuses, excuses!

So recently I pulled a 700lb trap bar deadlift at age 48.  This is more than I’ve ever done in my life.  I have a buddy who lifts and I was bragging about it to him.  He was a top powerlifter in his day totalling 2105 at 220lbs bodyweight back before all the super gear of today.  He has known me since high school.  He looked at me and said, “You know what that means….if you’d gotten your head out of your a$$ you’d pulled 800 years ago”.

He’s right.  There is no good reason why I’m stronger in most ways now than at any point in my life.  Sure, I now I have more time to train.  But the honest truth is I’ve always been a head case.  I would over think things. I would over train, then under train.  I would spend too much time thinking about my workouts and not enough time actually doing my workouts.  I have spend countless hours writing down workouts which would be okay but I’ve rarely (maybe never) completed them.

So, the past few years I’ve tried to change that.  I think it’s working!   Here are some key points that I have come up with that have led to my “late in life” success.  By success, I mean “good for me”.  I don’t claim to be a champ!  I just feel like I’ve gotten more out of my body than maybe I should have and had MUCH more fun doing it.

First, I try to may my workouts rewarding.  I try to establish a clear link between work and reward.  Too often the benefits of lifting are too distant in the future to really appreciate.  So I try and do things I enjoy in my workouts.  For me I use many ways to do this.  I can constantly set personal bests in the gym even if it’s doing more reps with the same weight or doing a new exercise.  It’s also reward myself after the workout with a meal I enjoy or a movie.  My wife and I have a “date night” once a week.  I try and workout that morning with the idea that our date is my reward.  I have also bought myself a tool or some new training implement after reaching a short term goal and in my mind I make the attachment.  I recently bought a new music CD and made myself wait to listen to it when I worked out (that made me move a workout day up!).  I have set a can of Mt. Dew in a bowl of ice and refused to let myself drink it until that last set.

Second, I create variety.  I have to tell you, me personally I find a 16 week program impossible.  Heck….8 weeks seems like a prison sentence to me.  I switch things up all the time.  I try and do 3 week cycles and then switch.  For me that’s about my attention span for a workout routine.  It eliminates my number one enemy that stymies my progress…BOREDOM.  I look at a workout routine as a battle plan in the Marine Corps.  Sure, you want to stick with the plan.  You have a plan for a reason….but there’s no reason that when you see a short cut or another easy target you could hit along the way that you can’t do it!  I have finished a planned workout and if I was jacked up….I do the next workout right after.  I have thrown in a new exercise if I feel like I’m just not enjoying the one I’m doing.  I try to experiment all the time as well.  Recently, I tried doing a push press from a dead stop off of my jerk boxes.  They were awkward at first, but now I love them!

Third, I need autonomy.  This may be most important of all.  I will workout with others but I believe that if you want to workout for life then you need to have autonomy.  I have often talked to guys that had loads of talent but when someone stopped running their workouts they quit.  Autonomy is responsibility.  I am responsible for my own workouts.  I accept the failure but more importantly, I take the credit for success.  The key element is I need to want this for myself.  Not a trophy, not for a pat on the back from others, not for any other reason that for myself.  That other stuff is great, it’s icing on the cake but it’s NOT the cake.  When I stopped thinking about winning my next contest, stopped thinking about what others thought of me and my workouts, and focused on what I wanted and needed I began enjoy my workouts more.  They gained intrinsic value.

I have been around guys who can discipline themselves for the long haul.  I admire those guys…..but that’s not me.  I needed to find my own way.  So if anyone has read this to this point I want to make clear that this is not an exact guide.  It’s just intended to put a couple more tools in your mental tool box for your lifting.  I think this is what I enjoy about this process.  Lifting has not only made me physically stronger, but emotionally and intellectually stronger.  And it never ends unless you let it.  As I age my body won’t keep up, but I know I will continue to grow through my training.  Getting better and better!

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