Pushing your body to its limit can help develop character
Think back to the last time you accomplished something that you thought was so far-fetched or impossible. How much time did you spend trying to reach it?
Did you stumble, fall and bleed (both figuratively and literally) on your way there? When you arrived at your destination, how did it feel?
The feeling can be a surge of happiness, relief, and pain at the same time. Sometimes, it makes you want to cry or collapse as it gets overwhelming but you know it was worth it.
This is how Olympic weightlifting makes me feel, and this is how it drives me both on and off the (weightlifting) platform.
I first started general weight training in June 2014 when I joined the gym of which I am still a member –The Vanguard. Six months later, I decided to focus specifically on Olympic weightlifting.
Olympic weightlifting consists of only two movements – the “snatch” and the “clean and jerk”. While both movements may look simple, there are many details that go into every second, from the moment the lifter sets up, to the moment the barbell is over the lifter’s head.
Weightlifters need to be graceful and strong. They need to be fluid and fast in order to strike with precision.
To provide some context, 16-year-old American weightlifter, CJ Cummings who weighs around 69 kg, can lift 185 kg above his head with his own bare hands. That’s more than 2.5 times his body-weight.
While I can only dream of lifting something that’s over twice my body-weight, I am grateful that I have learnt – and am still learning – some very important life lessons by immersing myself in the sport of weightlifting.
1) Letting go
Growing up as a young, impatient and tempestuous child, my dad made it a point to teach me an old Chinese phrase that I still hold close to my heart now “fáng xià” – which means “let go”.
It was while weightlifting 20 years after I first heard the phrase, that I found myself applying it to my life. Not to be confused with “giving up”, “letting go” simply means not letting difficult people, situations or circumstances get the better of you.
It means focusing on the things that really matter.
In weightlifting, I couldn’t afford to let every bad day get the better of me. During a competition, the lifter has three attempts to complete a movement, increasing the weight after each successful attempt.
One bad lift may very easily affect the lifter’s performance during the rest of the competition and risk disqualification. So, we have to let it go, move on, and focus on making the next attempt count.
In life, challenges will always come our way, whether we’re prepared to deal with them or not. Times can get so difficult that we will feel pushed to our limits, and the only way to not let it consume you is to just let it go.
I often find that a good paradigm shift will always work wonders. If you’re going to constantly view something as a problem, you’re never going to overcome it.
Accept that you are still human. But never use that as an excuse to quit, nor use it as a glorified reason to push yourself beyond what you’re capable of at that time. Instead, work within your current capabilities and focus on slowly increasing that inner limit.
In weightlifting, while it is every lifter’s goal to keep aiming for heavier weights, it is important to know when to take a step back or when to push.
All lifters have to understand themselves well enough to know what to do at any moment, whether it’s during a training session or at a competition.
I often see people glorifying being busy – “complaining” that they have no time for anything outside of work. Everybody has a limit and eventually, being “too busy” all the time will lead to a burnout.
Burning out will then lead to an extended recovery period where you’re making way less progress than you would have if you had just taken a break every now and then.
At the same time, I also see people striving for the coveted “work-life balance” and using it as a reason to not put in the hours when they need to, and then not being happy with a stagnant career path.
I believe that there is a time and a place for everything. All it takes is some internalisation to recognise what to do when the time comes in order to maximise your own potential.
Photo courtesy of Juinn.
A weightlifter never backs down from a challenge. It’s a long and slow road to grow one’s physical strength, with progress only showing once or twice a year at best. But it is a journey on which many gladly embark.
Imagine climbing 10 flights of stairs only to be pushed back down to the ground floor again. That’s what weightlifting feels like sometimes.
I faced my biggest challenge when I had an accident at the gym, and had no choice but to stop weightlifting for three months.
I knew that not training for so long would mean losing my strength and a lot of progress on my technique.
I was back at the gym a week after the injury happened, trying to rehabilitate my body with some light movements and struggled to even pick a dumbbell off the floor.
I remember tearing up, not from the pain but from the feeling of hopelessness. I continued to be a big baby for the next two weeks and it took a lot of encouragement from the people around me to get me back on my feet.
There were a lot of hard pills to swallow along the way, and it felt as if I had to learn to walk again.
In a way, I was thankful that it happened as it was how I discovered the importance of determination and patience.
Weightlifting has been one of the toughest and most complex things that I have ever put myself through. But I enjoy every moment of it because of the way it helped me handle life outside the gym.
Without it, I would probably be an unhappy and unfulfilled person who’d complain about every little thing that wasn’t going right in life.
I don’t believe that it’s the only sport or activity that can help build a person, but I do believe that it’s one of the most interesting things one can try at least once in their life.