Prologue: The Shadows of Lascaux

Trxbal is the result of two things: my experience as a crossfitter at Pioneer Valley CrossFit and my need to write about that experience.  What I hope to relate is an image of a CrossFit box as a place that strikes an ancient chord in our being.  We are tribal by nature.  We express our best selves within communities that foster a shared sense of purpose.  My CrossFit box is such a community for me.  This is my attempt to explore why this is so.

If I have done my job well, this blog should also be full of humor.  The tribe that I have found at PVCF is an interesting cast of characters.  I hope that I have fairly captured and delivered the funny exchanges in our CrossFit lives, because humor is as essential to a good life as community, health, and having a great set of guns to display when you rip your shirt off during a WOD.

I am haunted by the cave paintings at Lascaux that appear on the home page.   Were we our best selves – physically and spiritually – when our lives were closest to nature and art?  Are we so removed from the elements of life that what is left is all simulated experience?  If so, how do we best live a fulfilling and meaningful life?  These are the questions that confronted me as I began to write about the deep sense of purpose that I found in CrossFit, which is really just a form of exercise.  I do not have any definitive answers to these questions.  But I have discovered that writing about them is somehow redemptive, cathartic, spiritual.  I write in the shadows of Lascaux.

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1.31 Jackass

The first thing I said to Colette on Sunday morning was, “who was that jackass at the bar last night talking shit about wearing a weight vest for today’s WOD.”

“Pretty sure that was you.”

“Shit. That’s what I thought.”

“Are you really going to do that?”

“Of course. Sean said he was up for it.”

“Is he really going to do that?”

“Of course. You saw him. He looks like Captain America and I’m pretty sure he’s better than the Cap’n at metcons.”

The night before I brought Colette, my new girlfriend, out with the CrossFit crew for the first time. Ethan was in town too. Although he has dropped in to our box a few times, he didn’t really know everyone that well. I love bringing people together and was looking forward to it. It was a cool night, but warm enough to be outside. Steph wanted to go to the Deck as part of her birthday celebration, so that’s where we went. Ethan chatted away with Katie M on one side of the table, while Colette talked to Dave and Steph on the other. I was at one end, catching up with Mark, a Marxist economist friend of Mael’s who was back in town for a few a days. Sean and Liz, Mael and Michele filled out the early group; Bryan and Katie were latecomers.

The conversation went general and someone asked about the Sunday WOD. “It’s a partner WOD,” Mael told us. “Run a mile together. Split 100 slam balls with a 40 lb. ball, then split 200 pushups, then split 300 kettle bell swings with a 53 lb. kettle bell, then run another mile together.”

There are a lot of things I could have said at that moment. Or nothing. “Wow, tough WOD” now comes to mind. Or, “Could you tell us about these slam balls Mael? We’ve never done them before.” Instead I went with, “I’m going to wear a weight vest.”

Really Tony? You’re out drinking. You’re hosting a brunch for 20 people after the WOD. Your new girlfriend is visiting. Ethan is in town, staying with you. And you come out with, “I’m wearing a weight vest?” Jackass.

“Really?” asked Sean. He was like a dog coming to attention at the mention of a treat.

“Yep. How hard can it be? I’ll run 10 minute miles.”

“You’ll run 8s,” said Katie.

“He’ll probably run 7s, on his hands,” said Dave.

“It’s a team WOD, so maybe we can take a golf cart for the mile runs,” I said. “Then we could do them in 4s. 3s maybe. Mael, can we use golf carts for the mile runs?”

“No, Tony. You have to run on the runs. That’s why it’s called a run.”

“I’m in. It’ll be fun,” said Sean. “Should we bring our golf clubs?”

“Sure,” said Mael. “Strap them on over your weight vests.”

“But we’ll never be able to get into the cart wearing weight vests and golf clubs,” I objected.

“I said no golf carts!”

“Spoil sport. How about roller blades?”

“Run.”

“Matching Segues?”

“Guys, what did I say?”

And that was that. So we wore 20 lb. weight vests for the Sunday WOD. It was brutal. My low back tightened up during the first mile. But Sean stayed with me and carried me through the WOD. When we got to the kettle bell swings, it was excruciating to put the weight down after each set. That last bend to the floor was just torture on my low back. We started out alternating sets of 10.

“How many?”

“That’s 30.”

“How many total?”

“150 each.”

I laughed. “No, really.” I had forgotten what Mael said the night before and I never pay much attention at the white board going over the WOD before class.

“Really.”

“Please tell me you’re fucking with me.”

“Sorry, bud.”

“Fuck. Let’s do sets of 5.”

It went on forever. Just forever. At one point I dropped the 53 lb. kettle bell to the floor from the bottom position. My back was hurting so much I just let it go. The sound it made when it hit and cracked the rubber-covered cement floor was seismic. The whole box looked at me. I instinctively looked at Ayn, who is the manager of PVCF. Alpha fem. Very cool. Most Badass CrossFitter at the box. Very protective of the equipment, including the floor, which was just redone. I immediately set a 3 year date in my mental calendar for when I figured I would stop hearing about that one.

Strangely, I felt better on the second mile run than I did on everything else. We finished over the time limit, but I think in the middle of the pack. I couldn’t wait to get back into the box. I immediately started struggling to get the vest off. It was almost as bad as the WOD, trying to peel that sweaty, heavy ass thing off of me.

After laying on the box floor for about 10 minutes, I finally caught my breath and the world came back into focus. People were mobilizing and socializing, and I remembered that most of them were going to be at my place in about an hour expecting brunch, on the flimsy excuse that I had invited them all. Jackass.

 

1.30 WTF Are Macros?

The first time I heard people refer to macros at CrossFit I had no idea what they were talking about. I doubt I had heard anything new about nutrition since the FDA switched its guidelines from the ‘basic four’ to the ‘food pyramid.’ For anyone who cares to know, by the way, the ‘food pyramid’ has apparently been replaced by ‘my plate.’ I’m guessing the next one will be called ‘iEat’ and will be sponsored by Apple.

It is quite clear to anyone paying attention that our understanding of nutrition has been controlled by big agra and other special interests for decades. I prefer to get my nutrition science from people who don’t have a horse in the race. CrossFit certainly has a point of view, but generally speaking it is a libertarian culture and people are encouraged to learn for themselves and use an evidence based approach to fitness. So recently I decided to seek my own answers to nutrition’s most pressing questions, including the question that all novice CrossFitters eventually ask: WTF are macros? To that end, I attended a talk by Dr. Laura Hutchins Christolph, resident nutritionist at PVCF and all around fitness badass. Here is what I learned:

Experiment to find what works. The science of nutrition is fairly new. When Laura was in college not too long ago, nobody was talking about macros. Now they are an essential aspect of understanding nutrition, along with micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients (the stuff in superfoods). Macros are the three sources of energy for the human body: protein, fat and carbohydrates. Our sources of energy are obviously a pretty essential part of nutrition. Their relatively late arrival on the scene – or at least the fact that there was never a focus on them as such until fairly recently – should give us all a healthy understanding of just how new the science of nutrition is. Most importantly, despite what we may hear from people trying to sell us on their diets, the science isn’t exact, and our bodies are quite variable. The takeaway: aside from some basic guidelines, follow your body, not someone else’s program.

Know why you’re eating. Laura pointed out that we eat for all kinds of reasons, including eating for pleasure and as a part of our culture. It is within that context that we eat for other goals, including health, performance and aesthetics. And that is OK. In fact, it is encouraged. There is plenty of play in the human body for all of the stuff of life. It helps to be aware that our goals may be divergent: a man who gets his exercise playing tennis will not build muscle like a bodybuilder and does not need a bodybuilder’s intake of protein. But with a little tweaking, we can find the right diet for our lifestyle and attain our nutrition goals without sacrificing the other important roles that food plays in our lives.

When you eat is as important as what you eat. We need energy and nutrients at the right time for them to be most effective. It makes more sense to eat at the beginning of the day, when we are about to start burning fuel doing the stuff of life. We also need energy before a workout. In terms of timing, our bodies absorb nutrition best when they are depleted right after a workout. Carbs help deliver nutrients, so right after an intense workout is a good time to eat them.

All bodies are not created equal. Our bodies come in three basic types. We are sorted into ectomorphs, mesomorphs or endomorphs. Which one you are is determined by the sorting hat at Hogwarts. Or maybe some other way. In any event, it helps to know whether you are naturally long and lean, curvy, or muscular and to eat a ratio of carbs to protein and fat accordingly.

Change habits, not diets. Laura advocates a gradual approach to improving nutrition: change one thing in your diet at a time. This is much easier to do than making whole sale changes, and it has the added benefit of helping us to identify when a change works and when it is the act of eliminating something yummy for no good reason. I have tried it the other way – eliminating everything that could possibly be unhealthy from my diet for a few weeks and then experimenting by adding back one thing at a time. Ever try that? After 21 days of salads, nuts and berries, on day 22 I gorged on everything with no ability to control myself. The net result: I was a cranky bastard for three weeks, a human trash compactor for three days and no healthier or wiser for the effort.

Now that I know what macros are, I can stop looking for them on food labels, at least until the FDA comes out with nutrition guidelines called ‘McMacros,’ sponsored by McDonald’s.

1.29  CrossFit on the Moon

I just read The Gods Themselves, a classic science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov. In the book, beings from another universe have given us an unlimited supply of energy. The catch is that if we keep using it, we will blow ourselves up. This was perfectly fine for the beings from the other universe. Not so much for us. The people on earth, however, have grown complacent in their energy rich world. Their leaders are engaged in petty politics and turf wars, leaving them either in denial about the imminent threat or ignorant of it.

The real action is on the moon, which we have colonized in the book. The Lunarites are used to tackling difficult problems in a world not suited to human habitation. They thrive by adapting to their environment. Intellectually, they show their mettle by building their own solar batteries, along with everything else in their resource-deprived and environmentally harsh new home. Physically, they overcome the difficulty of living in a low gravity environment by developing an intense, athletic game played in a vertical, 500 foot cylindrical shaft in which the players climb and dive using metal bars attached at random along the giant cylinder. It is their version of CrossFit, and the Lunarites are the Beasts of Asimov’s novelscape.

Everywhere the contrast is apparent. The Lunarites light up in the face of all manner of challenges. Those still on earth stagnate in their acceptance of unlimited energy from another universe. They have undergone a regression from the bold advancement of human science that sent colonists to the moon. They are uncreative, timid, petty little creatures living an existence dependent upon the genius of the scientists from the other universe who ‘gifted’ them with a boundless supply of energy.

Asimov’s novel points to a fundamental truth. Whether on earth or on the moon, whether today or in the distant future of some science fiction novel, there is a fundamental, irreducible interplay of our bodies, our minds and our world. We use our intellect to gain control over our environment. We have multiplied our physical power by creating tools and machines; we have multiplied our mental power by creating writing, numbers, calculators and computers. But when we rely on what we have built, or on what others have built, we atrophy. When we are the passive acceptors of the achievements of others, we lose our own vitality. It is only when we are the creators of our own world – only when we are the vital subjective force in the unfolding drama of our own existence – that we are as the gods themselves.

Though we may gain mastery over the world by use of our intellect, the primary interplay between us and our world is still physical. Asimov conveys this point by describing the Lunarites’ athletic game. The Lunarites are vital, bold, competent people, and one of the ways we see this in action is in their playing of this game. Why? Because even as we increase our powers through technology, even as we gain mastery over our environment, we are ultimately physical beings. We must physically interact with our world in order to live in it in any meaningful way. Our vital force is primarily physical, and only secondarily intellectual. The Lunarites are fit to act, and we see it in the way that they maintain their fitness.

Here on earth in the 21st century, we live in a world where our own physical vitality is no longer paramount. We can survive, and even prosper, without maintaining our fitness, and more and more of us do. But are we really thriving if our bodies lack vitality? Or are we losing the vital link between us and our world, mastering our physical environment at the expense of the physical connection that gives meaning to that mastery? If we ever live there, would we not still have CrossFit on the Moon? Indeed, would we not still need CrossFit on the moon?

 

     1.28 – Back Room Banter

I felt sluggish today. I just wasn’t lighting up during the WOD. I also felt like something could be off in my back. So I took it easy, and I hate taking it easy. For me, a workout never happens in equipoise: it either lights me up or shuts me down. Today it shut me down. Nothing to do except let it go and try to get after it again tomorrow.

I have been doing extra strength work, which has been taking time away from mobilizing. I thought that that could be breaking me down a bit, so I refocused on mobilizing after class. I wandered into the back room, which is small and dark, like a makeshift high school weight room. Mukunda, his brother Ash, who just moved here from L.A., Anthony and Sean were back there. They were taking turns bench pressing at 115, going for volume and not weight, changing their hand grips from snatch width (about a foot wider than shoulder width), to bench press width (hands lined up with the outside of the shoulders), to narrow grip.

I was thinking about nutrition and thought that maybe I could pick their brains a bit. So I sat on a box, put a lacrosse ball under one of my hamstrings and started working the fascia against the ball. Ash was on the bench. He has the lean, ripped look of a male model. High chest, flat stomach with washboard abs, narrow waist with muscled hip flexors trailing into designer shorts. “Hey Ash, do you worry that Abercrombie is down a model when you’re here lifting?”

“I don’t think they worry too much about it anymore. They ended that program a few years ago.”

“Wait, you actually were an Abercrombie and Fitch model?”

“Oh, ya. I did a bunch of store openings back before they got sued.”

“Sued for what?”

“For only hiring people who look like him,” Anthony said.

Mukunda owns a half dozen coffee shops and a bakery. “We’re going to put Ash out in front of our stores wearing just jean shorts, a cowboy hat and boots and have him offer donut holes to customers.”

“You should. Be a shame to waste him at corporate,” said Sean, who was now taking his turn on the bench. Ash now had a couple of 5 lb. plates and was doing an exercise like a bird flapping its wings.

“Ash,” I said, “you aren’t working out. You’re just flexing your muscles.”

“That’s what he does,” said Mukunda. “He hasn’t worked out in a year.”

“Ya, I just work on flexing, and not the bigger muscles, only the ones just under the skin. I don’t have a great muscle to strength ratio.”

“But you probably have a pretty good muscle to sex ratio,” I said.

“Wait, hold on” said Sean. “I thought all of us were just working on our muscle to sex ratios. Have I been doing it wrong?”

Sean and Anthony, meanwhile, were doing a workman like job with the benching. “Hey Anthony, what should I put in my protein shake?”

“I don’t know. Dragon sperm?”

“I have a moral objection to that suggestion. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Well I don’t think they have to kill the dragon to get its sperm.”

“Do you know much about nutrition?” I asked, attempting to segue from dragon sperm back to nutrition. In that room, the maneuver had a high degree of difficulty.

“I focus on macros and timing.”

“How did you learn to do that?”

“I guess I just talked to people here.”

“Certainly not to Ash,” said Mukunda. “My brother has been living on nothing but skinless chicken and diet sprite for years.” He paused. “The thing about nutrition is that our genetic makeups are all so different. The thing you want to avoid is inflammation, but it’s hard to know what triggers an inflammatory response.”

“Oh I know,” said Sean. “Double unders. I hate those goddam things. They get me inflamed every time.”

By now I had tied a mobility band to a post and was using it to stretch my hamstrings. “How do you find out your genetic makeup,” I asked.

“Sperm sample,” said Anthony. “Just don’t get it mixed up with the dragon’s.”

“I don’t know,” said Mukunda, “they might be similar.”

“Are you basing that on Tony’s breath or his skin?” Asked Sean.

“Hey Tony, what is that tattoo on your back?” asked Anthony, who had just noticed it.

“It’s a Japanese symbol. It means ‘dragon sperm.’” I gathered my empty protein smoothie container and other things to leave. “Gentlemen, I came in here hoping to pick your brains about nutrition. Thank you, for nothing.”

Sean was laughing as he picked up his things to leave. “It was our pleasure, Tony. Come on back next time we’re here and we can pick up right where we left off.”

I headed out to the front room as they went out the back door. My back still felt a bit off, and I hadn’t learned anything useful about nutrition, but somehow I still felt a whole lot better.

1.27 Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

On Sunday the workout was a team WOD. I will spare you the details, but each partner ended up doing 72 front squats, taking the barbell from the floor. The Rx weight for the front squat was 135 lbs., or people could scale down to a weight that was more realistic. I weigh 145, so 72 front squats at 135 is a crazy load for me, but I hate scaling my workout. Unfortunately for me, coach Mael knows that, and he needed to find someone to do the workout with a guy who is a total beast.

His name is Joe and he isn’t around too often, just drops in on Sundays once in a while. Nice guy, quiet. Unassuming. Loose t-shirt. No lifting shoes. No tattoos (hard core CrossFitting and tattoos go together like gangsters and guns). Nothing that would scream “Beast.” Mael paired him with me. I looked around the room and noticed that none of the other men were setting up to do the front squats Rx. Doing the math, I said to Joe, “I think Mael thinks I’m doing this workout Rx.” “I think that I think you’re doing it Rx” was his good-natured response. “Do you want to go first or second?” “Second,” he said, “I like to play catch up.” Oh. And oh shit.

The workout was brutal. In theory, I got to rest while Joe worked. In reality, Joe was pulling like 2000 on the erg (I was pulling 1000 – 1100) and repping out front squats at 135 lbs. like it was a warm-up. I hardly got a chance to double over in exhaustion before it was my turn again. Meanwhile, P.J. kept calling me “Tony Rx” while he and Anderson made quick work of a more civilized weight. So I was “Tony Rx” and my partner was “Joey Catch-up,” and the two of us CrossFit gangsters managed to finish under the clock, mostly thanks to Mr. Catch-up. By the way, it was Joe’s warm-up: he went into the other room after class and spent an hour doing things like clean squatting 315 lbs. Sean and I sat around trying not to gawk while joking about what the resulting medical treatment would be if we tried the same thing.

They are all over, CrossFitters who can do ridiculous things that you just wouldn’t guess. Anderson is a physician in his residency who probably doesn’t have time to pee and looks more like an offensive tackle than a medicine man, but he can run a 6 minute mile. I found that out the hard way, by trying to keep up with him one day. Chris is intellectually and physically frenetic, making his athleticism hard to spot. I find it much easier to spot when I am (inevitably) trailing him during a run, watching the smoothest running gait I’ve ever seen up close. Just today, Anthony, who is my size (maybe 5’ 5”), was doing reps of front squats somewhere at 285 just fooling around. His heaviest set was over 300.

Beasts are not found only at CrossFit. I have a friend who has been running 10 to 18 miles a day since college, and she’s over 40. She also started doing a CrossFit workout on her own – 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, 15 air squats for as many reps as possible for 20 minutes – and recently set a PR at 130 pull-ups, 260 push-ups, and 375 squats. That’s 26 rounds; 23 would put you third on the leader board for that WOD at PVCF – for the men.  My friend Ethan was not principally a CrossFitter until recently, so his current level of fitness is not attributable to doing WODs. He dropped into PVCF one day a while back and traded crazy bodyweight tricks with coach Josh. He did something for core strength that is hard to believe in someone with his body comp (6′, appx. 200 lbs). Better just to show you.  You can see it here.

This fascinates me. I have an affinity for the athletically incongruent. I love seeing people do things that are just silly and that I didn’t see coming. Not so much the YouTube freaks who look insane and do insane things – the one in a billions who are probably assisted by science-experiment level performance enhancing drugs, camera tricks and who knows what else. I just like the unassuming people around me who get after it in a way that leaves me shaking my head. And hoping that I don’t get paired with them during the next WOD.

 

1.26 No Whey! Whey!

I just bought 4.5 lbs. of whey. I am ambivalent about it. Whey, for those of you who do not know, is one of the two kinds of protein found in milk. Whether whey is a good or a bad source of protein is a matter of scientific opinion.   Because whey is one of the popular protein sources for making protein powder, and because most modern athletes drink protein smoothies, most athletes eventually deal with the question of whether to use whey or something else. The question is particularly charged for me, since I am a vegetarian and therefore have precious few good options for protein (despite what vegetarians and vegans will tell you or sell you).

No whey! The Paleo crowd will tell you to stay away from dairy, including whey protein. When I decided to get to a base line diet, I read It Starts With Food, the book that made famous the Whole 30 diet, which is basically eating meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits for 30 days on the theory that everything else is processed crap that your Paleolithic ancestors could not pick up at the local Mammoth Mart. I reread the chapter on dairy just now. Their take: whey protein is problematic because it causes the release of large amounts of insulin. On their theory of nutrition, insulin must be kept within a normal range, balanced with the other basic hormones, leptin, glucogon and cortisol (these are also the names of the dwarf-warriors in the epic science fantasy series “Lords of Circadia.” Actually I just made that up.). Infants need the massive insulin burst that whey provides for dynamic growth; modern adult humans need to cut that shit out or die trying.

Whey! But nutritionists who have not been swept down a 1,000 foot waterfall, through an ancient portal and into the Land of the Lost will tell you that whey protein is super for you. In addition to protein, it’s got branched chain amino acids, including leucine, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of growth promoting BCAAs. It also absorbs quickly, which is great if you are using it in a protein shake after a workout when the body can absorb protein best. You can read all about the wonders of whey here.

So what’s a vegetarian to do? As of now I eat about 50 eggs a week and use a vegetable based protein powder. I understand from a friend who spends a lot of time studying this stuff that vegetarian protein isn’t very ‘bioavailable,’ meaning that the body can’t absorb it at the same rate as other protein sources. Buying whey protein powder was my initial salvo into the introduction of dairy as an additional source of protein so that I could reduce my weekly egg consumption. But now I have to wonder what is worse, eating so many eggs that I grow feathers or repeatedly spiking my insulin with whey protein powder and/or milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.?

A non-vegetarian has better options: fish and chicken, to name two. But I have made the decision to accept a certain reduction in my optimal health in order to live in accordance with my values, which include living in a way that is sustainable and is not complicit in the mistreatment and mass slaughtering of animals. Yes, the dairy industry mistreats cows, and yes, I consume ice cream on cheat days: I am not perfect and I am not always capable of living in perfect accordance with my values. In any event, I do not object to killing per se; I object to a culture that provides no way for us to process our food production violence as a part of our collective spiritual experience. In fact, I have no problem with catching and eating our own fish, and I may some day decide to eat fish that I have caught myself. In the near term, however, I will consume 4.5 lbs. of whey protein over the next few months and try to track what effects, if any, it has on my health.

 

1.25 Heavy

Three years into CrossFit I am fit, lean, muscular. I am eating well, enjoying my workouts and my tribe. I am healthy.  Somewhere along the way, though, I got it into my head that I wanted to lift heavy. So in September 2016, on a whim while we were talking at the white board before class, I declared that I was beginning my ‘year of lifting heavy’ (YOLH). On Monday, after six months of doing workouts at as heavy a weight as I could manage, I decided on twin goals for my YOLH: I want to back squat 300 lbs. and dead lift 315.

There is a preliminary question that should come to mind: why would I want to do this? I weight 145 lbs. For the back squat I will be putting a bit more than twice my body weight on my back and trying to squat down below parallel and bring the weight back up. On the deadlift, I will be trying to pick up even more than that just by bending over, grabbing the weight and pulling, trying to lock out my knees and waist at the top of the lift.

There is no functional reason to do such a thing. My friend Ethan gets right to the heart of this. Take Mat Fraser, who is the reigning CrossFit Games champion, which makes him the ‘fittest man on earth.’  He has won the Games two years in a row and has a chance to become a four time winner like Rich Froning, who won it from 2011 to 2014.  Here is what a conversation between Ethan and Mat would sound like:

Ethan: I am as strong as you.

Mat: I don’t think so.

Ethan: Can you carry an air conditioner to an upstairs bedroom from the basement?

Mat: Sure.

Ethan: Me too. If a van were parked on top of your girlfriend, could you lift it off of her?

Mat:    Of course not.

Ethan: Ya, me neither. So we’re equally strong.

Mat:    I can deadlift 500 lbs. I can squat 485. I can do Fran in 2 oh 7.

Ethan: Does that in any way make you better than I am at carrying that air conditioner     upstairs? Is it going to make any difference when your girlfriend is stuck under that van?

Mat:    You seem fixated on air conditioners and vans.

Ethan: What happened to the other ‘t’ in your first name, anyway? Did Rich Froning      take it away from you in the locker room at your first Games? Not giving it back until you win the Games as many times as he has?

Mat:    Whatever, fittest air conditioner mover on earth.

 

Ethan has a point. Lifting heavy has nothing to do with functional movement. So what gives? My friend, PVCF coach Mael, subscribes to the ‘hard to kill’ theory: being stronger makes you harder to kill, other things being equal, and that makes you more valuable to your tribe. Could be. But I tend to credit a different theory: that lifting heavy is another form of serious play.

Some of our most meaningful interactions with the world come at the edge of our experience. How far can we go? How much can we learn? How high can we climb? How much can we lift? This ability and desire to explore who and what we are – to know ourselves and our world – is at the core of the human experience. On this view, lifting heavy is the very human attempt to find the outer limits of our subjective experience, even if that attempt is inconsistent with functional movement; indeed, even if that attempt is inconsistent with a lifetime of health.

This theory is democratic. Yes, we want to see what the elite athletes can achieve. But those who win gold on the world stage are the kinetic kin of all who are engaged in serious play. In the exhilarating experience of moving mad weight, whether we are Olympians or octogenarians, we rub the chalk in our hands, grip the barbell, lock our bodies and minds to the effort and lift, heavy.