Balance in Life & Lifting: Is it Possible?
As I was sitting on my couch, having a rather lazy Sunday after a week of traveling, I thought to myself "hey, I should write some stuff". So I opened up my Google Drive and took a look at the topics that people have requested and ideas I've had about what to write about and I noticed a frequent topic - finding balance between life and lifting. I thought to myself, "Yeah, I've got stuff to say about that." I swirled around some tips and bullet points that could be helpful for people. It is all of your typical suggestions like finding hobbies or activities outside of training, making time for friends and family, not taking yourself so seriously, etc. It's the stuff that we all know and preach but that often times gets lost in the micro focus of our daily lives.
I drafted up a nice post - it's readable, it's got decent suggestions, and I'm sure I could find some Instagram photos, and maybe a quote or two to throw in for good measure. And then I realized, it's kind of all bullshit. Don’t get me wrong, for the majority of people who are trying to be healthy and fit, I am firm believer and pusher of finding balance. I think it’s incredibly important. And yeah, I could give you a really great post about that. But frankly, as a person who competes in a sport and takes my hobby pretty seriously, I am NOT the person to talking about moderation at this very moment. And I think speaking to that population is also pretty important.
In addition to sitting on my couch yesterday, I was also pounding water like it's my job because I start my water cut for my competition on Monday. My teammates and I are were having a rather hilarious text message conversation about how much we all effing hate water at the moment. We spent our Saturday night going to Target to buy gallons upon gallons of water, baby foods, and competition/post weigh-in snacks. We then ate dinner together at my house where all of us measured our food and immediately logged it into MyFitnessPal to make sure it fit our macro and calorie needs for this rather delicate dietary time period. At one point, we were chatting and I set out some snacks and each of us took our time counting our gluten-free crackers and pretzels and subsequently commenting on how utterly ridiculous that was. The topics of dinner conversation included such things as how sore we are, how excited we are for deload/competition taper, our making weight strategies, and how glad we all will be when this intensive prep period is over.
That is not balance. Nor would I ever in a million years pretend that logging your food with extreme care or planning your day around water consumption is anything near balance. Because as much as we all talk about balance as an admirable endeavour, the reality is that if you are a competitive athlete or you are very very serious about your "hobby", traditionally defined balanced is rarely achieved. Let me elaborate.
Most people conceptualize balance as the traditional scale - with an equal number of things on both sides. There are equal amounts of nights out and fun activities along with hard training sessions and tight nutrition. It has been my experience that the conceptualization of balance as some sort of large scale does not hold up to reality. To me, balance is more like a pendulum. We spend most of our time in the middle but then there are times where we swing into the extremes (Please ignore the physics of pendulums for this example - yes, I know pendulums have maximum kinetic energy in the middle and no kinetic energy at the highest point of their swing. We're just visualizing here). We sacrifice those nights out and bottles of wine for early bedtimes and making weight because we really care about our goals. It happens. Are those extreme periods "healthy" or sustainable? No. Are they the pinnacle of moderation? No. But, for most of us, they happen.
Trying to live at the edge of our sanity and willpower is a risky endeavour - it is one that burns hot and fast and that we can't sustain because it's too difficult and the sacrifice is ultimately too great. Massive problems arise when we attach morality ("look at how righteous I am while I eat my salad when everyone else is eating cookies even though I really want a damn cookie!") and glorify the behavior at the extremes ("she is so awesome because she can work out 3x a day and eat lettuce everyday and raise 20 kids and have a full time job"). The extremes aren't normal. The extremes aren't very desirable. The extremes are NOT sustainable. And most importantly, those extremes are not reality 95% of the time.
Extremes are often easy because they contain rigid rules - moderation is harder because it requires that you navigate yourself. There is no handy dandy do and do not list you can fall back on. Moderation is why anyone who doesn’t compete seriously in a sport doesn’t need to worry about making weight for competitions. Moderation is why you don’t need to “go hard or go home” if you’re trying to get fit and live a better life. Moderation is the goal 95% of the time. And it’s really damn tough. If you can approach that week of water cutting or that one week of the year when work has to take over your life from a different mindset, it can be more productive. Instead of getting swept up and thinking about how hard it is and how much you would rather not be doing it, put your head down and focus. Don’t forget that the one crazy week is not a reflection of your life 365 days a year. Getting caught up in your accomplishments (“check out my abs after I lost 7lbs of water in 5 days!”, “I was so productive because I worked 18 hours a day!”) and forgetting that they are not the norm is difficult but I think it’s an important thing to keep in mind when you’re entering the edges of that pendulum.
This doesn't only apply to athletics either - we all have times where our priorities shift and one thing takes up more time than another and sacrifices are made. People get extremely stressed out about this, which, sorry, is not at all helpful. If you are constantly operating on the edge and in the extremes, then yeah, you're gonna have a bad time. However, if visits to the extreme are infrequent outliers in your life, and you treat them as such, then you're probably doing just fine. Adding stress to the insane amount of stress that comes with living in those margins is unproductive at best and disastrous at worst. Accept the extremes for what they are and work to make them more manageable in the future (maybe that means moving weight classes so you don't have a 2 week long giant, restrictive cut or cutting out a training session). Reduce the number of times you have to be in the extremes. If your trips to the edges are short and infrequent and most of the time is spent in the middle, I think you're doing alright.