Bodybuilding is perhaps the ultimate balancing act. When a cosmetic result relies on physical performance, training and all other factors must be perfectly balanced. Come to think of it, I don’t know if there is a sport that requires as much fine tuning as bodybuilding. I’m sure motorsports require a great deal of tuning. But, then again, tuning a machine is a bit different from dealing with the human body. Although there are plenty of variables in both cases, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the body is slightly less predictable (and infinitely less understood) than a man-made machine.
If I were a race car with a broken suspension part, you could simply replace that part and send me on my way. There is no downtime, no healing, no pain, and no uncertainty as to whether or not the repair was sufficient. The part is changed and the car re-enters the race, taking full-on punishment as soon as the tires hit the ground. I wish I could say the same for myself. Instead, when my feet touch the ground, I’m given a painful reminder that I need to pace myself if I want this injury to heal. The ever-present reminder that I must temper ambition with caution leaves me wondering just how much of each can I handle.
This question isn’t a new one. As bodybuilders, we live in this question. Do I go for one more rep? Should I train twice each day? How many days of rest do I need? Am I eating too much or too little? Not enough and you fail to stimulate or support – too much and you defeat yourself. Fuck. Sometimes I wish I could just let it all rip – just unleash. Then fear kicks in and tells you something might break. Literally. And that’s with or without an existing injury.
Right now, every single damn day I wonder to myself how hard can I push this thing? What would happen if I didn’t guard it? How much does the pain actually matter? Should I ignore those sharp pains in the name of progression or heed them in the name of self-preservation? I wish I knew. I wish I could look inside myself and know for sure just how hard I can push it. Hell, if I knew I couldn’t hurt myself, I would push it as hard as I was capable of. If pain were simply part of the equation but nothing of an indicator, it would be easy to accept and easy to ignore.
But the fact is, this is the same shit we face whether injured or not. How hard CAN you push it? I’m not asking how much pain you’re capable of inflicting upon yourself. What I’m asking is, how much is your body capable of withstanding? If you don’t walk that fine line and ask yourself these questions every day, then I’m not sure bodybuilding is for you. THAT, after all, is the balancing act. It’s too easy to let gravity take over and fall to one side or the other. The challenge, for me and for you, is to continue walking on that tight rope.
So, what’s a bodybuilder to do? He does the thing he does best: test and push his boundaries, continue taking steps forward. If you can survive A, then you go to B. If I can leg press 6 plates without my knee giving out, then you can bet your last dollar I will try 7 plates the next time around. Every day when I get on the step mill I will try to put more and more force on that knee. When I go down a flight of stairs I will resist the temptation to hold on to the railing. Barbell squats hurt like a motherfucker right now. I don’t mind that. Barbell squats always hurt like a motherfucker. Different pain, same concept to grasp, and same hurdle to overcome.
Push the boundaries. Take small steps forward. In my life that means if I can lean a little harder on that recovering leg, put another plate on, do SOMETHING I didn’t do last time around, then I’m one step closer to 100%. Day in and day out my goal is to be better than the day before. That’s the same journey we’re all on, in one form or another, right? For me, if I can do that without re-injuring myself, maybe finding that balance will be easier.
Bodybuilders understand the importance of pushing and pain is an accepted side effect. While there is no way for any of us to know exactly how much we can tolerate or what it will take for us to progress, we keep pushing. We throw on a little bit more each time and hope nothing breaks. And as much as we’d like to think of ourselves as machines, we’re not. Sometimes, we’re like fragile, brittle sculptures. So it’s essential to push the body out of its comfort zone, but we cannot entirely ignore its pleas. Pain is like fear. In order to get anywhere, you have to learn when to ignore it and when to take it seriously. Push a little more when you can and pull back a little when you need to—this is the ultimate balancing act.