Powerlifter N.C. Harrison discusses his rigorous program for self-improvement.
As a powerlifter, by my original training for football and by long-time inclination, I have always been very good at the squat. It is nothing for me to go into a training session, load a rather ridiculous amount of weight onto my trapezius and shoulders with almost no warm-up period whatsoever, and then proceed to hit an effortless, mostly pain-free rep max with it. I did so tonight, in fact, and found myself having such a good time that I just stood still for about ten seconds, a quarter ton perched archly on my rear deltoids, and then squeezed out five extra repetitions with that weight. For me, it was the strength training equivalent of eating candy.
Deadlifts, on the other hand, are awful and I hate them. To replicate the same feat of strength I performed so easily tonight in the squat would take up to fifteen minutes of heroic deadlift effort, setting and resetting my stance, heaving and pulling vainly against the weight and leaving roughly a bucket of skin and blood from my palms and shins on the bar. I can blame my deadlifting problems on a variety of things. First of all I am simply not built for the lift. As a broad shouldered man with a deep chest and short arms I am built perfectly for the bench press and squat but, unlike my ganglier training partners, have no biomechanical advantage in the deadlift.
Second, and perhaps most important, both of my hands are fairly ruined from my years playing football. Crouching in the three point stance, most of my more than two hundred pounds leaned forward onto three fingers, and then jamming my fists into defensive linemen’s chest plates left me with nerve damage in both of my hands. I am unable to hold a pen or pencil for more than fifteen minutes at a time without dropping it to rub the numbness out of my digits. Considering the impact that this has had on my ability to draw while wielding a pencil that weighs mere ounces it is no wonder, then, that I sometimes have trouble gripping and ripping a barbell that weighs hundreds of pounds.
If I were a different person, maybe a little less masochistic, I would probably squat in my training a whole lot more than I deadlift. I don’t, though. In fact, and this is only an estimate, I’d say that to my one session of heavy squats per week I probably perform twenty or more sets of deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, power cleans, muscle snatches and kettlebell swings. This is because, in following the wise words of my training gurus Dan John and Jim Wendler, I do the things I suck at the most so that I might one day suck at them just a little bit less.
This extends, I believe, well beyond training and into the other aspects of my life. I am a sort of shy, not terribly outgoing person who is often gripped by levels of social anxiety which sometimes dip to the levels of phobia. This is why I force myself, from time to time, to interact with others in conversation even when I would rather just retire to my room with a book–either a good one or a truly terrible fantasy novel, it wouldn’t really matter. First dates, as my previous article indicates, are not a problem for me to acquire. Second dates, due to a combination of pickiness, bad taste, circumstances beyond my control and the aforementioned shyness, are a different story. I keep plugging away, though, in the that I will get to live the Harlequin Love Inspired novel that I am writing, instead of just writing it–although my prospective wife and I probably will not live in fifteenth century Wallachia, when all is said and done.
It would be so easy to retreat, like a turtle or hermit crab, into my introversion, downgrading any ambition I feel and letting the world go by. However, this would feel like a betrayal of the teachers who have believed in me and have encouraged me, of my parents who have provided a good home to develop in and of the girl I call my Manic Pixie Dream Girl, who aided me when my self esteem was lowest. Most of all, it would feel like a betrayal of myself. This is why I could not stay in the deli, sweeping the same floor that I had swept a thousand times before, and am pursuing my licensure as a marriage and family therapist instead. This is why my manuscripts are going out to publishers now, instead of languishing on my hard-drive. This is why, when I step up to the bar for my next dead-lift session in a few days, I won’t be wearing lifting straps but will instead grip the bar in my callused, messed up hands, brace my lats, screw my heels into the floor and pull that sucker up even though gravity fights me each step of the way.
I am only a few pounds away from an elite total in powerlifting, after all, and the deadlift is the only thing holding me back. It doesn’t take long to go from “totally sucks” to “doesn’t suck quite as much,” but that climb from “doesn’t suck quite as much” to “actually pretty good” is a long and painful one that has to be made inch by inch. I won’t get there by improving what I’m good at, even further, but only by making myself stronger where I’m weaker. And so I add one pound, one rep, one conversation with someone that I would otherwise not have had, one manuscript submitted, and as a lifter, writer and man I grow.