When the Barbell Hates You Back: A Neurotic Lifter’s Survival Guide

When the Barbell Hates You Back: A Neurotic Lifter’s Survival Guide

by Bre Acosta | June 25, 2024

Lifting weights isn’t just a casual hobby for you. It’s a
borderline obsession. You’ve been living and breathing the Starting
Strength method, meticulously logging every set and rep, never
missing a training session, adding calories to meals, and increasing
your rest time. You hear Rip’s angelic voice in your head: “That’s
not heavy.”

Remember when you were
flying through your Linear Progression, hitting PRs every workout?
The high was intoxicating. Then you graduated to intermediate
training, where progress was slower but still sweet. Now, years in,
you’re a neurotic, slightly unhinged advanced lifter. You’ve
sacrificed social outings (this was never hard for me), tracked your
macros (down to the spoonful of milk in your coffee), and prioritized
recovery like it’s a sacred ritual. Eat, Sleep, Repeat. You’ve
done everything by the book.

And then it happens.
You walk into the gym ready to hit that next PR, but the barbell has
other plans. It feels twice as heavy, your form goes to shit, and
you’re left staring at the bar questioning your entire existence –
“Does this make me a failure?”

Spoiler: it doesn’t.

Here’s the harsh
truth: your worth is not measured by a single lift. It took me seven
years to figure that out. I am still fighting with myself to this
day, and I wanted to share my experience, so that others may have
some insight.

Myth of the Perfect Lifting Day

The perfect lifting day
doesn’t exist. Some days you’ll feel invincible, but the bar
proves you wrong. Other days you won’t want to get out of bed, but
the workout goes better than expected. I’ve had great lifting days
with little to no sleep when I expected things to be shit. I’ve had
bad days when I was fully rested. It’s not a reflection of your
effort or worth; it’s just part of the human condition.

Are Not Defined by Your PR. Or Anyone Else’s.

Personal records are
milestones, not measures of your self-worth. If you tie your identity
to hitting every PR, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The
weight on the bar does not determine your worth or status. Instead,
see PRs as the data of your lifting and personal achievements, not
the end-all-be-all of your existence. If you don’t have a PR for
years, this is OK.

Some advice on
comparison: Don’t compare yourself to what you see on social media.
If someone is lifting 50 pounds more than you at a lighter
bodyweight, it doesn’t matter. If someone is making progress faster
or for longer, it doesn’t matter. None of this means you’re not
good enough or “should” be lifting more. Most of the time, social
media shows the end results or highlights of someone’s life, and
can also be fake. You don’t usually get to see where someone
started or the downs in their training. Not to mention the filters
that can be added to videos and editing that can be done these days.

If you add a pound to
the bar, you are amazing. If you show up to train even when every
thought is telling you to go back home, you are killing it!

the Bad Days

If you’re having a
bad lifting day, embrace it. Don’t think that every failed lift is
a criticism in disguise: “Maybe I should’ve slept more, eaten
more, or maybe I’m just not good enough.” Learn to accept that
not every day will go as planned or end in a PR. And that’s okay.
If you are having a bad week, month, year(s), or recovering from an
injury, just show up. You have to work with what you have on any
given day.

At the time of this
writing, I am working with an intense shoulder injury that will need
addressing, along with as some other pains. I struggle daily with
finding the small wins. The advice I give myself is to take each day
as it comes and to not have set expectations. I don’t compare
myself from six months ago versus today.

If you only celebrate
PRs, you’re missing the point. Showing up to the gym after a bad
day, pushing through even when you want to quit – those are
victories too. The real growth happens during the grind, both
physically and mentally. Find small wins for yourself and celebrate

Your Why

Reflect on why you
started lifting. Was it just to hit specific numbers? Maybe. But
maybe it was to become healthier, more confident, or to challenge
yourself. Those reasons remain valid even on bad days.

Cut yourself some
slack. You can be dedicated and disciplined, but you also need to be
kind to yourself. This journey is a marathon, not a sprint. There
will be ups and downs, and that’s just part of the process. This
might be the perfect time to find a hobby. (Yes, I know, “Lifting
is life, what am I going to do, not train, etc.”) But you cannot
expect to make any progress, even the small wins, if you are beating
yourself up both physically and mentally every training session.

The next time the
barbell feels like it’s conspiring against you, take a breath,
learn from it, and move forward. Your self-worth is far too valuable
to be defined by one bad lift. You’re more than just your PRs.

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