Getting Stronger is Hard Work

Getting Stronger is Hard Work

“But I never see no postman down here on the farm”
Photo by Gozha Net on Unsplash

The late afternoon sun hugs the field. The two tired brothers have worked since the early hours of the morning. Now they’re getting the last of the day’s harvest done.

Bob, the younger of the brothers, is inherently lazy. Trying to get the harvest done with him is like dealing with a toddler insisting on using a hammer to eat a kiwifruit. A patience testing endeavour.

Ron, the older of the two, with his sleeves rolled up, is throwing bales of hay on to the rusty cart. And after each bale he’s muttering words of encouragement to his brother.

Unless Ron wants to do all the work himself he needs to spend most of the days directing and asking Bob to lift another bale of hay onto the truck. Otherwise Bob would spend his time lounging on the ground, getting a tan, and chewing a long piece of grass while half humming lazy renditions from the Grateful Dead catalogue.

But with Ron’s determination and gentle encouragement Bob does his part. As the sun starts to set the brothers climb onto their beat up John Deere and chug across the field to get home.

At home Ron pours a small Scotch.

He hands it to Bob and tells him to go have a bubble bath. Meanwhile Ron himself, organised to a fault that he is, heads to the kitchen to cook a hearty bean stew and potatoes. 

The brothers have a meal together and go over the state of the field. Ron maps out the plan for tomorrow’s work and promises to Bob that tomorrow’s work load won’t be any worse than today’s.

After the meal, with the weathered floorboards creaking, Bob makes his way to his bedroom to retire for the night. Ron stays up to pack the leftover stew, potatoes and thick peanut butter sandwiches ready for tomorrow’s lunch.

The next day on the field is more of the same. 

And the one after. And the one after that. At some point each day Bob will hit his limit and insist on returning to lounging on the ground and work on his tan. And unless Ron wants to finish up the day’s work all by himself, he has to encourage Bob to get up and pick another bale of hay. 

Each day, despite Ron’s promises of easier tomorrows, Bob does a bit more than what he did yesterday. 

Ron is the driving force of the brothers. If he wouldn’t force Bob out of the house and put on his underwear and ask him to do more work, Bob would spend his days sitting at the kitchen table playing solitaire, without his underwear. While trying to get a tan through the kitchen window.

We’re all Rons. Bob is our body. And toddlers should only use hammers in mattress lined houses.

Our body is inherently lazy

They want to exist in a world where they can rest on the bales, get a sick (but healthy) tan and hum the great songbook of the 70s. Like Bob, our bodies want an easygoing existence where it’s possible to get by only doing what’s absolutely necessary. 

The body yarns for a world of, and here’s a big word, equilibrium.

Just turning up to train isn’t enough. 

Lifting the same amount of hay as yesterday doesn’t lend itself to progress. If all we do is the same thing over and over in each training session, Bob never progresses. He has no reason to because his current existence is his definition of that aforementioned, and here’s that big word again, equilibrium.

We have to keep shoving Bob forward to improve.

And the only way to do this is training. Conditioning to improve our heart and lungs and all that anatomical stuff that connects those two to wherever they’re meant to connect. Cutting down calories to burn fat. Resistance training for strength. To take the next step, to get that extra rep, and to go that little heavier.

Well, hard manual labor on the farm works too. But let’s face it, neither you nor me are doing none of that. I, for one, don’t even know what a tractor looks like.

So we make this deal. 

We challenge him in the training. Then we make a promise and lie through our teeth. We promise that if Bob sits in a warm bubble bath, eats his potatoes and gets stronger during the rest between the workouts, the whole thing will feel easier next time.

So Bob sits in the bath and repairs himself with the false hope of renewed, ah big word, equilibrium. And the next time is indeed easier for him. 

Yet we, Rons, can’t help ourselves and take another step on the path of betrayal. We take off the nice person mask and reveal our true self to Bob by making the training even more challenging come next time.

Lucky for us Bob’s tangled in a groundhog day. 

Thanks to our body’s short emotional memory we can keep repeating our false promise day after the day. We act all nice, pour a Scotch, run a bubble bath and serve chilli. We even add a thick layer of peanut butter on those sandwiches to really elevate Bob’s Stockholm Syndrome.

The next morning Bob climbs on to the beat up John Deere whistling “Friend of the Devil”. Sure, he complains how he would rather play solitaire and get a tan. But with some non-abusive encouragement, and the hanging carrot of a future peanut butter sandwich, Bob eventually does a bit more. And it’s the same cycle all over again.

We do all these devious acts for the benefit of our body 

If we want to keep getting stronger, fitter and more resilient we have to make training uncomfortable. Not a pseudo-military spew town. But we have to keep challenging what we’ve previously done in a reasonable and sustainable fashion.

Yes, there is wisdom in sticking with the same until it feels a bit easier. But we can’t get stronger by doing the same months on end. There comes a time on the farm when progress requires picking up that heavier bay of hay.

Of course, if we’ve reached a point of strength where we feel content, things change. It’s ok to turn up to repeat what we’ve always done for the sake of maintaining what we’ve got. 

That’s fine too. Because sometimes Bob needs a tan. And Ron needs to calm the… down and sit himself in the bath.

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