Breaking Up with the Barbell

TAGS: motivation, aging, Nicholas Bronkall, powerlifting, barbell

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I didn’t go to the gym for almost a month. I absolutely couldn’t stand to step foot in it. I hated the thought of putting a barbell in my hand. Instead, I didn’t do anything. If I wasn’t at work, I was at home sitting on the couch telling myself I deserved it after a “long day.” I slept in, I ate like garbage, and I buried my thoughts at the bottom of empty bottles.


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I hated the person staring back at me in the mirror.

Today

For 2020, I’ve got two things driving what I do. The first is I want what I’ve learned to go to good use. What good are the experiences I’ve lived if I can’t share them and help others?

The second is what I call purposeful movement. Every decision and reaction must serve a purpose of moving me forward towards the bigger vision. Having the words purposeful movement at the front of my mind at all times will allow me to make better choices in the moment and for the future. Does what I’m currently doing have a purpose and is it helping me move forward? If the answer is no, then I don’t do it. I’m taking control of the things I can control and not giving energy to the things I can’t.

I’m viewing every situation as an opportunity for growth and development.

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History

I’ve been lifting weights since I was 10, when my dad bought me one of those Joe Weider workout systems with the posters out of the back of a muscle and fitness. Pretty sure the posters are still hanging in his basement. Every day I was down there lifting weights and crushing ice cold whole milk with a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich; you know because intraworkout. Instead of a cell phone during sets I was reading muscle and fitness.

Then came high school sports. I played three sports and when I wasn’t playing sports, I was in the weight room. I was a freshman in 2000 and we didn’t really have the Internet, so I was begging my mom on the weekends to take me to Barnes and Noble so I could read the latest books on training. My dad also subscribed to those muscle mags a lot of us grew up with.

My freshman year I purchased the book Complete Conditioning for Football by Michael Arthur and Bryan Bailey. This was how Nebraska football trained; the same program used to build national champions. While my coach hated it, I never followed his workouts. They were merely BFS workouts copied verbatim but “I knew better.” I read BFS and it didn’t mesh with what the national champions were doing. I convinced my training partner at the time, one of my fellow defensive linemen, to give my training programs a go. I wrote everything out. We were doing sprints, snatches, heavy lifting, you name it — we were doing it.

But then sports ended.

After high school, I hit this depression-like state. I was lost. I was confused. It was the first time I didn’t step into a weight room. I got caught up in a lifestyle which was the complete opposite of being an athlete. After five years I finally got back into it 100 percent and this is what started my journey as a strength and conditioning coach and as a powerlifter.

I joined a local gym called the Gorilla Pit found training partners in Jay Ashman and Brandon Tunquist. This started the next phase of my journey as Jay played a role in me getting my job at The Spot Athletics. This changed my life forever. Let’s fast forward a bit though.

2019

I’d been powerlifting for six years, but my injuries were starting to add up.

After my last back injury at the end of 2018, I was lost.

My body was beat to hell from years of heavy lifting and it was miserable. My numbers weren’t even good. It’s almost as if I had nothing to show for it. Let me tell you how many people I interact with who are impressed by a 650-pound deadlift.

Whatever number you’re thinking of, think lower.

From being in the sport for a bit, I saw others' whose bodies that were trashed. Powerlifting is weird; it’s a sport where I dedicated so much of my mind, body, soul, time, energy, and effort with the only real payoff being numbers which nobody cared about but me. There’s no money in it. The only people at meets were my significant other and mom. Year after year of beating my body chasing numbers. For what? At what expense?

I get why a lot of you do it. I really do.

Obviously, each of us is on our own journey where we must learn and make choices based on what we feel is best for us and our future. I had to make choices based on what I felt was best for mine. I was thinking that this was no way for me to live.

I didn’t know anything else though but the barbell. Was this it? Were my only options the barbell and pain or doing nothing?

I couldn’t stand to do another squat, bench, or deadlift. I’d sit in the gym parking lot not wanting to go in; like coming home to a significant other who you just didn’t want to be with.

This feeling was very familiar — similar to when I left high school, but I refused to accept that it’s just part of getting old or it’s part of the game of lifting heavy. At least not until I took a step back, looked in the mirror, exhaled big, looked myself in the mirror and asked “What the fuck is going on with you?”

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Changes

As I got into movement and manual therapy, I realized I just needed more quality movement in my life. You know, move how a human should move. There’s more to movement than just up and down with heavy weight. I needed to start living life outside the sagittal plane.

In the back of my head I’ve always had an interest in things like yoga, rock climbing, dancing, and more. But you know I’m a big strong dude and big strong dudes don’t do those things. I realized this was just my ego talking and holding me back and this year this big strong dude is doing those things.


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I quit my powerlifting gym, joined a yoga studio, a rock climbing gym, and well, I’m working on the whole dancing thing. Baby steps, right? When I’m in the gym, which I’ve set a limit of three days, I’m only going to allow myself to use my body weight or things such as KBs and sandbags; doing things strictly off of how I feel and pushing myself to be creative with my movement.

The Takeaway

I challenge you to explore movement. Whatever moves you, do it. And if it no longer moves you, then it’s ok to move onto the next thing. Just make sure it’s purposeful movement.

You hold the pen to the story of your life. Your choices are the words which write your story. Each day is a fresh page — an opportunity to write something better than the day before.

Do your choices align with the story you wish to write? The story you want others to read? Is your story worth reading? Only you can answer this.

Whatever your vision is for your life, you write it with the choices you make every day. Those choices should have a purpose of moving you forward.

The weights aren't going anywhere, but your time is. Spend it on shit which matters most to you.

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