Grit is today’s subject matter. Sort of, as you’ll see. What are we referring to when we talk about about grit? Here is some dictionary action for you:
small loose particles of stone or sand.
“she had a bit of grit in her eye”
synonyms: gravel, pebbles, stones, shingle, sand, dust, dirt
“the grit from the paths got into her sandals”
courage and resolve; strength of character.
“I’ve known few men who could match Maude’s grit”
synonyms: courage, courageousness, bravery, pluck, mettle, mettlesomeness, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fibre, steel, nerve, gameness, valour, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, determination, resolution.
It’s not the first type of grit that I am referring to here. That is the stuff that if I ever get any in my shoe or in my underwear at the beach, it impairs my mood for sure.
It’s the second definition here, but first let me put this all into some context and explain why I’m going to write about this in the coming week.
This weekend was a monumental weekend for me, it was my second testing day at the gym I belong to, since starting there just under a year ago. Here are some stats for you that explain how things have changed for me since I stopped endurance running and started weight lifting:
My weight has increased by just under two stone.
My biceps have grown by 4cm in circumference.
My quads (thighs) have grown in girth by 6cm.
My chest size has increased by 3-4 inches.
My waist size has stayed the same.
Large sized clothing is my starting point now (I had to wave goodbye to size medium!). I have had to start getting XL stuff here and there.
Superdry brand slim fit shirts and skinny jeans are now impossible to wear.
I feel great. It is all still very new and very different to my years of endurance running training, but I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Testing day is a bit like race day, you have to see what you can do and you aim to do your best and lift weight that you have never lifted before.
I have been meticulous in my planning and preparation, I’ve followed the plans and done the training throughout the last quarter that means I have made big gains in this quarter. Just to give you an idea of my planning for testing day, here is a photo of my work-up to the weights I was going for.
So when I started out a year ago, I started squatting with 60kg on the barbell and it did not feel easy to be honest. I was bench pressing 40kg and getting very sore following 5 x 5 reps oat that weight. My body had to get used to a different kind of exercise and strength. However, lots of the psychological side of things that I used throughout my years of running, have served me well in the gym with a barbell across my shoulders too.
This testing day then, I just wanted to do more than I had done in the lead up weeks. I had hit a 170kg squat, so planned to do 172.5kg and anything more would be incredible and I’d go for it if I felt good on the day. To put that in context, on the previous testing day just 4 months ago, I had squatted 145kg (which I shared and wrote about here earlier this year) and had failed at 150kg on that day. This testing day I was attempting to go close to 30kg more than that. Additionally, my year end goal is 180kg, though I hope to get much closer to 200kg as a result of my progress, and if I add to that that less than a year ago I was squatting 60kg, and last Christmas was the first time I have ever squatted 100kg, this testing day felt a tad daunting.
I wrote recently about how you have to really rely on yourself when squatting. I followed my work-up lift schedule and felt good, and squatted my first 172.5kg effort. That was my goal, I felt happy. I felt like I had more in the tank, so I went for a 175kg lift. Sadly, I failed it. That is, I did not squat deep enough, it was borderline and the gym owner wanted me to have another go at it. By this time, my central nervous system was fatiguing, I was coming down off my caffeine and pre-workout high a little bit and felt just a wee bit tired. Anyway, this is my second very scruffy attempt at 175kg which just passed and took a lot out of me.
So I hit a 175kg PB on squat and will now work on it for the next quarter before the next testing where I hope to eclipse that again. Progress made. Next up was bench press. The guys in the gym and I joke about me being a bit of a T-Rex, that is, I have strong tree-trunk-like legs and yes, my upper body and arms are capable of a LOT less!
At the gym in previous weeks, I had benched 115kg and a 1117.5kg – with a huge amount of effort and slight struggle. Again, last testing day I was unable to even bench 90kg as I was so poopped from the squatting and earlier cleans (I chose not to do the clean lifts this time as a result). I did my work-up according to my plan and went for my attempt at 120kg ever. I got the line wrong, I wavered and lost it completely, it was a failed attempt. Then I rested up and a few minutes later had another crack at it. I was tired, fatigued, but incredibly determined that the bar was only going where I was willing it to go. This is what happened….
So yes, the longest rep in the history of reps and would not necessarily get a green light at a professional competition because of the time taken, but I lifted it. I’m choosing not to share what I said and did after this lift because I swore a lot. This lift was a massive grind. My already frayed central nervous system was shot to bits, and I just kept on and on telling myself “it’s going, it’s going… I’m there, I’m there… I’m getting closer… Come on Adam….” and so on. I could hear that those in the gym watching were going down in volume as they thought I had lost it, and then hearing them raise the volume as I got it closer to the full extension buoyed me a fair bit.
We joked afterwards that as well as getting two PBs in this testing day, I also won the award for longest rep in history and one of my friends referred to it as the rep that was the equivalent of ‘War and Peace’ in the literature world.
This was a triumphant day for me at the gym. I was back in there this morning, ready for the next phase and looking to follow the programme for the next quarter to make some big gains and who knows what I’ll be capable of at the next testing? I have set some new goals! I’ll share soon.
We went out for a celebratory dinner afterwards. It was to a truly wonderful restaurant called the Larderhouse. Upon arrival, we discovered that each of our place mats had a protein shaker that had the basis of our first cocktail of the day. Our very relevant protein shakers had gin and some other ingredients in them, we then added egg white and had to shake the cocktail for 5 minutes, here is some footage of that happening:
We then had ice added and shook it up some more before the final addition of soda water – it was delicious. The owner James Fowler, wrote this on Facebook about the cocktail:
Originally called The New Orleans Fizz, this cocktail became so popular after its creation in 1888 that it took on the name of its creator – Henry C. Ramos of NOLA’s Imperial Cabinet Bar. Ramos eventually opened up another bar – The Stag, where his drink’s reputation really grew, solidifying its place in cocktail history.
Legend tells that the Ramos Gin Fizz was so popular that Ramos’s bar needed at least 20 bartenders working solely on the cocktail. Later, during Mardi Gras in 1915, 35 bartender’s were employed. According to Stanley Arthur in New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em the bar staff “nearly shook their arms off, and were still unable to keep up with the demand.”
We had a feast of meat and fish from the outside grill, and much of it was hung in front of us and with the vegetables and tapas that had accompanied it all, it was just wonderful and what we needed after testing. We retired to the upstairs library bar afterwards for an Absinthe to serve as a digestif. Cold water is slowly dripped on to the measure of Absinthe and it clouds and becomes a lovely drink, here’s a picture.
We had a lot of fun and drinks thereafter too.
To return to my original point – I needed grit. You can see that I needed a lot of effort with these lifts and in the end, it was grit that got me over the line and celebrating. You need grit to keep turning up at the gym come rain or shine. You need grit to adhere to the programme and keep challenging yourself in the gym week upon week. You then need grit to dig in and find the strength to lift a big weight when your body is tired and your mind is prone to doubt.
Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, studies intangible concepts such as grit to determine how they might predict both academic and professional success. She speaks about things like IQ not being the only things separating successful students from those who struggle, for example. She has explained her theory of “grit” as a predictor of success in her book on the subject and in a brilliant Ted Talks video, both of which I’ll be referring to some more next time out.
Grit is a topic that I am going to cover next week in detail then. I have a couple of other things to write about first, but will be returning early next week with a blog all about grit – what it is and how to apply it.