My Breaking Point

Yesterday I reached a breaking point and ended up, literally, flat on my back. I was in my basement doing some heavy back squats and on the last rep of my first set, I struggled a bit to get the weight up, leaned forward ever so slightly and felt a very distinct pop in my lower back. At first it didn’t hurt that badly, and I thought, “I just need to stretch, roll it out and I’ll be ok to play field hockey in an hour.” But as soon as I tried to stand and walk, I realized that was probably not true and I started to freak out.

The thing is, I hadn’t worked out Thursday OR Friday and it was already Saturday. Next Thursday I’m going on vacation and won’t have access to a gym for a week, which means I can’t waste time NOT working out while I’m at home. My plan had never been to take two days off in a row. It had happened because I had to be at the office early on Thursday, then take a 5:30pm train to NYC that didn’t end up getting into the city until almost 10pm. Then on Friday I had scheduled my return trip so that I’d get back to BWI with the perfect amount of time to get to the 6pm crossfit class. But, due to the fact that Amtrak hasn’t improved since the dark ages and can’t figure out how to operate in weather that is a normal part of winter for many areas of the country, my train was delayed 2 hours, plus we sat at Baltimore Penn station for about 20 minutes. I ended up getting home at 8pm and frankly, I wasn’t interested in working out by then. And this is shortly after another week where I was unable to get to the gym for a crossfit class when I thought I would be able to. Once it was because of a minor accident that crippled Baltimore traffic, and the other time is was because my plane was late. And those were the only two days that I had planned to go to the gym at all that week because of work travel. So I wanted to make up for lost time yesterday morning and figured I’d get in a few sets of squats before field hockey. The problem is that I was rushed, and I probably put too much weight on the bar. That, or it was the universe’s way of smacking me in the face.

The thing is, I wasn’t upset about missing the gym because I’m afraid that I’ll get fat if I don’t work out. I was upset because I have certain expectations I set for myself regarding my performance at the gym and I don’t want to miss opportunities to put in the work that’s required to get better. Last year I set a goal for myself that I wanted to increase my back squat significantly, and I achieved that goal the other week – going from a 215lb back squat to 250lb. But, when I made the lift at 250, I knew that wasn’t my limit. I felt like I could have gone higher and I only stopped because of time. I know I could have missed the next lift if I’d added weight, but I still think that I have more than a 250lb back squat in me. So when I set out to do some squats yesterday, I was trying to push myself. I was also doing a weight and rep scheme that was less than I had done successfully before so, while I knew it would be challenging, I didn’t really think I would fail. But, really the problem is that I was afraid to put too little on the bar because then I might not get to my goal of surpassing 250 for a one rep max.

All I want in life is to do everything I do to the best of my ability. And I have high standards so I usually expect that doing things to the best of my ability means that I need to excel. But it’s becoming harder and harder to be able to put in the time and effort necessary to excel in work, my hobbies, and my personal life. I love my job, and I especially love my job when things are a little bit crazy and I am really busy. I also love the traveling that comes with my job because i hate commuting and sitting in my office, plus I enjoy getting to explore other cities and spending time with my colleagues and the people I meet in my sites. But lately things have perhaps been a little too crazy. Here’s an example of how busy I’ve been: before Christmas, I had to pack up my the contents of my filing cabinets because they were replacing the carpet in my building. I had to stay at the office late one night just to unpack the files so I could return the crates they were in, but I still haven’t been able to actually put the files away. Instead they have been sitting on my desk for 2 weeks.

This doesn’t really bother me in and of itself, but when I can’t get my workouts in, that’s when I start to get resentful, because I will go out of my way to make sure I can get to the gym. I don’t allow a busy schedule to be an excuse. But lately I feel like it’s been beyond my control. How am I supposed to anticipate that it’ll take me an hour and a half just to get from my office to I-95 on a random Monday evening? Often, I’m able to figure something out. The week of the crazy traffic and the flight delay, I still managed to get to the gym, albeit very late, and at least do the metcon (i.e., the “cardio” portion of the class). But I missed the strength portion, which was especially frustrating because we were doing linear strength progressions for five different movements – all do which were exercises I wanted to improve on. So I missed those workouts, but I also missed the progressions on the days when I already knew I wasn’t going to be there because I’d be out of town. And it’s not very easy for me to try to do it while I’m traveling. In a hotel gym, access to a pull up bar and/or barbells is rare. It’s frustrating to know that the way to improve on a lift is to set up a schedule of gradually increasing the load, while giving yourself enough time to properly recover between sessions, and yet I simply cannot guarantee that I can keep that kind of regimented schedule.

Not only that, but I can’t keep any kind of weekly commitment. This winter I volunteered to coach some girls from my neighborhood high school who signed up for an indoor field hockey league and I’ve only been able to make it to two of their games. It’s a pretty laid back league and they don’t really need a coach but these girls don’t know a lot about field hockey and I want to help them improve their game, hoping that they will enjoy it more and continue playing even after they leave high school.

I just feel so frustrated with life right now. Why can’t I be committed to my job, continue to improve at the gym, and do some activities in my free time that give me joy? It doesn’t seem like I’m asking for too much and yet when I try to make up for missing out on one of those things during a rough week, the universe smacks me down and tells me, “Now you will have none of this!”

So here I am, unable to exercise at all, and in fact barely able to move. What’s worse is that I’m petrified I’ve done something to myself that will affect me the rest of my life. What if my back never heals and I have to deal with chronic back pain for the rest of my life? What if I can never get back to where I was before I hurt myself, let alone reach all the goals I have set for myself for the future? But even if I do recover fully, it won’t change how hard it is for me to juggle work and the gym in the way I want to. It feels like I have to make a choice but I have no idea what to do.