My hands grip the bar, the feel of the rough, cross-hatched knurl sends a rush of powerful adrenaline through my body. The sounds of clanging plates and low gym chatter start to fade away as my teeth grind down on the hard, plastic mouth guard keeping my mind and breathing focused. My head and shoulders swing under the bar while a light dusting of white chalk floats off my back and fills the air around me. I rake my traps back and forth on the cold steel until I find the sweet spot, the familiar, fleshy shelf. I stomp my feet, and the electricity of the force tingles up my legs. Deep inhale. I push upwards and feel the weight bear down on me. Two steps back. Toes out. Eyes forward. Spine neutral. Glutes squeezed. You’ve got this. You can do this. You’ve done it before. I take a deep inhale through my nose and feel the safety of my belt as I brace against the thick leather. Descend. Knees out. Break parallel. You’re in the hole, drive! Up! I fight against the weight of the bar, my jaw clenched, face burning. I’m going nowhere. I feel my form fail. Panic. I release my hands and feel steel scrape down my back before the bar hits the safeties behind me, loudly rattling the cage.
I stand up quickly, glancing around to see if I have an audience. I step out of the cage, grab my phone and hit “stop” on the recording before I collapse on the bench. The loaded bar is resting pathetically out of place in the middle of the cage, mocking me, knowing I’ll have to unload all of those plates before I can rack it again. You didn’t have it. You couldn’t do it. You did it before, but you can’t do it again. My low back aches as I replay the video on my phone, watching myself give up too soon, fear taking over as I let the bar fall behind me. The stark reality of video evidence is made clear: what felt like minutes in the hole was mere seconds. I had no faith in myself. I didn’t brace hard enough. I bailed too soon. I never expected to make the lift, so I didn’t make the lift. Am I more disgusted with this performance, or my image? My belt feels tighter than it should and I’m acutely aware of which hole the thick metal prong is fitted in. Look at what you’ve let happen to yourself. What a waste. Tears threaten to spill. My chest heaves quicker and my head feels dizzy as it hangs between my shoulders and I stare at the image on my phone, paused at the moment of failure.
Metal plates sharply hit the concrete floor as someone completes a heavy deadlift in the background, startling me. Suddenly, the sting of my fresh barbell scrape radiates from my back, snapping me into focus. I spit out my mouth guard and remember my breath. Through my nose, I inhale for a count of four and exhale for a count of six. This is the point of testing day. To see where you’re at and build on it. I inhale for four, exhale for six. You were off training for four months. In for four, out for six. You’re doing the work. Four, six. You’re doing the work.