I step up to a racked barbell and wrap my fingers around it, my hands just outside my shoulders. I duck my head under the barbell and stand up, lifting the bar off the rack. With the barbell resting on my upper back, balanced on my "muscle pillow" as I like to call it, I step back and away from the rack. I take a deep breath and look straight ahead, focusing on a knot in the wood on the wall in front of me.
"Down and up," I tell myself, a reminder of the simple movement that is the back squat. Down I go into a squat, staring at the knot in the wall, squeezing my butt and abs, keeping my chest up, driving my knees out, imagining I'm spreading the floor apart with my feet as I stand up, returning to my starting position. I rack the barbell, add more weight, and do it again. When I reach my max weight, meaning I can squat down but not stand back up, I drop the barbell, strip some weight, re-rack it, and attempt to max out on my shoulder press.
"Breathe and push," I tell myself, focusing on the knot in the wood on the wall as I press the barbell from my shoulders until it's straight over my head and my arms are fully extended. I add weight after each successful lift until I can no longer push the barbell all the way up. Four or five times I'm able to raise the bar to eye level, but no further. My failure reveals my goal for the next time I perform the shoulder press. I move the barbell from the rack to the ground and add a few 45 pound plates to set up for the dead lift.
"Step up and lift," I tell myself. Feeling the cold steel against my shins, I push my butt back towards the wall behind me and reach down to grip the bar, keeping my arms straight, sensing tension in my hamstrings. I wiggle my toes to make sure my own weight is in my heels. I look straight ahead and pick a raindrop on the window as my focal point. I take a deep breath, squeeze my butt, drive my heels into the floor and stand up. Once my hips reach full extension, I slowly reverse the motion to return the barbell to the floor.
I add fifty more pounds to the barbell and rest for a few minutes before I lift again, adding twenty, ten, then five pounds to the bar after each successful dead lift. Step up, reach down, grab hold, focus on the raindrop, breathe and lift. I repeat the process until I can no longer move the barbell off the ground.
This is an ordinary day at the gym for me. I show up, warm up, load up and lift. Some days it's weights on a barbell, other days it's gymnastics, sprinting, rowing, jumping, throwing weighted balls or swinging heavy kettle bells. The movements vary, but my mind runs the same course. I clear my head of everything but the task before me. I count reps, but try not to add up my weights until after I've lifted them. Over and over again, I chant simple commands to myself: down and up; breathe and push; step up and lift; do it again; one more rep; don't think, just move.
It's mind over matter. It's meditation in motion. It's growth and progress. It's a hell of a way to start my day, and an incredible way to live my life: one rep at a time. It's CrossFit.