“I’ll start tomorrow”. “I’ll start next week”. “As soon as my final is over, I can focus 100% on this”. “As soon as this semester ends, I’ll be less stressed”. “As soon as my kids are grown and out of the house, I can focus on me”. “It’s just tricky over summer because of all the barbecues. I’ll get back on-track in the fall”. “Well, this is football season, and I love me a good tailgate, so we’ll get started in February”. “It’s just tricky in the spring because of Easter, and Valentine’s Day, and the birds are chirping and love is in the air, which makes me want to eat like shit and lay on my fat ass endlessly”.
If you’ve been in this game long enough—the iron game, that is—you have likely heard all of the above at some point (though people aren’t usually quite as honest with themselves as the last one would indicate). One thing is incredibly obvious: it is never the right time to “tackle fitness”, for lack of a stupider cliché. Life will always get in the way, making it difficult to focus on and commit to achieving one’s fitness goals, be that dieting for a competition, or just looking better on a daily basis.
Why is it “never the right time”? Well, because it is always going to be difficult to eat boring food and exercise like a maniac, in large part because doing so clashes with other things that are fun—spending time with friends, eating like a “normal” person (because the food tastes good, or because you are hungry, or because you are celebrating, rather than “because it’s written down on my sheet by my trainer”). Achieving anything lofty, requires a large degree of inconvenience and difficulty, and life is never going to set aside the time to make it automatic. Sucks, but that’s just how this universe rolls. Get in line to write It an angry letter. Bitch about gravity, too, while you’re at it.
I particularly enjoy dieting over the winter months because, at least in my mind, dieting at this time of year represents the Dividing Line—the line that separates the truly serious from the almost-serious, the men from the boys, the crazy bastards who are single-minded from the also-rans who want to have their cake and eat it, too. Not that there is ever a time when dieting is fun and easy. But dieting over the holidays is just a little more difficult than any other time of year. And thus, when successful, it is that much more gratifying.
So here I stand, 14 weeks out from my first show of the season next spring. Snow is lining the ground outside, with the sun shining down, and it looks like a perfect day to curl up on the coach, drink some hot chocolate, and hibernate like a bear. All of my natural in-built evolutionary programming is telling me to eat more, to hoard calories and stuff my belly when there is food around. My psyche is telling me that it’s dark and potentially depressing outside, and that I can overcome that depression with a big fat burger from Wendy’s. My adipose tissue is shrinking, as is my calorie intake, and with that, cold becomes a more tangible thing—I am no longer the offseason blast-furnace I am used to being. At night, my fingertips and toes get frigid, and I wear sweats and hoodies around the house.
Yet I drag my ass out the door for another session on the stepper. Sweating in the summer months can be gross enough, but drenching yourself on the stairs with perspiration, when you can see your breath outdoors and the steam rising off of your head during a heavy set of squats, makes it even less comfortable.
But this is the Dividing Line. These next few weeks will prove, amongst my clients prepping for spring shows, who is really serious—who is willing to suffer, be militant, forego social comfort and belly-bursting winter treats—for the sake of that momentary glory on the stage.
Fourteen weeks out. That means that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be 12.5 weeks out. Off to the stepper. Off to the squat rack. No cheat meal. No eggnog. Perhaps a work Christmas party, where I get to watch everybody else eat, drink, and mingle—while microwaving my chicken and rice, and dousing it with yellow mustard.
Fourteen weeks out. That means that New Year’s Eve is 11.5 weeks out. Off to the stepper. Off to the bench press. No cheat meal. No champagne at midnight, holding my wife, staring into her eyes while I kiss her and recount the victories on the year. Yes, we will celebrate and recount those victories—sometime in April, when our shows are done. And hopefully, the shows themselves will represent the final cap on the victories of 2013, albeit a few months belated.
Fourteen weeks out. That means that February 1st will be 7 weeks out, the final grind, when the world is at its most arctic and dead, when days are short and nights are long and everybody else is hiding and waiting for the first burst of green life to shine through the earthen ground. And when that life finally shines through, I will still be killing myself on the stepper.
Fourteen weeks out. That means that Valentine’s Day falls one day prior to 5 weeks out, this year, on a Friday. I could get Nikki and myself a beautiful romantic cottage for the weekend, with perhaps a Chicago deep-dish pizza airmailed in for good measure. But the stepper calls, as does the deadlift platform. No wasted energy on romance at that time—just tanning, and lifting, and cardio, and timing meals, and prepping meals, and practicing posing, and practicing routines, and developing routines for other competitors, and pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing. Our romance will be couples’ cardio on the stairs, and knowing that we each married a similar badass who was willing to tread the Dividing Line.
It’s never convenient. Life is never convenient. Some of us live it, some of us don’t; some of us push harder, some of us cave. Right now, when all the other animals of the planet are smart enough to hide and regroup, we are mounting the charge of our lives, barreling over the Dividing Line, to see what we can accomplish. Care to join us?
-David A. Johnston