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Let Go, Lighten Up, Back Off Now or Never

Though we press toward the goal before us, it’s reassuring to know that we need not train mercilessly, that there are no records to set at every workout and that there is no hurry.

There’s the bench, and there are the dumbbells, and that’s a bar and this is a cable machine. That’s me in the mirror (hi), and the sound you hear (Eagles) in the background is rock and roll. Have straps, will lift. Got water?

Bombing and blasting is my favorite term for hard, devoted and sensible training, focused on the moment, the movement and the muscle engagement, the set, rep and pace. Smiles and laughter in little packages are good stuff, often energizing and a welcome relief. I suggest you leave politics and sports, sex and the job for another venue. The last thing a real lifter needs is cortisol-producing explosions to wreck his or her bombing and blasting.

Authentic muscleheads have a lot in common. None of us are cowards, nor do we capitulate easily, and we firmly trust our ready, willing and able natures. Health, strength and muscle are within our grasp. Though we press toward the goal before us, it’s reassuring to know that we need not train mercilessly, that there are no records to set at every workout and that there is no hurry.

This is a good day to savor the workout, live right and let life fall into place like a precise cog in a well-lubricated gearshift. That’s a wise and realistic approach to our training. Though we often replace wise and realistic with driven and intense—life has a way of injecting passion into our veins—taking the slow and steady way is often healthier, more enjoyable and more certain. How often have we looked at the steep mountain of iron before us and decided to take no way but the high way—or taken the high way and slipped off the slope and landed at the bottom on our bottom?

Consequences of either choice are real: guilt, lost workout and training synchronicity, overtraining, injury, displeasure and iron-pounding resentment.

Jeez, Lareez. Anticipation alone can be an exhausting burden and often starts the day before a crucial and towering workout. Of course the anticipation is also known as psyching up and is hardly a burden but an important performance asset. When the stress-loaded attribute rests on the back consistently and habitually, though, it can be a training killer.

It’s amazing how much work I accomplish on the gym floor and under the iron when I release my grip on the big stick behind my back and the frown on my forehead and allow myself to train willingly, agreeably, sensibly and, eventually, enthusiastically. Relax, Bomber.

“Lighten up” isn’t the typical encouragement a weightlifter receives from the gleeful sideline spectators or his robust training partner. Here’s where “bomb it” and “blast it” come in handy; one more rep, you can do this, and push, push, push. How often have we heard those cheering words in the shadows of strain and hoisted that last burning rep or that added plate on the end of the bar? Often enough.

Lighten up when appropriate. Be aware.

A younger man or woman than I who confronts the jingle-jangle jungle needs to be consistent, persistent and forbearing. Muscles are establishing, chemistry is adapting, disciplines are forming, information is collecting, and understanding is growing. Treasures are mounting.

Pressing on is a more significant part of the narrative, the process, the adventure. The “lighten up” principle is less necessary, less appealing, less recommended. It can smell of laziness and can lead to lost momentum and slowed progress, disappointment and guilt, depression… and drinking, drugs and suicide (just kidding).

The last thing a novice or intermediate weightlifter needs is a certified, valid principle to back off and lighten up when he gets the urge. Training intensity and integrity are easily compromised, courage goes untested, and commitment is softened. Beware, lest you yield prematurely. Be strong.

I’m a riot. I begin our friendly discourse applauding the love affair that is muscle building and weight training, the attributes we display and acquire as we engage in the activities, and go on to offer a brief respite from our noble struggles that we may enjoy their fragrance and flavor, their texture and grand feeling. Then I dare the unworthy lifter and warn the barely worthy bomber that such a delightful embrace might lead to disaster. I offer a crumb and quickly remove it before the unsure outstretched hand.

Touch the crumb and risk losing the whole loaf of bread…cookie, layer cake and apple pie.

I have the dubious advantage of perching on a century-old treetop and scanning the scenery below. My wings, though shedding an occasional feather, are established and familiar with the winds of time. I’m an old buzzard. I can glide and maintain my flight without the fight. I’m sore but can still soar. I bomb and blast and though not fast, I last. Not strong, I prolong. Not extraordinarily healthy, I’m un-ordinarily stealthy.

Are you confused yet? Me, too. To lighten up or not to lighten up, that is the question; back off or no. Let me think…lighten up when the woes of life are such that weightlifting is a question and not an answer; a problem and not a solution.

By golly, I think I’ve got it.

Should hoisting the bar become a dastardly deed and not a justice, reduce its bulk and don’t sulk. Have fun for a while. Smile. If the gym and its contents present a burdensome task, not a welcome diversion, make light the weights and play for the day. It’s okay. And never engage in a soul-weary slog when trimming the load makes it a life-saving mission. You have my permission.

Lighten up when you want to see where you are and know who you are. To lighten up after having heavied-down is to have earned a quick look or an extended visit. Take your time with your training when you have the time. Better yet, take time with your training when you don’t have the time. Grab the weights with both hands—and while you’re at it put your arms around them. Lift the cold steel with a strong tug and warm hug.

Sit on the bench, lean against the rack, adjust the plates on the bar, and lift when you lift. Notice the combining force of man and metal, the burn and the groove, the power and pump, the contraction and release, the beginning and the end, the breath in and breath out. Congratulations: You’ve lightened up. You’ve dared to notice what you are doing. You backed off, courageously and thoughtfully and confidently, to find the joy and purpose of training, working out, weightlifting, pressing on and moving the iron.

That’s enough for now, unless you can’t stop. Warning. That happens often when you let go…you hold on tight.

Bombs and wings, throttles and tail feathers and Godspeed. IM


Editor’s note: For more from Dave Draper, visit and sign up for his free newsletter. You can also check out his amazing Top Squat training tool, classic photos, workout Q&A and forum.

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