A previous coach told me in my previous off season: “Don’t write down your workouts prior to doing them. You may feel differently or need a different approach when the day and time comes to hit the weights and complete the exercises.”
I agree…and I disagree, of course. I spent all of last year not writing down my workouts prior to going into the gym. This isn’t a newfangled approach. I have utilized gut instinct and a daily dose of “what do I need right and right now for my physique in the tomorrow land?”. But I feel there comes a point when writing down a workout prior to stepping into the gym effaces a bit of anxiety that can creep up during the beginning stages of off season.
There are phases I go through after completing my show season:
I don’t have a ton of help this off season like I did last off season. Well, like I did to start off the first few months of last off season because there a came a point when that assistance dwindled off, and I was on my own for 80% of my workouts and choices. Which is fine. I am an independent girl and have coached myself through plenty of off seasons and preps and done a dandy job.
But I know I most adhere to a particular train of thought in order for this off season to be successful and have it to lead to a more auspicious start to my competition prep in 2018 than what occurred for my Alaska prep in 2017. This quote from Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind leads us into my thought process quite well: “. . . dawn was a small beginning compared to the ending of a season: the ending of a year.”
Human beings love beginnings. New ones (as if there are old beginnings, though I suppose when you recycle an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, that is an old beginning and one I don’t recommend). But we don’t appreciate endings. We are saddened by them. Or we are anxious to say good riddance to something and end it once and for all, but for the sake of having a new beginning. I have tried hard since 2014 to appreciate my achievements in the moment. To string out the experience like Christmas lights along the long base of a rooftop. To marinate in the award of completing something successfully—even with the stumbles, pitfalls, mistakes. I practiced this heartily at the 2014 WPC Powerlifting World Championships. I hit 8 out of 9 of my lifts, earned the bronze medal for the United States, and set a world record in a class that had no world records set prior. Typically, in years past, I would have drowned in the mistakes and not appreciated the entire experience as a whole.
I have strived to experience my experiences more wholeheartedly ever since then. As a result, it has allowed me to understand and accept an ending of one phase as an important precursor to the beginning of another phase. Think about this in terms of relationships. If you never truly deal with both the good and the bad of the previous relationship and understand the importance of the ending, you cannot successfully begin a new and healthy relationship…healthy being the key word.
I think this happens in the fitness and athletic worlds—with powerlifting, strongman, karate, track-and-field, bodybuilding, etc. And I think it is worse in the arenas that an athlete competes independently of others, in other words, not on a true team where all members of the team are doing an athletic venture together in the moment to reach a common goal. We finish a competition, and then we either find grievous faults or we don’t know how to appreciate the goal earned without the interference of the next goal breathing down the past goal’s neck. So we never celebrate the ending. And sometimes…sometimes, the ending is more important than the beginning.
I am still ecstatic and proud of my ending to the 2017 competition season. I became a Phoenix bird as I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, and earned my fifth-place finish at the 2017 IFBB Arizona Pro. But I also re-lived, re-examined, re-inspected the Alaska prep and end result. By doing that, I came to terms with the mistakes made (by myself and others involved) and set them in a pile labeled, “Learn from this!” I had emotional, mental, and physical things to learn, but if I had chosen to turtle myself and hide from my 16-week experience leading into Alaska, I would never have risen to a level of personal pride and success for Arizona.
The ending of a chapter is necessary for the beginning of the next chapter. The ending of a season is necessary for the beginning of the next season. The ending of a relationship is necessary for the beginning of the next relationship. Don’t abuse your endings or hide them under your bed. Keep them in plain sight, for they create your might.
Did you know I go to a therapist? Right here; right now. I do. Not many in the fitness industry probably admit to this. How many even do it? I’ve been in therapy most of my life. I sometimes take breaks...months, even years. But I think it is healthy to admit you need a professional ear to hear you and a professional mind to help you find you. I am often one who helps lead my posing, training, and competition clients into the waters of introspection. But then I am left wondering who is there to help me. When do I get to be weak? To whom do I cry? To whom do I admit defeat, despair? Who helps me to detangle? I try to shoulder the responsibility of it for as long as I can. Like hanging onto a rope that becomes weathered, torn, threadbare from the weight of my heart. And just when the rope threatens to break, I reach out. And that is what my therapist is for.
I see rest and recovery from the gym as a type of therapy. When the body feels threadbare and ready to break, we must listen. I’ve talked about this a ton on my social media, how silly and stupid I think the “no days off” attitude is. You can certainly train until you die. And then you will die. A slow death. On the inside. The inside of your heart. Your valves. Your arteries. They will shut down. Collapse. Blood will not pump. Neurons will not spark. The fire will not be lit. You will become cold. Going through the motions until you become one of those people who drives by the gym and says, “Hey, I used to go there,” and who stands in line at the grocery store, talking to a bodybuilder, saying “I used to be like you back in the day.” All because you had to do it your way, with no breaks, no intermission, no off season.
I am in the midst of my yearly week off from the gym. Not a deload. A true week off. Some of these days I am doing nothing more strenuous than picking up Roxi and some socks off the ground. Some of these days I am doing stretching classes and yoga and recovery therapy like hydromassage and cryotherapy.
I haven’t died. I haven’t gotten fat. I haven’t grown a third horn. I haven’t forgotten how to squat. I haven’t lost my love for the gym. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m excited about Monday when I get to train legs with Jason again. I’m excited about what I get to do with my body at the age of 45. I’m excited (and slightly scared) about discovering how well I’ll balance school, gym, and work like the old days when I began lifting. It’s so weird, like I’m coming full circle. I wonder what this means for this next year. I wonder what I should do New Year’s Eve to set the tone for 2018.
And that begs the question: what will you do to set your tone for your 2018?
This hasn’t been the easiest year. But it also hasn’t been the toughest. Each year that continues in my life, I see no matter the up, a down will come up. But more importantly, I witness that no matter the down, I always come up. Up for air. Up to new heights. Up and away.
I am 45 today. Cray…as they say. I don’t feel it. I’m told I don’t look it. I’m pretty sure my mother would agree with me that I don’t act it. We aren't guaranteed anything in this life except to have choices. I’ve been mulling over a speech I’ll present this weekend at the FitOps camp in Waxahachie, and that theme of humans always having choices seems to prevail in my mind as the focal point.
Look at yourself. Do you have tattoos? Do you color your hair? Do you put your keys onto the same hook every day? Do you buy an extra pair of tennis shoes when you already have 20 and really need to pay the electric bill instead? Do you lease your car or own it outright? Do you take the highway or stay on the frontage road? Do you fly through a yellow light and proclaim it’s orange when it turns red while your car is in the intersection? Do you take your phone into bed with you each night, or do you read a book? Do you go on a second date with that girl or guy? Do you take that step or stay in place? What do you do with your space each and every minute of each and every day?
I have this thing about New Year’s Eve, this idea and theory: however I spend New Year’s Eve is indicative of how I will spend the year…how the year will transpire, transgress, digress, progress. I spent this last New Year’s Eve alone, on my couch, Roxi snuggled beside me as I watched a movie without a single human being in sight. I wasn’t bothered by it. It was my choice. But what did bother me was knowing that because of my superstition, I was quite possibly sealing my fate for the year. It would be a tough one, and I would be alone for much of it. Notice I said, “alone.” Not “lonely.” There is a difference. The thing about being “alone” is that it has a clarity that “lonely” does not provide because “lonely” is shrouded in sadness and self pity. But “alone” opens a door for awareness.
It took a bout of watching people I thought were close friends of mine kind of disappear into their own worlds, their own lives, and either forget about me or become so immersed in their seemingly amazingness of living that they couldn’t step down and hold my hand—even ever so lightly—as I fought through a series of struggles. It took a bout of being surrounded by an atmosphere of judgment and negativity that felt strangely reminiscent of previous relationships I’ve endured and had learned to let go. It took a bout of me being fed up with feeling simultaneously like a stagnant pool of water as well as the person treading water in that pool, ripples being made but only because I was kicking my legs in one place and going nowhere fast. Getting sick at the beginning of my prep and counting on one hand the number of people who truly were there for me and offering to help me, listen to me, check on me daily brought a tough awareness into my life that I had forgotten about, lost sight of in the world of social media that makes you feel quite popular but isn’t reality. Placing last after working so hard and watching things go awry in the final hours when my gut had argued with me to not not not go off the plan that sat in my head brought an awareness of how much I need need need to listen to myself, but I can only do that if I quiet white noise and quarantine myself from dark judgment that some lay on others thickly like a peanut butter on a slice of bread.
I reached a point this year where I said I am done. Done. Done I say. I have a gift that I am squandering. I have something to give back to this world, but I need help and guidance to do it. It was time to take fear by the hand and lead it to the bleachers lining the gym dance floor, telling it, “You stay here awhile. I promise to come back and get you, but for now, I need to dance without regret. I need to jitterbug with hope. I need to sway with faith. I need to get close to risk, put my head on that dangerous bastard’s shoulder, feel the warmth of his body until a fire builds in my loins that I can no longer contain my excitement and I release ecstasy into the world.” When I write—when my fingers fly across the keyboard, when my self awareness stops fighting my stream of consciousness, when my words take flight—I feel a rush through my veins. My heart pounds against the walls of my chest like a fist against a locked door. My scalp tingles, my vision sharpens, my hairs rise, my muscles clench. I am wired.
I look back at New Year’s Eve and my decision to be alone, and I see now I had to do it. I had to reach solitude so I could clear out the back closet of my mind and the dusty boxes of my heart and discover an open space just begging for a new chapter.
In two months I will begin graduate school at the age of 45. In two years, I will be done and will walk away with an MFA in Writing. I will be in debt. But I would have a greater, bigger debt if I only played it safe and didn’t set aside my ego and pride in order to build a gift that needs shape, critique, revision from people who know more than I do about the craft of writing.
So this is my choice. I choose to step forward and stop treading water. Happy Birthday to me.
Jodi Leigh Miller is a Women's Physique IFBB Pro with experience in all divisions. She is a record-achieving power-lifter, posing specialist, certified trainer, life coach, and author. She holds an English degree from The University of Texas at Austin and is a certified educator. Jodi was recently accepted into the low-residency MFA in Writing program at Pacific University Oregon and begins January 2018. She is an experienced, knowledgeable, multifaceted phenom who shares her soul in this blog.