Breaking Through the Blockade

At a church we used to attend, a well-meaning fellow often led children's sermons during the regular service. Paying no mind to the fact that young children are incapable of following metaphors, he'd grab an object, any object, and wring out all the symbolism it could spare, and more:

"This flashlight Jesus! Jesus shines a light into the darkness. The batteries I mean, our daily Bible reading. (Children begin looking about, waving to parents.) Reading our Bibles daily gives us the power to shine Jesus into the dark. But you have to hit the ON switch, right? (A little girl stands, and holds up her dress.) Switching the flashlight ON is like..anybody know? (little girl showing panties, into microphone: "I have a Barbie purse.") Hey, that's great. Does it have sequins? That would shine a light, too, huh? So the switch is...the Holy Spirit. And God is holding the flashlight, like how you hold your Barbie purse! The flashlight represents us. We're flashlights in the hand of God. Yeah."

At the risk of sounding like that guy, I can't help but draw some more connections between weightlifting and life. All I ever really needed to know I learned on the bench, and this blog is the place to flesh some of that out.

Once again I turn to the phenomenon I've noticed in this field of choosing new, and usually opposite, definitions for time-tested words. It's as if muscular people don't read; like they hold books only to show off their biceps. Like the gym is a cave where, in gutteral utterings, language is reinvented.

Today's word is "block," and it's a good thing for weightlifters, bad for writers (it's a neutral term in theatre, which happens to be my other field of study). For me, both a writer and a weightlifter, the block became a breakthrough. Like a light shining in the darkness.

Frederic Delavier in Strength Training Anatomy describes how to create a block before deadlifting:

"Expanding the chest and holding a deep breath fills the lungs, which supports the rib cage and prevents the chest from collapsing forward. Contracting the abdominal muscle group supports the core and increases the intra-abdominal pressure, which prevents the torso from collapsing forward. Finally, arching the low back by contracting the lumbar muscles positions the spinal column in extension."

In other words, blocking calls for all the parts of your body to band together, compress, and act as a unit, thereby protecting them and supporting the stronger parts through a tough task.

I'd been doing things a bit backward, which isn't surprising. I'm somewhat absent-minded in my approach to life--diligent, but flighty. For example, I'll brush my teeth faithfully three times a day, all the while regularly ignoring certain bicuspids entirely and finding myself honestly surprised when they turn out to be cavity-ridden.

During certain exercises, like dumbbell bent-over rows, you need to be sure you're emphasizing the muscles the exercise intends to work. These rows primarily work your back, but biceps are in use, too; it's easy to allow them to do the majority of the lifting and cheat your back out of a good workout.

Prior to my blocking breakthrough, I did a decent job of emphasizing the right muscles. But once I moved to the higher weights, this tactic taken to the extreme simply led to injury.

It's one thing to row with a 20lb dumbbell and try to ignore your biceps; it's another to pick up 35 and do that. With the heavier weights, a block of some sort is necessary. I could do a lot more blocking on the bench, too--I'm lucky to have gotten as far as I have with my present tactic of lowering the bar and just hoping something good happens. On those days when I've puffed up my chest, pinned my shoulder blades and planted my feet, BAM! The blockade breakthrough.

Another way to think about blocking, for me, is to throw your full self into an exercise. Use enough weight to make sure you're working hard, then do exactly that. (Maybe grunt and invent some new definitions while you're at it.) Lately, I'm leaning more toward compound exercises that allow me to activate groups of muscles, like reverse wood chops and this standing pull-down thing I did yesterday at 140lbs that stops just short of kicking my butt. Future plans include pushing a car and axing a tire. It's fun to get all the muscles into play.

And life? I don't apply the block as you might think, not as a protective device against emotional distress. I think of it as a reminder to throw my full self into whatever I'm doing at the time--hanging out with the kids, meeting with someone, working one of my various jobs. It's why I just kicked Theo out of the room with a promise that once I'm finished writing, he'll have my full attention. What some people call being fully "present"; the opposite, perhaps, of multitasking, but also of going through life distracted. Often I just want to turn on one part of my brain and allow the rest of me to remain detached, but I don't know that that's always healthy; the detached part tends to suffer.

Approach life with all guns cocked and loaded, so to speak. Because a gun is like a flashlight, shooting light through the blocked parts of our lives. Just like...Jesus.


  1. Some metaphors are beyond the younger set. Still, I've always thought that studying the Bible since before I was old enough to understand has been a good thing for me in literate (plenty else, but this is the one I want to mention now). Lots of classics allude to the Bible, for one thing. For another, I think all those parables and applying stories to our own lives helped me in the allegory/metaphor/symbol department.

  2. I believe you. I'm referring here to the psychological studies--which of course I can't recall nor come up with any terms--of when children develop this kind of thinking. They're simply not capable of making those connections until a certain age. Heck, some people never learn to think beyond the literal, do they? I always think it's funny that Jesus has to explain his parables when he's done--like he's faced with all these blank looks and he's like, Okay people, here's what I really meant to say.

    Maybe if he had had a flashlight...


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