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It Was the Worst and Best Workout I Ever Had

The worst workout I ever had was also the best. If that makes no sense to you, let me explain. It was a couple of years ago when I had a leg session with my personal trainer. Leg day is invariably my least favorite day, and if I go hard, my legs will inevitably be sore the next few days. Anyway, my trainer was beckoning me to get started, and there was no turning back.

Recently, I had only been meeting with my trainer once every three weeks, and the rest of the time I would train solo. It so happened that I had been doing a lot of German volume training of late, and I liked it. So, that morning, as I was warming up at my trainer’s gym, I foolishly mentioned my recent GVT bent, and his eyes lit up. He immediately got the bright idea to have me do GVT squats. Squats, mind you, were the one exercise that I hadn’t done by GVT because I hated squats, and doing ten sets of ten reps was highly unappealing at best.

The thing is, I wasn’t about to let my trainer get the idea that I was too chicken to do it. Call it my ego, and it was, but I agreed to his challenge. The thing about GVT is that it doesn’t require heavy weight. Doing ten sets of ten reps calls for moderate weight, which typically feels light for the first five sets or so. But the volume slowly builds the intensity of each rep, and the last two or three sets feel a lot more punishing. That said, this wasn’t bench presses or lat pulldowns; it was squats, and I had underestimated what I got myself into.

Furthermore, my rest time between sets was a mere forty-five seconds. My trainer, enthusiastic as always, wielded a big, black stopwatch to make sure I didn’t go one millisecond over either. The first four sets or so were tolerable enough, but it started getting uncomfortable around the fifth set. I believe in embracing discomfort, but honestly, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, God, I’m only halfway done!

My trainer still wasn’t having any mercy when it came to rest time, and by the end of the seventh set, I was struggling. The reps were much slower than in the beginning, and each one hurt. I was grunting involuntarily. It wasn’t just the muscle contractions that were hard. My heart rate was way up, and all of my rest time was spent just trying to catch my breath. He sensed that something had to give and finally added fifteen seconds to my rest time. Sixty seconds between sets still wasn’t much, but it was a hell of a lot better than forty-five.

The eighth set onward is when it officially became my best workout ever. It was terrible, and that’s precisely why. I was a sweating, exhausted mess, but I had thirty more reps to complete, and I was hell-bent on doing it. Sheer willpower took over. My legs seemingly had nothing left to give, but they somehow did what I ordered them to do. I had to pause between each and every rep, but I never put the bar back on the rack during a set. That’s when I learned that it’s not the muscles that give up; it’s the mind. I made it to eighty reps. The next set was even more excruciating, but I made it to ninety reps anyway.

Once I reached the tenth set, I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to overcome the struggle. I don’t recall how many minutes those last ten reps took, but they were some really long minutes. I squeezed out my hundredth rep, surely with poor form, but it wasn’t about perfect form or a perfect rep at that point. I collapsed onto the floor in pain and savored the victory.

For the next week, my legs ached. I haven’t done GVT squats since, but if only for that one time, I just had to know that I’m capable. That’s the only thing that kept me pushing through those last sets. I wouldn’t lie and claim to like discomfort, but I embrace it because getting uncomfortable is the only way to discover what’s possible.

Sayonara until next time.

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