Written By: David Whitfield
Balance. The word itself brings to mind a myriad of mental imagery. The scales of justice. A tightrope act in a circus. A field sobriety test. For the typical individual browsing this site, we can properly assume that the term will lead to thoughts related to athleticism and fitness. For some, proprioceptive stimulation and stability. For myself however, it means something entirely different.
Long gone are my days as a bachelor. I’ve been married nearly four and a half years and suddenly find myself as father to two beautiful children. I say “suddenly” because as soon as I accepted the helm of these responsibilities, time seemed to speed up to an impossibly fast rate. Entire weeks seem to pass in the same relative time that single days did as a younger man. Despite this, I have found means to increase my productivity in the same amount of time. I haven’t done this out of some strange fetish for synergy, despite whatever you may hear about me. I’ve basically been forced to adapt to the new circumstances around me while still finding time to pursue my goals.
As I sit here writing this article, my three year old is running around vying for my attention. Every thirty seconds or so he bumbles out of the nursery and whispers to me that he’ll make sure to be quiet so daddy can work. I try to remind myself that he is only three, after all. Allowing myself to react angrily will only teach him improper responses and reduce me somewhere towards his end of the maturity spectrum. I have had a difficult work day. I am an operations manager in the flooring business and my store has a number of property management companies whom we service. High volume, low profit margin, high stress and pressure. These accounts are my responsibilities. So far today I had to deal with accusations of subcontractor theft, a delicate situation in which a large client seemed to be making false statements to get something for free, and preparing to represent my company in a small claims case tomorrow. Despite this, I will be up at 4:15 AM to train.
I have been lifting weights in some capacity since I was a teenager, I finally became dedicated and consistent about eleven years ago. Throughout that time there have been ups and downs. I never had any one clear goal other than staying physically active, though I always loved strength training. After marriage, I decided to go all in on powerlifting. I didn’t know much at the time about periodization, manners of progression or even the proper amount of volume for most lifters to make safe and sustainable progress. If you had asked me who Prilepin was I probably would have assumed it was some kind of indie band.
I began competing earlier this year after hiring a coach. The experience has given me a chance to grow as an athlete in a fairly simple sport. The more I do it, the more I love it. However, if you had asked me even four years ago if I were willing to train before the sun had come up I would have laughed at you. No way. What in the world could be so important that I would have to give up my three hour afternoon training sessions, five days a week? Then I blinked my eyes and I had a consuming career and a family.
I made a personal decision when our firstborn was about nine months old that I needed to make myself available to help my wife with him when I got off work. My wife also trains so I had to take that into consideration as well. Beyond that, we both like occasional contact with other human beings. As salaried management, I never knew if I would be off at four or seven in the evening. This made things difficult.
After a few missed training sessions and subsequent pity parties, I decided I needed to make a change. In order to preserve my own sanity, I had to find a way to ensure I could train without interrupting my priorities. I know, not very “hardcore”…. but let’s face it, I’m never going to be Ed Coan and on my deathbed I’m going to be much more regretful for missed time with my family than I will about that extra 50 pounds on my total I missed out on.
The key elements for myself in establishing a healthy balance were to first reflect on what my priorities really are. I established that number one would always be my family. I don’t say this to be sanctimonious and I realize that some readers may not have a family, either by birth or marriage and children. Don’t feel bad, it’s definitely not for everybody. Now is the time to chase your dreams. You can focus as much as you want on yourself without hurting anybody else. I failed to realize this fact when I was single and childless.
The second step was to look at my entire life the same way I look at running a business…or my own training. I had to ask myself some illuminating questions. What am I doing that is essential? What am I doing that is a waste of time? What am I doing that is halting my growth? Some of the fat to be trimmed included Netflix binge watching, spending 2 hours a day trying to be witty on Facebook, and laying on the couch exhausted but not going to bed for whatever reason when I could be recovering. The items that I deemed “essential” were in order: Family Time, Career, Training.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that an inability to train is not on par with losing a good career or my family. At one point I had a simultaneous hip sprain and shoulder labrum repair that left me unable to do anything beyond LISS cardio for 4-6 months. It was miserable and I fit into a C cup by the end of it, but I survived. My preference though, is to not experience the emptiness I felt during that time ever again.
The final step was to commit to making these changes and to follow through. I figured out very basic meal plans that fit around my training and work schedule that took 10-15 minutes at most to prep every night. I began training early morning, which required me to overcome some Circadian rhythm issues. I restructured my training so that I was training in a submaximal style with autoregulation mechanisms to prevent injury and leave wiggle room for “bad mornings”. This also allowed me to train the squat and the bench press safely without having an experienced spotter nearby.
Overall, it was not a difficult transition after only two to three weeks. In fact, I found myself enjoying the less crowded gym. I found myself training harder and being less wasteful with my time between sets when I had a looming deadline on the horizon to be at work. My CNS began to adjust to the shift and I was soon as strong in the mornings as I was in the evenings. One major benefit was simply having training out of the way for the day. I would no longer have to stress about getting through rush hour traffic to possibly wait half an hour for a power rack that someone is using to do shrugs. Also, I found myself making more “judicious” choices on my accessories when I didn’t have a large audience to feed my ego.
The biggest benefit though, is the intangible. The extra time I have to spend with my loved ones. I am not a professional athlete. Powerlifting is essentially an amateur sport and not a lot of people are making a living from it… whether it be by coaching, sponsorship or merchandise. There just isn’t any money in it. If Supplement Company X were handing out $300k annual salaries for their athletes, RUM had a payout tier topping at $100k for best overall lifter, and Dan Green started showing up on Wheaties boxes… I might sing a different tune. For now however, the right choice for me is to treat my hobby exactly as such. This is due simply to my personal value system. If yours is different, that is fine. Everyone has a different life situation and worldview. Many would argue that balance breeds mediocrity and they may be correct… however, I’ll play things safe and focus my energies into the people that will love me unconditionally.