As a child, I would play a game where I would hold my breath under water as long as I possibly could. I would make one of my parents stand by and agonizingly count the seconds, shooting for twenty, then thirty, then forty, then fifty seconds, then a full minute. They were always impressed when I beat my previous best. More importantly, I was impressed.
I can vividly remember what it felt like when I was under water, holding my breath. I have tried repeating this contest in recent years and found it to be a miserable experience. It burns; it hurts; it feels like you might pass out. When we went to Pittsburgh this past spring I drove through several long tunnels, and I held my breath from one end to the next, just to see if I could do it. I had to speed up in order to make it—but I made it.
After much contemplation and soul searching, I have decided I will not compete again until spring and summer of 2012, because that’s how much time it will take to make the necessary improvements to my physique. I’m looking at about ninety weeks.
Ninety weeks. It sounds like forever. It sounds like holding my breath for an eternity. I can imagine my lungs burning over the next ninety weeks and wanting to explode from the pressure. Of course, I can come up for air whenever I want—take a break, loosen my focus, be a little saner. But doing so will reset the timer back to zero, and all records will have to be set again from scratch. I have a vision of a little kid fighting, staring up through the water, watching the clock, knowing there is an end, eventually.
Every year, I have gotten better at holding my breath, at taking the slow and conscious strides towards refinement, betterment, success. Every year, I have learned to endure the burning sensation a little bit longer, to fight it, to ignore it and not heed its call.
Learning to endure that burn, that sensation of explosion, like lactic acid building up in one’s bloodstream, in one’s veins, is all about conditioning, about practice, about setting a goal and surpassing it to simply move on to the next goal. It is about will and decision. It is like having fire and ice running through one’s body, sensations, as opposed to the numbness of resignation. It is painful. It is exhausting. It is wonderful.
I have learned to be hungry, and to enjoy hunger. Hunger allows a true appreciation for what it is to be full, sated, and satisfied. I’m talking true physical hunger, not some metaphorical craving for betterment. True physical hunger is an unknown sensation for most Americans. It is an acquired taste—at first painful, but slowly accepted, a background sensation telling you to keep moving, to not sleep, to keep your muscles tensed and flexed and your teeth clenched down. How long you can endure that hunger is akin to how long you can hold your breath—a challenge, a test of will and endurance, fighting one’s instinctual inclinations and overriding the circuitry of the human body.
We all know that food and air are basic conditions for survival—but how much do you need? Can you get by on less? Can you condition yourself to run optimally in less-than-optimal circumstances? Can you withstand the fire and ice that will flood your body when deprived of simple comforts?
That burn is akin to the feeling of holding onto a weight when your grip begins to give out—when you can feel it slipping out of your hands, out of your fingers, but it hasn’t yet fully slipped; and you know if you squeeze just a little harder, you can hold onto the bar for just a little longer; but it hurts, so you want to stop; but you want to advance, so you continue to squeeze; and you feel yourself being pulled in different directions, how long can you ignore the sensation, how long can you fight the fire and ice in your fingers and hands and forearms, versus how badly you want to get to number ten, to complete your set and get all of your repetitions. Pay attention to the feeling. See if you fight it, or if you embrace it. See if there is a way to squeeze harder, and what would make you want to squeeze harder’
Ninety weeks sounds like an eternity to hold one’s breath. It also sounds like just enough time to change everything.
-David A. Johnston
David Johnston is the founder and lead trainer of TEAM Warrior Within. You can also listen to him weekely on the GEARD Up podcast. ( GEARDUp.com ) David works with clients ranging from the everyday person just trying to lose weight and get healthy, local and national bodybuilding and physique competitors, to IFBB professional athletes.
David lives and breathes all things related to physique transformation, and has devoted nearly half of his life to passionately studying and educating himself to be the absolute best at what he does. His intensity in the gym is matched only by the passion he gives to his clients.