“Welcome to the suck.” From the book and movie Jarhead.
In the tiny spare bedroom of my first house sat a bench, some adjustable dumbbells, and a few bars. There weren’t many weight plates, because I didn’t need many back then. I hated walking past that room and hated going into it even more. Training, in the beginning, sucked. I wanted the results from it, but I hated the process of getting them.
The weights reminded me that I was weak, that I was soft, and that I’d let school and work destroy my health. I got winded quickly, everything hurt, and there was no joy or feeling of accomplishment, at least not right away. I was in the suck. Deep.
“The suck” is a phrase used by Marines that defines any situation where conditions are undesirable. While it’s nothing compared to being in a warzone, everyone has experienced the suck at one time or another. Setbacks, failures, divorce, getting canned, getting injured… all examples of the suck.
The newbie weight trainer knows all about the suck. The suck is physical and psychological. Your body fights back and your mind works against you. Every signpost tells you to stop and get back on the couch. The results aren’t visible yet; there’s no immediate reward. You’re waist deep in the suck, and not many people can crawl out of it.
My newbie suck ended one day when I saw the first inkling of a triceps muscle. By then the home gym had moved to the garage and I’d even had to buy some bigger plates. I looked over at my reflection in the back window of my Jeep and there it was – the first sign that all this suck was paying off.
But as you’ll remember, getting through the newbie suck is tough. Maybe you’ve quit a few times and had to have a do-over. But once you got some kickback from your hard work, the suck ended. And this is why, in all aspects of life, we have to learn to embrace the suck.
Love the Suck
Picture in your mind a car stuck in the mud. Your task is to get it unstuck. You find a good spot on the back to place your hands, take a deep breath, and heave. Blasted thing doesn’t move. Get a better angle on it, set your feet, dig in deep, and push. Push harder, fight the mud that’s sucking the car into the ground.
Finally, it moves. You’re on your way again. It feels good too. A problem has been solved. Effort has been applied and it’s paid off.
The lesson the suck teaches us is that we have the ability to escape it.
When your fat loss has stalled for weeks, you’re in the suck. You’re forced to try harder and learn new things. If you don’t stop in the middle of the suck, your reward is a set of visible abs.
Plateaus in strength practically redefine the meaning of suck. Strength plateaus can last for years for the advanced lifter. He’s forced to get smarter, get tougher, target and train his weak points, and get better. The payoff is a new PR and the knowledge that he’s stronger than 99% of the people that walk by him on the street.
Self-improvement, in any area of life, doesn’t begin with whining or blaming or feeling sorry for yourself. Those things only increase the suck. Real self-improvement has nothing to do with that coddling, wallowing-in-your-own-misery, cry-about-it-to-Oprah bullshit.
You don’t get out of the suck with self-pity. I’ve never seen a successful person escape the suck by being sad about it. No, they get angry, they refocus, and they fight. They flip the switch and turn on some good, old-fashioned testosterone-fueled anger – the kind that takes the blinders off and gets shit done.
Listen, you can fight the suck or you can post your attention-baiting little cry for help on your Facebook page. Maybe your emotionally stunted friends will all “like” it.
You don’t pull a deadlift PR without first getting pissed at that stubborn collection of iron. You don’t drop 50 pounds of fat without first looking in the mirror and confronting that porky guy staring back at you that couldn’t control himself.
Every reward, every achievement lies on the other side of the suck. You face the suck. You accept it. Then you start throwing elbows.