The Whole

I never thought I would admit that friends and relationships are important. I was not that guy. I was always the "Fuck you" guy.


Recently I learned to see and say differently. It will affect what I do and how I prepare for it. 


I've written often that we are who we were (with additional, accumulated influence) and that changing ourselves for the better begins with honest evaluation of who we were, who we are now, and who we might realistically become. This is an issue of sensitivity, personal confrontation and honesty. It has nothing to do with lifting weight. Or climbing. Or riding. That's just a consequence. Physical effort and disciplined preparation is the the result of an emotional or psychological realization, and a decision. Without an emotional foundation the physical experience is empty. 


The mind is bound to muscle - from initiating activation to assimilating the result. So we must embrace and analyze all input that might influence the outcome. We should consciously examine potential influences to learn how they might affect physical expression. A shitty day at work might boost training intensity but both the result and its cause are unsustainable. Manage it. 


Managing it on your own is one thing. Accepting the assistance and support of others is a different thing entirely. The latter is more powerful whether we want to believe it or not. 


Alone we are less. I wouldn't have said that once. I thought the opposite. And lived it. Equipe Solitaire. I defined myself with it. I was the team of one. I climbed by myself a lot. I only climbed with a partner when I was too scared to go alone. Or I wan't good enough. That didn't happen often. On my own I alone was responsible for success and failure. At least I thought so. I disregarded the environment that allowed my solo pursuits. I didn't acknowledge the support I received from the friends or competitors around me. In fact, I consciously rejected them.


I insisted on climbing and training by myself. That isolation set a limit to what I could do and where I could go. Eventually I realized I was stagnating. As I climber I was dead. Life offered an alternative. It always does. We have only to be sensitive enough to recognize and seize the chance. I would never have fulfilled my potential as a climber without Scott Backes' partnership. Hell, I wouldn't be the man I am or married to Lisa without his influence and care. 


The climbing partnership and profound friendship I have with Scott helped me understand that environment and social influence can make or break us as human beings. More often than not we cannot control this but recognizing the power of our social environment goes a long way toward the ability to change it. 


Recently I have reconnected with some friends who were part of my life as a climber. Some of these friendships were simple and easy while others were troubled. Years of perspective - and wisdom - allowed me to realize how important these friends were to my growth as a climber, and a man. Whether true friends, mere acquaintances or actual adversaries, these people formed an environment that forced or allowed me to evolve. 


Social connections and their influence aren't necessarily obvious. Fostering the conditions within which strong bonds might flourish and improve your own life is important. Being open to new or renewed connections is essential. You don't know how much time you have, or anyone else has so seize opportunity now. We never know how a friend's influence might change us for the better or our friendship might help them. It might be a spoken word, a stand taken, a rope held, a lead-out in the final sprint, a smile shared in the pit, a motivating backslap, or reassuring handshake; in some way a true friend makes or allows you to become a better person. 


Although it took years to recognize and accept it, my life in the mountains, the gym project, and various training jobs taught me the value and importance of friendship. It manifests in everyday life, of course, therefore in the gym and in our professional relationships. 


I'm working with a guy. What we had done the previous days meant Friday was a Deadlift session. He'd had a long week. He was tired. When he came in and saw the barbell set up he immediately began talking about how he didn't want to go for a PR, that he wasn't mentally ready to deal with missing his previous best lift so didn't want to risk it. I said, "Don't worry. We will work up to about 85% then do a few singles at 90% and call it good."


We started warming up. I could see his body had more than his mind wanted to admit. I started mixing the plates so he wouldn't know what was on the bar. When I told him, "This is the working weight for the 6x1 singles", ego took over and he ripped off all six reps in a single set. I knew then he could surpass his previous PR. But I joked. I cajoled. I tricked and made light of the working weight and told him if he could bang out 6x then we should poke around with a bit more weight. 


I assured him he could lift more and if we weren't friends - if he didn't trust me - those words wouldn't carry any weight. But we are and he does so we kept going up. I changed the plates enough to keep him from doing the math. By the time I called a halt to the day he had pulled 15# more than his all-time PR and jumped 25# from his best of three weeks ago. It was a good day.


If I didn't care for him I'd have let him slide. If I had let him limit himself he'd have done so. But a friend is someone who helps you become a better person. I expressed my friendship by helping him to do more, and become more. 


If anything, this is the lesson I teach and learn when I coach: who cares wins. And I care for my friends.

Mark Twight
Mark Twight