Muscle Strain & Witchcraft

The gym is an interesting, wholly judgmental kind of place. It's a place where people spend time getting dressed in overly expensive gym clothes, carrying around their overly expensive exercise gloves, wearing their overly expensive shoes that never actually touch dirt. To be fair here, I've been guilty of each sin, and I admit to it unashamedly.

Ok... Maybe a little shame.

That being said, there are a number of things you notice while you're at the gym. Lots of life lessons. You learn what shameless flirting looks like, as you see the gym bunnies, who never actually work out, following close by the tanned, chiseled trainers. You learn what narcissism looks like in the mirror and the sound of a back-handed compliment by the guys who seem to do nothing but compliment one another on their bodies. (A note: This sounds almost exactly like the women who go shopping together for jeans.)

One of the biggest takeaways from the gym, however, is a lesson in overcompensating.

It should be noted that I have no degree in kinesiology, nor do I have any experience as a personal trainer, but after going to the gym and reading up on healthy habits and such for a number of years you come to know a few things. Namely, you come to know the difference between someone who is working out for themselves, and someone who is working out for someone else. Por ejemplo:

Last night was Arm Day for me at the gym. Arguably, my arms are the weakest part of my body. I have long, thin arms that just don't seem to enjoy heavy weights. If I were being honest, though, I think the more correct statement is: My triceps are okay, and I hate working out my biceps. Hate it. Loathe it. Thus, without a trainer or gym buddy, my arm workouts are typically short and uneventful. I know how much weight I can lift. I know how much weight to increase. And I know when to cut my reps and sets down so that I get a good workout without hurting myself.

This last bit is sort of important, and it's the reason for today's post. Anybody that knows what they're doing at a gym will tell you that you can lift the heaviest weight out there, but, without proper technique, all you're doing is grunting and swinging your body around. 15 pounds isn't a heavy weight, unless you're doing a toning exercise properly. Then, that 15 pound weight very quickly feels like you're using a 35 pound, 50 pound, 8400 pound weight. When I first started going to the gym, I didn't really know this. I would grab a heavy weight - something that ended up being far too heavy once I learned better - and swing my back backwards, thrust my legs, engage every last little bit of muscle down to my toes...just to do 1 bicep curl.

Funny thing: there's a good reason my biceps are still weak. Proper bicep technique is pretty difficult to achieve and really hard to maintain for an entire workout. Because of this, my brain says "wouldn't sitting on the couch at home be more fun than this?"

So I'm standing there, doing a toning exercise with a gradually increasing weight of 15, 17.5, and 20 pound weights, when these two guys come up. You can tell instantly by their utter lack of proper gym attire (there is actually a difference between proper gym attire and regular clothes, the key is knowing the difference between proper gym attire and expensive, shiny crap) that they were pretty new to the gym. Their technique told me further that they weren't at the gym to work out for health or aesthetic. They were there to prove some kind of Cro-Magnon point: Grog lift heavier rock than Og. Or...something like that.

Reaching down for the heaviest set of weights on the rack - weights that make the big muscle guys strain and groan and put on a fabulous show of teeth clenching and Lamaze style breathing - they took turns trying to out do the other one. Instead of holding their backs straight, keeping their shoulders and upper arms square to the floor, they were nearly throwing the weights up in the air without much use of the bicep at all. Their backs were flinging their bodies back in this violent chaos of grunting.

Of course, there was much self-congratulating and pointing at the actual muscle guys - whose definition and size look diamond cut - who were doing reps at a much lower weight.

Possibly because I was listening to some pagan podcasts at the time, or possibly a bit of epiphany - likely a bit of both - I took this as a lesson. Undoubtedly, the two men who were putting on some kind of personal show at the gym were working their muscles. I don't think it's the muscles they intended to work, but they were working just the same. They were sweating. They were breathing heavy. But, I can almost guarantee that - if they continue on the method of exercise they're currently on - their biceps will not only never strengthen, but they might actually get more out of shape and possibly injur themselves.

The lesson here is two-fold.

The first lesson is a lesson of knowledge. Did these men know better? Did they know about technique or how to find the proper weight for the exercise in question? (I can lift a much heavier weight doing a shoulder shrug than doing a shoulder fly, for example.) Knowing some basics gets you a lot farther along to achieving the results you want than just diving head first into a situation and hoping for the best. Sure, sometimes you can muddle your way through until you become an expert - the old 'fake it 'til you make it' adage - but in a situation like exercise you can do real hurt to yourself. Those guys could very, very easily tear a muscle, slip a disc, cause nerve or spinal damage. At the very least, an uncontrolled movement with a free weight could lead to a drop and a consequential broken bone.

The second lesson is a lesson of purpose. Were the men there to exercise, or were they there to entertain themselves. I wager an educated guess that it was something of the latter with a polite nod to the former. Admittedly, this is just a guess, and it's one done at the judgmental expense of a stranger. They might very well have gone with every good intention of doing serious work and lacked the knowledge of the first lesson. They might believe, fully, that moving the heavier weight into the air produces a better result. Doubtful, but possible.

I find in our community that we could learn the same two lessons: knowledge and purpose. Do we truly want to know better, or do we enjoy our current state of being? Are we putting on the garb, adding the eccentric comments or accoutrements, or all around doing the stuff we're doing for ourselves or to prove some point to others? There are some well-respected folks out there, both MNPs and BNPs (middle and big name pagans, respectively), that suffer from either or both. I can honestly say I've swum in both pools at one time or another.

I guess I'll leave you with this: Who are you practicing your craft or walking your path for?

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte



  1. I walk for me. I am mainly a solitary practitioner (99.9%) of the time. I long to walk with someone so I can share all the neat and amazing things I've discovered. I like to share! Husband will listen but I get NO feedback what so ever! I want a fellow practitioner that I can say "Guess what?!?" and they would get and understand my excitement. But I don't learn just so I can share I learn so that I can better my craft and my way of life. I learn for me and I find that having a sound board (read fellow pagan practitioner) helps me get my thoughts on a subject more solidified. Perhaps for te exact same reason you and Velma do a duo podcast. Talking to yourself is only fun for so long.

  2. I, too, have seen both at the gym and the craft too and probably have done both too. I think time and experience changes both and thank heavens one can't really die of embarrassment thinking back on stuff we have done and can only groan and think - I can't believe I behaved like that and then put it down to lack of maturity. I think at the beginning of discovering the pagan path (in all its forms and whatever branch) it is both, yes, it is something that touches your heart but there is a bit of 'lookit what I am'. My spiritual path is quite private but my public Witchy side is for entertainment for all and thank heavens I am old enough now to know which is which - LOL.
    Hugs and sparkles - WG


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