One of my favorite non-gym activities in the late summer is blackberry picking. Around where I grew up in Southern Oregon, blackberry bushes grow vigorously and abundantly near any creek or river...they can even be unwieldy if not tamed each year! What I love most about picking berries is it's free, it's rewarding (when you bring home buckets of berries usually worth $14/lb in the freezer aisle) and it gets you connected with the outdoors!
Also, it usually keeps me occupied if Nate wants to go fishing at the river nearby. Even if he doesn't catch anything, we still bring home some loot.
So why does blackberry picking have anything to do with barbells or weightlifting?
While I was searching long and hard around the river for blackberry bushes the other day, it occurred to me that the pursuit of mature fruit and the pursuit of a good lift have a lot of similarities.
Please enjoy my bit of humor. I was debating what to write about for my first blog posts back in awhile and thought this would be a fun way to get back in:
How Weightlifting and Blackberry Picking Relate to Each Other:
1. You Gotta Have The Right Environment
Location, coaching, community. Simply putting yourself in a place of abundant resources will give you a better chance to collect the fruit and make better lifts. While you can certainly lift on your own at a globo gym, it helps to have the right environment to help you succeed. It's the same with picking blackberries: filling your buckets with berries will go much easier if the bushes have several ripe berries as opposed to just a few.
Lifting in your own garage is like having your same secret spot near the river you go to year after year for berries - very fruitful if you make the most out of it...but can also feel limiting. Finding a great coach and a community of lifters (lots of great bushes that produce fruit year after year) certainly helps motivation!
2. Having the Correct Gear Really Makes a Difference
The awesome thing about weightlifting and blackberry picking is that you can start for free or with little cost by just driving down the road! (a local globo gym, or your grandma's back yard for example). You might be able to make a lot of progress on your own just picking at the surface of the sport. Maybe your gym doesn't have kilo plates or platforms, but you can still increase your back squat or work on your hand power clean with a slow lower to the floor.
But, it certainly helps to have the right gear to get better results:
- Proper footwear (Lifting shoes / Boots to get in the right positions)
- Proper attire (Workout clothes / protective gear for sweat and thorns)
- Safety Equipment (Belts & knee sleeves / gloves and hat for protection)
- Hardware (Better barbell & plates or collars / branch cutters for easier maneuvering)
3. Every Lift is a Berry You Picked.
Some berries look black but are still sour (just like making a lift but the technique wasn't quite perfect).
Some (rare) berries are absolutely amazing (just like the lift that seems to go up easy).
Some berries are green and unripe, or dead and shriveled up (just like really immature lifts that have no thought or technical focus to them).
Every now and then we come across the most delicious berry in the world. But it's just one berry - while you can savor the flavor and the memory of it, the energy you get from it will soon die out and you will need to replenish. If we get enough experience with the sport or enough experience in finding the best places for blackberries, we will come across more of the sweeter (and larger) berries more consistently.
4. You Have to Navigate the Thorns & Deal With Injuries
This is pretty self explanatory, but you'll probably have a few knicks or two with the sport. Scratches, calloused hands, falls, etc. The more cautious you are at injury prevention (having the right gear, not making stupid mistakes), the less injuries you'll have. You never know when there will be a wasp's nest hiding under that branch...or a sudden muscle strain that decides to unveil itself during a lift.
5. Start Working and Stop Moving!
Instead of jumping from program to program or from bush to bush...just start picking at it! If you always keep searching for the right program or the right spot, then you'll never make any significant progress.
Many times we start a program, get part of the way in, and then wonder if there's something better out there. Or, we hit a sticking point (or see a sparkly new program release from your favorite weightlifting website) and want to drop what we are doing in pursuit of that new shiny object.
I know that there may be a better bush out there with better berries...or a "better" programming out there. Though, you'll never make progress unless you just put your head down and start diving deep. Many times, the best berries will come if you work at a spot for awhile and finally cut away the branches far enough.
Just keep picking away and make the most of that area, and you'll come out if it with some gains and plenty of fruit to show proof of your work.
6. You Might Discover Fruit That You Didn't See Before
Often times, those berries are hidden deep under a branch or are behind a series of other thorny branches. For example, I’ll start picking away at a cluster of branches over to my left, then a minute later look to my right and suddenly notice a branch of fruit revealed itself that I didn’t notice before. The berries will reveal themselves when you see them at a different angle.
Like weightlifting cues or technique, we often may not see it or get it right away. But if we hack away at some of the branches that are blocking it and put in some mobility or technical effort, suddenly those cues might make sense, or something will click and your lift will be sweet and fruitful.
7. Both Require Patience
Blackberries are seasonal, and so is weightlifting.
Some bushes ripen before others - often times I’ll go to my favorite “amazing” spot where I got a lot of berries last year, but find that it’s still green this time around. Trying to find ripe fruit when it hasn't ripened yet is like trying to match your best clean and jerk when you just started a 12 week cycle after a long break. You're just not ready yet. The spot is just not ready yet for picking.
Patience. Start by working at the places that provide you fruit now and work up to those abundant berry bushes when it’s finally time. When it's the right time in the season and you've prepared, then you'll take home the luscious, sweet berries you are looking for.
8. You Have to "Keep It Close"
Pretty self explanatory. Keep the bar (or the berries) close to you.
It's much easier to lift the weight when it’s near your body opposed to kicking it out. Reaching far for the berries is hard with all those thorns in the way. Sure, you might make the lift or get the berries with a bit more sweat and a scratch or two. But, when you bring the bar or the branch to you, it'll make it a lot easier to achieve the result.
9. Work Harder = Get Better Results
There are usually a lot more immature berries than there are mature ones on almost every bush; And, even amongst the mature berries, there are fewer that are incredibly sweet and big.
Anyone can pick a green berry. But it takes work and effort to achieve the mature berries and make the mature, well-developed lifts.
If you have ever traveled to a popular fruit-picking location, you might find that the bushes are over-picked or do not have as many berries in easy reach. However, if you look high or deep (or go on a hike to areas far from the common road), there are plenty of ripe and mature berries left...and usually these gorgeous berries are not covered in road dust or chemicals!
No one was just able to get to these because they were "too far from the parking lot" or they were not willing to put in the effort to reach them.
If you want to be the one to fill buckets of those succulent berries (or achieve a record-shattering lift), then you need to hike far, cut away deep, and go beyond the easy bushes.
10. It'll Always Be There When You're Ready to Return
Regardless of how many buckets of berries you pick, or how many months you spend training in a year, if you don't go back and pick more or maintain your strength then your progress will die out. You'll consume all your berries and have nothing left in your freezer, or you'll lose a bit of strength or mobility if you don't keep working at it.
However, it's not that difficult to return each year if you want. The bushes are always there year after year, and the sport is always around year after year. Just go back, work hard and pick again. You'll return with another bucket of delicious fruit and accomplish many great lifts. Weightlifting is a sport of continuous growth just like the blackberry bushes that keep coming back year after year.