Almost every late Saturday morning, after the baby goes down for a nap, I head out to my garage, open up the door, and do five sets of squats.
Lemme tell you something: I hate squats. I love weightlifting, but hate squats. They’re hard, even when what I’m lifting is well within my ability. One reason, I think, is that squats have a uniquely psychological aspect. You’ve got a few hundred pounds resting on your shoulders, and it feels really, really heavy. The first step in squatting is to get focused mentally; you must first believe that you can lift this weight. You visualize it, and pump yourself up for the lift, especially once you start going heavier. And once you finish a set, you feel the aftereffects deep in your bones.
The reason squats feel like such a big effort is because, physiologically, they are. Squats work your largest muscle groups, the whole posterior chain in combination, and are probably the single best example of a functional compound exercise. This is partly why squats the cornerstone of any good strength conditioning program. They improve your balance, strengthen your knees and hips, and work your thighs. Squats work your whole body like few other lifts, and in so doing, make your body stronger.
Years of weightlifting, and especially squats, has changed my thinking about my relationship to my body and my perspective on everything else. In short, regularly challenging myself to lift heavy pieces of metal is a direct reminder that I’m mostly hamburger and bones. All the other ways I think about myself are, at best, ephemeral, and at worst, imaginary, existing wholly in my head and not in “the world.” This aligns increasingly with the lens through which I evaluate how I feel, and how other people behave. Namely: we are the products of biological processes. And when you draw this thread out to its logical conclusions, it makes a big difference in how you see the world.