Inertia and Momentum
by Steven M. Ledbetter
5 minute read
When I was a Marine Corps officer candidate*, I went to a little 3-day taste of Officer Candidate School that was staffed by actual Sergeant Instructors from Quantico. After pick-up and a group run carrying all of our trash, my makeshift platoon was introduced to Gunnery Sergeant Mata. If you speak Spanish you’ll get the joke. He called our names one-at-a-time and identified something unique to each of us that rendered us unfit for his Marine Corps. (I was guilty of having ridiculous side-burns which he later ordered me to shave off. Dry). To demonstrate how we weak we were, Gunnery Sgt. Mata issued the following so-simple-they-were-brilliant orders: “Get on your face right now.” “Aye, Gunnery Sgt.!” “Get up right now.” “Aye, Gunnery Sgt.!”
He repeated these orders until we either 1) could no longer respond, 2) cried out in pain, or 3) both. This took about 90 seconds. Getting up was the hardest thing I have ever done and it was only 90 seconds, performing a single task, with nothing more than bodyweight. Why? Inertia. Literally and metaphorically.
“Every body persists in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight forward, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by force impressed.”- Newton’s First Law of Motion
The deadlift, the Turkish Get Up, and the burpee would be on any decent trainer’s Top Ten List of Awesome Exercises. One of the things they have in common is that they all involve getting something off the ground (a barbell, a kettlebell, you); the other thing they have in common is that they are all freaking hard. This is because the force you must impress on an object at rest comes entirely from within you. You can’t rely on the stretch reflex to give you a little ‘umph’ in the deadlift or the TGU. And when you’re face down in the dirt on your twelfth burpee, ain’t no one gonna get you up but you.
Get on your face right now
The average American adult spends less than 30 minutes a day bearing their own weight. Think about what that means for a second. That means we are standing, walking, and moving on our feet less than 1/48th of our day. We are sitting or lying down 98% of our adult lives. Gunnery Sgt. Mata wouldn’t have to tell most of us to get on our faces; we already are. And it takes a lot of force to get over that much inertia. I spent 25 years there. But one day I was compelled to change that state. Shame, fear, and the very real possibility that I might lose my wife was finally enough to get me to put on a six-year-old pair of running shoes and try to make it to the end of the block. Before that, I was flat on my face. The inertia was real and getting up was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Get up right now
One day, you just have to get up. You have to change the state you’re in and move in a direction that is worth moving in. But it takes a lot of force to change the course of your life. For the next 2-3 weeks, everything you do will be hard. If you were in shape before it will be harder than every before. You are going to be weaker than you remember, slower than you thought, and more sore than you can imagine. Every time you work out for the next 14-21 days, it’s going to feel like getting off the ground wearing a backpack full of sand. But you have to do it. You have to get up, put on the shoes, and train. Every. Damn. Day. Because in 2-3 weeks you’ll learn something else about the laws of physics.
Aye, Gunnery Sergeant!
Inertia is a bitch, but she has a sister that is the best thing that will ever happen to you: momentum. The more times you get up, put in the work, and deal with the pain, the easier it will be. The more you do, the more you do. Habits have a way of begetting more habits because in 3 weeks you are going to notice your first results. The training will become part of your daily life and you start to look around and wonder what else you can be doing to get stronger, faster, or hotter. After 3 weeks you will want to do more reps, run more miles, eat more protein and none of it will be a fight. You’ll have momentum. And getting up won’t be nearly as hard.
It’s not about you
When the my fellow officer candidates and I were face down in the gravel, Gunnery Sergeant Mata would yell something else at us. After what felt like an eternity of “up-downs” or diamond push ups, one of us would grunt in pain or half-ass an “Aye, Gunnery Sgt!” And when any of us experienced these lapses in bearing, Gunnery Sgt. Mata would tell us,
"It's not about you." > >
When you’re tired and hurting and you don’t think you’re going to be able to get up again, it’s easy to feel selfish. But sometimes, it’s not about you. Gunnery Sgt. Mata was trying to tell us that even at their most exhausted, officers must lead enlisted Marines. They can’t afford to be selfish and lose their bearing. And this applies to everyone looking to change their life. In February of 2008, I was pounding pavement because my wife deserved a better me (it was actually a surprise Valentine’s Day present). Only you are going to be able to get your own ass off the couch, but sometimes the reason you get up is for other people. So look around at the people in your life and remember, it’s not about you. And like Rif says, ”that kettlebell won’t swing itself.”
*So we’re clear, I was never a Marine. I was not selected for, did not attend, nor complete OCS. I was an officer candidate from November of 2008 to February of 2010 and that alone was enough to be a formative experience in my life. The picture is actually Gunnery Sergeant Mata yelling and my friend Gram. I’m 3rd in line to get fucked with.