How the Gym Made Me Weaker
I walk up to the bar with an aggressive and purposeful step. I curl my fingers around it, and I feel the bar’s rough texture up against my fingers. I take a deep breath, filling my belly up with air, fix my position, and I feel the bar grinding against my callouses as I rip the weight off the floor. My muscles strain as I work to get my hips to the bar for a complete deadlift. As I lower the bar back to the floor, all I am thinking about is grinding out another rep. I grind out four more repetitions before I drop the weight. Slightly dizzy from the strain, I step back and I begin to mentally prepare for my next set.
The rest of my life is complicated. I have bills to pay, clients to call, and expectations to fill. I spend most of my time battling the darkness. Shadow boxing memories of past failures and regrets that fuel doubts about my future. These memories complicate my work, clouding my thoughts as if they are creating some invisible force field between myself and my desired destiny. But right now, at this moment, my mind is clear and my purpose is pure. Every repetition I complete chips away at my self doubt, and the pain I feel only fuels me to push myself further. In this space, this simulator for life that we call a gym, the darkness becomes my ally. It fuels my actions, transmuting my angers and frustrations into positive energy that transforms my body into a more useful form and me into a stronger, more resilient, and less fragile human.
My purpose in training is, and always has been, turning my darkness into some sort of light. The problem is that the light I generated rarely shined upon my life outside of the gym. Fitness gurus often speak as if success in the gym will automatically lead to success elsewhere. I never found this to be true. As I look back on my memory, there were many times where I was in amazing shape, but neglected things that turned my life into a mess. I am not saying that my dedication to fitness led to these problems. It certainly helped to alleviate stress and it gave me a healthy outlet for built up aggression.
Yet contrary to what many fitness minded people would say, training never helped me solve any of my problems. It was more of a treehouse I could climb into when times were bad, helping me hide from the world as my issues gathered at the base of the tree like a pack of hungry wolves nipping at my heels. I used the gym as a sanctuary rather than a classroom. Rather than life lessons, I got temporary protection from the real problems I needed to solve to propel my life forward. I justified this extreme and singular focus on the weights
This practice of hiding behind the barbell did not end until the last year when I took a good hard look at my life. I decided that I would no longer retreat behind my physical strength or my physique to hide from my issues. This is the main reason I left my training career to build Warrior Soul. My training business had become my main justification to avoid focusing on anything other than fitness while allowing the rest of my life to suffer.
I still train religiously, and I still love fitness, but I’ve made some changes to my regimen that keep my head on straight and focused on my overall life success.
- I eat my diet with the sole purpose of maintaining and building my health, and not with the intention of building the leanest and most muscular body possible. No more justifying ridiculously high protein levels and overfeeding with the desire to build muscle. I eat to live and to perform as the owner of this company. Ironically, in addition to more productivity in my work life because I can think straight, this way of eating has led to better gains in both strength and muscularity
- My gym training sessions are kept only to the time necessary to get the required work in. Most of my workouts last no longer than 45 minutes. I get in, and then get out and back to work.
- I avoid any fitness related media outside of reference material to write content for Warrior Soul. Most of what I’ve seen across the inter webs is complete crap, but I noticed that when I was consuming fitness media, it was to spy on other trainers to compare them to myself. I’m done with that game.
My life is now the reason that I train rather than living my life to train. I train because I want to be a stronger human being, both physically and mentally. I enjoy the challenge. Before I was living only to train, constantly counting the minutes down until I could stop what I was doing to get to the gym. This was simply me trying to avoid the pain of my normal life so I could retreat to my little pain free sanctuary. It pulled my focus off of things that could advance my life like building this business.
Since I’ve made these changes, I find myself dealing with my problems more directly. I no longer need a barbell on my back or in my hand to face the darkness. I deal with it, and derive lessons from it that I translate into real actions that improve my life. Though the darkness still helps me to move weight, it also motivates me to get up early in the morning to work on my business while most others are sleeping. It pushes me to do the best job I can do so that I do not repeat the mistakes. Like a vaccine, the more I expose myself to it, the less likely it is that it will drag me down during the hours I’m not training.
Many of you will not be able to relate to what I’ve written here. You see the gym as a real battle ground where you are at war with the weights. Those of us who’ve served in the military know that the gym is nothing like a real battlefield, and lifting inanimate discs is nothing like facing a real enemy. Training, by definition, is a simulation for real life. It is not life itself, and if you do not carry over the lessons you’ve learned from it to face your real problems, those demons waiting outside the doors of the gym, you are not getting the most out of it.
There is no reason why you should not train. In fact, I believe that training, in whatever paradigm you choose, is a mandatory activity if you want to be a stronger and healthier individual living up to your full potential. But I also believe that many of us use it as a tool for hiding from real life rather than a method for building true holistic strength. If your life is going well, keep doing what you’re doing. If it is not, and you somehow feel like the gym is not filling the void you want it to, take a good self assessment and ask yourself what you are accomplishing during your workouts.
Again, this is not a call to quit training. Rather, it is a manifesto for understanding the real reasons why you should train for the rest of your life. If training becomes a tool for living a better life rather than a tool for escape from your temporary problems, you’ll have more of a reason to do it for the rest of your time on this rock we call Earth.