I’m a zealot.
I’m a proselytizer of the pump. A monk for the muscle. I believe that in the modern world, there are few things as purely valuable as physical strength and skill training, because it’s a foundational discipline. It’s a practice that will consistently reflect whatever is going on with you, good or bad.
Training will show you how you think, how you react emotionally under stress, how your Inner Critic shows up, where you doubt yourself, and how you can surprise yourself and expand exponentially. If you’re paying attention.
Training is a framework for physical health and growth that literally changes your baseline physiology in a way that can improve your quality of life by making you healthier, tougher, and more self-aware. Of course, you have to want it to be that. We are always the X factor.
You have to continuously commit yourself to learning to improve. There are people who train for years who don’t actually improve along the metrics they allegedly want, and there are people who radically grow and improve in all kinds of different areas. Why?
Because they’re committed to the core of what training is: the investigation and challenge of self. The determined ongoing discovery of being alive. You may hit a wall on your top strength for a while and be met with the realization that you have to get your actual health in order, improve your general athleticism, increase muscle mass, get your nutrition on track, address lagging technique issues you’ve ignored, fucking meditate or learn how to relax, or any number of things.
The potential roadblocks are endless, but so are the potential avenues of development. Training is a gateway to realizing you’re a demi-god made flesh if you acknowledge the actual self-determining power you have over your own body 90% of the time.
If you ain’t trainin’, you ain’t gainin’. Muscle and freakish casual strength are the delightful karmic side effect of doing something challenging. “Nature rewards courage.” There are many different types of physical challenge and impediment. Training will illuminate and differentiate what you think your problems are from what they actually are. There is often (basically always, in my case) a mirroring of what is happening emotionally/in the mind of the trainee, and what is happening in the body. If you have a blindspot in your training, you probably have a corresponding blindspot in your life.
For example, I’ve recently realized (thanks Ben) how my shoulder mobility was really impeded by an underdeveloped upper back and not training in a range of motion that would give me the best lock out position for overhead. As a result, getting into the best catch position was very uncomfortable, so my body would just stop me from doing it at high loads, and I miss all the time. I had some other technique issues, but those were developing well, but not fixing the main issue – the shoulders. Once I got an exercise and drills to develop that area and actually get comfortable in the right position, I’ve started to see rapid improvement at a movement that’s been a pain in the ass for years.
The blindspot was over-relying on one coach to see and address my weaknesses, ignoring those areas myself, and not thoroughly asking enough questions about why I wasn’t improving – why? Because it hurt my ego.
Strength training is my chosen discipline now, and has been since around 2014. It’s given me more than I could ever have imagined. As much as getting good at overhead has been the biggest challenge for me in strongman, and caused many angsts, it’s been one of the most rewarding ongoing parts of training. It has demanded patience and attention, and now, I rarely take for granted the level of depth you can give to any one activity, how much you can develop your conscious attention.
I’m a zealot because I’m right about the principles; I have lived out those principles for years and continue to push myself to explore them deeper. It’s not for EVERYone – there are many physical disciplines and arts and ways to explore growth (if you have a demanding physical job, you probably don’t need to stress missing workouts. If you’re sedentary for work, you absolutely need to prioritize movement and strength).
But as far as I am concerned, everything is about growth. Growth means responding to stimuli positively; it means being in an active relationship with the Alive reality all around us, all the time. It means courting discomfort, but also reconnecting to feeling your very conscious body and listening to what it needs across many spheres.
In 2012 I was a terrified, depressed bartender who’s whole life had fallen apart, coping with sporadic and intense anxiety and depression. I was disconnected from and afraid of my body because I was disconnected from and afraid of myself.
In 2021, I’m strong, jacked, healthier than I’ve ever been in my life, and have a deeper connection to my body on every level: I sleep better, I have better sex, I actually can listen to my body’s cues – fatigue, need for sunshine, food cravings, mental clarity and calm – oh, and straight up happiness. My happiness isn’t an accident, it’s something I’ve been fighting for for a long time. I can say with absolute conviction that training was a key ingredient. Yeah, maybe being skinny or having buff arms won’t make you happy (it definitely won’t), but developing yourself into a highly capable person who is proud of their accomplishments and trusts and loves themselves enough to continuously grow will help a LOT.
I owe this all to strength, and the many habits that were born out of my dedication to training and competing and radically investigating myself as an ongoing science experiment. What goes into my body, what and who I surround myself with, the activities I pursue, nearly everything must clearly be adding to my life, or it gets the boot – of course I have blindspots, but that’s why I train. To develop my attention, to develop my body, to develop my deep inner core, my soul.
Training has been an irreplaceable tool in making me happier and healthier than I have ever been. Move, train, challenge yourself. It’s what we’re here for.