One of my favorite reads is the essay Iron and the Soul by the great Black Flag / Rollins Band frontman Henry fucking Rollins. In the essay, Henry talks about how strength training changed his life and what it taught him about the harsh reality of being human living in a world populated by other humans with their equally harsh -- yet different -- realities.
Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.
What a rad life lesson.
A lot of you know me as your boxing coach who sometimes runs but there’s also a ton of you out there who follow me for my strength training advice, programming and personal training. Strength training is a huge part of my life and it has taught me several important life lessons as well. In the spirit of Mr. Rollins, I am going to be sharing some of the things that hitting the weights has taught me over the years, in no particular order.
1) It Builds Mental Strength
You know who loves leg day? Freaks. Freaks love leg day because they love pain and discomfort. They love hate -- hating to walk, hating to sit on the toilet like a normal person and hating to get out of the floor without sounding like a creepshow. But just because I am not a huge fan of leg day -- mostly SQUAT day -- doesn’t mean I ever skip!
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of professional wrestling. I remember when Bill Goldberg hit the scene in WCW. He was the largest human being I’d ever seen in my life. Watching him on TV was one thing, seeing him in person was another. There I stood at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tennessee, awaiting the arrival of WCW’s biggest face since Sting. His music was cued up and the doors flung open to reveal a mountain of a man with traps the size of spiral-cut hams and a back that was wider than a Volkswagen Bus. As he stood in the ring that night all I could think about, however, was how skinny and disproportionate his lower body was. Once I got out of my fatness and began taking care of myself, I made it my mission to never skip legs lest I become the next Bill Goldberg.
And I’ve known a lot of Bill Goldbergs over the years.
There’s so much strength in the legs and it would be unfair to the rest of my body to skip them on my strength training programs. So with this coupled with the image of Bill Goldberg in my mind, I hit the squat rack every week. I hate it, make no mistake, I hate it every week. But I still do it.
In life, there are a lot of things that we have to do that we hate doing. Paying bills, going to the DMV, being social … but it’s for the best that we do it -- for the greater good, I suppose. So we must dig in to find the inner strength to tough it out. And in those moments, I summon the same motivation that gets me through those leg days that I hate so very much. I can’t say strength training taught me this, but it really helped drive the point home.
2) Pride in Accomplishments
Want to know something I hate more than leg day? People who discredit their accomplishments when it comes to their fitness, weight loss or career paths. People will go outside and run 3.1 miles then post on Facebook that it was “only 45 minutes, though” as if it somehow discredits their accomplishment that they can’t run a sub-10 mile. That’s some bullshit, y’all! Running a 5K is an accomplishment in and of itself, regardless of your pace or overall time! Running a mile is an accomplishment -- heck, going on a 10-minute walk is an accomplishment to be proud of if you’re just getting started!
We live in a society that is prepared to be torn down for celebrating its accomplishments and I think it’s about time that ceases. When Henry Rollins says 200 pounds is 200 pounds no matter what, what I hear is “there is truth in the weights,” and your truth is something to be celebrated no matter what number comes before the lbs or kgs on the plate.
If you want to feel good about yourself, get your ass in a weight room and start throwing weights around. You should already be proud of yourself for getting started, but it won’t be long that you’ll be even more proud of yourself for seeing how much you’re growing and how much stronger you’re getting. Note that I never said what strong actually means -- it’s different for different people. And real meatheads will never tell you that you have to lift a certain amount before you’re able to be proud of what you’re pushing.
There’s no other place on the planet that makes you feel that same rush you feel when you rep out a heavier weight than you ever did before. Or when you hit a benchmark that you’d set for yourself, or realized you’re much stronger than you ever gave yourself credit for. I’ve seen too many sets of eyes get fired up when they see the weights go up to ever think otherwise.
3) It's Best for Body Composition Change
When someone says they want to lose weight, what do they really mean? Most of the time, their idea of losing weight is synonymous with getting a sexy body. “Losing weight” is definitely going to be a part of sexifying yourself, but what these people really mean is they want to “lose fat.”
I get it -- most folks just have a bathroom scale at home and that’s their only metric to measure their success. But that number on the scale is simply not an accurate representation of how well you’re doing on your program. This is why I put so much focus on body composition change rather than weight loss.
It wasn’t long ago that I shared my progress on a particular “cutting” program. Over the course of nine weeks, I only lost about four pounds total, which doesn’t sound great … However, I lost 17 pounds of fat! If I had gone by the number on the scale alone, I would have felt like a failure but instead I went by measurements, before-and-after photos and body fat readings to determine my progress and I was more than satisfied with the results.
What does this have to do with strength training? There’s a misconception out there that if you want to bulk up, you lift weights and if you want to lose weight, you focus on cardio. Cardio is important for cardiovascular health so it’s a must … but strength training is also imperative.
Think about it like this -- Strength training causes muscle damage that gets repaired through protein synthesis -- a process the body goes through to repair muscle fibers and prepares it for further resistance by making the fibers stronger and wider -- AKA muscle gains. Cardio merely burns calories (and therefore excess fat) but if you burn your fat and have very little underlying muscle structure … you’re going to be mad disappointed in what you see in the mirror.
Skinny fat, in other words. You’re not fat, but you’re also not shredded. You’ll have no form.
It’s been proven time and time again that strength training is just as effective -- if not more -- at burning fat than cardio. So do strength training for your body, do cardio for your heart.
4) It’s the Great Humbler
In the same way that strength training can boost your ego and make you feel really good about yourself, it can also break you down faster than anything else. 200 pounds is 200 pounds and even though you maybe think you can press 200 over your head, sometimes 195 is all you can do and that’s just life. These truths are hard pills to swallow but they’re necessary for our growth.
It’s also a great metaphor for what can happen if you push yourself too far too fast before you’re ready. Throwing too much weight on a bar before you’re ready to lift it will frequently cause form issues and form issues lead to injuries. At best you’re unnecessarily sore for the rest of the day; at worst, your lifting career is over.
Just like all things in life -- you get stronger by pushing yourself but taking on more than you can safely handle usually ends in disaster. Push yourself and be proud of yourself, but always stay humble and keep yourself in check.
5) Consistency is Key
Probably one of the greatest similarities between strength training and life is that if you want to succeed, you have to be consistent. If your goal is to gain 10 pounds of lean mass, you’re not going to make it if you’re only training one day per week. Your fitness has to be consistent right along with your nutrition and your positive mindset if you want to make progress.
Not to mention DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). If you work out hard for the first time in weeks, you’re going to be incredibly sore for two-to-three days afterward. With consistency, the soreness will subside (and sometimes disappear) but if you take another two weeks off and hit it hard again right after, guess what? You’re walking like an old man and having a hard time sitting on the pot the next day. And it’s going to repeat like this over and over again until you find your consistency again.
Consistently writing will finally get your book written. Consistently practicing will eventually make you a great guitar player. Consistently experimenting with food will make you a great cook. And consistently training will give you the physique you want. There’s no getting around that.
There are many more things, of course, but I thought this was a good place to start. What are some of your favorite things about strength training?