Lessons From The Gym – Why I Train

Today marks the five year anniversary since I started to turn my health around.

Five years ago, just before my 21st birthday, I discovered I had an ulcer that was basically trying to kill me. My habits were a mess, and that was the result of that. I hadn’t discovered any of my food allergies yet, I thought coffee was a complete meal, I had fast food every single day, I was running on about 4 hours of sleep for a year, my stress levels were through the roof, I was a full-time student with a full-time job, and I had the occasional cigarette to deal with the stress. My health was waiting to implode and I was doing all this way too young.

Blacking out from stomach pain in the middle of a park in Denver was my wake-up call.

I immediately went to the doctor and she said I had to reduce all my stress ASAP. I went home, e-mailed my boss, and quit. I also decided to not take summer classes that year.

Of course, I still had to make an income, I just couldn’t do it as an editor at a paper any longer.

I marched into my local gym, and due to a really nice girl at the front desk (who ended up being a really good friend all these years later), I was able to get a meeting with the head boss of the gym. He didn’t really have any other positions available, but I told him I really needed this job and I’d even clean the whole gym from top to bottom every single night. This got his attention, and I went right to work starting the next day.

Most people would think that going from hot-shot editor to cleaning a gym at night would be some kind of low-point, but it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I had never really been in a full-blown gym yet with all kinds of squat racks, machines, and all kinds of new equipment I had never seen before. I could blast the music, close the doors, and get to work. Some nights I wouldn’t even play music, I would just think. It was incredibly relaxing to have some silence with no phones, no one bothering me, and just time to go through each machine and clean it while also learning what it did.

I quickly worked my way up to being a personal trainer during the day while cleaning the gym at night. I’d walk home around 10 PM through the streets of downtown Denver, but instead of being completely stressed, I always felt better.

This was the first time I drew a connection between working out, spending time in silence, and overall life happiness.

These habits have stuck with me through the years until now. Fitness has always pulled me through no matter what was going on in my life. I didn’t start training seriously until about a year and a half ago, but I spent so much time studying and taking baby steps that I have spent very little time on any injuries or setbacks.

Now that my 26th birthday is tomorrow (the 24th), I thought I’d reflect on all the ways fitness has changed my life and the reasons I will continue to train until I die.

1. Being strong bleeds into all areas of life.

I have never worked out just to look good. I work out so I can handle everything else going on in my life. When I’m strong, I feel confident in asking new clients to hire me, making new friends, and sticking to the decisions I make. When I feel weak, I can feel myself shrink away from life and wallow in self-pity.

2. It brought supportive people my way.

Most of the people I meet through fitness are extremely positive and encouraging. I know it’s overrated to use the word “fitfam”, but there truly is an element of a fitness family when you start lifting. Sure, there’s a lot of rude people who think they know everything because they lifted a weight once, but thankfully they rarely cross my path.

3. I know how to fix my health problems.

When I wake up feeling groggy, have sore muscles, am tired throughout the day, or anything else that comes my way, it all has a solution. I diligently track everything I do, so I can go back to the past few days and see where the mistakes happened. Most people wander through life completely exhausted, aching all over, and then go to the doctors and get medication and surgery. Preventative care > everything.

4. Self-reliance.

I’ve noticed a surge in my thoughts on self-reliance ever since starting to lift. It started with being able to move things around all by myself. I’ve moved plenty of times and most of those times I wasn’t in a position to hire movers, so it wound up being me trekking up and down flights of stairs for a few days to get everything moved myself. It was never a fun experience, but I could do it on my own. I have no doubts this evolved into me starting my own business.

There is also something to be said for having relationships out of mutual respect instead of neediness. In the past, I had friendships and relationships because I felt like I needed the other person. This, of course, always ended horribly. When you’re needy, people can walk all over you, lie to you, cheat on you, and you take it. Two self-reliant people who come together out of mutual respect, friendship, and love always end up in a healthier place.

5. Studying the deeper parts of life.

Health is not everything, but without it, life is miserable. It’s a building block to build the rest of your life upon. When I felt better, I was able to think better. When I was able to think better, I realized an internal shift from less selfish thoughts to thinking about other subjects that interest me. Now, I spend a lot of time reading philosophy, trying to understand this life.

There is so much wisdom to be learned from our ancestors. Emerson, Seneca, Thoreau, Aristotle… You don’t need a mentor if you have the timeless wisdom from the greats. Understand your own mortality; embrace it. There is so much more to life than I originally knew. This also leads to the next point.

6. The desire for less.

Feeling content with life is the ultimate happiness. Knowing you have everything you need to life a fulfilling life, ridding yourself of the desire for “more”, brings peace. There are still huge goals I am pursuing, but I have stripped myself of my materialistic cravings and feel so much peace within caring for the things I currently have.

This also applies to my fitness. While every company out there tries to sell you on all kinds of supplements, equipment, workout plans, or whatever else, 99% of it is simply frivolous.

I say this as a recovering consumer addict. I wound up with more bullshit than I ever needed in an entire lifetime. Debt is slavery, and it’s something I’m currently at war with. I WILL win, but I would definitely go back in time to change that habit if I could. The only things I have purchased all year are protein powders, books, pens, and notebooks. No clothes, no household stuff, nothing. It’s all bullshit.

7. All of life has a greater meaning.

We’re here to help each other. We are not here to have the most toys or the most money. When I worked as a personal trainer, the best gift I ever gave my clients was the gift of reclaiming their health. By reclaiming their health, they also received the gift of life. Even as a professional writer now, I help people claim their voice. I only find joy in work by helping other people make their lives better.

8. “The more you bleed here, the less you bleed in battle.”

This is what King Leonidas says to his son in the movie 300. There are many variations of this quote, but the point is if you put in the hard work NOW, when you are truly tested in life you will win.

I meet a ton of people who completely crumble with any amount of stress because they never push their own limits. They hide behind their problems with drinking, partying, weed, vacations, buying things, or whatever else their weak souls need. Sure, there is a time and a place for celebration, but not as a crutch to deal with the things life throws at you. I love a good drink, but one of my rules is that I only drink for celebrations. I don’t ever drink because I’m stressed out. Sometimes it is an annoying rule, but when life punches me in the face, I handle it better and better with each passing year.

The same applies to everything I pursue. The harder I work, the more I practice, the more I train, the better I handle everything that comes my way.

9. Pursue the best version of myself.

This is a direct influence from Elliott Hulse (you can watch the actual video, HERE), but it’s basically the idea of growing as a person and becoming the best YOU that you could possibly be.

Another way to think of this: “Someone once told me the definition of hell: The last day you have on earth, the person you became, meets the person you could have become.”

Younger me was always full of excuses. There were a few things I was excellent at, but those excuses ate me alive. There were so many times I held myself back from my potential because I had all these bullshit reasons as to why I couldn’t achieve them.

The real problem is that I was personally identified with certain character traits, and that was really what held me back. For example, I never defined myself as being “smart” throughout most of my schooling, so I avoided harder classes (except for Physics, which I took as a Sophomore because that sounded fun when everyone else in my class was a Senior), because I didn’t put in the work. I didn’t put in the work, because I didn’t think I was too bright. I’m definitely not a genius, but with a little extra effort and care I could have ended high school with a much better GPA.

10. Realizing I can reach for higher goals.

Once you break personal records you didn’t think were possible before, a whole world of possibilities opens up. You realize that you are absolutely capable of more. Life truly is what you make it. I moved to Denver with absolutely nothing, I put myself through college, I built a business, I added muscle, I changed my diet, I broke a ton of habits I thought were “just part of me”, I released people from my past… I never would have thought any of those would have been possible just a few years ago before I began this journey.

I’m realizing the boundaries of what I consider possible in my own life and I’m finding ways to challenge them. This is the top thing I hope to pursue throughout the age of 26: I want to challenge everything and see what is really possible.

I’d love to hear what YOU have learned on your journey of strength. Leave a comment below!

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