THE OTHER SIDE OF TRAINING
By Alex Ayliffe
In 1996, Chuck Palahniuk authored his most famous novel to date; Fight Club, and in 1999, it took to the screens and had a powerful impact on millions of disenfranchised and frustrated men and women. It professed ideas of minimalism, character and critical thinking through the main character Tyler Durden. There are many fantastic quotes and lessons throughout the story, but I would like to focus on one of them for the purposes of this article:
“How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight?”
When we put ourselves in uncomfortable situations our natural tendency is to seek comfort. However, you’ll hear it again and again from anyone who’s every accomplished anything:
“Become comfortable being uncomfortable”
This is a baseline requirement for becoming a strong person. Fast forward to a heavy squat set; a struggle against a heartless piece of iron that doesn’t care if your day has been good or bad, whether or not you’re paying attention or if you’re prepared or not. It will always react with the same emotionless intensity and seek it’s home on the floor.
There is nothing comfortable about cramming yourself under a heavy barbell, sitting down and standing up with it while it tries to crush you. Learning to be comfortable in this situation takes time, and develops massive mental strength. Because it never gets easier. As you get stronger, the weights get heavier, and each set gets scarier. This forces you to continually test yourself and your resolve under the pressure of the weights while simultaneously strengthening your body. You see what you’re made of every time you train – it’s a consistent and effective form of introspection that most never expose themselves too. However, those that do will see massive improvements in their lives across the board. Success and confidence in the weight room bleeds into all aspects of your life.
This isn’t to say you will never fail. How could it develop anything of worth if it wasn’t for failure as well as success? That dichotomy is the essence of growth. I’ve seen it and experienced it myself many times. Failure. Giving up in the middle of a set. Allowing the iron to beat you at it’s game. But a funny thing happens moments after you give up and rack the bar, and it lasts for days until you get your chance at redemption. It lights a fire in your bones that says “I refuse to fail again.” When someone develops that chip on their shoulder, it affects their entire life. They stop listening to their own excuses and start achieving things.
Most don’t fail often in the weight room – that would be a sign of poor effort, programming or coaching. But failure is inevitable in any endeavour, and failure in the weight room does a fantastic job of humbling you and reminding you that you don’t need to listen to your own bullshit. It’s a reality check that keeps you on the path of strength in all aspects of your life. The Barbell can instill an iron will in you, or it can defeat you and toss you back to your hole of victimhood and self-pity. It doesn’t care and it never will. Luckily, you get to make that decision.
The biggest thing holding most people back from seeing these benefits is lack of focus and presence. How often do we see people going through the motions in life, totally oblivious and unaware of the immediate world or tasks in front of them? How often do we drift from one thought to another, never to complete it and never to revisit it in a hodgepodge of disconnected thoughts and mental spasms? It’s no secret to anyone who’s paying attention that we’re blasted with distractions all day, every day. So it’s no surprise that in most cases, our Train-of-Thought tends to get derailed, fly off a cliff and dive into an ocean only to never be seen again. But one place where we can consciously exercise our ability to focus and be present is in the weight room.
My Dad always told me “Do it right. Every time.” But it wasn’t until I started training that I really caught on. For such a simple statement, it’s incredible how few people put it into practice. Every rep of every set needs to be a concentrated effort. The goal is to be at the point where you don’t need to think, and everything just happens correctly, but you can’t do that if you have shitty movement patterns and you give up easily. So until then, you need to be focused on putting your body in the right places at the right times and dominating the barbell as well as your mind. Never let them push you around. This requires you to pay attention. Be present. Focus. Whichever new-age Buddha-blogger word or phrase does it for you, I don’t care, but you need to be 100% in that moment and attack it with intensity.
These sorts of benefits don’t come from leg extensions, or barbell curls. They don’t come if you’re not paying attention and they don’t come if you don’t challenge yourself and truly put your will to the test. These are benefits few people talk about with weight training, because frankly I don’t think many people see past the superficiality of it all. They want abs, bigger biceps, and lots of Instagram likes, but never focus on the experience and lessons they can learn. They never see their animalistic nature, or learn to tap into that indomitable will that the iron can create in you. Bumbling through life will get you dick-deep into the land of mediocrity and what-ifs, so pay attention, put everything you have into the bar and see what you’re made of.
Grind. Evolve. Thrive.