What I’ve Learned From Weight Lifting

Have you guys ever had some situation in life, some obstacle, some state of affairs that has always bothered you, but things have been that way for so long that you’ve just come to accept that as the way it is?  Have you dealt with issues that have overstayed their welcome for so long, you’ve just come to assume that things will always be that way and it will never change?  I’m primarily talking about things you don’t even think about.  You’ve probably dealt with these things your entire life and have just absorbed these assumptions into yourself as part of your personality.  Lifting weights has taught me that those things can change.  I would say that the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m capable of a lot more than I ever thought I was.

It all started when the illusion that I had to be a skinny, scrawny, shrimp shattered. I learned that I can be as strong as the strongest NFL players.  It may sound like a small thing to a lot of people.  After all, our society values the mind, not muscles; we have machines to do most of our heavy lifting today.  But to me, it’s really shaken me up.  I don’t think people understand, but I had always been scrawny; I hated it, but what could I do?  It’s just the way things were.   I was the weak guy.  That’s who I was.  It was a part of my identity.  It was something I just assumed to be true. It was my fate.

It meant the world to me when that illusion shattered.  It was just a few years ago, but I decided I was going to change that.  I watched a bunch of Youtube training videos, I bought some bodybuilding books, and I just got started lifting.  Then it was amazing.  I learned that if I ate enough calories and got a lot of protein in my system, if I only went to the gym four or five times a week and did these exercises, I would grow.

One of the Youtube trainers which really inspired me is C.T. Fletcher.  I would watch videos like this one, and I’d just listen to C.T.’s words.  If you don’t know who he is, he’s a many times over world champion power-lifter.  He’s one of the greatest lifters that’s ever been.  If you just listen to his words, it’s the total opposite of everything I had thought about my body.  He’s yelling out, “You’re stronger than this shit.  You can’t quit.  It’s not in you to quit.  It’s undeniable.  You can do this.  C’mon now, get it!  Pull!  Pull!  Everything you’ve got!  Pull!  PULL!  Show me what you’re made of!  Don’t you quit on me.  Don’t you quit!  Ain’t no such thing as quitting around here.  Do it!  Do it!  DO IT!  You can’t quit!  You’re too strong for that!  There’s too much in you to quit!  You can’t quit, it ain’t in you to quit!  Refuse to quit.  You’re too much man for this shit!”

When I was the scrawny six foot tall, 130 lbs shrimp coming into the gym, being out-lifted by even small women in the gym, failing to squat even 95 lbs, I kept hearing CT’s words in my head, “You’re too much man for this shit!  You’re too strong for this weight.  Don’t quit!  Get it!  Get it!”

Years later, just a few days ago I went into my university’s gym, which I haven’t been to in a while.  I went to bench pressing, doing my normal sets.  Then this big football player comes over to me and says, “Hey man.  You a power-lifter?”  I said, “Me?  I just like lifting.”  He then took me over to a big poster on the wall with all the university’s weight lifting records.  He pointed out that I was lifting insane weight, and that with just a little more training I could shatter all of the university records.  I was out-lifting all the strongest football players, even the weight-lifters.  He said, “You should enter the competition.”

I had always believed I was a little scrawny wimp, but was I really?  No.  I had the power to change it, but my own beliefs were stopping me, beliefs which had been set in me at such a young age, I didn’t even think of them.  It was CT Fletcher yelling at me, saying, “That shit ain’t true!  That shit ain’t true!  Get it!”

I really like this next video.

We’re taught to avoid pain.  We’re taught that if something is painful to avoid it.  We’re always hearing about finding our bliss, finding things that stimulate and motivate you, and having fun, but then CT gets right in your face and yells the complete opposite, “Hello pain!  I’ve been looking for you!  Come right in!  Have a seat!  Motherfucker I made dinner for ya!  Pain is my friend!  Come right in and stay a while, because I ain’t leaving.”  When you go to do something and hardship sets in, whatever you fear the most, get right up in its face and yell, “I don’t fear you!  I ain’t leaving!”  Put your arm around it and say, “We might as well become friends, because you’re not stopping me.”

These sorts of lessons go far beyond weight lifting.  The first is the realization that where you are now isn’t where you have to always be.  The second is to not fear the pain and hardships that are going to come your way while making the transition.  There’s a lot more to the weight room than meat heads grunting and lifting heavy weights.

If you’re wanting to lose weight, needing to change your career, if your relationships aren’t what you’d like them to be, you can wallow in despair, think that’s the way it is, make excuses, find podcasts and blogs which will tell you it’s impossible, that it’s not your fault, that you’re just a victim of circumstance, find some expert who will tell you you’ve got a “eating disorder”, you can blame your mom, your dad, your school, whatever it is, or you can confront the issues in your life head-on, get in their face, tell them to move out of the way, and do whatever it takes to change your situation, without quitting, enduring any pain with a crazy grin on your face, screaming, “Bring it on, muthafucka!”, just like CT.

Show Them A Better Way

As I get older and am more experienced in this world, I feel like one of the most important things we’re all supposed to do is show people a better way.  I’m not saying to be pompous and arrogant, thinking you’re better than anybody else.  I’m also not saying to push your way of thinking or living on anybody else.  What I am saying is that if you have some knowledge or skill that can really help somebody else out, offer to take a little time and share what you know to those who would greatly benefit from it.  Help people navigate this crazy maze of life.

Like take my field of physics.  If I see a student struggling to understand some concept that I understand well, I try to take a little time and explain it to them, or at the very least, direct them to some book or materials that explains it clearly and easily.  We all benefit from this.  The more talented scientists and engineers we have out there, the more smart people we have to work on the technical problems we face in this world.  The same goes for just about every aspect of life.

I also try to help out in the weight room.  I’ve now been lifting for years.  I’ve read lots of books on how to properly train and diet to transform your physique.  Sometimes I’ll take time to explain to people how to properly do a cut, how to be careful during ‘bulking’ so that you don’t put on too much fat, I tell them about software tools they can use to track their macros (protein, carbs, etc), and all that.  I don’t like to be ‘that guy’ in the gym correcting everyone’s form, but when people ask me, I do show them proper technique and tell them ways to avoid injury.  It’s pretty nice, because doing this has cultivated a lot of new friendships in my life.

Not too long ago I was in the gym and some high school students came in.  They were really young.  Maybe 14 or 15?  They saw me doing bench press and the weight I was using to warm up was more weight than their max, by a lot.  They’re looking at me amazed because I’m not a huge guy and I was warming up with 185 lbs, doing sets of 10 just to get my shoulders stretched out.  I guess I don’t look very old either, and they were all clamoring around me, “How can I get strong?  I’m on the wrestling team.  I need to strengthen up.”  I’m not the greatest power lifter in the world, but I had a lot to teach them.  I started asking them about their diet, what kind of workouts they were doing, and all that.  I taught them about the importance of protein and getting in enough calories, introduced them to pyramid sets, and gave them a lot of tips to get them on track.

I was watching this video of World Champion boxer Mike Tyson talk about his early trainer Cus D’Amato and I found it really moving.  Tyson was from the projects, grew up dirt poor, and had inherited the culture and mindsets one does growing up in that sort of environment.

D’Amato took Tyson into his home and personally mentored him, physically and mentally.  He turned a violent street kid into arguably one of the greatest boxers to ever live.  That’s amazing to me.  D’Amato must’ve been one heck of a guy.  I don’t know the history all that well, but I believe Cus D’Amato died before Tyson ever became the world champion.  That’s sad because if D’Amato had been around, maybe Tyson wouldn’t have ended up in all the trouble that he later did.

As we get better at something, we tend to become deeply aware of the particular subject we’re dealing with.  We become aware of the greats, whether it be the world’s top physicists, or the top power-lifters, and you don’t feel qualified to help somebody.  They should be talking with the greats, not with little ol’ me.  But what you don’t realize is that if you’ve been dedicated to something for years, putting hours and hours into it each day, you’ve learned a whole lot, even if you’re not the “best”.  You have a lot to offer somebody who is new to that thing.  Keep moving forward, but take a little time to help the people you bump into along the way.  Pass on your tips and knowledge.  Sometimes you can totally change someone’s life.