How Strength Training Saved My Life

Have you ever been stuck?

I’m not talking about being physically stuck.

I don’t mean the type where you’re trying to squeeze between two tight spaces and you can’t go further.

It’s actually worse.

I mean feeling stuck in life.

The feeling that you aren’t going anywhere and you don’t know what else to do to make things better.

You wake up in the morning and after that you might as well be zombie in “The Walking Dead.”

I’ve been there.

It’s the worst feeling I’ve experienced.

It isn’t painful but it is like walking around without purpose.

You wake up, get ready, go to work, come home, sleep.

Obviously there’s little things that happen along the way like having meals, showering, other hygiene must do’s, reading, having a conversation but it almost doesn’t mean much.

If you can relate, or maybe you can’t, check out the Nine Inch Nails song “Everyday Is Exactly The Same.”

Trent Reznor nails it word for word.

And so you just live that way and wonder how it will all end up.

No purpose. No drive. No motivation.

You start to normalize it.

Maybe I’m just getting older.

Maybe it will pass.

Maybe this is it and there’s no other way around it.

No tears are shed.

Life just is.

And so you question whether it is even worth continuing.

If it’s worth living.

You wonder whether it is worth going after any dream you had.

It’s a feeling like you’re rotting it all away.

Then you start to look at yourself and wonder, “how long should I continue?”

I started feeling like I was on borrowed time and I was okay with that at the time.

That’s where I was at one point a year ago.

It didn’t happen overnight.

In fact I would say it had been slowly building over a long period since my teenage years.

Periods of darkness and gloom that would come and go but eventually I would come out of it.

But never a sense of feeling stuck.

At least not until a year ago.

How Training Saved My Life

henry rollins strength training

Every single day it was a routine.

It was ingrained into me, crawled in my mind and wouldn’t leave.

The routine of waking up, living my day and eventually going to sleep.

Earlier I described the “little things in between.”

It’s the things that happen in between which are important.

Maybe we start looking for the major event that will make life exciting again.

The big date with the girl you want.

The job that pays the big bucks.

The fancy degree that will have others staring at you in admiration.

The fancy car that says, “hey I’m cool because I can go from 0 to 60 faster than the guy in the Prius.”

Maybe they are a big deal but these things don’t happen every day.

They happen here and there and then what?

Well, sometimes the little things can keep you floating, looking forward to something.

As I sat across from my therapist he looked at me and asked,

“tell me something you love doing or that you feel you are good at.”

Without hesitation I answered, “fitness.”

“Fitness and bringing difficult concepts and simplifying them.”

He followed up with “so what specifically do you enjoy about staying fit?”

Again without hesitation I said, “I enjoy lifting weights.  I do strength training several times a week. I also do some cardio but less often.”

And I explained how I enjoy going to the gym, getting a workout done and love to study it.

I don’t know why I had taken it for granted.

But sitting there in front of my therapist I realized how much strength training and fitness in general had become an important part of my life.

Of all the things that happened on a daily basis the only thing I truly looked forward to was the gym.

Since December of 1999 I have made the effort to get in and do what I need to do.

My goal was always to look my best.

My goal was always to reach my physical potential.

Well, as far as my genetic ability allows.

That is always a work in progress.

But last year I realized how important the gym had become not only with helping me look better but in helping my state of mind.

Four to five days a week I have to fit my workout.

It doesn’t matter if I’m tired.

It doesn’t matter if I slept like crap the night before.

I push myself.

All within reason.

There’s days I struggle to have any energy. I skip those days.

If I’m sick I don’t push it.

I stay home instead.

But the days I’m fine and can gather the strength to do an activity is when I get up and go to the gym.

If my friends, family, coworkers ask me what I’m doing later that day, chances are I’ll something like, “I’ll be at the gym.”

But there is a beauty behind strength training I appreciate.

I actually appreciate it even more than before.

It’s me and the iron.

I don’t even fight the iron anymore.

I simply have to find the motivation and the will to the move it and make it happen.

Nothing moves by itself.

Every time I lift it’s with a goal in mind, to lift and complete the number of reps.

It’s a matter of making small gains over time.

I’ve learned to be patient with breaking plateaus, personal bests and with the way my body responds.

I fell in love with the process the moment I made the commitment to train.

I’ve been criticized, made fun of, you name it.

If you don’t have dedication to working out then they simply can’t understand.

It’s the only thing I found looking forward to in my day.

On days I questioned whether it was worth living I looked in the mirror and said, “I have to work out today.”

That’s what I did.

It could be 10 a.m. or late in the evening but one thing I’d remind myself was that I had a workout coming up later in the day.

Maybe it was the fact that I had made it a part of my life for several years that training was now second nature.

The fact that I had one thing to look forward to on certain days was a life saver.

If the gym was not in my life what else would I have?

And so with every training day completed I had a sense of satisfaction.

I knew I had tried my best.

My body was being reenergized.

Muscles were torn and then rebuilt.

This was part of my daily practice.

James Altucher talks about his “Daily Practice” and how it helped him climb out of depression and despair on more than one occasion.

As James describes it we all need to do things that nurture us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

I was basically doing one component of the daily practice- the physical.

It was my first step out of the darkness.

Other Steps To Get Out

I can’t say that the gym was my magic pill.

Saying that the gym alone was my way out would be deceiving.

I had to take all the other steps.

I had to get my mental state in order by seeing a therapist.

At the time I felt like I had lost.

It was like taking out the white flag and declaring defeat.

No longer was I able to handle things on my own.

Now I was seeing mental health professional?

Tough to admit at the time but now I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

I also began to write down ideas about everything and anything.

Yes, even ideas on fitness, looking for new ways to develop muscle groups, things I could write about on this blog…

And many ideas that probably sound weird.

The important thing was to use the idea muscle as James Altucher calls it.

Emotionally I shut out anything I considered negative: news, arguments, people that pissed me off…

Spiritually I did whatever it took: meditation, pray, be grateful about the things that mattered to me that very moment.

I felt grateful I had a gym to go to.

I felt grateful I was healthy and could exercise.

I felt grateful I had a successful workout.

I felt grateful I would wake up and feel sore from the previous day workout.

And yes, I slept a bit more than before.

But I have to admit that I’m notorious at being a poor sleeper.

As most ectomorphs (skinny people) know, we don’t usually sleep much.

I’m not proud of it but I’ve made adjustments so I get at least 7 hours of sleep.

Now that’s a major breakthrough from a measly 5 to 6 hours per night that I was sleeping before.

I’m working on getting up to 8 hours this year.

So it’s an ongoing process.

All these things I continue to do on a daily basis.

I really try but as with any new habit it is very challenging to keep up.

It isn’t easy but it’s a lot harder feeling like crap.

At least hard to live that way.

But I know that each component of the daily practice is as important as the other.

Leave one out and things could potentially begin to fall apart or at least it is easier to fall back to square one.

For me that first component of working out was literally the only thing that was constant and consistent.

This is why I say that weight training saved my life.

Other than training what else did I do consistently to stay healthy at any level?

Nothing else.

Well at least I didn’t practice anything else consistently.

Most of us don’t.

Almost a year has gone by.

Things changed drastically 6 months into this process.

The word “stuck” no longer fits my reality.

I now have a purpose.

I am now focused.

There are long term goals as well as short term goals I have planned out.

Every day is a new adventure.

This does not mean I am always working at my potential and feeling amazing.

But I can say the days that are less than stellar are short lived and I feel like I have more control over them.

Either way, as long as I’m training at the gym and nurturing my physical, mental, spiritual and emotional self then things are working to my advantage.

And best of all I know life is worth living.