The following article is a guest post from Eric Weinbrenner. Read the author's bio below.
The iron teaches you things.
I sat in my garage a few days ago, thinking about how much I hate deadlifts at times like this and staring at a barbell holding 300+ pounds. While wasting a few more moments, dreading the upcoming set, I thought, “That lifeless piece of iron can teach me a lot…”
A lot about what, you might be wondering?
A lot about myself. The real me. The person behind all of the smoke and mirrors so often used as protection when interacting with others. We go to extreme effort to have the right appearance. And you know what I’ve discovered? We can – and often do – trick others pretty easily. Anyone can wear an expensive watch and appear to be financially stable while in reality they’re broke and drowning in debt.
Anyone can force a smile and say “I’m all good”, when deep down you’re not happy with the person you’ve become or the choices you’ve made.
Sometimes, doing stuff like that – faking it – is as much for ourselves as it is for others. We want to find a way to feel okay about who we are, even (or especially) when things aren’t right at the core. Tricking people, including ourselves, is pretty easy to do.
Tricking the iron, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult.
Every Time you step up to the bar, you’ve got a choice: will you win or be defeated? Will you push yourself to do something you didn’t think you could do, or shy away in fear?
In job interviews, people often ask questions that attempt to gauge the character of the person being interviewed. There are a bunch of different questions used for this, but you know what I’d ask?
I’d ask, “When you’re on the last set of an exercise and you’re 8 reps deep with 3 to go and your muscles are burning like crazy and your mind is begging you to drop the weight and give in – do you quit or finish 3 more reps?”
The answer to that question can tell you a lot about the kind of man you are. And if you’re not using physical training to make yourself better, you’re missing out on a lot of growth potential.
Use Fitness to Make You Better
Often, when we think of “strength”, we think of being physically strong. And while that physical kind of strength is definitely important, you don’t want to stop there. True strength – the kind of strength that affects every aspect of your life in a positive way and helps you be the man you want and need to be – is about more than just the physical.
True masculinity requires that you are strong physically, emotionally, and mentally. The cool thing? What you do in the gym can make you better in all of the areas where we need strength.
When you push yourself in the gym and build physical strength, you also have the opportunity to build your mental and emotional strength. At least, that’s how it should be.
Too often, I see guys focusing solely on the vanity of weight training. They become obsessed with the way their bodies look. They spend every waking moment comparing themselves to others and obsessing over perfecting every little detail of the way they look.
I’ve seen – and experienced – how hyper-focusing on building the ‘perfect’ body can distract you from other things in life that are more important.
Like being the kind of father, husband, or friend that you need to be. Like doing your part in making a broken world a bit better. Like being a modern-day hero and stepping up and standing for something that matters.
Is it bad if one of your main goals in the gym is to build a better looking body? No – absolutely not. That’s one of the main reasons I work hard in the gym and in the kitchen. But, recognize that the way you look is just one part of the man you are and looking better is only one of many benefits you can gain from fitness.
So, you want to get jacked and ripped? Awesome. But don’t stop there. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking any amount of muscle will fix all of your problems.
Will transforming your body fix a lot of them? Possibly.
Will it get you on the right track to dominate other areas of your life? Most definitely.
But will it fill the hole in your heart that makes you question whether or not you’re good enough? Nah.
At the end of the day, most guys want to feel good about who they are as a person.
This isn’t how guys are supposed to talk. We aren’t supposed to admit that we worry about what others think or about being good enough.
That’s deep; the kind of stuff most guys don’t want to deal with. The kind of stuff that would get me laughed at on a lot of hardcore fitness websites. Guys aren’t supposed to be vulnerable or admit that a big part of their fitness obsession is about resolving insecurity.
As men, we’re “supposed” to be self-assured individuals who boldly and unapologetically live by our own creed, without worry or wane. But that’s not always reality. And admitting that you don’t always have the Alpha Male mentality doesn’t make you weak; it makes you real.
So let’s not play that game.
Everyone has insecurities. Everyone wants to be accepted by others. And everyone has doubts about whether or not they deserve that. Refuse to let some invisible governing authority of “manliness” tell you otherwise.
To be confident in who you are as a person, you need more than the physical. You need more than defined abs and ripped arms.
Feeling good about the person you are is about your actions as much (or more) than it is about how you look. Having a muscular body helps, but you have to feel, at the very core of your being, that you are living authentically in line with what you believe to be true.
Do that, and a lot of the insecurities and self-doubt fade away.
Build a Body – and Life – That Matters
Everyone should make fitness a priority in their life. The things you learn from the gym like discipline, and grit, and ability to set and achieve goals will positively impact every area of your life.
Fitness can do some really awesome things for you, the kind of stuff that is crucial for you to live an impactful life.
But there’s more than one way to do fitness. I didn’t know this 10 years ago, but now, the knowledge that ‘fitness’ isn’t ‘fitness’ carries a ton of significance. Just like anything else you do in life, you want your approach to fitness to align with your values.
If fitness is the end goal, then getting involved with something like bodybuilding or competing in CrossFit may be a great fit.
But if fitness isn’t the end goal – if you’re just trying to use fitness to be a more confident, disciplined, focused, relentless guy who lives a life of purpose – then you need to make sure that your approach to fitness reflects this.
Otherwise, you run the risk of getting caught up in a lifestyle that’s hyper focused on the physical. Here are a few ways that you can develop an approach towards fitness that will help you become a better man overall. Consider it advice from a washed up meathead.
Build a Body That Serves You
For a lot of guys out there, the only thing they can think, talk, or read about is building muscle or getting better abs. And while that stuff can be important, it can also be a massive distraction from what’s truly important. You want to build a body that allows you to do the things you want to do. The kind of body that looks good and performs well. Spend a few days moving some heavy iron and find other ways to live an active lifestyle. If you can find activities that get you moving and involve interaction with other people – even better.
Be the Best You
Stop trying to be like someone else. You don’t need to look like the guy on the cover of Men’s Health or the dude flexing in 1,000 different selfies on Instagram. Can you look similar to those guys? Probably. But don’t get caught up in the comparison trap. All you’re trying to do is take what you’re working with and make it the best it can be.
Being consistent is far more important than figuring out all of the advanced training methods or uncovering the ‘perfect diet‘ (which doesn’t exist). Most guys with above average bodies maybe feel like working out half of the time. Probably less. But they’ve learned how to get themselves to show up and put in some work a few days per week whether they felt like it or not.
Follow a Program
Most guys can’t go into the gym and wing it and get great results. Trust me, I’ve tried it. Long term results come from a well-designed program. The important thing is that you follow a program that fits with your goals. Having a plan to follow provides more motivation and accountability (because most guys want to finish something they start). Plus, with a plan, you’re less likely to do curls for 10 minutes and decide to call it a day because you don’t know what else to do.
You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to finding information about building your body. I get that, and I am not going to suggest that the message I’m describing is going to be a great fit for everyone.
It definitely isn’t. Some guys are content with their current place in life. Some guys just want to show up in the gym and look at their reflection in the mirror for an hour or two and move on.
But some men want more. Some guys want to build an awesome body and live a more remarkable life.
You want to do stuff that matters while still being there for your family. You want to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and be happy with the person looking back at you. You want to make a difference.
Every time you step foot in the gym and push yourself past your comfort zone and challenge yourself to do something you haven’t done before, you get better. And you don’t just get better at lifting weights; the determination and fortitude you learn in the gym spills over into every other area of your life.
So as I sat there in my garage the other day, staring back at the loaded barbell that may as well have been screaming, “You can’t do this, you’re too weak“, I let out a half smile, took a deep breath, and pulled like hell.