When you hear the term weight lifting what do you think about? Probably, a big muscular bodybuilder grunting, sweating, and flexing in a mirror. Maybe you think performance enhancing drugs such as steroids. Or maybe you think about a big guy with a below average IQ.
Unfortunately, stereotypes exist in the world due to ignorance. In fact, the vast majority of people that lift weights are not bodybuilders at all. Powerlifters, Olympic Weightlifters, Strongman, CrossFitters, and athletes of all sports from baseball to volleyball lift weights for increased strength, muscle mass, power, and speed. Yet, most of the folks pumping iron are not athletes. They are regular people trying to be healthier and look better. The increases in sex appeal are great, but the lifelong skills and traits you get from challenging yourself is even better.
Have you ever seen one of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s lifting videos on Facebook or Instagram (1)? He often stops mid-set and yells “focus” at the camera. While it is entertaining, The Rock make a great point. When we lift weights we must focus. That means put the cell phone down, stop staring at your gym crush, and focus on the movement that you are doing. One, you will get better results from focusing on your task. Two, you will be less likely to do something stupid and get hurt.
The weights teach us another meaning of focus too. We can’t just go to the gym and lift weight on occasion. We would hardly get anything out of such half-hearted effort. To get results we need to focus on our goals. Take time to focus on what exercises we are going to do before we do them. Focus on how much weight we are going to lift and how it will feel in our hands. These little Jedi Mind Tricks will make us better and stronger.
The best time to be a gym owner is the first few weeks of January. All the people that want to get in shape come out with their New Year’s resolutions in full swing. Gym owners often have discounted membership prices in January to lure resolutioners in like a creepy stranger with candy for a child (2). Unfortunately, many of these newfound fitness fanatics go back to their old habits of eating Doritos on the couch after work and binge watching Game of Thrones after a few weeks of sweat and hard labor.
The initiated dedicate themselves to the iron. The weights become an extension of their bodies. Ask any strength athlete or bodybuilder what is their favorite part of their sport. The answer will be lifting weights. Strength athletes and bodybuilders don’t get off on the healthy eating, stretching, mobility work, foam rolling, or recovery methods. The iron jungle is their playground. They dedicate themselves to the weights and to their goals. If we can dedicate ourselves to this task why can’t we use this level of dedication to accomplish other goals in our lives?
Anyone who spends enough time lifting weights is going to learn to be creative. If we did the same routine over and over we would end up making zero progress and injured. In fact, not changing up exercises and routines could lead to overtraining syndrome (3). This is where your body fights back and you end up getting weaker in the process.
Our bodies are meant to move in many different ways. This is why cross training is an effective tool. Cross training allows individuals to perform physical tasks that they don’t normally do. Endurance athletes such as runners can use weights to cross train. The end result is different muscles are used and commonly used muscles are not overused.
Smart weight trainers know how to vary loads, change exercises, and create different training variables. We are not talking about dumb things like doing barbell squats on a Bosu ball while auditioning for America’s Got Talent. More like experimenting with different variations of exercises to stay fresh and keep the results coming. Instead of bench pressing with a barbell all the time we could use dumbbells. The possibilities are endless.
We are not talking about the kind of discipline mommy gave you when you talked back to her as a child. We are talking about self-control or self-discipline. A student can have a high IQ, but without discipline he/she could have lower grades than a disciplined student that isn’t gifted (4). Smart lifters not only have the self-control to do what it takes to make progress, but they have the self-control to not overdo it. The days when your body doesn’t feel right are the days where you must have some discipline to not do something stupid and hurt yourself.
On the flip side, strength trainers are disciplined enough to not miss workout, to not make excuses, and to do what it takes to achieve their goals. People that wake up at 5 am to lift weights have the discipline to get up and do something productive when most of the world is sleeping. People that go to the gym after work have the discipline to not punch their coworkers in the face at work because they know they can blow off some steam by doing deadlifts during Happy Hour.
People are motivated by many different things in this world. Financial and non-financial are the two specific types of motivation employers focus on (5). Money, praise, success, attention, etc. Weights have a way of being their own motivator. Once a person starts lifting weights he/she becomes motivated to get stronger. A barbell with 225 lbs on it looks better than one with 135 lbs. A barbell with 495 lbs looks better than one with 405 lbs. The point is we often view bigger as better. That rule certainly applies to the iron. A man deadlifting 700 lbs is going to naturally get more attention than the new guy deadlifting 135 lbs. However, that new guy can use the strength of others to motivate himself to one day reach a higher level.
Gyms can be very motivating places to achieve success in fitness. So can home gyms in garages, basements, and sheds. Despite the atmosphere true lifters will find a way wherever they are to achieve their goals.
The stereotype of the big dumb meathead is more fallacy than reality. Anyone who has lifted weights for a long period of time has spent years researching and learning about the human body. They talk to fellow lifters, watch videos on the internet, and search books and magazines for knowledge. All this is done in the pursuit of gains or gainzzz as some people that spend too much time in the tanning both might say.
They act likes scientists on their own bodies by experimenting with different exercises, warm-up routines, stretches, and nutritional protocols. So that big meathead squatting a house probably knows more about human anatomy and physiology than most of humanity.
Not only does pumping iron make your muscles bigger it makes your brain function better (6). Chances are when you are performing physical exercise on a regular basis you are going to feel better and use your brain more wisely. I am not just talking about making better nutritional decisions, but also better life decisions.
Anyone who has ever spent time in a gym knows that you have to share the playground with the other kids. You worked all day in a job that you may or may not hate. You drive to the gym blasting your favorite pre-workout jam. You plan on hitting bench press tonight. Upon walking into the gym you see every bench press is occupied. It is Monday otherwise known as International Chest Day in gyms across America. Option 1: You wait your turn like a good little boy. Option 2: You adapt and overcome the situation by changing up your exercise order so that you don’t have to spend an extra half hour in the gym.
Chances are that you are a human reading this. Sometimes life happens and humans get hurt or have a bad day. The knowledge you gained from lifting weights will teach you how to adapt to these life situations. For example, you hurt your shoulder and bench pressing is not an option. Do you go home and drown your sorrows in a tub of Rocky Road? No, you find an exercise that works your chest that doesn’t hurt your shoulder. The human body is very adaptable to different stresses (7). Adapt and overcome!
Rome was not built in a day. Neither was a great body ladies and gentlemen. Unfortunately for our “I want it now” generation, success in the weight room takes time. This is a good thing. Patience is a virtue and lifting weights makes us patient. With the exception of a few mutants not many people walk into a gym and bench press 300 lbs without spending months or years under the bar.
The patience we learn from the iron carries over to other parts in life. Have to wait in line at the store? No big deal, I have been chasing a 600 lb deadlift for 10 years. A few minutes extra until I have to answer the question “would you like paper or plastic” is not a problem.
If you are lifting weights chances are you care about your health. Patience is an important attribute to have to fight off stress. Stress has been proven to cause a number of health problems (8). Use the weights as medicine and don’t worry about the traffic on your way to a place you don’t really want to be anyway.
Lifting weights does more than just make men more attractive to the ladies or ladies more attractive to the fellas. The skill you learn will broaden your confidence in many areas of life. If you feel awkward in social settings the iron might be your best friend. Achieving success in the weight room several times a week will make you stand taller and be more comfortable in your own skin. The skin will get firmer as an added benefit.
Confidence is important because it leads to success and happiness in the workplace and in our personal relationships (9). Smashing a new personal best in the deadlift is a surefire way to feel good about yourself. Repetitive success in the iron world can inspire greatness in other areas of life. Just the feeling of knowing you are getting better at something can go a long way in boosting one’s self-confidence.
- Sense of Purpose
Human beings crave a sense of purpose. Science shows us that people who have a sense of purpose live longer (10). This makes perfect sense. When a person has something to live for they have a reason to live.
Sometimes life can get us down. Lifting something up might be just what we need to put ourselves back where we need to be. Every time we complete a workout we have accomplished something. That sense of accomplishment is a building block in our pursuit of happiness.
Lifting weights can also lead to other purposes. I’m not just talking about those friends that always need help moving. People have made careers out of health and fitness that started with a trip to the weight room. Many lifters have training partners that rely on them. Fathers and sons have bonded over sets of deadlifts. In fact, the Lilliebridge family is considered the strongest family in powerlifting (11). Ernie Sr., Ernie Jr., and Eric are national and world record holders. Even the guy or gal who goes to the gym by themselves will be asked for a spot someday. That is a way of another human saying “I need you”. What better purpose do we have then to help others?