While it’s not an exclusive club that gives members-only jackets to its elite, there are some truths about strength training that only those who do it consistently, perhaps for years, can fully appreciate.
You can likely add to this list, but here are some observations and lessons I’ve learned over the past decade from strength training. It’s a wonderful teacher indeed, and we would be wise to soak in its lessons.
I don’t know about you, but strength training helps keep me sane. Nowadays much of my time is spent writing and while I love it, there are days I want to throw my laptop against a wall, douse it in gasoline and light it on fire, get in my car and drive to the mountains, surround myself with animals of all types, learn how to weave baskets and talk to birds, and live off the grid for the remainder of my life. I battle anxiety from time to time, and strength training is an effective remedy. Any anxiety I have can be transferred out of my body and into the barbell or dumbbells. When I have a holy hell I’m going to explode moment, I step into my garage for some iron-therapy.
Strength training teaches honesty. You can’t fudge a deadlift: you either pull it, or you don’t. A push-up is a push-up, and a pull-up is a pull-up. In today’s world where people are oftentimes wearing a facade and showing you what they want you to see, honesty is needed more than ever. A barbell or dumbbell doesn’t lie; it doesn’t tell you what you want to hear or lead you into believing it’s something it’s not.
Strength training allows you to highlight your strengths. We constantly compare ourselves to others. We compare our physical appearance. Our success with our career. Our relationships. Our children. Our bank account. Our home. But the dumbbell and barbell shows us what we’re naturally good at; where we excel. And it beckons us to make the most of our natural strengths.
Strength training builds your body, of course, but also your mind. Few things can increase your mental fortitude than a brutal set of 20 rep squats when your lungs are screaming Stop! but your body and mind know it can handle more, or a five-exercise bodyweight circuit with minimal rest. There are times when you want to test your physical and mental strength, and a good resistance training workout will deliver a dose right into your bloodstream.
Like ice cream, strength training comes in a variety of delicious flavors. Whether you train at a commercial gym loaded with toys, in your home gym (like I do), or have nothing but your bodyweight, the options are endless.
This is also great for variety when boredom settles in. Tired of lifting heavy barbells? Do some bodyweight training. Tired of bodyweight training? Start performing dumbbell exercises. Tired of all that? You can do strongman exercises or train with kettlebells. The options are endless.
Strength training is beautifully simple. Use proper form. Perform a balanced routine that hits all of your muscles and trains the major movements. Improve your performance, gradually, when possible.
Strength training allows you to discover the incredible things your body can do. Oftentimes women tell me, “I can’t do push-ups” or “I can’t do pull-ups” or “There’s no way I can deadlift twice my bodyweight.” I gently correct them, “You mean you can’t do those things yet, but you will.” In a world that encourages us to value ourselves solely on how we look, strength training, if we allow it, will shine a blinding light on the things we can do. As a result, you’ll value yourself in a new, wonderful, empowering way.
You sleep better. Consistent strength training, in my experience, aids in falling to sleep faster and sleeping better.
Humility. Try to do too much too quickly, and the barbell or dumbbell will humble you. You can’t wield it into doing as you wish, and if necessary, it will remind you of this fact. When you feel over confident, throw too much weight on the bar, it will gladly humble you and crush your ego in the process. This isn’t always a bad thing; sometimes we need a firm reality-slap square in the ego.
Patience. You’ll never lose weight fast enough or increase the weight you lift quick enough. But regardless of how impatient you are, the barbell and dumbbell will force you to practice patience. You’ll begin to be grateful for the small improvements: that extra rep or extra five pounds you added to your lift.
Strength training teaches you the importance, and power, of consistency. You can’t do one workout and get stronger. You can’t eat great for one week and expect to lose a ton of weight in that short time frame. But workout by workout, month by month, the seemingly small changes add up to noticeable improvements. Each time you return to the iron, it will reward you, but it may take many workouts before you see the effects.
Empowerment. You may not realize your true potential. You may not yet be aware of the strength within just waiting to be unleashed. The barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell or other tools will reveal this to you. You are stronger than you realize. And unlike the physical changes which can take weeks or months to notice, you can feel empowered in today’s workout.
Respect. Strength training will keep you in check. It will show you what you can do, what you can strive to do, and make you appreciate any limitations you may have.
Strength training shows you there are no excuses. You can get better or you can complain, but you can’t do both. Regardless of any physical limitation or injury you have, you can always do something. And even if you don’t have a lot of time to work out, you can still strength train and achieve results.
Creativity. You may want to deadlift super heavy, but your body may not allow it right now. You may experience an injury and be forced to alter your training routine. You may want to work out four times per week but only have time to work out twice. Regardless, you will experience events that force you to be creative. You may no longer be able to do exercises or activities A, B, and C, so you may have to experiment with D, E,, and F for a while.
Strength training doesn’t discriminate. Age, race, size, gender, time, location, religion, equipment, shape, limitations, preferences. It doesn’t matter. Anyone can participate, one way or another.
Strength training touches every part of your life. Many of the lessons above have given me wisdom that I’ve applied to other areas of my life, and it’s certainly made me a stronger, better version of myself.
There’s only one thing left to do — Lift Like a Girl!
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