Beyond Looks: Why I Lift

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I recently bought Jack Donovan’s new book A Sky Without Eagles. One of the essays in it really got me thinking and reevaluating my training. I really loved his conclusion, his reason to train, but I’ll get to that later.

For me, I went through the normal progression as a lot of people.

I was a skinny and pretty weak guy. I didn’t have much confidence, and frankly I wasn’t doing great. I wasn’t grounded. I was just floating along through life.

A buddy of mine got me to go to the gym with him. I hated it the whole time. We did a bodybuilder style workout, one muscle group a day, five times a week. I put on a lot of muscle, I started to look a lot better, and felt great.

The whole point of lifting was to look good for our senior year spring break. A bunch of us were going to head down to Lake Havasu in Arizona then hit Vegas on the way back (It was an awesome trip). We wanted to meet girls and have a good time. I didn’t really care about getting stronger I just wanted to look better. Let’s just say my training consisted of a lot of curls for the girls.

As I reflect back it’s almost comical. There was no substance to my workouts. The only confidence boost came from looking in the mirror. There really wasn’t any difference between what I was doing and the girls on the elliptical trying to work off that cupcake, my version just required a little more effort. But it was still inherently effeminate. I was focused solely on the approval of others. I didn’t care about my own development, I just wanted to look hot. The strength I gained was empty.

Needless to say after the trip I wasn’t as diligent in the gym anymore. On missed day turned into two, two turned into a week, then a month. I didn’t really care that much. I wasn’t fat. I still looked pretty decent. I was in better shape than most, so why put in the effort.

Then I graduated from college with a useless degree and started working at a gym. I got a free membership so I couldn’t let it go to waste. I worked out doing the same routine before every shift, or on my lunch breaks. But I wasn’t constantly around girls anymore and I didn’t go out very often so the vanity factor didn’t really play into it anymore. I wasn’t lifting to look good for them anymore (though it’s still a fringe benefit).Now I was lifting to feel good. For me that was a big step up from just lifting for aesthetics. I was still the typical bro, focusing on the glamour muscles, the chest and arms but completely neglecting back and legs.

But a few months in I said to myself, “Let’s see how heavy I can go. Let’s see how strong I can get”.

So squats and deadlift became a staple of my gym diet. I lifted harder than I ever had. My vision would narrow, I would get light headed. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have scabs on my shins.

I started mentally competing with everyone else there. Looking at others’ form, laughing inwardly at their half-reps. My confidence grew exponentially. I definitely wasn’t the strongest in the gym but I was in the top 90%. I felt like I was lifting like a man.

That is until I read that essay. I felt like I was doing something meaningful, building myself up, becoming the strongest version of myself. But for what? For the one day where I might need it? Sure why not. But that still wasn’t a real purpose. For me that reason still felt empty. I wasn’t competing, or training for a sport. I was lifting just to lift. It was a past time, a hobby. Basically a more useful, productive version of playing videogames. Yeah it’s fun and good for me, but it really doesn’t matter.

But after finishing that essay and thinking about it I’ve got two reasons to lift now. Two reason that will help me push my limits and actually grow.

The first I’m stealing directly from the essay. I’m starting to lift for honor. To be able when my time comes to look my brothers and ancestors in the eye and know I didn’t waste my life. To know I didn’t submit, I didn’t hold back, I gave all of myself. I lift to be welcomed into that brotherhood, into the company of all the great men of my line. To be embraced as a man.

The second reason is to cultivate the virtue of strength in myself. To truly know what it means, deep in my bones. To revel in the joy of it, the challenge of it. To embody that elemental force of manhood. To be STRONG. And what better way is there to come closer to that ideal of strength than by turning my deadlifts and squats into a meditation. To not just cognitively know what strength its, but to feel it with my whole body.

So now I don’t work out to look good or be stronger than others. Now I’ve turned my training into a prayer to Strength. I bid my ancestors, “come and see”. I sacrifice my sweat to them, and honor them. I turned the gym into my temple and exertion into my devotion.

 

So ask yourself this.

Do I train just to look good or is there some other meaning behind it?