by Robert Maxwell
UPDATED 5 JANUARY 2019 - The following article is the first I ever wrote on this website, and I still stand by everything said here. It's worth noting that I penned the piece before deciding to compete as a powerlifter. Back then, I simply lifted to get strong and healthy, and the article's directed at guys who want to do the same. How is this different from training from powerlifting? A few ways, the biggest of which are intensity and outcome. Lifting heavy weights regularly will make you strong, and most casual lifters who are taught to lift correctly won't put themselves in serious danger of injury. In fact, they'll do the opposite. Powerlifting training also makes you very strong, but in a more specific way and with more risk. Training to maximize your one rep max in the squat, bench press and deadlift probably means injury at some point. For guys like myself who choose to do this, the reasons in this article are side benefits, not the main attraction. But most guys in gyms aren't powerlifters, and that's fine. If you're not obsessed like me, this article will give you solid reasons for continuing to train if you've started, or start training if you haven't.
Everyone who trains hard has their reasons, but unless those reasons are sound, they'll crumble when motivation naturally ebbs. It's easy to hit the weights or treadmill when you're pumped and on fire with enthusiasm. But it's human nature that our drive comes in waves, and sometimes the surf's not so strong for a season. If you're new to training and haven't experienced this yet, you will. I don't mean to be discouraging, but it's the simple truth, as anyone who's trained seriously for more than a couple years will tell you. In these times of decreased motivation, it's vital to have a rock solid mental foundation of reasons for why we train, even when we don't feel like it. Recalling these reasons can give us the push we need to keep going, regardless of our feelings. When motivation runs low, the reasons for NOT training seem big, obvious and overpowering. First on the list is the physical discomfort of straining under a heavy barbell or finishing that last kilometre of a run. Our minds convince us that the pain of training will be unbearable, and we'll be happier if we take the day off. Our minds are lying. Taking one day off from training isn't necessarily bad, but it has the potential to open us up to weakness, and the dangerous habit of skipping workouts regularly. All mammals are inherently lazy, and unfortunately humans are no exception. Why should we get all hot, sweaty and out of breath in the gym if we don't feel like it? I've struggled with these thoughts many times over the years. Here are the five things that kept me training, even when I hated the very idea of picking up a barbell or strapping on my running shoes.
Benefit #1: Everyday tasks become easier
Like it or not, we live in a world full of physical tasks. Even if you have a 9 - 5 desk job, at some point you'll have to exert yourself: lifting heavy furniture, moving boxes, or as my wife and I have recently discovered, swinging a crying baby in their car seat. Whether or not these common, menial jobs are painful and difficult or easy and maybe even enjoyable is entirely up to you. A guy who regularly lifts a 200 or 300 pound barbell will find it much easier to carry an awkward 100 pound armchair into the living room than a guy who's never darkened the door of a gym. Both men eventually face their physical limits. But reaching those limits with a heavy barbell on one's own terms seems far preferable to reaching them while moving an armchair for your wife, and possibly throwing out your back because it's the first time you've used those muscles in a decade.
Benefit #2: Higher confidence
Life is full of challenges, and your ability to overcome them determines the level of success and satisfaction you'll enjoy. Whether you're building a house, climbing the corporate ladder, or saving up for your first car, self-belief is key. If you're not convinced deep down that you are capable of achieving your goals, you never will. Self-confidence is the first ingredient in the soup of success. But what if you're not a naturally confident person? Is there any hope of improving your confidence and your life? As a formerly un-confident young man, I found my answer in the weight room. It's amazing what the ability to bench press 250 pounds for reps does for a man's belief in himself. For many men, particularly those with non-physical jobs, a hard workout will be the most physically demanding part of their day. Even guys who work on farms or construction sites will find that a proper training sessions with heavy weights will usually take more energy and focus than their 8 hour work day. These men will soon realize that if they're capable of benching, squatting and deadlifting very heavy weights several times a week, they're almost certainly capable of overcoming the challenges of regular life. These challenges often seem easy compared to a series of savage barbell workouts.
Benefit #3: Better health and aging
Training makes you healthier. It means a better, stronger heart, more efficient lungs, superior muscles, and a physique you can be proud of. Also in all likelihood a longer life and less illness. Who wouldn't want all that? I'm often amazed and dismayed at how soon people start using age as an excuse. I've heard folks as young as their early thirties complain about sore backs, weak legs, an inability to jump, run or even walk more than a few metres – all of which they chalk up to aging. This is just plain stupid. If you're 35, don't have any serious medical conditions or injuries, yet can't bend over to pick something up without back pain, it's your fault. Stop blaming the age and own up to it. Point the finger at the real culprit – laziness. Our bodies aren't made to be flaccid, weak and constantly sore. These are the direct effects of too little exertion. One way or another, everyone ends up out of breath eventually. Either you train to the point of getting out of breath, or you don't train, and get out of breath walking to the mailbox. The choice is yours, but getting out of breath will happen regardless. So why not have it happen on your terms in the gym, while enjoying the benefits of physical fitness for the rest of your life?
Benefit #4: Increased mental toughness
The ability to do things we don't want to do is a vital skill. Life is overflowing with unpleasant jobs that insist on being done. At home, weakness in this department just gets you yelled at. In the corporate world, if you won't complete such tasks, there's always someone else who will. A weak ability to complete undesirable tasks cheerfully is quite common in kids, and as parents one of our most important jobs is to train them to become stronger in this. Every so often I meet an adult who hasn't yet mastered the skill, and I find myself feeling both annoyance and pity. Everyone can benefit from a little more stamina when putting their nose to the grindstone, and that's where a tough physical training regime helps. Forcing yourself to train day after day, week after week, whether you feel like it or not has a wonderful effect on your ability to bite the bullet in other areas of life. If you can force yourself to do one more set of heavy squats when your legs are burning and your body covered in sweat, you're not likely to have a problem mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, or getting through the last hour of work with a smile on your face.
Benefit #5: More happiness
It's been scientifically proven that hard physical training increases the production of endorphins and other "happiness chemicals" in our brains. So in addition to all the other benefits I've mentioned, training just plain feels good. I don't want to oversimplify the various debilitating mental conditions people suffer from, but I can't help but think many of these folks would be considerably better off if they regularly pressed a heavy barbell over their heads. It's certainly helped me shake off stress, anger and overwhelment many, many times in my own life.
All the sound reasoning in the world won't get a lazy person to pick up a barbell and start using it regularly. But for those of us who recognize the need for physical training and have the drive to do it, recalling the benefits above can help get us through when our well of enthusiasm has temporarily run dry.