Gym Class 101: Life Lessons I Learned in the Gym
I am a squat goddess. I dedicate myself to putting heavy ass weights on my back, squatting down, and standing back up. I’m also committed to picking heavy ass weights up off the floor, pushing heavy ass weights above my head, lunging across the gym with heavy ass weights, and so on and so forth. The heavier the weight, the better I feel about it. Ultimately, I’m devoted to, not only my health, but my strength, both mental and physical, and to the maintenance of a body that looks good and works well. Since I started training in August, I’ve noticed a lot of significant changes in my life. My body changed, but there’s a lot more to it than just bigger thighs and a rounder ass. I’ve changed as a person. For me, the gym is more than just a place to lift weights. The gym is a classroom, and I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons that apply long after I’ve put the weights down and changed out of my sweats. Here’s what the iron has taught me.
1. Hard Stuff Makes You Stronger
Weight training is hard. I’ve pushed my body to crazy limits. I’ve felt pain in muscles that I didn’t know existed. I’ve tasted blood in the back of my throat and felt unbelievable exhaustion. This Tuesday, I pushed a sled for my conditioning. I can honestly say it was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. After three rounds of shoving that goddamn thing up and down the gym, I felt like utter crap. I was exhausted and nauseous. My legs felt like jelly, my face was on fire and my eyes kept going out of focus. I was literally in tears. It hurt that bad. The best part, I’ll be doing it again next Tuesday. Why? Because it’s going to make me stronger
Lesson: It’s like that with life as well. It’s the experiences that hurt you and leave you feeling weak and broken that teach you how strong you really are and how much stronger you can become. Think back to the toughest thing you’ve been through so far. Hard as that experience was, you’re still here, right? You’re still standing, older and wiser and helluva lot stronger for it. And now you know, if you had to face it again, you could take it because you’re stronger than the first time. So challenge yourself, in every aspect. Push your body and test your mind. Even if you don’t, life sure as hell will, and when those challenges come your way, know that no matter how badly you feel in the moment, you will come out of it stronger. Hard stuff will do that to you.
2. I am an Island
The first day I walked into the gym, I took note of every single woman in there. It didn’t take me long to realize they were all working towards different goals. Some were packing on muscle (naturally or otherwise), others were pounding the treadmill to death in hopes of shedding 20 pounds. Some women were aiming for thigh gaps while others wanted big traps. And very quickly I came to an understanding that I didn’t really belong amongst any of them. My goals were unique to me. I didn’t want skinny legs or massive amounts of muscle. I didn’t have a dress I wanted to fit into or a competition I wanted to win. I just wanted to look good and to be stronger. I can think of only one other woman in my gym who is training for strength, and even still, her training style is significantly different from mine. In the gym I am an island.
Lesson: You mustn’t try to fit into other people’s standards or hope that someone else will fit into yours. Just like your body, your life is your own. You have to decide what you want for your life. That is your right. You’re not obligated to fit into any preconceived category or walk any predetermined path. You don’t want kids? Don’t have ‘em. Don’t want to get married? Don’t. Don’t care for a 9-5? Get the job you want. Realize that a lot of the “rules” of life that society tells us we have to follow are just conventions. Do what you want. This is your world.
3. Attitude is Everything
The first time I attempted a really heavy squat, I failed. I mean, I failed miserably. I tweaked something in my back and that was the end of my workout for the day. It was my first failure and it was completely discouraging, I shed tears. My problem? I approached the bar fearing the weight. I stepped back, fearing the weight. I bent down, fearing the weight. And the weight kicked my ass. Worse, I let the failure get me down. My attitude before and after that squat attempt put me in hot water. A bad attitude makes the difference between a successful lift and a failed one. So what did I do? I put some ignorant music in my ears, blasted it at full volume and got hyped and changed my attitude from one of defeat to one of self-confidence. Then I walked up to that bar and squatted for my life.
Lesson: How you approach difficult situations can affect the outcome of that situation. When faced with challenges, if you automatically think, “I’m going to fail,” chances are, you will. Yes, some challenges can seem insurmountable. But you shouldn’t look at it that way. No matter how hard something is, how hopeless the situation may seem, don’t let that drag you down.
Don’t defeat yourself before you’ve even started fighting.
4. Establish a Support System
No matter how good my attitude is, I never attempt a really heavy set without a spotter. That’s the person that makes sure that if I fail, the weight doesn’t crush me and send me to the E.R. The spotter supports me, emotionally and physically and gives me the added comfort of knowing I’m not entirely on my own. If they’re spotting you right, a spotter won’t be moving the weight for you, but in the worst case scenario when the weight is really more than you can handle, they are there to give you the necessary support. With my boyfriend spotting me, even if he doesn’t provide physical support, the security that comes with knowing he’s there sometimes provide the extra oomph needed to get that weight moving.
Lesson: In life, friends act as spotters. They can’t live your life for you, but a good friend will be there to offer you support and encouragement. They will have your back when you’re dealing with heavy situations. While we have to set our own standard and make our own decisions, sometimes, it’s really necessary to have someone else there to help you keep going when the going gets tough.
Make sure your friends aren’t the kind to let the weight of your life crush you.
I think if you let me in the gym often enough, I’d find a way to make weight lifting an analogy for nearly everything, but I really can say that these lessons were either learned or seriously reinforced during my workouts. I’m strengthening my body and my mind every day, and I hoped that if I can’t inspire you to take up squatting, that I’ve at least encouraged you to take these lessons into mind. (Seriously though, you should squat.)