July 30, 2021 by John Cunningham
Apply what you learn in the gym to other aspects of your life
There are some activities we do in life that hold the key to success in several seemingly unrelated areas. Weight training is one such activity for me.
I started going to the gym about 3 months ago. During that time, I increased my strength by 21%. That is incredible. Over these last three months, I have rekindled my enjoyment of weight training, something I had not done in the last 6 years or more.
After achieving new thresholds, we rarely reduce our performance expectations. When we have breakthroughs in life we forget that we had to struggle to achieve them.
One thing I came to realize was that making gains in weight training is very similar to developing yourself in life. One way this is true is we are always pushing to our max, whether that be reps, weight or commitment to a project.
Success enables us to set new performance norms. After achieving those new thresholds, we rarely reduce our performance expectations. When we have breakthroughs in life we often forget that we had to struggle to achieve those. We expect this new norm to be the standard not just for us, but those around us too. However, it is through struggle that we learn how to achieve. In the gym a new weight means starting the process all over again. In life achievement comes with a new set of expectations.
I do three sets on each machine. The first two sets are at a weight where I can complete 12 reps. Then I raise the weight by 9 kg (20 pounds) and push out the reps to exhaustion. If I can do 10 reps of the higher weight two sessions in a row, I raise the base weight by 5 kg (10 pounds).
The first time I do the increased weight it seems impossible. I often think, “What an accomplishment it would be to lift that amount of weight 10 times.” I am lucky if I can complete three reps. In life, we may feel discouraged by such a low level of accomplishment. Gradually, however, that number climbs and your skills develop. Three this week, five the next couple of weeks, then eight and finally ten. It may take weeks or even months to reach the next weight, but with persistence it is achievable.
There are some things we need to do continuously and without seeing the results we desire to get better.
In most cases, I have only increased the weights I am lifting once in these initial months. In a few rare cases, I raised the bar twice or more in that time. Just like in life, some things we have more aptitude for and make progress in faster than in others. My strengths are torso rotations, leg extensions, chest press and pull downs. I make regular gains in those areas.
This is similar to the development I’ve experienced in my writing. Through the experience of writing a book, I have made substantial gains in the amount of content I am able to produce on a daily basis too. From struggling to write 700 to a 1,000 words in a day to now being able to push out upwards of 5,000 on a good day. In what areas does progress seem to come easily to you now?
Maybe I am measuring the wrong thing here. Perhaps I should evaluate my ability to reach down and tie my shoes without shortness of breath instead of counting the number of leg presses I can do at 300 pounds.
Conversely, I have made very little gains on the shoulder and leg press machines. Initially the reps always seem easy and like today will be the day I break my ten rep requirement. However, when I get to that last set I am lucky to complete seven reps. Some days I lift less than I did the last time I worked out. Just like in life, there are some things we need to do continuously and without seeing the results we desire to get better. I may not be lifting more weight on these machines, but my quads and shoulders are getting bigger, my balance is better and I have a feeling of accomplishment when I finish these two stations.
Maybe I am measuring the wrong thing here. Instead of looking to advance weights perhaps I should evaluate muscle tone or the ability to reach down and tie my shoes without shortness of breath. The shock that I couldn’t do that was one reason I started going to the gym again after such a long break.
Making improvements in life is not easy. It requires us to undertake challenges that are painful, seem insurmountable and sometimes even appear to be counter-productive. Then, suddenly we achieve a major breakthrough, and experience joy and pride in our accomplishment. Likewise, muscle training requires us to believe that what we are doing is making an impact, even if we can not always see the results.
If you are wondering about your progress, measure your results. Evaluate and consider if you are measuring the right things, then look for signs that you are moving in the right direction. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Improve yourself today and you will reap the rewards tomorrow.