About ten years ago my brother challenged me to go for a two-mile run with him, which of course became an all out war to see who could reach home first and I was easily defeated1, but the frustration from that led me to start running outside every day. Over the year’s training has continued to be part of my life for enjoyment and stress relief.
Running helps me keep physically fit but unfortunately it does absolutely nothing to build strength or muscle mass. As cool as it is to run five or six miles that doesn’t make losing in an arm wrestling match to a ten-year old girl any less embarrassing. So in 2008 I decided to join my first gym by filling out the paperwork, signing an iron clad year-long contract which couldn’t be broken without an act of Congress, and imagined kicking sand into a weaklings face.
Two months later after working out four to five days a week little had changed…..
It wasn’t that I didn’t train, but most of those training sessions were spent staying in my “comfort zone” physically and avoiding the gym crowd. Most of you know who the gym crowd is…these are the people who come every night to lift massive amounts of weight, drink at least three protein shakes, call everyone bro, and ask “what do you squat,’ or “how many reps do you have left”?2 It’s filled with people who take their training very seriously which can be quite intimidating; so I decided to join the “morning gym crowd.”
Now the morning gym crowd is filled with grandparents, retirees, and other people who like me weren’t comfortable with others seeing us bench ten pounds. Being there made it easier to set the weight limit at something a gym crowd member could lift with one hand, but also made it easier to approach workouts with a half-hearted attitude.
My workout included four sets of ten repetitions each. The first two sets were always completed easily but around the third repetition things started to get a lot harder. So instead of doing a complete rep which involved pushing my arms up to full extension for instance, extending them halfway was good enough. During the fourth set moving the weights up two inches was counted as a successful repetition.
This is why I trained with the morning gym crowd who were more interested in talking about their grandchildren than how much a person was bench pressing. See the gym crowd would never let me get away with my “two inch rep” philosophy taking it upon themselves to make me experience the fourth set in all its painful glory.
After two months I decided that even though my body was a bit stronger, training with the morning gym crowd was holding me back, so I put on my big boy pants and start visiting the gym crowd. The first two weeks of night training had the same rules as a New York City Subway3 but by week three I started to see growth; the fourth set was still a struggle but now it included five or seven full reps. Getting stronger was cool, but I realised something in the third week that truly shocked me.
I learned the deep dark secret that the people in the gym crowd don’t want you to know…all of them are out of shape physically.
Now there is a big difference between being strong and physically fit. Almost everyone in the gym crowd is strong enough to rip me in half like a phone book with their bare hands, however challenge those people to run (or walk) up a set of steps and they will be gasping for air by the fifth one.
The reason for this is they work on certain parts of their body such as the arms, chest, or shoulders but overlook cardio training that makes their lungs and heart stronger. Also they consume way too many calories in their daily diet (protein shakes are hundreds of calories each), which means if someone from the gym crowd stops training for a few weeks all of their “muscle” will become fat. Suddenly I wasn’t so scared of the gym crowd any more because they were in far worse shape than me…of course I didn’t tell any of them that, at least not without a good head start.
The gym crowd experience taught me that the things we fear or worry about no longer have power over us once we face them. Usually our mind goes to the worst possible scenario (embarrassing myself in front of the gym crowd) and makes us think that is the only scenario. The truth is 95% of the time that never happens, instead like me you will learn that source of anxiety isn’t so scary after all.
So face that fear you have been avoiding for weeks because it will make you stronger; feel free to call it weak, just make sure you have your running shoes on.
1 Because he cheated of course
2 It’s also a requirement that you have a friend shout encouragement, wear the smallest shirt imaginable, and spend fifteen minutes on the weights while roughy twenty-five people are waiting for them
3 Keep your head down, don’t look at anybody, don’t talk to anybody, don’t let them know your afraid