5 Life Lessons from Weightlifting

Weightlifting:  Its just lift things up and put them down.  But do it long enough, and you’ll find meaning from it.  Here are five life lessons that I’ve learned through weightlifting:

1. Sometimes you have to just grind

Photo taken by Cpl. Benjamin Cossel, 122nd MPAD, in Iraq. Source: http://www.hqusareur.army.mil/htmlinks/Press_Releases/2004/Mar2004/25Mar2004-01.htm

Weightlifting really has shown me how to grind out things in life.  When you have a heavy squat that stops midway you have to grind to get it through.  Something that you know you can achieve, you have to push to whatever extent that you can your mental and physical faculties in order to achieve it.  It will not be handed to you.

2. You Need Stress to Grow

Photo by Korean Olympic Committee

You have to do more in order to progress.  School gets more challenging as you progress, relationships, work, etc.  All get harder.  Embrace it.  Its through progressive difficulties, or progressive overload as they call it in strength training, that you realize what you are capable of and make headway in your goals.

This mindset also teaches us to embrace failure, to learn from it and move on.  This whole thing is our lab in which we find out what we are good at, how good we are in relation to others, and what that means for us.  Don’t take it personally.  Collect data and move on.

3. Recovery is Paramount

U.S. National Institute of Health

Now this is a big thing.  Many of us are guilty of pushing beyond necessary.  The saying, “Sleep is for the weak,” was a common adage during college.  But this is also very wrong.  Yes, you need stressors to get stronger, or more proficient, and attain life goals, but there has to be a respect given to your body.  Don’t burn out.


Because when you burn out, you have to stop training, you have to stop exposing yourself to that stressor that will help you grow.  Without proper recovery, you over-train and when you over-train you have to step away from the stimulus completely, in order to adequately recover.

Crash and Burn

That wastes time.

Its better to expose yourself to regular stimulus that you can recover from than from completely, and knowingly killing yourself on a regular basis.

There are definitive times that things are going to challenge your body to its limits but those should not be the norm.  An incredible bodybuilder, John Meadows, described recovery and training as digging a pit in the ground. Digging the pit is like training, and filling that pit up is like the recovery process.  The more deeply you dig (the harder you train or the greater the stress you put  on yourself) the more you have to fill that pit up with (the more emphasis you have to put on recovery afterwards)

4. Can’t Ride two Horses at once (for long)

This is also very important.  Don’t get me wrong, you and I can accomplish great feats in two pursuits simultaneously.  Just look at the up and coming hybrid athletes who compete in sports that are genuinely counter-intuitive to each other (see: Alex Viada).  Or look at soccer moms who juggle multiple roles.  Its possible to reach success in multiple things, but it depends on what you hold as success in multiple ventures.

You can’t get your leanest while still being your strongest.  That is not optimal.  You can’t be the most effective version of yourself at your job while you spend your time also studying to become the best pharmacists possible.  Its not possible.  Eventually you hit a wall which needs you to decide: Okay, is it going to be A or B? Unless your happy with the progress that you’ve made in those two, simultaneous goals.  Nothing wrong with that either.

5.  You will never truly reach your potential

We all hear about how we must reach our potential and be great.  However, we have to realize that you can’t truly reach your potential.  Its just not possible.  You can make gains to get closer and closer to that ceiling but you can never truly reach it.  That means you have reach ultimate growth.  People pretend to think that they’ve maxed out their potential when the gains per unit time grow less and less.  Many people quit at this time.  Weight training has taught me that it is those that eek out those small minute gains over greater and greater times that truly accomplish something as they pile on time in the trade (or gym).

Its like an asymptote.  In mathematics an asymptote is a curve that draws closer and closer to a line but never actually reaching it.  at one point there are huge gains being made but as the curve draws nearer to the line, those gains become smaller and smaller until infinity.

Why is this important?  Its a mindset.  Change it form thinking that you’ve maxed out your gains.  Rather, see it as a cost to benefit analysis.  Is putting in more time worth getting the prize?  It takes almost as much time to study to get from a 80% to 90% as it does to get from 0 to 80%.  Its great to reach your highest, but that is idealist thinking.  What is optimal?  Is your GPA going to die if you put all your effort and time into that 10%?

Wrap Up

These lessons are not exclusive to weight training and are in no way to show that weight training is a superior hobby to others.  Instead I want to highlight the important of meaningful hobbies.  Your hobbies should enhance your life, making the continued pursuit of them, a life-developing endeavour.


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