Today’s post is more of a personal story than anything- a reflection on my life, on training, and what has brought me to this point. On a mantra I’ve adopted and the role it plays in my life.
Throughout the years I’ve been asked multiple times- why do you train? And each time I’m asked it always seems to change- to adapt so to speak. This week I was asked to explain why I train in three words.
Happy. Strong. Healthy.
In order to unpack this mantra I need to step back to 11 years ago. At the age of 17 I was clinically diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I know what it’s like to hit rock bottom- to wake up in the morning and wish you hadn’t. To feel detached from everyone and everything in your life. To feel like your drowning, even with a life jacket on. And like happiness, or the thought of happiness may be something that you’ll never experience again.
I also know what it’s like to experience crippling and uncontrollable anxiety. To feel like you can’t breathe when you’re standing in a room in front of your peers and about to give a presentation, or to talk to someone that you normally have no problem conversing with.
You see, mental health is this big ol’ elephant in the room that everyone doesn’t talk about because we still live in a world where talking about it may be perceived as weakness. Yet after this week and the loss of a family member to it I can’t help but wish that we could change the stigma surrounding it. That maybe we should consider that it takes strength and courage to talk about mental health and the battles that each of us are facing.
I didn’t mention that at the age of 17 I was also walking around at a body weight of 155kg (335lbs). I can still remember that moment when I decided that something had to give. I was sitting in the middle of a graduation meeting- and it dawned on me that if this was how I was living at 17 that chances were I wouldn’t make 50 and if I did make it that far in life I probably wouldn’t be healthy nor happy.
To say that I wasn’t happy with my trajectory in life would be the greatest understatement of all time. I just remember deciding in that moment that I needed to change. I had no idea how to get where I wanted to go. I just knew I needed to do something.
To say that my mental health has changed as a result of this would be quite the understatement. I’ve witnessed and experienced the effects that training can have on ones mental health.
Lesson 1: The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step… just take the fucking step, baby, the path will reveal itself eventually.
Fast forward 11 years and I can’t believe how much my life has changed as a result of making that decision to take my first step. I’ve moved across the world, travelled more in countries than I did in my own home country and I firmly believe that my initial step towards my journey into ‘fitness’ is to thank for taking me to all of these places.
To say that when I first started training I didn’t care about aesthetics would be the biggest lie. I wanted to look good naked, to be that guy that the ladies swooned over and gawked at his chest, biceps, and chiselled abs. Needless to say, that led me down the road to competing in bodybuilding. Something about the classic bodybuilders; Arnold, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, and Lee Haney, caught my attention. The fact that a human being could build themselves that form of physique blew my mind. Thus, began my journey into the world of bodybuilding.
After roughly 3 years of training and competing in 2 shows my trajectory began to change… I need to pause here to say that I will forever remain grateful for the lessons that bodybuilding instilled in me about discipline, work ethic, and having faith in my ability to bring my vision for life into reality… moving forward.
During my time as a bodybuilder I began to notice that I enjoyed “picking things up and putting them down”. These things that I’m talking about were heavy ass barbells. There was a sense of confidence that I found could be cultivated and derived from knowing my own ability to pick up an amount of weight that most normal folks would perceive to be insane.
In powerlifting there this saying that the meet doesn’t begin until the barbell leaves the floor. I loved that moment when the bar first breaks off the floor- where as you are imparting as much force as possible to move it others may be wondering if it will actually budge and then finally the force you are exerting against it beings to overcome gravity and you fight like hell to pull it into that locked out position. Yeah, I lived for that moment for quite some time.
When I was powerlifting, strong, was all about the numbers that I could hit in a meet and about the mindset that came along with that. I learnt a lot about having the strength to overcome things that you never imagined possible. I loved the sport, and still do, more than many people will ever know.
Yet as with bodybuilding my perception of things began to change: you see, strength is such a relative term. It can be defined in so many ways, physiologically and psychologically, and within those definitions there are so many variations of the way we define this term.
For now, my idea of being strong has become more well rounded. My idea of being ‘strong’ has far outgrown the constructs of a barbell. It’s since expanded into many different movement practices and philosophies. I.e. Into being able to pick up an odd object and move it a long distance, or being able to hit a pistol squat. Furthermore, it’s about more than being physically strong- there’s a mental component to it too.
Lesson 2: Strength and ‘heavy’ are such relative terms. What is ‘heavy’ for me may be someone else’s warm-up weight, or it may be something that someone else is aspiring to achieve. Instead focus on cultivating the habits of a strong person. Which leads to my next lesson.
Lesson 3: If strength takes a lifetime to develop, why is it that we’re all in such a rush to achieve it? Sit back, focus on your craft- the deliberate practice and constant refinement of your skills will unlock so many things that have yet to be explored.
To take the words from Eleiko, strong is happy. Having the strength to overcome the things that you never thought imaginable leads to a sense of confidence and happiness that can be transferred into multiple aspects of your life.
Being strong was really cool. As I eluded to earlier, there are only a few people who will truly understand the depths of how much I loved powerlifting. Yet as with anything in life, this journey that I’m on has been full of evolution.
I believe it was Socrates that said “What a disgrace it would be for man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” I’ll still remember the day that I realized that it wasn’t enough to just be “strong” in life.
Dani and I were out on a hike with her Dad, Gary. And I remember thinking that I was pretty ‘fit’ because I could squat, bench, and deadlift a decent amount at that point in my life….I was wrong….We got our asses kicked and on that hike I remember thinking to myself, what good was all the strength that I had if I couldn’t experience life to the fullest and if I didn’t know how to use my body in multiple ways to interact with the world around me.
My ideas surrounding what it meant to be healthy changed. I had, up until that point in time, associated being healthy with being strong and in doing so I had neglected so many other things that I could have and should have been working on in my life. My mobility, stability, strength endurance, and cardiovascular fitness to name a few.
It’s taken almost two years, of which six months were a random shot at exploring more of my bodies potential and another 6 of those months I didn’t train due to moving across the world, living on a farm for three months, and backpacking across Australia and through the South Island of New Zealand. However, I think I’m finally starting to push that needle forward a bit more.
I’ve learnt that health, or the idea of being healthy goes far deeper than many of us can possibly imagine. That as a whole our industry tries to place a heavy emphasis on health being related to aesthetics, when in reality the pursuit of that image can lead to many unhealthy outcomes. Which leads me to my final lesson.
Lesson 4: People generally tend to get caught up in this idea of fitness or being healthy due to some image that they have been exposed to. What we really need more of in this world, are people who are willing to show others that being fit or being healthy involves a process of which I believe involves some form of movement discipline and that by focusing on that process we may yield a better outcome than we could have ever imagined.
Happy. Strong. Healthy. I can’t promise that you will find these things the way that I did. However I’d like to believe that by focusing on your journey, on the process that is involved, and on the things that you can control in life that you’ll end up right where you need to be.