People may find it weird that I always emphasize ‘getting stronger’. They usually do not realize that ‘getting stronger’ is not just about lifting more weight. It’s true that I value having a decent deadlift and squat to fight the deterioration of aging. It’s true that being strong helps you to protect yourself and those around you when it is necessary, regardless if it concerns a drunk person picking fights with you or a full blown zombie apocalypse. Although important, these benefits only relate to being physically resilient and able to exert physical force on stuff. (or people for that matter) I decided to write a bit on the mental side of strength training, with the help of Mahatma Gandhi.
Strength training will teach you how to focus. In some sports -archery comes to mind- you will even learn to be hyper-focused to somewhat of an extreme for a very short moment. There is, however, another aspect to being focused that I believe has a great carryover to the rest of your life. Most sports require some sort of focus in one way or another, but the world of strength training has become so polluted with weird hypes and commercial-yet-inefficient training methods that you will go through a certain process to learn more about your own training. You will learn to invest energy in what is important and discard all else, lest you become stagnant in your progress. The development of the internet in the last two decades has added to this, since everyone and their mother feels that their opinions on nutrition and strength training are somehow worth enough to share with the world. (frequently and sometimes to my frustration)
“It is my own firm belief that the strength of the soul grows in proportion as you subdue the flesh.” – Mohandas Gandhi
I have no idea when he said this, but considering he got killed shortly after WOII, it must have been a long time before the advent of the fitness industry as we know it, which came up in the 1970’s or so. Fitness seems to rely on a vague -and sometimes false- image of ‘getting thin, attractive and healthy’, and many people just go there to exercise and that’s that. Perhaps they’ll work for a sixpack to hit on girls, perhaps they’ll work up a sweat and lose a few pounds. Either is fine, but what these people are missing out on is what you can learn from the process. I have often heard something like what Gandhi said from people who took strength training seriously on a deeper level. Whatever the wording they used, it always came down to being more mentally resilient, staving off depression, releasing built up stress, having a better understanding of hard work and sometimes even learning valuable life lessons about self-restraint and self-love. Read Henry Rollins’ article called “The Iron” for a little more on that. It’s a 5 minute read, but a very great read. In it, he mentioned that “Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.” and I fully agree.
“When restraint and courtesy are added to strength, the latter becomes irresistible.” – Mohandas Gandhi
Doesn’t need that much explanation. We usually stand in awe when someone is strong. Books and stories have been inspired by strong men and women for all of recorded history… But usually only when it is used in a good way. Men who abuse their physical capabilities are often evil, the bad guys. We call it heroic when physical strength is used to protect, shelter, save or simply aid. THAT is strength. It is the same in daily life, when we’re impressed if someone wins a contest or lifts ridiculous amounts of weight, but it often disgusts us however, when strength is abused in the form of putting weaker people down, beating up people in the streets in a drunk stupor or even in cases of domestic violence.
You know how they say that adversity not necessarily builds character but merely reveals it? Well, strength training helps with that. It puts you in a controlled, safe form of adversity. Much like how we enjoy roller coasters and love the kick we get from it. Even if we’re scared shitless… We’re not really, because it’s safe. I believe it works the same way with how strength training artificually reproduces a type of adversity that can reveal aspects of someone’s character. Not being able to trust people (your coach, for example), being stubborn, being lazy, having no self restraint, insecurity… I’ve seen all these things come by in people and that’s fine. Like I’ve said before, we all have issues, but I strongly believe that strength training helps in finding and acknowledging these issues while developing qualities like patience, willpower and the ability to focus.