What Going to the Gym Has Taught Me About Life

“You have to build calluses on your brain just like how you build calluses on your hands. Callus your mind through pain and suffering.”
—David Goggins

There’s an old gym adage that I’ve always believed in: no pain, no gain.

No, this doesn’t mean you should crush your fingers between two weights and lose a fingertip, like I did a few years ago. It refers to lactic acidosis, or the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which can cause a burning sensation that is often very painful.

I tend to reach this lactate threshold fairly quickly and, while the science isn’t altogether clear on the role that lactate plays in muscle growth, I have always found it useful. Yeah, I know that’s “bro science” at its worst, but Dr. George Brooks, a professor of integrative biology of the University of California at Berkeley, backs me up — well, kind of.

“Lactate is not a waste product, and in fact, it is the most important [new glucose generator] in the body.”

In other words, Dr. Brooks is saying: “Dude, you gotta feel the burn to get the gainz [always with a ‘z’, my friends].”

But, on a serious note, if this notion of “no pain, no gain” works in the gym, why don’t more of us utilize it in our everyday lives? I asked myself this question recently after watching a video featuring David Goggins.

For those who don’t know who Goggins is, suffice it to say that he is the biggest badass on the planet. And he has a saying: “Embrace the suck.”

david-goggins-quotes-sucks
Photo from fearlessmotivation.com

Goggins believes that, just like in the gym, our greatest growth comes from welcoming pain into our lives. Rather than playing to our strengths, we should focus on our weaknesses, Goggins says.

“We’re not gonna triple down on our strengths. We’re not gonna do that crap. We’re gonna work on our weaknesses so we grow. We need friction to do that. Without friction, there’s no growth. Without friction, there’s confusion.”

I realize — and I can’t pinpoint why or when it first began — that I’ve spent too much time in my life seeking comfort. I don’t have a lot of real close friends, but the ones that I do have I’ve leaned on too heavily for support… only, recently, it hasn’t been working.

In retrospect, I think this is due to the fact that I know in my heart that only I can make the changes necessary for me to find happiness again — if, in fact, that’s even the goal. I’m not really sure it is for me.

John Greenleaf Whittier once wrote, “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.”

I love that quote. And, in the same video I referenced earlier, Goggins gives his own unique take on it — which I found incredibly moving.

WARNING: Strong language.

Look, I’m not a religious guy, but I do believe that we should all strive to maximize our potential… and I know I haven’t. Being happy is not going to change that; family and friends are not going to change that.

Only I can.

Why NOT Going to the Gym Can Be a Great Idea

“Rest when you’re weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.”
—Ralph Marston

Because I’ve been so busy trying to get my new website up and running (more on that in a future post), I’ve been working a lot of hours. Consequently, prior to this evening, I hadn’t been to the gym in three days — a rarity for me.

But after my workout tonight, I was left wondering if longer breaks might, in fact, be a good thing. Not for the first time, I was amazed by how good I felt. My typical aches and pains were gone and I was tossing the weights around like fish at the Pike Place Market.

Even complete strangers noticed.

After one of my sets on the bench press, a guy nodded at me. “What was that,” he asked, “30 reps?”

“35,” I responded. (He later told me he’d just been released from prison, making me question the wisdom of correcting his math — but, damn it, don’t short me reps!)

According to bodybuilder Chris Zaino, rest is a key to making constant progress and, perhaps more importantly, avoiding injuries. Zaino suggests taking a week off after every 2-2 ½ months of steady training.

“After 8-10 weeks of continued training, you should give yourself a whole week off to fully recuperate. Physically, this will help the body heal any minor strains, sprains, tears, and joint pain you may have or are on the road to having,” wrote Zaino on the bodybuilding.com website. “It is not always that easy for a compulsive fitness warrior, such as many of you readers’ out there, to allow yourselves to take the time off. Some people may fear they will ‘de-condition’ if they take a week off.

“Trust me you will not. It takes around 3-4 weeks of total inactivity for your muscles to start atrophying, or breaking down muscle tissue. In fact, I guarantee that you will come back stronger and more refreshed than ever,” Zaino said.

Tanner Baze, a writer at brobible.com (with a website name like that, you know you can trust the guy), was even more adamant. After training two hours a day non-stop for an extended period of time, Baze discussed a beach vacation he took.

He noted that he “drank a ton of beer, ate enough Whataburger to clog up 5 toilets, and didn’t do a damn thing but sit in a lawn chair on the beach.”

“I didn’t do anything that amounted to physical activity other than carry a cooler,” Baze wrote. “I came back into the gym the next week and had pretty much accepted that I’d lost all my gains thanks to that beach trip.

“What I noticed was that I was actually stronger than I was before I left. Not only was I stronger, but my nagging little injuries were nonexistent,” Baze concluded.

Minus the Whataburger issues, I can totally relate to what Baze said. That is exactly what I experienced tonight.

So, the next time I skip going to the gym, I won’t feel guilty. I’ll just tell myself I’m taking a much-needed rest.

Now, if I could only find a legitimate reason to eat pie…

Featured photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash.