Ten life lessons I learned from going to the gym

You might think the gym is the least likely place for inspiration. 

A table by the sea; a walk through rolling green hills; a candle-lit room with slow, quiet music: these are the places where our deepest, most meditative thoughts are likely to be stirred.

Not the grey four walls of a warehouse with dumbbells and inane thumping music.

What's more, the vacuous gym-goer stereotype is a marathon away from the philosopher.

But it's time to re-think. The stereotype is unfair; the gym can be one of the best epiphany-encouraging places. With those endorphins circulating, pumping iron can lead to some profound metaphors for life.

Doing the work isn't the most difficult bit; it's resisting the urge to press 'snooze' on your alarm till it's too late.

Here are ten I've observed:

1) Staying still is harder than moving

Working out is often perceived as intense movements and physical exertion. But anybody who has done the plank, a side prone or a dish hold will know that staying utterly still is harder than the frenzied moving, thrashing and pumping of most gym exercises.

The same is true of life: staying exactly where you are in life/your job/relationship and learning to be content can be a happiness revelation in a fickle world obsessed with change, progress and the adrenaline of new experiences.

It can be harder than jacking things in and moving on.


2) Technique trumps volume

When you first start lifting weights, you can fixate on lifting heavier volumes. Without the right technique, though, the heavier weight won't help you.

A better technique with less volume of weight and more studious control can actually make you more buff.

In life, it's easy to be size-fixated. But it really isn't the size of the ocean; it's the waves and the motion.

3) When you feel you can't go on, you can

Ask anyone who has had a personal trainer: when, at the gym, you'd have stopped at 8 reps, believing yourself to be exhausted, a good trainer will motivate you to do 12 by shouting at you. And, to your surprise, you'll do 12. What's more, it's between reps 8 to 12 that your muscles will tear, so they can grow back stronger.

When things hit the fan in life, sometimes you're not sure how much more crap you can take. You're not sure because you don't have that PT in your ear. You can take much more and you'll grow because of it – and this growth is an essential part of life.

4) You can do it alone, or not

Once you're a seasoned gym-goer, the jargon, technique and idiosyncrasies become second nature. You're now self-assured enough to downgrade your gym membership to one without gym instructors or PTs to guide you.

But when you do, something curious can happen. Even though you're confident you know what you're doing, you can feel isolated without the human interaction. Having someone complicit in your goals makes you more motivated to achieve them – and you generally enjoy the task more.

Being single is exactly the same. You might be totally comfortable in your own skin while flying solo and feel no need to partner up. Yet you still may benefit the company – even when you don't really need it.

5) The hardest part is getting up

"There's no way I could get up for the gym before work."

How many of us gym-goers told ourselves that before we started realising there's a difference between 'can't' and 'don't want to enough'?

Doing the work isn't the most difficult bit; it's resisting the urge to press 'snooze' on your alarm till it's too late to go.

Turning up is always the biggest pathway to success. Everything else flows from there. Once you know that, roadblocks seem so much less difficult and stressful.

6) You're stronger than you think

When you think your max bench press is 65 kilograms, your PT will force you up to 80 kilograms and you'll think it impossible. But then you'll do it, sheepishly realising that you've placed an arbitrary plateau on your own ambition and ability.

Through tough times, sometimes your hidden best side comes out. Your emotional resilience is often more robust than you give yourself credit for, opening the pathways to calculated risks that you'd previously dismissed or closed off through misplaced fear and lack of faith in your own fortitude.

7) Where else have I underestimated myself?

Once you do more reps and a heavier volume than you thought yourself capable, you begin to question other areas where you could've pushed yourself harder, further, faster.

The biggest thing holding you back 90 per cent of the time is you.

8) Drugs cheat you of authenticity

Those juiced up beefcakes who've used steroids know that they've just taken the easy route. You've worked hard for what you've got.

Over-indulgence of any drug – alcohol included – will cheat you of your pride. Balance is key.

9) It's OK to ask for help

Leave your pride at the door when you need to ask a gym instructor how to do a certain exercise, or risk injury / ineffective time-wasting.

The same goes for your mental health – if you need help, forget your pride and ask. Don't be the stubborn cliché who refuses to ask.

10) Routine is good for your health

Many of life's best results come from banal, predictable routine. It can feel monotonous, yes, but that's ignoring the positive effects routine has on your physical and mental health.

The best thing about routine, of course, is the joy that comes with cheekily and occasionally breaking it.

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