“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” — Albert Einstein
My teenage years can easily be summed up by two things: computer games and Double Cheeseburgers. Fast food was my only fuel as I lived my life in the virtual world. I purposely distanced myself from any task that I perceived to be daunting, topping the list was having to interact with the public. I hated parties and family reunions. Being introduced to strangers brought my social anxiety disorder into overdrive. And I grabbed every opportunity to lock myself in my room and lose myself in the video games that I played. I was your archetypal lost boy. In the beginning, my isolation served as my place of solace and comfort but, as time passed, I eventually became so socially dysfunctional to the point that I was watching myself let my life go to waste. My formative years were wasted and the ramifications of all my wasted time reached into my adult years.
I grew tired of my teenage life. I somehow believed that there’s more to life than just the pain of isolation and the deeper pain of having one too many wasted opportunities. I had to snap out of my self-constructed black hole. We all know that challenges in life stretch us into new dimensions and make us face ourselves and confront and vanquish our own demons. Seneca’s words are wise as they are painfully true. He said, “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent–no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
As a teenager, I had nothing much to do and fight for. I grew up soft, naive, jaded and anxious. When our minds are convinced that the environment is safe, we let our guard down. When we believe the illusion of security, we become soft and helpless. When our mind thinks there is abundance, it settles down into complacency. Without realizing, I set my standards low in every endeavor. I was stuck in the mud of mediocrity and meaninglessness. Everything was provided for, life was easy, and I settled for so-so. But so-so is a big no-no. Someone said that “The truth will set you free, but it will piss you off.” Well, this was my painful truth: I figured that I had an opponent all along and my enemy was myself. I had to do something about it and do it fast!
Joe de Sena, author of The Spartan Way, was right on point when he said, “Human beings thrive on challenge.” Nowadays, we barely challenge ourselves anymore. Science and technology make everything easier. Hungry? Just drive-through McDonald’s. Missing someone? Buzz them on WhatsApp. Got a little cold? Just take some antibiotics. No need to shop for healthy ingredients, cook our own food, set up a table, and have the best time with people who matter. No need to see each other eye to eye and have that difficult conversation. No need to take care of our gut microbiome. No need to pause and reflect and let our souls breathe again.
“It is your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.” — Nelson Mandela
Without adversity, there is no growth. No reason to wake up in the morning, no direction in life, and no need to put in the hard work. We go on auto-pilot to get through the day, unaware of our surroundings and unaware of ourselves and our great potential as human beings. What to do? Who am I? We are unable to actualize our gifts. We are like nails that stick out which are constantly hammered in. We go on to do what we are told and fall back in line. More like mass manufactured human doings rather than artisanally created human beings.
My pain as a teenager was deep. I was lost and the feeling of my life being wasted seared my soul. I never knew that my “magic pill” wasn’t that magical after all. It was simply exercising that saved my life and made me turn a very dark corner in my teenage years. When I started exercising, it hurt tremendously. It constantly pushed me close to breaking point. The pain and adversity lit a fire under my butt. My body screamed in exhaustion day after day and amidst the pain, I am repeatedly awaken from the hazy Jungle of Unawareness. I jumped out of my computer screen and realized that the real world is bigger than the four corners of my room. We human beings are creatures who dream and envision. We are creatures created for a long journey. We are not designed to remain in one place and wallow in a helpless state. We are created to persist and, ultimately, to overcome. With our own thoughts and dreams, we have formed cultures, built cities, developed civilizations, and written history. Such mind-bending feats across the millennia. And how did it all happen? A persistent commitment to hard work and an unwavering faith that things are not supposed to remain forever the same. Deeply embedded in the DNA of our being is the pursuit to do better, to be better.
Commitment, however, requires complete honesty. We do not become better simply by believing that things will get better. We become better by first facing ourselves with painful honesty. It means doing what we said we’re going to do even if we don’t feel like doing it. It means having to kill the voice within us that says we can’t. As Joe De Sena said, “There is no maybe in commitment.” Are we honest enough to commit in committing? For a time I knew I haven’t.
I did the typical bodybuilding split when I first started. Chest and Triceps on Monday, Back and Biceps on Tuesday, Shoulders on Wed and Legs on Friday. I went full force, full speed ahead, and took no days off. Exercising this way worked for a while but the time came when I started to plateau. I was in denial and instead of taking a break and going back to the planning board, I ignored the signs of inflammation and fatigue. I got caught up in rushing to build my body up that I was actually breaking it down. This resulted, of course, in injury. I injured my Achilles tendon doing extensive Calf Raises.
“In a way, failure is fuel for depth of commitment.” — Steven Pressfield
This seemingly stupid mistake was my wake up call to start getting honest and taking a second look at my training. I became deeply committed in understanding and learning proper exercise techniques and programming. Not to mention, switching to functional strength training, which emphasizes movement not just muscle. My mistakes, no matter how stupid, juvenile and egotistical, became a springboard for me to grow in my understanding of the science of fitness. I learned on the fly and I made a commitment that my goal would not only be the conditioning of my body but the deepening and widening of my understanding of the human body.
“No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back.” — Turkish proverb
Our body is our primary resource that is why we need to know the big difference between exercising and training. When you come in the gym to sweat and aim to burn what you binged on the previous night and hope to simply get by without a plan, or stick to what you’re comfortable doing, that’s exercising. You’re simply running around in circles, wasting your time, money, and effort.
Training is different. In training, you have a clear vision of your goals and you take measured and guided steps to reach them. You don’t workout to sweat, you workout to improve. You have a map in hand that tells you where you are, where you should go, and how to get there.
In proper training, the first step is to build a foundation. You need to get your joints, tendons and ligaments stronger in order to withstand the wear and tear. Next is following a well designed program which will allow you to progress and keep you from running around in circles. It’s all about progress no matter how slow and no matter how seemingly insignificant. Last is proper periodization of training elements such as strength, endurance and stamina, to name a few. Periodization basically sets a time table and allows you to mainly focus on one element before another. You simply cannot progress if you train and do everything all at once. It is a process, a carefully designed process that respects one’s capacity and skill set.
“If you don’t get the ABCs we don’t jump into English Lit.” — Greg Glassman
These three are the basics of any fitness regimen. Covering these will allow you to train effectively for a very long time. Only when you’ve fully understood these concepts that you can set more specific goals such as body composition, performance or sports conditioning. Don’t worry, if you put in the work and trust the process, you will get there in no time!
In CrossFit, we say mechanics first, then consistency and then intensity. You can’t go hard too fast too soon or you’ll pay the price. Mastering proper form and technique in lifting will keep you safe. Move properly, consistently until good form becomes second nature. Then and only then you can add in intensity. More intensity stimulates and forces your body to adapt and get stronger.
“Performance is directly correlated with intensity. Intensity is directly correlated with discomfort.” — Greg Glassman
A conditioned body is more than meets the eye. It is not just a sign of hard work and dedication but also a sign of awareness, responsibility, and self-respect. With proper training and a sound nutrition strategy, we are all set to develop ourselves, function well in society and be able to leave a lasting legacy for the future generations. Exercising saved me as a teenager but proper and wise training is what continues to empower me as an adult. Today, I feel that the world is my oyster and that everyday is simply a gift from above! About my social anxiety disorder, well, it’s gone. The process ain’t easy for sure and the effort is a daily one until today BUT it’s all worth it. I’d take the pain of training anytime over the pain of meaninglessness.
My advice: just start. Don’t wait until you’re ready cause no one is ever truly ready. Take action now no matter how small the first steps may seem. Sometimes, just seeing yourself accomplish the little things gives you the belief to accomplish the big things. Motivation won’t come every day. Cultivate discipline and see yourself rise above adversity. Condition you body. Fuel your greatness. And take hold of your life.
“Hiding from your weakness is a recipe for incapacity and error.” — Greg Glassman