Stories of Men

Lifting, the habit that changed my life

Lifting, the habit that changed my life

There are a lot of reasons why you might want to consider getting into lifting weights. It’s good for your health, it makes you stronger, and it boosts your self-esteem.

When I first started lifting weights at 14 years old, I was thinking about one thing and one thing only: attracting the attention of women. Or, as I called it as a scrawny teenager: ‘getting fit birds to like me’.  

Of course, I wouldn’t have admitted that that was the main reason. I was too proud to say that. I’m sure many of you reading would’ve had a similar opinion then…or even now.

With this in mind, it was 2001 and I strode into a gym called Cosgroves. It was 5 minutes away from where I lived, just opposite Atherton train station. I went there with my mate, Dave and we stared in awe at the massive bodybuilders who stood before us. 

I never really had any desire to get to that level – their size felt too big to me. I didn’t fancy having veins that popped out of my bed. However, I really admired their dedication and there were things I could learn from them.

Dave and I trained at Cosgroves regularly for about a year and what began as a way of looking good in front of women, quickly became a competition amongst ourselves.

The other big benefit to my life was to be able to actually stick to something for a good length of time. We all quit things from time to time but if it becomes a habit, it can for sure have detrimental effects. All the best things in life, in my opinion, come from the discipline of creating good habits.

Both Dave and I wanted to lift as much weight as we could so we could show how strong we’d become. We were always in competition with each other as to who could lift the most. 

At the same time, technique/form went completely out the window! We didn’t really care about that. This mentality screwed me badly when I tried to deadlift a huge amount of weight and severely hurt my back.

I had excruciating pain for 2 weeks until it finally healed – it makes you realise that the back really is one of the worst muscle groups to hurt. You’d think I’d learn a lesson about lower weights and better technique but I didn’t.

So much of my early days of lifting weights were about gaining recognition and feeding the ego. The main reason for going (girls) didn’t actually work. I had zero confidence in myself and I didn’t facially look like Brad Pitt…however not many do.

A spanner soon entered the works during my time at Cosgroves. One of the gym staff got particularly angry at Dave and I, accusing us of leaving weights on the bench press machine. 

The weights in question were three 20kg plates on each side. Something at the age of 15 that I would’ve given my right arm to be able to press (if it were possible to press without a right arm).

We made this point to the member of staff, who refused to see reason. So we were banned. Quite funny to look back on but it annoyed my dad and he wrote a scathing letter to them which they never replied to! But all this didn’t put me off and it was to be just the beginning of my gym journey.

Dave and I decided to sign up to another gym and continued to develop our routine. In time, I was able to go beyond the need to just lift as much weight as I could.

I learnt more about form and the importance of controlling the weight at all times to get the most growth and to limit the risk of injury.

I also learnt about some of the fundamental concepts of resistance training. You should push yourself right to the edge of your ability, or, to put it another way, train to failure.

Pushing your muscles as far as they will go is a great way to generate growth. This is what I learned from reading about Arnold Schwarzenegger and other famous bodybuilders. 

However, I’ve since learned it’s not necessarily always about pushing yourself to failure and sometimes it’s more about leaning just beyond your edge.

I’m no expert in this area but as long as I feel it in my muscles the next day after training, I’m happy. It’s worth pointing out that there are many different arguments for this. Some say train to failure whilst others disagree.

Resistance training is like no other form of exercise in the sense that you can feel the results immediately. The burn in the muscles tells you that you’ve worked them to the fullest. And the reward for your consistency is that your efforts will be reflected back at you when you look in the mirror.

The results you get from exercise aren’t the only thing that helps it become such a strong habit. There is a strong social element to going to the gym.

Going to the gym with Dave was great because we were able to keep each other accountable and we made a commitment to go to the gym at a certain time on certain days which promotes punctuality and discipline. 

Essentially, we didn’t want to let each other down. 

Developing the habit of lifting weights also helped to keep me out of trouble. Before going to the gym, I’d hung about in the streets and got involved in petty, antisocial behaviour.

For instance, a group of lads and I would do things like throwing eggs at the windows of the local restaurant so we could get the buzz of being chased. Or putting fireworks in exhaust pipes and lighting them. So dangerous when I look back on all that.

All of that came to an end once I’d got into a positive gym routine. If you want to find out more about how lacking goals in life can lead to antisocial behaviour, listen to this episode where Tim, a social worker, talks about trying to guide a troubled young boy into adulthood.

Working out also gave me a strong motivation to eat healthier and drink less alcohol.

You can’t do a proper gym session if you’re hungover. I’ve had many hangovers in my time as I’m sure some of you have. It literally zaps any morsel of energy out of you to the point where you can’t be bothered doing anything.

You also can’t perform at your best if you’re not feeding yourself the nutrients and vitamins your body needs to recover and grow.

I think the biggest reason why working out has come to play such a big role in my life is that it gives me a goal to focus on. In the gym, just like in life, discipline leads to results. And the satisfaction of achieving those results leads to greater discipline, which then produces even better results. And so the cycle continues…

It’s a benign circle of achievement and it’s an activity that very quickly becomes a habit. Entrepreneur Charlie Munger once said that “the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they’re too strong to be broken”. It’s one of my favourite quotes.

The earlier you start the habit in your life, the easier it will be to keep it going consistently over time. Starting weight training at 70, after having never done it in your life will be difficult. It’s not impossible, but your habits and the way you’re conditioned has been set for so many decades.

Once you start your lifting journey, you’ll very quickly be looking forward to finding out just what you can achieve.

However, unlike many fears, the gym does not have to take over your entire life. If one day you really don’t feel like going to the gym, promise yourself you’ll go for at least one minute. I do this many times and I always stay the course.

Employing this strategy decreases the resistance and you think to yourself, ‘well, one minute isn’t so difficult, ok I’ll go.’ It’s a way to trick your brain because, of course, why would you make the effort to go to the gym for just one minute.

Our brains want to keep us in comfort and therein lies the problem of what many consider to be ‘the comfort crisis’ that we live in in the western world.

I would estimate that I don’t want to go to the gym 60% of the time but it’s become such a firmly fixed habit now that I don’t think. I just go. 

Once you get there, you’ll find you’ll want to stay for longer. But you don’t need to be there for all that long to get quality results. In fact, you can get a great session in no more than 45 minutes in my experience.

Even 30 minutes is a good starting point as long as you’re not looking at your phone endlessly between sets.

If you’ve never done weights before, I’d highly recommend a personal trainer to get going so that you know how to do the exercises and therefore won’t hurt yourself. Even ask them if you can take videos of them demoing so you can watch them back when they’re not with you in future.

You can also work out while listening to your favourite podcast. You could listen to this episode of Stories of Men, for example, where Isaac talks about the intense adrenaline-rush he experienced when going skydiving.

So, going to the gym is a step that we can take that will improve our physical health and our mental wellbeing. It’s something that can help us look good and feel good while improving our social network. 

Start the habit that you won’t want to break today and allow yourself to feel the hard-earned rewards. You owe it to yourself and your body and mind will thank you for it too.

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