elitefts™ Sunday Edition

It's 11:00 p.m. and I'm just starting my training. The garage gym where I train is empty and quiet. The stereo is off and the only sound I hear is the weights hitting the floor as I go through my sets on the deadlift platform. Lately, this has been a typical training session. With mornings devoted to the boys’ swim team, ten- to twelve-hour work days, and evenings filled with various other commitments, it has been very hard to schedule time to train with my usual group, except for an occasional heavy squat or bench session. During other seasons of my life, this would have been a very difficult, even intolerable, reality to accept. Yet now I find myself actually enjoying the simplicity and solitude of these night time workouts, as they have become more routine.

I've always maintained that my time in the weight room has benefited me as a father, husband, boss, and person. Although I hate using the word “balance,” I've often argued that the training has always provided a much needed “release” of stress and emotion. It has saved my wife and boys from a grumpy and disengaged husband and father, and it has provided my employees with a more patient and even keeled supervisor. Because of this, the need for my three to four sessions per week has always been easy to justify to others and, when craftily articulated, even makes it look like an act of charity and selflessness. It's hard not to feel at least a little bit gratified when your wife says, “You seem stressed. Maybe you should go to the gym this evening.” It only solidifies my prideful belief that I’ve got her exactly where I want her, which is, of course, sheer foolishness on my part!

However, if I'm completely honest with myself, my training has always been more of a selfish activity than a benevolent one. I love everything about powerlifting—the attitude, the strain, the intensity. But more than that, I love that it's a world that carries little genuine obligation on my part. The weights really don’t care whether I lift them or not. The gym isn’t offended if I don’t show up. Yet I choose to experience the discomfort of growth. I choose to endure hardship, pain, and even potential injury. In a culture extremely focused on that which is comfortable and easy, this mindset is easily misunderstood and even ridiculed. Why would anyone choose to put himself through this?

This “power of choice” concept was recently put into perspective for me. I was watching a documentary about gladiators on the History Channel the other day and an archeologist stated that death surrounded the ancient Romans. Plague, war, and famine were all part of everyday life. Because of this, one would logically think that something like the gladiatorial games would have been avoided and very unpopular. Yet, as we all know, they were extremely popular with the Roman public. The explanation for this was deeply psychological. For the price of admission and a couple hours a week, an average Roman citizen could choose to both witness and participate in the fate of the gladiators he flocked to see fight. To put it simply, they were exercising their mastery over death. With a “thumbs up,” the gladiator lived. With a “thumbs down,” they died. In no other facet of their lives did they have this much control and it momentarily liberated them from the morbid reality that existed in their unpredictable and dangerous world.

We all know that our lives are filled with challenges and hardships that we never choose for ourselves. While we would never choose for a parent to get sick or for one of our children to have special needs, they are realities that deserve and demand our devoted time and attention. These responsibilities are to be embraced, not avoided. However, they can create a sense of hopelessness that can, at times, leave us feeling powerless and pretty insignificant like we're stuck between the hammer and the anvil.

Some choose to succumb to these pressures and use them as excuses to become victims, allowing their lives to become even more stressful and out of control. This is something that I have never been able to tolerate in my life. Somehow choosing to challenge myself in the weight room makes the other challenges in my life seem a little less formidable, a little bit easier to face. The training doesn’t deplete my energy and stamina. It increases it. It isn’t simply one more obligation. It is what makes the burden of the responsibilities in my life lighter and more manageable.

I read a quote the other day from former President Dwight D. Eisenhower that really summed it all up for me: “In the final choice, the soldier’s pack is not so heavy as a prisoner’s chains.” Perhaps another way to say this is that there is more freedom in choosing to proudly face the hardships life throws at us than surrendering to them.

By 1:00 a.m., I've completed my sets and reps. My lower back is burning, my head is pounding, and I’m tired. I know that in a few short hours, life will start over again and my beautiful wife and boys will need their husband and daddy, my employees will need their encouraging and supportive supervisor, and my very hectic life will continue to grow in responsibilities and obligations. Yet as the number and significance of these things grow, so does my strength and ability to handle them. I’ve not only trained my body, but I've also trained my character as well. That is more important than any PR could ever be.