elitefts™ Sunday Edition

In the fall of 1996, I met a girl when joining a group of friends at the Downunder Nightclub off First Avenue in Seattle. I had a girlfriend at the time and I didn’t know this other girl’s name, but one look and my determination kicked in. I wanted her number. OK, in all likelihood, lust coupled with determination is a more apt description. She was hot. About a month later, again at a Seattle night club and free of my old girlfriend, I got a chance to talk in-depth with this girl whom I now affectionately call my bride. On August 23, 1997, we married.

Perhaps it’s the recent milestone of our wedding anniversary, but I’ve thought a lot lately about the crazy, emotive, whirlwind of stuff that comprises 17 years of marriage. Reflecting, I was particularly struck by the unique similarities between a fulfilling marriage and the pursuit of muscle. Coincidentally, the Apostle Paul touches upon this subject in his letter to the church in Ephesus, in which he states, “…husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.”

There is no neutral.

Be it marriage or training, there is no neutral gear in which you can coast. Go ahead and try it, but I guarantee that you'll soon find yourself backsliding. There isn't any autopilot in which you can kick back and relax, at least not for an extended period of time. Nobody stumbles into deep intimacy with his spouse any more than he stumbles upon 20-inch biceps. Both take work—hard work, intentionality and a plan.

There is a level of satisfaction that exists when stepping under the bright lights of a bodybuilding stage after 15 weeks of grueling workouts and restrictive dieting. My most prized moments as a competitive bodybuilder aren't marked with trophies and first place finishes but with the satisfaction in knowing that I gave it 100 percent and achieved my personal best. Improvement and progress are what keep me motivated.

The same can be said about my marriage. It’s deeply more satisfying to me now, after 17 years, but I assure you that it didn’t happen by accident. It took attention to detail, humility to course correct when in error and willingness to sacrifice my immediate gratification in order to achieve something better later on. The aforementioned all sounds eerily like the attributes of a successful bodybuilder, huh?

Ultimate freedom dwells in restrictions.

The cultural drumbeat in America tends to say that ultimate freedom is found in the absence of restrictions. "Don’t tell me what to do" and "I’ll decide for myself" type of stuff. Leave my choices unfettered and then I will be free. Really? Well, that certainly doesn’t hold true in bodybuilding and it actually doesn’t hold true in marriage either.

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Bodybuilding is very restrictive. You’re forced to restrict your freedom of food choices to attain favorable body composition. You’re forced to restrict your nightly entertainment in order to attain proper rest to recover from training. Nobody will achieve world class conditioning and muscularity without an enormous amount of restrictions. However, when the restrictions are properly placed and properly timed, the end result is often astounding. Restrictions lead to an achievement that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

Such is the case in marriage. Ask anyone married for any length of time and he or she will stress the importance of self-imposed restrictions. Certainly this must be a two-way street because it only works when both persons are restricting equally in favor of the greater good of the marriage. This means that hanging out with the guys might come to an end because you’ll need that time to cultivate your relationship with your spouse. The similarities are striking. No beer night binges with the boys if you’re after success in bodybuilding—and not if you’re interested in the success in your marriage.

Greener grass?

Yea, we're all prone to believe the lie. The grass is greener in another person’s arms, right? The grass is greener with the aid of a different bodybuilding guru, right? This is the reason half of marriages fail and trainer fidelity is equally atrocious. The "grass is always greener" mentality is highly seductive. Have I ever thought, “What the hell have I done…” in regards to marrying Christina? Sure, in moments of anger or frustration. Trust me—I’m certain that she’s experienced plenty of those moments in relation to marrying me. I think it’s good to be honest here. People often experience hard seasons in their marriages and it isn't an indication that you chose the wrong spouse any more than experiencing hard seasons in training are attributable to selecting the wrong coach.

I personally believe that “grass is greener” thinking stems from the idea that things should be easy. Marriage should be easy and, when it becomes difficult, there must be something wrong with the marriage, right? Nope. Is training or bodybuilding a linear graph leading to success? Nope. Biblically, marriage is related to the cultivation of a garden. I don’t have a garden, but I remember we had one growing up. Gardens are tough. They require quite a bit of attention. If you get a bunch of rain, your garden will need weeding shortly thereafter. Not enough rain and you will need to do the watering yourself. Pruning, fertilizing...the list goes on and on. It’s a long way from planting a seed to an apple tree bearing good fruit. This isn't unlike marriage or bodybuilding. Expect to put in hard work. The end result will be far more valuable than you can imagine.

Next month, I'll touch on some practical applications for the health and growth of both marriage and muscles. If you’re a bodybuilder or simply into pushing iron and think only the muscle part is for you, consider the fact that 95 percent of people will get married in their lifetime. Therefore, even if you’re single, the chances are you will at some point be married!