The Journey of Strength and the Obstacle of Comparison

The Journey of Strength and the Obstacle of Comparison

My first true attempts to get stronger didn’t really begin until the end of my sophomore year of college. Before then I was working out, but I was intimidated by the barbell. I needed to check my ego at the door and let go of my fears in order to begin getting stronger. 

Being blatantly honest I was inundated with images of these huge guys doing barbell exercises and it intimidated me. I would think, “well I’m nowhere near as big as those guys so I don’t belong underneath the barbell”. As a result I simply stuck to dumbbells. 

To this day I look back and think of how I let comparison rob me of progress. In fact I recognize this as the case for many of us. We are driven by a competitive culture. To quote Ricky Bobby, “If you’re not first you’re last”. Yet these words, tend to do more harm then good.

We see people who are fitter, bigger, or stronger than us, and many of us start to think, “what’s the point?” 

The problem is we all know not to compare ourselves to others. We’ve all been told there will always be someone better than us. Yet we still fall into this trap.

I don’t think the solution is tell you to stop comparing yourself to others. If you’re like me it’s probably already been told to you a million times. If I had a nickel for every time I was told to stop comparing myself I could pay off my student loans. However we can channel our propensity to compare into other avenues. 

This is why I recommend keeping a training journal. In fact a training journal is absolute necessity. Rather than compare yourself to others a training journal will enable you to compare yourself to yourself. 

How do you keep a training journal? Buy a notebook and In the simplest way possible just keep track of the exercise, weight, sets and reps you do for each exercise every day. 

If you perform five exercises a day then each day you will strive to either do more weight, more sets, or more reps for just one of those exercises. If you do this you will get better than who you were the previous day. Even 1 pound, 1 rep, or 1 set on just 1 exercise is an improvement

When I compared myself to those muscle bound dudes throwing around a bunch of weight I made the mistake many of us make in our journey to get stronger. We think of strength as a destination, when its actually a journey

Sure, having long term goals help, but having short term goals are just as helpful as they will keep you more involved in the process. In my experience the people who focus on the process are the ones who have the most personal success. 

What does this mean for you?

  1. Strength is relative to yourself. 
  2. Get better every day. 
  3. Focus on the process not the outcome. 

Once you get started, and start seeking to get better every day then you will find yourself better embracing the process of strength.

– Dave 

A Lesson from Zoolander About Identity

A Lesson from Zoolander About Identity

It is crazy to think Zoolander is already over a decade old, and yet it may be one of my all time favorite movies to quote. Like many movies over the years it actually becomes more entertaining to quote then to watch. It is truly a goofy, juvenile movie, and yet in the opening scenes we learn an important lesson about identity. 

Derrick Zoolander is a male model recognized as possibly the greatest male model to ever live. At the male model awards Lenny Kravitz is handing out the reward for the Male Model of the Year. We receive the insight that this award is akin to the Academy Award for Best Picture. Zoolander having won the award the past few years is already confident he will win it again. When Lenny calls Zoolander’s rival Hansel to receive the award we are gifted with a moment of hilarious vanity and narcissism as Zoolander walks up to accept the award. When he finds out he lost not only is he completely embarrassed but devastated. In a moment of existential crisis Derrick looks at his reflection in a puddle and asks three of the most powerful words any of us could ask ourselves, “Who am I?”

You see Zoolander’s whole identity is wrapped up in the fact he is “really really ridiculously good looking”, and being the best male model of the year is an affirmation of this identity. When he loses, he not only loses the award, but he loses validation of who he is.

We see this happen in sports all the time. A few years ago Brett Favre was the brunt of many jokes and laughter as he just couldn’t seem to retire. He would jump around from team to team and for a while seemed to defy his age. I argue the issue was due to loss of identity. His whole being was wrapped up in football, he knew nothing else, and nothing else knew him. He was a football player, and when this was lost I would imagine he was struggling to find himself. 

There are a lot of things able to give us our identity. We may receive our identity from work, family, school, whatever it may be. And when we lose these objects of identity and our identity is called into question we may start to feel anxious, proverbially clenching our fists to hold on for dear life. When you take away an object of someone’s identity it is not the loss of this object that destroys them, but rather the loss of their identity

The truth is, whatever we receive our identity from is what will own us. I will say it again, whatever gives us our identity owns us; controls us.

Identity is so powerful and yet rarely addressed. Partly due to the abstract nature of it, but also the misunderstanding of it. A name is simply a name, and the complexity of it can cause a headache of confusion. Most of all, when we begin to understand identity we may being to realize the need to let go, and that is one of the toughest things to ask anyone to do. 

However, identity needs to be addressed, because the challenge of an individual’s life is to find someone or something from which they may receive an identity that will never go away, and many of us are so misguided in our attempts. Then when the object of our identity is gone we are left devastated in the ruin.

In our journey to discover such an identity the first question we must ask ourselves is “who am I?”. When we understand who we are and where we currently get our identity from we may better understand what we may need to do to change it.

Dave

P.S. For those of you who follow my blog you may be a little confused, you thought I was starting a series on physical strength. Well truth is I am actually doing two series at once. I feel identity has a lot to do with our mental fortitude, and mental strength. The two, in my mind, work fairly well together. This I hope will be evidenced as we go through both series.

The Journey of Strength: Lessons from a 7th Grader

The Journey of Strength: Lessons from a 7th Grader

The people who know me: my family, close friends, co-workers, and clients, all know I am not a super emotional person. Yet they also know there are things I am passionate about. In fact, I could probably count all these passions all on one hand. As it pertains to fitness, I am very passionate about strength. Not just making myself stronger, but rather this truth; regardless of who you are you will benefit from getting stronger.


I say this, and yet, for some reason I know a lot of people who don’t pursue strength. Thinking of the most common reasons I’ve heard several things come to mind:

  • Lack of time
  • Confusion
  • Fear

While not all encompassing, these three issues seem to be the overarching reasons people do not embark towards getting stronger. I won’t say they are excuses because excuses tend to be rooted in arrogance. Rather these issues tend to be rooted in a lack of education. 

So don’t worry, I’m not going to inundate you with pictures of people in the special olympics or working out in prosthetics and ask “what’s your excuse?” Quite frankly I think it is unfair to these individuals who have overcome incredible odds. I am also not going to bash you for not pursuing strength, because I understand, the intimidation is real. The truth is, we all have to start somewhere, and even more so, we all have to get started. 

My passion for strength was first planted in me when I was just a scrawny middle schooler who could eat cereal out of my chest, and now it continues to grow to this day. 

Back then, I was scared of barbells because I didn’t want to hurt myself. However, all I wanted to do was stop failing at our schools fitness testing. Side note: if you want to really damage a kid’s psyche make sure they struggle doing physical activities in front of their peers. But what do I know? I’m just some dude writing a blog…

In my parent’s basement was an i-beam, one that I could grip. Nothing fancy, didn’t cost me a gym membership and the best part about this i-beam was that it was in private. No one had to see me grunt and groan like I was constipated as I worked my way to simply doing 1 pull-up. And all I did, every time I walked past that i-beam was whatever I could do to get one pull-up, whether it meant jumping, or standing on a foot stool, I was one persistent little bugger. Later did I realize this technique would be coined, greasing the groove, but that’s beside the point. Before long fitness testing rolled around again, and I did the most pull-ups of any kid in my class. Suffice to say, I was ready to conquer the world. Not to mention, I noticed a couple middle school shawtys noticin’ me.


So what can an acne laden, scrawny, baby fattened kid teach us about strength? Simple, just get started.

Okay, I said it’s simple, I didn’t say it’s easy. Back in the day I was too dumb to let a lack of education get in my way. I was just simply tired of where I was at and wanted to do something about it. 

If you’re reading this, odds are you want to do something about where you are at in life as well. Maybe your curious as to what I have to say. Well first off, I am not going to say anything that hasn’t been said before. Second off, getting stronger will take time, there will be tough lessons along the way, but there are few things more rewarding than being apart of this journey. Finally, the choice to get stronger, to change something about yourself is an emotional decision. It will not be made in logic. Logic may help persuade you, and it may guide you along the way, but if your heart’s not willing your actions will not follow.

I could spend this next series spewing scientific evidence, and talk about hormones, genetics, anatomy, biomechanics, and even nutrition, but there are others in the health industry who talk about all of those subjects with far more eloquence than myself. Rather, I want to distill any fears and confusion that go along with strength training. All I ask is for you to keep an open mind.

For those of you that may enjoy improving their aerobic endurance and flexibility aside from strength I commend you. To you I want you to know I will not say these other forms of fitness are not beneficial. However, they become even more effective when strength training is in the mix. 

So, if you are willing to trust someone, writing a blog, who you may have never met before, you will soon find out how actually getting stronger will improve your life. When I say improve your life, I don’t just mean physically, but your whole being. Once you truly begin the quest for strength, you will be changed. It is scary at first, but the journey itself, not even the destination, is completely worth it. 

Remember the lesson we learned from that 7th grader tired of being embarrassed in front of his peers, and let’s get started. My next post I will discuss what getting stronger means.

– Dave

Life Lesson from the N64 Reset Button 

Life Lesson from the N64 Reset Button 

To this day, I still believe the greatest video game system ever created was the Nintendo 64. Back when games were actually difficult because they weren’t made for online play, and you never had to worry about your games being destroyed by getting scratched up. Although perhaps this is just the nostalgia talking…

When I was a kid my favorite button on my Nintendo 64 was the reset button. I would be playing a sports game, and maybe I would miss a basket or strike out and blow my perfect status. I would then hit “reset” and try again, because you know, everything had to be perfect. Before long I would get nowhere in the game and I’d soon grow weary of it.

In the fitness industry every one seems to want a reset button. It seems we all like waiting until Monday or even the New Year to start a new habit. It feels like these magical start dates are what will help us towards our new goal. Well a couple days or weeks in, we mess up and suddenly decide to throw everything away. I mean there is always next year. 

Whether we admit it or not, we all have an innate desire for perfection. We like to make absolutely darn sure that the water is the temperature we want before we jump in. Truth is, the water will probably never be the right temperature. 

This propensity to wait for the perfect time is one of the most common forms of procrastination, because quite frankly nothing will ever be perfect. In fact, now-a-days there are a lot of popular messages about not being afraid of failure; honestly, I don’t think many of us actually fear failure. I think many of us actually fear not being perfect. 

Case and point, this somewhere around the 4th or 5th blog I’ve started. I’ll admit, I am David Howington, and I struggle with perfectionism…

This fear of not being perfect leads to the term “analysis paralysis”. There are things we want to do in life where before we do it we want to make sure everything is laid out just right. We want the perfect plan, and we spend hours agonizing over that plan. Before long, a couple years have passed without any progress because we haven’t actually started. We spend so long analyzing everything that we never actually did anything. 

My summer job in high school was as a swim instructor. There was a summer where the temperature was consistently around 70 degrees or cooler, and the heater in the pool wasn’t working well. Unfortunately, because I taught younger kids I did not have the luxury of simply sitting out in a nice warm towel teaching. I had to be in the pool with the kids. I soon realized the best thing I could do for myself was to simply jump in and get my whole body wet. More often than not, I found my body would then quickly acclimate itself to the water, and I wouldn’t feel so cold anymore. 

This anecdote has many truths in life. Whatever our goals may be, or whatever the next step may be sometimes it helps to just jump in… Pardon the cliche.

I am not saying you shouldn’t have a plan, but I am also saying the plan doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact this is the beauty of life, is often times we have to learn as we go. Ask any parent, they probably have an idea of what they want for their kids, but if they waited until everything was perfect they may never experience the joy of parenthood. I am willing to bet most parents are never truly ready to be parents. 

I think the same holds true for our goals or dreams. It’s important to have an idea and a direction but if we wait until everything is actually perfect we may miss out on a joy far greater than any imperfection. 

– Dave

Sifting for Gold: Becoming a Wiser Consumer of Health and Fitness

Sifting for Gold: Becoming a Wiser Consumer of Health and Fitness

I used to find annoyed when people spoke of theory. To me I thought it was pointless and wanted cold hard facts. Either do this or do that. However, I’ve since realized that there rarely is anything that is truly a cold hard fact. There is almost always a gray area, much of what we know is based on many unproven theories, and this couldn’t be more true for the fitness industry. 

A lot of voices will use absolutes to get their messages across. Some examples of these messages are: “never do cardio if you want to build muscle”; or “stretching will ruin your performance”. Even in the food industry we hear absolutes like: “never eat sugar”. Now, if all we do is abide by these absolutes, we will soon find ourselves acting the proverbial dog chasing its tail. 

The first thing to know as a consumer is the importance of reading with a critical eye. There is always something we can learn and there is always something worth disregarding.

I’ve learned that the best answer I can lend when asked for assistance is, “it depends”.  

I get asked questions like, “should I eat 6 meals vs. 3?”, “do I stretch before or after exercise?”, and, “Who wins in a fight between Jason Bourne and James Bond?”. The answer to all of these is “It depends”. 

In seeking answers it is important to provide slightly more specifics towards the situation. For instance, as a trainer, I am often working during other people’s lunch breaks. I find that eating 6 meals a day is a lot more conducive towards my lifestyle than 3 big meals. Other people might be different.

When seeking answers we must remember to some extent everyone is different. And as we continue to learn information we must also continue to understand who we are and our situation in life. 

An acronym I find most helpful for this is A.M.A. Or: absorb, modify, and apply. We absorb the information presented, we modify it towards our situation and we apply it to our lives. 

I liken this process to sifting for gold. Sometimes when reading an article there might just be a lot of sand and dirt that distract us from what we truly want to find. 

This process of filtering, while it may take time, will prove to very useful towards helping us find what may actually personally benefit us. 

I’ll admit, as educators, sometimes it’s easiest to communicate using absolutes, because we avoid the million rabbit trails that make up the complexity of individuality and the human body. This is why as consumers we mustn’t take everything at face value, but rather always come to new information with a critical eye. 

– Dave