Posts Tagged strength training

Going Back to the Woodlot to Find Success

I cut a lot of firewood when I was a kid. Well, I didn’t actually do the cutting. Because I was too young and clumsy to handle the chainsaw, my job was to carry logs to the truck. These logs ranged in weight from those I could carry with one hand and toss into the truck from a few feet away to those that I rolled to the truck and tried to coax in without smashing my toes. None of them were labeled with their weight, so I didn’t always know if I was strong enough to move the log in front of me, but I always had to try. A scowling father with a revved-up chainsaw cast a pretty large shadow over any self-pity I could muster.

I don’t move logs any more. I move weights around the gym, and they are all marked, so I can stay in my comfort zone. While clearly marked weights are obviously a necessity in the gym, I’ve recently noticed that the convenience of knowing the weight also makes complacency very convenient too. I know what I can lift, so I lift that. When I was lifting logs, I didn’t know what I could lift without trying. In the woodlots, I pushed myself out of necessity. In the gym, I don’t have to push myself, unless I really want to.

I discovered this on a machine designed to work upper back muscles. Someone left the machine without unloading their weights, which is a huge pet peeve of mine, unless, of course, they leave the machine with the exact weight I want. Usually, that doesn’t happen though, and it didn’t happen the other day on that machine. Whoever was there before me left ten more pounds than I wanted on each side. After swearing at the unidentified offender under my breath, I started to take off the extra weight, but then caught myself. Maybe it was time for me to challenge myself with a little extra weight. Maybe God had put on his strength coach hat and wanted me to push myself.

I left the extra weight on the machine and predictably struggled through my sets. Whereas I could regularly hit my rep goals of 10-10-8-8 with my old weight, I struggled to reach half of those reps with each of the four sets. I had invited defeat into my workout, and it was uncomfortable – uncomfortable but not unproductive. Sooner or later, if I keep pushing myself, I expect to handle the extra weight.

As often happens as I daydream between sets, I started thinking about how we face similar challenges in everyday life. Maybe a client or boss expects more effort than we anticipated, yet we proceed stubbornly in our comfort zone, predictably falling short of our potential. Maybe we have the opportunity to volunteer for something new, but decline because we’re not sure if we’re capable of the effort. Maybe a friend or family member needs our time, and we fall short because we don’t want to add any more responsibility to our schedule. When we limit ourselves to our comfort zone, we limit our potential.

I tried to stay in my comfort zone at the beginning of my first sales job, and had predictably poor results. I only wanted to call on prospects who I was fairly certain would buy from me, and I insisted on exhaustive research before I called them. I also wanted to be an expert on my product, so I could dazzle my prospects with my product acumen. Research and product knowledge are important in sales, but not as important as persistence and risk-taking to a new sales rep in a new industry. When you are trying to build your clientele, you want to make as many contacts as you possibly can, establish a rapport and solve their problems with your products.

By researching prospects who never bought from me and spending selling time studying my product, I didn’t make as many contacts as I needed, and I earned many meetings in the sales manager’s office where he would tell me exactly that. Meanwhile I watched colleagues with a tenuous at best knowledge of their prospects and our products hit their goals and cash fat commission checks. Finally, the light went off, and I switched from weight-room mode to woodlot mode, and started lifting logs that could smash my feet. Before long, I was closing deals that I never would have found if I stayed in my comfort zone.

Back in the weight room, I had grown complacent, using my age and physical condition to excuse my sub-par effort. Now, when I encounter an extra, but not unreasonable amount of weight on a machine, I accept the challenge. This means I fail a lot more, but I know that I’ll benefit from the challenge, if I don’t give up.

Try that the next time your comfort zone is challenged. Lift that log, even if it might smash your toes. It’s the only way you’ll grow.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson


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Bringing Both Sides Up at the Same Time


My body treats me like a perpetually grumpy old coach treats an eager but distracted athlete. It constantly pushes me and teaches me uncomfortable truths, and when my ego gets out of check, it snaps me back to reality.

The other day at the gym, it taught me that things are easier when you focus on your strengths. I was struggling to push my usual weight on an incline press machine. The sides on this machine move independently, and though my left side is at least four times stronger than my right, I load equal weight on both sides. Out of habit, I focused on my weaker right side, trying to do all I could to make it work the way that it should. As I did that, my left side began to struggle too. My weakness was holding back my strength.

How often do we do something like that in our everyday lives? Maybe we have a big presentation at work, and instead of focusing on our mastery of the subject, we focus on our fear of public speaking. Because we’re so worried about botching the delivery, we miss key points, and the presentation isn’t as effective as it could be. Had we focused on our expertise – our strength – instead of our public-speaking fear – our weakness, the presentation would have been much more effective.

We all have weaknesses, and too many of us spend too much our time and energy worrying about them. When we do this, we make ourselves far less effective.

When I helped coach my son’s youth football team, like almost all youth teams, we had glaring weaknesses, but we also had tremendous strengths. We had to put 11 players on the field, working from a roster of about 20. We usually had four or five good players and an exceptional player or two, while the rest of our roster ranged from average to weak, depending on the day. We had the most success with formations and plays that capitalized on the talents of our better players. When we spent too much time trying to work around our weaknesses, we often failed to capitalize on our strengths.

That doesn’t mean that we ignored our weaker players. In practice, we worked with them to try to figure out what they were good at, and then we put them in a position where they could use their strengths. Some of the kids who thought they should be handling the ball failed miserably when we gave them that opportunity. Some of those same kids were pleasantly surprised when we put them in positions to block or tackle. Success is highly motivating, and you’re most successful when you can play to your strengths.

Focusing on our strengths not only makes us more effective, it also improves our attitude and mood. It’s extremely difficult to stay positive and energetic when we devote too much time to worrying about and trying to improve our weaknesses. When we do that, we invite frustration and discontent into our lives, and our strengths wither in neglect.

Back at the gym, I focused on my left side for my second set of incline press. That arm generally has no trouble moving the amount of weight that my right side can handle, and the weight went up easily. What’s more, my right side came with it. I didn’t get any stronger between sets, but my attitude, concentration and energy all benefitted when my brain focused on my stronger side.

Try that the next time that something doesn’t go the way you want. Instead of lamenting your failure and weaknesses, back up and think about how you can leverage your strengths to solve the problem. Then, repeat that process until it becomes a habit.

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Good Job, but It’s Not Enough

Every August, football fields across the nation come to life, as young men take their dreams to the 50-yard line. It’s a time of eagerness and aspiration for those players, but a time of resignation and disappointment for the few unable to play. I was one of those, and though my football odyssey ended in failure, it taught me lessons that have proven invaluable in adulthood.

My severely underdeveloped right leg likely would have made me a bench-warmer anyway, but I was convinced that I could play high school football. My imagination, of course, made me more than a bench-warmer – I was going to be a gridiron god, and that belief drove me to train relentlessly for four straight years.

While my friends were catching the last few minutes of sleep before morning weights, I was pedaling my bike up hills outside of town in the predawn stillness. I was at the weight room door, an hour into my workout, when the coach opened it. On days the weight room was closed, I climbed the locked gate at the track to run stadium steps, and then looked for an unlocked door to the weight room.

I squeezed every possible ounce of strength and endurance out of my imperfect body, but it wasn’t enough. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t enough – that I was crazy to risk my future health to play on a team that would be lucky to win more than a handful of games – that playing football didn’t mean that much to my social status or future potential – but I was a teenager, and convinced that I could correct any injustice.

Each August, from 1985 to 1987, I reported for the mandatory sports physical, and each August, a responsible physician refused to clear me for participation. In 1987, I visited three physicians, and received the same result each time: we are impressed with what you’ve done with your body, but it would be irresponsible to allow you to expose yourself to potential injury. In 1985 and 1986, that news didn’t sting so badly, because I still had opportunity, but when it was officially over in 1987, I was devastated. My quest was over, and I didn’t have anything to show for it – or so I thought.

What I learned during those four years of training has carried me through the past 26 years. As an entrepreneur who has seen good, great and not-so-good times, I have leaned on the tenacity, persistence and discipline that I developed in those early-morning solitary workouts. When no one is watching, and I’m accountable only to myself, I think back to my moonlight bike rides when I could have chosen to stop and go back home, and no one but I would know, and I work an extra hour. When it seems like no one believes in the likelihood of my success, I remain committed. Perhaps most importantly, I learned that failure is nothing to be afraid of. If you totally commit yourself to a goal, doing everything within your power to succeed, like I did with football, and you still fail, it means that you pushed the limits, and that’s a good thing.

Too many of us fear failure, and it keeps us from pushing our limits and realizing our potential. We want to be assured of success, but any successful person will tell you assurance of success is only possible when you are limiting your aspirations. It’s on the outer fringes of our abilities that we experience our greatest successes and expose ourselves to our greatest failures.

I never played a single down of high school football, and that failure has had absolutely no negative impact on my life. In fact, as my body has aged, I see the wisdom in those physicians refusing to sign off on my physical. Though I never played, football taught me valuable life lessons that I might not have learned otherwise, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

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