Half a lifetime ago, Ron had raged against the iron with the sort of fury only a 20 year-old saturated in testosterone, on a quest for muscle, can know. Today, as Ron swung open the door to the gym only his left shoulder and right knee raged. Reaching into his bag—not for a tab of heart-pounding ephedrine—he pulled out a couple tabs of Aleve in hopes of relieving the pain so he could focus on training…
Ron loved the iron since he discovered the high of strength as a teenager. He’d received Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding for his 14th birthday; and had set his sights on becoming a great bodybuilder.
Now, with his 42nd birthday on the horizon Ron’s love for the iron lingers but it’s no longer the love affair it once was. The muscle he worked so hard to build is morphing from lean to mass. His training is consistent, if uninspired. At times he wonders if he’s going through the motions or the motions are going through him.
Where once time stopped for training, his mind clear and focused, his body charged and powerful; now workouts drag on and the moments free of thought are more mindless than mindful.
Ron has attained many peaks, he’s long set all his PR’s and every time he approaches a bench or squat rack he struggles with fact that on the descent it’s become less about gaining than limiting losses.
If you’ve seen your 36th birthday, Ron’s struggles may be familiar—and not just in the gym. Fact is, despite our best intentions, we begin to sleep walk through life. We take what we have attained for granted, and don’t seem to care about the things to which we once aspired
This is not your failing, it’s how our brains work to help us survive. Once we learn something, regardless of how hard we worked to attain the skill, the execution moves from front of mind to back, and we begin to do it on autopilot; without thought.
This adaptation allows you to remain awake and alert to the environment. It’s also what drives us to seek new experience, do anything—often risky things—to wake ourselves out of the dreamless sleep.
Too often, after a decade or two of something—in this case strength training—we expect nothing more. We gave “it” all already, we tell ourselves. So, we do the work without hate and without love. It’s merely a routine; we’re neither enjoying nor despising the training.
Knowing, at this point, has become the enemy of experience; for we know it all so well that it’s hard to be present to it. The training experience is “boring” and we blame everything—the routine, the gym, the trainer—whatever we can attach the cause to except ourselves. The problem with this is that “boring” is never a description of a thing, or place but always of an experience. Boring is a state inside you—not out there.
Boring is not the “what you’re doing,” it’s always the “who is doing it.” Boring means you’re not fully present, engaged for there is no boring activity only bored people.
How to Awaken Your Strength and Passion of Body and Mind
You’d be right to assume there’s an autobiographical element to Ron’s story. After nearly three decades of lifting iron I’ve known less than inspired days, weeks or months. But, I’ve got something in my arsenal of training—and life—that Ron hasn’t discovered yet.
Through some random series of circumstance I’ve been fortunate to discover strength training nirvana— a dimension beyond body and mind that creates a state of timeless flow. Many come to know this in their early days, but it’s not the ignorance of youth or just plain luck that takes you there.
The ability to access this new dimension during strength training not only helps you get more “bang for your body” but can literally awaken your body, mind and soul to a state, and experience, that will keep even the most ordinary, repeated workout alive with possibility, passion and purpose.
It’s not magical, mystical stuff here. Most agree that martial arts hold special powers—even a spiritual element. The same is true, in a different qualitative dimension, for Yoga, a deeply meaningful practice for many. Yet, for some reason, weight training is believed to be different, an ego based practice, a mechanical movement lacking depth,” to many.
In the case of martial arts or yoga, is it the practice or the practitioner that embodies the experience, the depth, the spirit? The answer is self-evident: The practitioner, the person is the master, not the practice alone.
Thus, it is both my contention and my promise that good ol’ pumping iron can—and for many does—possess every bit of the depth and transcendent potential for awakening and transformation that is revered in the ancient practices of martial arts, yoga and even meditation.
The Zen of Strength
The Zen of Strength is the state of body, mind and soul that transforms conventional strength training into a deeply transformative practice. Incorporating the intensity and focus of martial arts, the mindfulness of yoga and the presence of meditation Zen of Strength can change your body, energy, mind and life.
At the heart of this holistic practice are specific techniques called Focus Intensity Training—(F.I.T.). These techniques are the antidote to the boring workout, the loss of meaning and motivation. They anchor your focus, awaken your energy and intensity, bring you into the present, and can sky rocket your strength, energy and motivation.
Going from “training” to Zen of Strength isn’t about the right program, the right equipment, the right trainer—it’s not to be found in P90x, Bootcamps or Crossfit. It’s not about the “what” (sets, reps, exercises) it’s about the “how,” you do it—the quality. And that’s where F.I.T. fits in.
The exact nature of the F.I.T. techniques is not what’s important here. What is, is that you begin to question your current experience, opening to a greater transformative possibility for strength training and life.
Awakening your true potential need only take an instant if we choose to answer the bell. Just as love is ever present and isn’t something we have to earn, so is there transcendent joy and bliss in ever rep, a flying drop kick and a sun salutation.
The Strength is in you! Are you ready?
About The Author: Shawn Phillips: The Philosopher of Fit
“Life is not about fitness—rather fitness serves a great life!,” says “The Philosopher of Fit,” Shawn Phillips. Author of the best-selling books, ABSolution and Strength for Life, as well as thousands of articles on health, fitness, nutrition, mindset, motivation, and more, Shawn brings a unique perspective and rare depth to his work.
Shawn integrates body, mind and soul into the art of pumping-iron, with his “Zen of Strength” practice—blending the intensity of martial arts, the mindfulness of yoga with the muscle of strength training.
One of the most photographed bodies of the era, Shawn helped fuel the Physique-craze of today. Alongside his younger brother, Bill, Shawn was part of the launch of Met-Rx, the sky rocket growth of EAS and the Body-for-LIFE movement. Founder of Full Strength Nutrition, Shawn continues to write, speak and inspire people to live extraordinary lives.
Find Shawn at:
My favorite line – and true:
“It is both my contention and my promise that good ol’ pumping iron can—and for many does—possess every bit of the depth and transcendent potential for awakening and transformation that is revered in the ancient practices of martial arts, yoga and even meditation.”
YES! You said it best when you said: it’s not about the “what” it’s about the “how,” you do it—the quality. … you begin to question your current experience, opening (your mind and soul) to a greater transformative possibility for strength training and life.
Those quests for strength or beauty or appearance alone are finite and by their nature a series of cul-de-sacs; finding simple joy and beauty in just ‘being’ gives training that transcendent quality we all crave.
*THE WORLD CAN SETTLE FOR *THE ZEN OF STRENGTH* XOXOXO *WIN I MARRY *THE SON OF TRUTH* -FMHTYXOXOXOIJCNIP
I’ve been hittin’ the iron since high school; sometimes harder than others. I just sailed through the “New 40” this month. Yeah, I’m half a century young now. Your post definitely resonated with me.
Physically, I peaked in my early 30’s, then got married, bought a business and had kids. Working out, once a passion and lifestyle, fell by the wayside.
I still tried to eat right (most of the time), but couldn’t seem to find the gym, volleyball court, or bike very often anymore. One day I awoke to discover I’d ballooned from 192 to 224, with a muffin top that would make the Michelin Man proud. If you consider the amount of lean mass I’d lost, my fat gain was on the order of 50lbs.
I saw a picture of myself at a family gathering and about crapped my pants. That was enough to motivate me to drop the weight and get back in the gym. That was nearly 10 years ago.
It took about 4 months with a bit more working out and a renewed diet focus. I didn’t really have to “go on a diet”, just make a few lifestyle changes. I’ve kept the weight off for the last 10 years. I discovered tennis, ran on (rare) occasion, and hit the iron again, but only trained each body part every 5 – 7 days.
Then, about a year and a half ago, I stopped iron training and cut back on tennis to about once every6 weeks, from 5 times a week. I also added an extra meal about 9pm each night. You don’t have to be no missile scientist to know what happened next.
Funny though, I didn’t gain much weight; only about 4 lbs. The body composition change was an entirely different matter, however. Abs; not so much. Quads? Pencils. Neck, arms and calfs? Ditto! Chest? Sunken like pirate treasure.
At the beginning of this month, I resolved to turn things around once again. I’ve hit the iron regularly, started cardio every other day, and eliminated the 9pm meal. I’ve also put a renewed focus on healthy eating.
The shocker is that, at 50, I can’t just drop the fat at will, as I could in years past. Oh my God, it’s much tougher now. I’ve gained strength quickly, but I feel more aches and pains now. My endurance is coming back more slowly, but returning nonetheless.
I took some more before pictures, in hopes of motivating myself again. It’s worked so far. Whatever it takes, I guess. I’ll have to keep arguing with friends about the use of weight training for fat loss. I’ve been a proponent of it for 3 decades.
Thanks for the post. I enjoyed it.