How the Gym Builds More Than Muscle

I really do love to lift. Lifting has had such a positive impact on me and I’m so thankful that it’s part of my life.

Generally, when we think of the gym, fitness, lifting, working out, etc., we think of the physical benefits that they entail; but there is so much more to be gained.

While it’s quite apparent that not all fitness gurus and celebs are on the same saintly level as Mother Teresa, physical training offers an amazing opportunity to grow in virtue. I’m no model of virtue myself, but in my experience, the gym has certainly sat me down more than once to throw a few lessons at me and I’ve had no choice but to listen. Remember that just because you’ve been taught a lesson doesn’t mean you actually learned anything. So check out my list of virtues that I think the gym can help you develop if you’re willing to learn.

(The following list is from own experience at the gym but the same lessons can be applied to various sports and fitness activities.)

Discipline – In a way, this one encompasses the rest, so I list it first. Being truly successful at anything takes discipline; natural talent only goes so far; it’s the same at the gym. If you want to build a strong body, lose weight, be healthy, you must learn to be in control of yourself both inside and outside of the gym.

Perseverance – I personally love lifting. I think most people can and should find a means of working out that is enjoyable for them; but fitness is by no means easy. It takes perseverance and dedication, day in and day out; it doesn’t matter what kind of mood you’re in, how you’re feeling, how busy you are. Excuses don’t work. It’s important to be flexible, but you have to consistently put in the work. You will face injuries, insecurities, set backs, and frustrations…just like everybody else. The ability to remain consistent, stick to your schedule, and continue to move forward in spite of these obstacles is necessary for success.

Patience – While beginners often see rapid improvements in their lifts when they first start out, seeing significant and lasting results at the gym is a true test of patience. There really are no short cuts when it comes to fitness. It just takes time. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint” as they saying goes…although I don’t think I’d ever willingly run a marathon…

Courage – The gym can be an intimidating place, especially for beginners. The weight looks heavy, the people look judgmental, it’s loud, it’s crowded, and it’s a new place. No one wants to make a fool of themselves.  Even for experienced lifters, it takes guts to squat two and three times your body weight, to attempt weight you’ve never even felt before, and to go into a workout knowing it’s going to hurt…real bad. To be successful at the gym, you have to lose your inhibitions and get to work.

Prudence – There’s a name for training without prudence. They call it Crossfit. I kid, I kid. Prudence tells you to take an extra rest day because your back isn’t quite ready to deadlift again. Prudence tells you to lower the weight when your form starts to break down. Prudence tells you whether or not to go for one more rep. Some of this comes from experience as well, but without prudence, injury becomes much more likely and there’s a good chance that your workouts will be inefficient.

Confidence – When you have a particular skill, you develop a natural confidence with it. Some people may remain more self-conscious than others, but I think it’s still generally the case. The same goes with the gym, except your “skill” is always with you. When you develop strength and improve your fitness, you also build confidence. As long as it doesn’t turn into arrogance, confidence is an important virtue that can change your life. It’s a characteristic that others immediately notice. When you’re confident in yourself and your abilities, you don’t spend time trying to impress others or focusing your energy to gain meaningless approval, and you can more fully pursue higher things.

Humility – This may be the most important lesson that the gym can teach you. When you just set a personal record and turn around to see someone warming up with the same weight…when you’ve been preparing for a competition and crumble under the weight that you regularly crush…when you are recovering from an injury and have to use a third of the weight you were doing before…anytime you start to get a big head, Mother Gym kindly knocks you off your high horse. Sometimes we confuse self-deprecation with humility. Putting yourself down is not a virtue, and it’s not healthy. True humility is being honest with yourself and your abilities, sharing your knowledge with those less knowledgeable, and listening to those who know more.

The gym does not just build us physically. It offers the opportunity to grow in so many ways. Whatever your passions, skill set, or talents are, try to see what you can learn from them. Sometimes we have to be quiet, take a step back, and listen, but what you hear might be priceless.

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