When you hear the phrase “training is life,” it probably sounds like a quote from someone whose life is consumed by training. In this article, however, I want to discuss how training and life share parallels in unique ways that have made training mean more than sets and reps to many of us.
As someone who often trains alone with my current schedule, there are times I’m in an empty gym and the lack of any interruption provides some moments of reflection between sets. As I catch my breath after a hard set of squats, a heavy deadlift, or a tough conditioning drill, I can’t help but recognize the connections between the challenges and victories of training and those of life.
Personally, I’m not someone who has training as the number one priority in my life, but still as a top priority, I see these connections between life and training more with each year. Here are a few ways that training and life are closely woven together, particularly in the area of discipline.
How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything
This is something I’ve thought about on a daily basis since talking with Jim Wendler about it and how this principle applies to his high school athletes. In training, there are times where it can be easy to skip a set or rep, put a slightly different weight on the bar than you’re supposed to because it’s more convenient to load, or avoid things you don’t like doing by cutting a session short (even things related to recovery or injury prevention). While you might be able to get away with some of these things on occasion without any major issues, making small concessions in training can build momentum in the wrong direction.
There are times when I know I could do a set a little differently or skip something menial, but the way I look at it is, “Do I really want to allow myself to do something subpar?” I firmly believe that as you make more and more of those decisions they can start to add up and affect the integrity of your approach to training and mental discipline as a whole.
I think we see the same thing in situations with life. Small lapses in judgment financially can lead to paralyzing debt over time. Putting off intentional conversations can cause friendships to collapse, and small actions that “aren’t really that bad” can eventually break down a relationship. The examples are endless, but the main takeaway here is to really consider what direction you’re moving with each decision you face, no matter how small.
What’s Good for the Moment Likely Isn’t What’s Best for the Future
We’ve all had days where we want to go off-plan and “see where we’re at” with a max lift, or on the other side, don’t want to train at all when we feel broken down and tired. The problem with all of these situations is that they’re based on emotions in the moment and not the big picture.
Sure, it might be cool to see how heavy you can go on a movement with your training partners, but if it ruins your training for the next week and a half, was it worth ruining the chance at putting in those other days of work? I’m obviously not saying you can’t ever go off-plan or do something a little stupid. I think there are times where going outside of our comfort zones in that way help make us better lifters. But if you consistently find yourself making training decisions just because you felt like doing it that day and not considering the greater picture that session fits into, it isn’t a sustainable way to move toward your goals.
We see the same things in our day-to-day lives. What might be fun to spend money on in the moment may screw up our budget for the month (and affect the long-term future). Hooking up with that person you just met could be awesome in the moment, but as soon as it’s over, you’re faced with the reality of how that impacts you both moving forward. In our jobs, we all have days where we’re fed up with certain things and just want to have a bad attitude, but keeping the long-term perspective could help you see what persevering in that situation can do. Knocking the teeth out of that guy who just said something smart to you at the bar is probably not worth the consequences.
There are plenty of examples here, and I’m as guilty as the next guy. Delayed gratification doesn’t come naturally to us as human beings, and it’s something we have to discipline ourselves to do on a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.
It’s Not Fair and It’s Not Easy
Neither training nor life is fair. We all have different circumstances, gifts, limitations, backgrounds, and abilities. If you approach training pissed off that you got “dealt a bad hand” when it comes to ability and use it as an excuse instead of motivation, then you’d better get ready to be miserable and mediocre your entire career.
The same goes for life. We know that all of us are not afforded the same opportunities or starting point in life. If you spend all your time focused on how unfair that is, you’ll miss the opportunity to transcend your starting point and create new opportunities for yourself. Now I feel like it’s worth saying, I’m not downplaying the importance to push for better equality in general (in case someone misinterprets it that way). I’m talking about the general “life’s not fair” complaint/viewpoint that plagues so many of us at different times in our lives. Again, we’ve all been there, and it’s something we can all work on.
Lastly, we all know life isn’t always easy. We certainly have moments where things all seem to come together, but this life is filled with brokenness and problems that sometimes don’t make any sense. With training, if you train for enough time, you will face injuries, plateaus, and struggles that take all the enjoyment out of training. The sooner we can drop the expectation that both life and training are always going to be good and easy, the sooner we can move forward and develop as lifters and people.
I have a tattoo of Romans 5:3-5 that says, “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” That quote is surrounded by a thorn, which represents where the author of that passage talked about how the “thorn in his side” throughout life kept him humble and prevented him from turning people to himself instead of to God.
Obviously, that has a spiritual component that many readers don’t identify with, and that’s OK. What I’d tell you to consider is the principle of how challenges and struggles in life and training build perseverance and character that goes far beyond any one day.
Hopefully, some of these parallels have been thought-provoking for you and can encourage you as you face day-to-day decisions in and outside of the gym. Because as many of us have seen already, training and life are one and the same.