A version of this article was originally published on TannerBaze.com
I grew up in a really small town on the Texas/Oklahoma border and went to a very small school. There were 68 kids in my graduating class. It was the kind of community where most people never left, and most of my teachers were the same people who taught my Dad. In fact, the same weight room I learned to lift in was the same weight room my Dad worked out in.
When I was 13 years old and in 7th grade, I got my first taste of lifting. My friends and I used to walk into the gymnasium, and go up the stairs into an old and beat up weight room. The mirrors were dirty, the weights were old, the mats in the mat room were disgusting, and it was awesome.
He would actually flex his pecs as we walked by him in the school. He was a cool dude.
I’ve never stopped lifting since that time. I’ve taken breaks, sometimes they last a week, sometimes a couple, but I’ve never stopped altogether.
In the 15-year period since I first started lifting in that old rusty weight room, I’ve learned a lot. I may not have an elite total in the big lifts or be 200 lbs and completely shredded, but I’ve made my fair share of mistakes and lifted for longer than most 28-year-olds can say, and I’m still stronger than the resident spirit animal of MFF and country music video superstar, Brian Patrick Murphy, so I figure there have to be a few lessons I can teach you.
Here are the 12 things I’ve learned in my 15 years of lifting.
1. For beginners, making it fun is all that matters.
Had someone come in and been a douche about how we should only be doing compound lifts, we probably would’ve written it off. We only wanted good arms and to see our muscles in the mirror.
Looking back, this was paramount to me keeping with training for such a long time. My first exposure to the weight room was fun because it was a fun environment with good friends, and working on the muscles we could see. This played a major role in making lifting a habit.
Sure, I left a lot of gains on the table by neglecting squatting and deadlifting that early on. But I got hooked psychologically, and that’s far more important to me when it comes to longevity.
2. You’ll run into some horrible advice.
Part of that is because I’m horribly flat-footed, my foot actually caves inward instead of having an arch. But I think back to that cue, and the pattern it helped ingrain, and shudder.
If you lift for long enough, you’re going to run into some terrible instruction. That’s guaranteed to happen. Most of the times this is done with a good heart because most people really just want to help. But that certainly doesn’t mean you have to listen to everyone trying to help.
3. Variety is awesome, up to a point.
That variety was invaluable when it came to learning to be proficient at new skills, how to move, and learning to compete. It’s similar to so many people who grow up dancing, acting, and performing. You pick up a whole host of skills and learn new things about how to move and control your body through space and do beautiful things.
However, at some point, you have to narrow things down if you want to continue developing in any one area. If you want to get really strong, you can’t do it playing 5 sports a year. If you want to get really good at football, you can’t expect to play basketball, baseball, golf, and run track while also devoting time to academic competition.
The law of specificity comes into play. Work on strength, work on building muscle, work on movement, just don’t try to do it all at once.
4. Just because you’re exhausted doesn’t mean you had a good workout.
Looking back at some of the things we did, I can’t believe how idiotic they were. It was the epitome of bad coaching. Most of our training was done just to make us tired and exhausted. It wasn’t well structured, but it beat us into the ground.
Just because you’re about to throw up after a workout doesn’t mean it was an effective workout. Don’t continually associate complete exhaustion with effectiveness. By the way, I never threw up. So eff you, Coach Townsend.
5. Find a great gym, because lifting in a community does wonders for your progress.
Later on, in college, I found what would become my favorite gym. It was barely 1,000 square feet and cost $2 a day for a guest pass. The squat and deadlift platforms were plywood, the mirrors were dirty, the upholstery had tears, and the equipment was all at least 20 years old.
The gym was full of powerlifters, bodybuilders, and barbells that looked like I probably needed a tetanus shot after I got done. I got a tutorial on the squat and deadlift and learned what it was like to actually “go to church” in the weight room for the first time. The community in that gym bred success.
The more I train and work with people, the more I believe the environment that person is in plays a gigantic role in their success. Environment is everything. If you don’t think you’re in one conducive to your success, change it.
This is also the same reason MFF is great. There is truly no place in the world that is dedicated to the love of lifting and using it as a vehicle for personal development quite like what happens in the halls of MFF.
6. There’s nothing wrong with training to look good naked.
The more you dig into the lifting world, you’ll inevitably hear that you should be doing this sort of thing to look out for your health, wellness, etc. And that’s true. You should do these things because they’re good for you.
But there’s also no reason whatsoever for any of us to feel shame because we just want to see our abs. There’s nothing wrong with eating well and lifting so that you can look awesome when you take your clothes off. Admit it, own it, and be proud of it. That’s the reason most people step into the gym anyways.
7. You’re in this for long haul, don’t be afraid to try new things.
Think about how ridiculous that is. I put off a little self-experimentation that wouldn’t even last as long as Snatched does, solely because I didn’t want my lifts, which weren’t that great anyways, to take a hit.
Unless you’re competing, be willing to experiment and try new things. Self-experimentation is vitally important to finding what works for you over the long run. We’re all in this for life, so don’t find yourself beholden to a short-term moment of fear.
8. Strength matters. Always.
Chasing strength teaches you a ton about yourself. You learn what you’re capable of, where your weak points are, and how to overcome those. You also learn that you usually have to dial your volume way down in order to progress, and this might be the most valuable lesson of all.
Sometimes dialing down the overall work leads to better progress.
Strength matters. No matter if you’re looking to look great, have bigger arms or a bigger ass, or just feel better. For a few months out of the year, focus on strength.
9. You’re never too good for basic movements.
All you have to do is alternate the focus, reps, and intensity. Sure, doing drop sets of incline bicep curls is sexy to grow big arms. If you really want big arms you should probably just do a lot more pushing and pulling with heavy weight.
Get great at squatting. It doesn’t have to be the back squat either. You can goblet squat, front squat, or split squat.
Hip hinge all the time. Deadlift, kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift, and hip thrust. Do them all. Your butt and your lower back will be better because of it.
Focusing on the new sexy thing is fun, but nothing will beat ruthlessly executing the basics.
10. All diets are more or less the same, and supplements don’t make much of a difference.
I’m a bit wiser nowadays, at least I like to think so. I still think we all eat way too much poor quality food and sugar. I also don’t think that books that promote fear about things like sugar do any good to help people. So here’s what you need to know when it comes to food, diet programs, and diet books. In essence, all diets argue the same things:
- Eat lots of colors
- Eat lean proteins
- Don’t eat fats made in a lab
- Remove most cheap forms of carbs
Some diets find sexier ways to package this message than others, but they’re all the same.
As far as supplements go, I’ve got an interesting story about them. Most of my initial health and fitness education I got from peddling pills at a GNC. I thought supplements could solve people’s problems.
Now that I’ve worked in this field for longer, read more, and exposed myself to more info, I realize that supplements at most make up maybe 3% of a program and the subsequent results. More often than not, it’s not even 2%.
Focus on eating whole and minimally processed foods, get your protein, eat lots of colors, supplement with creatine and call it a day.
11. Little changes go a long way if you practice them daily.
For the majority of the time, I stuck to this rule, and my performance improved. That little change allowed me to get more quality carbs and protein, drink more water, and fuel my body. I got leaner, stronger, and felt better.
Don’t overcomplicate nutrition. Make small changes, and stick with them. Once you’ve mastered them, find new ones.
12. Everything’s a skill.
Stop thinking of your goals as goals. Your goals are skills, and to get better at them you need to practice them.
If you want to become a better deadlifter, deadlift. If you want to eat better, then start practicing the skill of food prepping.
Constantly practice the skill that is your goal, every single day. Work to improve on that skill every day. With more practice, you’ll see more progress, which leads to more motivation.
Here’s an interesting fact on motivation: motivation doesn’t beget action, action begets motivation. Find yourself a skill, and work at it.
Take this with you
Ultimately, if you have any takeaway, let it be this: Moving your body in a way that is manageable and sustainable for you is how you should move your body. I’m clearly a fan of lifting weights, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve also become a fan of new and different ways to take care of my body, picking up hobbies like stand-up paddleboarding and hiking. It’s entirely too easy to get caught up in what other people tell us we should be doing when in reality, we all get into this thing to take care of us — so take care of you and your needs and do what is manageable for you.
Hankering to explore a fitness community that honors all of these values? Schedule a Health & Hotness Strategy Session at Mark Fisher Fitness.