"This is a repost of an article I wrote last year. Strongman, Crossfiter, or gym rat, I believe this sums up why we do what we do."
As a young pup, I wanted to be somebody. I didn't have an exact plan from point A to point B and wasn't aware of what point B exactly looked like, but I did have a sense of the disparity between myself and this 'somebody'. The somebody I envisioned was strong and capable. Besides having a physique worthy of a trashy novel cover, I knew that there was some quality of this person's character that radiated through their physical stature.
All of the superheroes I loved displayed this radiance; tall, with wide shoulders and a square jaw, as if to automatically inform any criminal of their intentions and their ability to follow through on them. Even the alpha's in high school were lean and athletic and possessed a confidence that was annoying to those that didn't have it, yet undeniably effective to everyone else. The 'somebody' that makes pretty women swoon and powerful men yield stands firm with an upright posture that is every bit a billboard for his attitude of unwavering certainty as it is an advertisement for a superior set of physical gifts.
As some men drive Maserati's as an immediate sign to others of where they come from and what they are about, the ultimate conclusion of the journey I was about to take had to endow me with a similar mark of status. I vowed to be the Maserati, an homage to ultimate human performance that is matched by few in the world, but recognizable by all. I wanted my presence to make muggers think twice, I wanted bullies to take the long way home, I wanted women to stutter when I walk into the room, and I wanted CEO's to consider me for promotions with only a first impression to go off of.
As I write this, I am uncomfortably aware of how superficial this all seems. I want people to judge me for my looks and reward me for things they can only assume about me. But the fact is, I didn't choose the shallow route of a bodybuilder. I refuse to manipulate my sodium intake to give a false impression of conditioning and I will not sacrifice brutal, heavy workouts for a quick pump in the mirror. That my initial goal was aesthetic in nature is something that should have indeed sent me on the path to superficiality, posing trunks and all, but it didn't. It led me to something deeper.
I recognized that the subconscious reaction people have to those they view as 'superior' is not primarily from large muscles or low body fat. This visceral behavior results from the recognition of some deeper quality of superiority that is only reinforced by physical stature, not made by it. It is this quality, this strength of character, that is the real game changer. Men of conviction are not easily denied, and this fact is what compels all others in the room to sit up and take notice. While the appearance of strength and size is a hint to others of the deeper nature of a person's character, it is the actual strength of one's character that causes others to fall in line.
This realization meant that attaining a certain 'look' was not enough. For there to be any real benefit from the changes in appearance that I wanted, they could only be a mirror of some deeper change in who I was. This is why I chose Strongman.
The physique of a Strongman does not fit any one type, but it is always a signal of some routine physical training that suggests A.) a good work ethic and high pain tolerance, B.) ambitious goals and high standards of achievement, and C.) a set of physical skills that few people have (for a myriad of reasons pertaining to social and biological evolution, it seems that being able to kick someone's ass is still a valuable asset, even in our oh-so-civilized society).
There are few training regiments that combine raw strength so well with the basic utility that comes from agility and endurance. World record holding Super-heavyweight Powerlifters have famously bombed when they have ventured into strongman, usually from a sincere lack of one of the two. A 900lb squat doesn't seem so cool if you gas out carrying a 300lb keg. On the other hand, top Strongmen are defined by their unnatural strength that rivals these Powerlifters and their ability to express it when they are beaten and fatigued.
Aside from these physical qualities, which represented a sort of pinnacle of human achievement, I was interested in the more subtle improvements that Strongman had to offer. I was in search of specific character traits, and I defined these traits as things that would have functionality in the real world and be driven by continued suffering and painful adaptation. The last 13 years of my life have been spent with modes of training that have induced shaking, migraines, and vomiting, and left me with permanent scars on my forearms, shins, and shoulders. I've blacked out while standing with 200lbs of metal over my head. I've smashed my face and fingers with barbells. I've left skin on stones. I've worn joints and suffered injury. Even if a training sessions does not shed blood or rip tendon from bone, it is only effective if it stresses some weakness in an energy system. This means that you improve endurance by suffering through the fire in your lungs and that you gain strength by spitting and straining against loads that would just as soon bury you. And they say steroids are dangerous.
But the scars heal and the nausea passes and I always come through to the other side, better and more able. I chose this sport because it produces real change in the real world and it does so at a cost. Every workout that causes a desired change in me is paid for with my weakness and pride and, at the end, only strength and humility are left. This sport has taught me to see things through to the end and not ignore the hard things in life. In fact, it has conditioned me to do the contrary; I run towards challenges because that is where the true test of yourself lies. To sum up the mantra that has chiseled something raw and enduring into the heart of a soft, weak-willed child: Hard shit makes you better.
I am far from the superhero that I once envisioned myself becoming, but as long as I continue the struggle and am sure that rightly guided principles are what shape my change, I can always be sure that I am one step closer.