Why should we lift weights, move our bodies against gravity or tense our muscles in particular ways? The modern answer would be to make yourself look good on Instagram, to fake a smile into the camera semi nude and wiggle around your enormous butt to gain a lot of new followers. Or to post a video of your personal transformation to make people automatically press „like“ and make them wish they could be as awesome as you. But let´s be realistic, these egoistic behaviors existed even before the age of social media. Some of these traits are simply human, we all want to look good, be complemented and appreciated for who we are. The problem is that social media intensifies these “natural” human traits and makes everything shallow by dumping down communication to an american TV series high school level. No matter what you love or do, you share it to become popular, everything else is secondary.
Of course, most people would say they are training to improve or maintain their health or even to improve performance. Health is a very valid reason for training, but the longer I train the more I believe one simply needs to maintain a lifestyle where movement in variety is indispensable (climbing, cycling, swimming, etc.) and the preparation and consummation of real natural food is enjoyment, not bland nutrition nor insatiable gluttony. A six pack is not a requirement for good health, nor is an enormous ass or a giant biceps. Treating your food as mere fuel or as essential components for your muscle building will make you a dull boy (or girl), with strong cravings that keep you on edge and thus, the need to vocalize to everyone what you cannot eat because you are “eating clean”. Furthermore consuming a ton of protein, and over supplementing is also nothing a serious diet specialist would recommend. While countless studies on strength training and its performance improving quality exist, one has to ask someone who is not an active athlete in any sport “What performance are you trying to improve”? Do you need to squat a ton of weight to improve your typing on the keyboard? To sit more stable in your chair? Stair sprints to be able to run faster from the ground floor to your boss’s office when he calls for you?
Yes, I am cynical, but my point is that there is a very valuable reason for strength training, that goes beyond the superficial and delusive, and maybe we would be better off – in terms of mental health – if we would keep this in mind, instead of lying to our-selves or trying to meet dubious, unrealistic goals (“becoming a mass monster”, “having constant body fat under 10%” etc.). Sandow´s first book was entitled “Strength and how to obtain it”. Most people nowadays have at least an idea of how to achieve this. But what is the point of all this strength or your “ripped”, “swole” physique (as a consequence of strength training), if you cannot cope with all the daily struggles? What is the point of squatting 150kg, if you mentally break like a twig if someone criticizes, teases or insults you? You do not crumple under all the weight if you military press a lot of weight, but your unwanted job and colleagues crush your spirit to break out of this miserable situation?
For a non-athlete the increase in muscle mass, strength and improved performance should be there to strengthen the ego in a positive way. To give you the power to master your life the best way you can. To not be crushed by defeat or personal failures, but to get up and out there and try again to fulfill your goals. Although the media and our capitalistic education suggest that we can all achieve our dreams by simply wanting and working hard enough, the reality will teach you otherwise. Our genes, our upbringing, the economic situation etc. have a huge influence on our current and future life. Thus, the circumstances are not always working in our favor, but one needs strength to cope with the situation, to keep calm and then re-evaluate the goals. How much can you adapt without sacrificing your personality? If one goal seems afar, maybe work on a smaller goal that is more suitable for this situation. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said “You can´t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”. The strength training alone will not transfer you into a good surfer, but at least it should give you a strong foundation. If not, I will ask again, what use is physical strength on its own?
This may sound abstract and theoretical to you without any relevancy to your training or life. But just be reminded of this: The next time you are disappointed because your improvement in an exercise or a skill is little compared to other people, think about why you are doing this. You expose yourself to this hard training because you want a body and a mind that can cope as much as possible with what life throws at you. Difficulty in training is nothing but a teacher, a controlled environment that gives you a chance to work with failure and come out stronger than before.