The invisible gains: The Side Effects of Strength Training and Getting Sexier
When you think of working out, eating “healthy,” losing fat, etc, etc. what is your first thought?
Most likely, you think of nasty sweat, hard work, too much time, vanity, and also looking better. Maybe you think of the flat stomach, 6 pack abs, 500lb squat, 315lb bench, rounded shoulder, rounded glutes that you have wanted since you were shot down by your HS crush.
I will not lie, those are all great things and certain things I won’t deny wanting for myself minus the strength. I admit that strength is cool but my goals entirely revolve around aesthetics and strength is just a fun side effect.
I want to talk about side effects of strength training, having aesthetic or performance goals. The areas that grow not including those perfectly sculpted glutes or pecs like your favorite magazine cover model.
Somehow many people do not realize focusing on a goal like “looking better” can actually create other self-improvements that extend far past just what the mirror shows.
I started out my journey around 190lbs which had been a stable weight for me from my junior year in high school to my sophomore year in college. It allowed me to be highly competitive in hockey, track, and football. I did not have to think about what I ate or how I trained. The fact that I put little to no effort into these areas was great except it also wasn’t.
I ended up just stalling and hovering in mediocrity. I was the same year in and year out (other than my sports performance). But mentally I did not improve, and physically I did not either. I just coasted along doing what it took to maintain what I had.
I never had a particular trigger, but I decided it was time for some self-improvement and I went on a quest to discover the last pair of abs that I had never seen. I got a little extra obsessive and ended up dropping 40lbs over six months. I stayed that for six months and realized I looked a little bit sick (I was actually sick).
From that point on I have been continuing my quest for improvement and plan on continuing it for years. I can now say since then I have gained back the 40lbs and then gained another 40lbs. I have gotten very lean a few times, and I am much stronger than I was before I started this journey.
Those are all excellent objective measures that can be seen, held and analyzed, like a prospective significant other.
But, what others do not see, are how I have learned about perseverance, delayed gratification, confidence, mental strength, problem solving and goal setting. These are crucial areas to develop and help me every day as I progress down the career of becoming a licensed psychiatrist. Without these lessons, it would be hard for me to imagine myself still achieving what I have so far in life.
Delayed gratification, the king (or queen so I do not offend people) of all skills. Our mind is built so that intense pleasure is reinforced immediately and firmly. This creates loops in our brain, memories and it drives us to seek these pleasures out. Many times we seek them out to the detriment of our health, social and professional life.
The classic marshmallow test comes to mind when discussing delayed gratification. Children were left in a room with a marshmallow and were told they would get a second if they left the first on the table for 15min. I am confident I would have eaten that marshmallow within 5s of the researcher leaving the room. I was a child with ADHD, and I was highly impulsive. I would not have been able to stifle how badly I wanted the marshmallow now even though I would get two if I just waited.
You need to be able to push aside the idea of immediate pleasure to realize even more satisfaction further in the future. But, our brains make this hard.
Lifting weights and fat loss teach you to delay gratification because these are long processes. You need to put in a lot of work without any satisfaction. Just to get kicked while you are down, not only do you not get any satisfaction by refusing the doughnut that is free during Friday meetings or getting a grilled chicken salad for lunch instead of a burger, but you end up suffering before you achieve your goal. You will be hungry, tired and sore often.
You can find examples of delayed gratification everywhere not just in body transformations. When you need to do your homework/reading but you want to watch TV or go out with friends. Investing in your future by saving money versus spending it all the fun houses, gadgets and cars now. Of course, can you delay you're earning and life for up to 11-15+ years of education and training (post 12 years of education through High School so 24-27 years or more in total), so you can become a medical doctor?
Some people are born with confidence; some people are not. Some people have too much and need to take a step back. But, some people don’t have it but develop it. Strength training (or training of any kind) can help you develop confidence in yourself which you can then utilize in all areas of life.
I know when I present a patient to my attending, co-residents, and medical students I need to be on point. I also know if I present with confidence it is more likely people will believe me. When I decide to answer a question I answer it like I know the answer (hopefully I do). But, I see many medical students timidly answering questions even where their logic is sound, and it takes away from the answer.
Confidence is an essential characteristic to develop. Learning to believe in yourself causes others to look up to you and believe in you also.
You may wonder how training can help you mold this skill? When you first start out training, you are going to suck. It will be hard, you will be weak, and you will be sore. But, as you put in more time you will find your body adapting and changing. You will get stronger, more coordinated, and start feeling less sore even as you do more work if you continue to workout.
The more consistent work you put in, the more progress that you obtain. All of a sudden your body has changed, you are stronger than you thought you ever could be, and you are not sore just walking around, and you don’t get winded after a flight of stairs.
You learn that you are capable of more than you give yourself credit for and you can harness that elsewhere in life.
Learning to Push Yourself
Many people are lazy. Some are lazier than others while some seem to be quite good at pushing themselves. The ones that can drive themselves will likely end up much higher than those who do not. Personally, The only phrase uttered during parent teacher conferences “He never really applies himself.” In my mind, I never saw a reason to do more. I did well in high school and decent in college and medical school. But, I always had room to push harder I just never did.
It was much different when it came to sports. I enjoyed pushing myself, and of course, coaches and friends typically helped fuel the competitive fire as well.
Once you learn how to push yourself, you find that pushing yourself in other aspects of life become easier. You will work harder which will help you accel in your profession and social life as well.
Learn to Experiment
I don’t know how many different methods of diet and training I have tried, but I can tell you it's a long list. Most of these methods were crap and did nothing to move me forward. But, some of them were great, and I use them to this day. And others still had bits and pieces that I liked which I took and adapted.
If you become too rigid in your ways, you run the risk of stagnating as the world around us changes. You need to be able to adapt and become flexible in your modes of thinking. If you just figure it's not broke why fix it, you might miss out on the opportunity to be more efficient, faster, or progress faster.
An example I witnessed was many of my classmates in medical school. Most were smart and have cruised through life with little studying. But, medical school was a whole new beast. The volume and speed of the information were much different than undergrad. Many people were used to cramming material, and they found this was just impossible. Some had no idea how to adapt to studying and bombed. Others had studying methods that took a ton of time and were just not close to efficient enough to work at med school levels.
Our first year was pass fail, and it was the perfect time to experiment with different studying methods to find what worked. Some people failed to use that year to develop new ways to cope with information overload. And then the second year came around, and their struggle worsened because the second year is worse than the first year.
Learning to experiment and adapt is a crucial skill in all areas of life. And physique transformations, lifting, and dieting are places you can learn to develop this mindset.
Getting sexy and strength training are ideal for our vain goals. The aesthetic changes are great, and we can easily track those. But, you cannot discount the gains you do not see.
- You will learn how to delay gratification through putting in work when you do not see immediate results and rewards.
- You will gain confidence in yourself because you will be pushing your body to do things you never thought possible.
- Through the process to get results you will have to push yourself harder than you have in the past otherwise your progress stops.
- And you will need to experiment to find what works best for you. All of these skills will follow you out of the gym and into your life. You will accel in all other areas of life because of these extra gains.
I hope you enjoyed this article. If you found it helpful please spread it around to friends and family. If you have comments or questions, shoot me an email or drop a comment, stalk me on Facebook. Do whatever works best for you.