To the casual gym observer, barbells are just another implement used for exercising. The dedicated lifter, however, knows that there is more than meets the eye. He has a greater goal — he wants to get strong and knows that barbells are the way to get there.
The barbell – it’s simply a piece of machined steel, a useful tool to get you strong when used correctly. But if you immerse yourself and commit to training, you will find that it does more than just get you physically strong. The barbell and the process of training teaches you many lessons, and develops uncommon character traits that will positively affect your life outside the gym.
Lesson 1: Patience
Patience is a virtue (that few have)
The patience to forgo short term gratification for long term rewards.
In this day and age of instant gratification, everyone wants what they want, right now. Jeff Bezos once asked Warren Buffett why weren’t there more people copying his investing strategy, since it was so simple but successful. To which Buffett replied, “Because nobody wants to get rich slow”.
Patience is a virtue that is seriously lacking these days. In the gym, most people want to be strong, yesterday. But not many will have the patience to train consistently and get strong slowly over the long term. They’ll look for shortcuts – jumping from one program to the next, each one promising even more absurd, unrealistic results than the last one.
This is why the market is full of products hyped as “Your Magic Shortcut to Ripped Abs!” or “Weak Squat? Gain 50kg in Only 4 Weeks!” Worse still, some might even resort to performance-enhancing drugs in a bid to hasten the process.
Consistent work over time wins the race
When you train with barbells, first and foremost, you must learn the technique for performing the lifts properly.
If you’re a novice lifter in your first few weeks, you might think, “This is super light and easy! I don’t feel like I’m doing anything productive. I don’t need to rest that long between sets. Come on, let’s add more weight to the bar!” We’ve told this to many novice lifters before and we’ll say it again, “Be patient. Yes, the weights don’t feel heavy now. Trust the process. Update us again in 3 months if you still feel the same way.”
Without fail, at the end of 3 months, they’re asking for an extra minute or 2 of rest between sets. They’re having mixed feelings of apprehension and self-doubt before each set – the weights are getting heavy. Heavier than they’ve ever lifted in their lives at the point of time and they’re worried that they’re not going to be able to complete the set.
Patience is necessary because you need to build a strong foundation for the future, which only happens through a systematic progress that takes time.
What happens if you’re not patient? You add too much weight too early. Having a heavy barbell pressing down on your back when you’ve yet to accumulate sufficient practice of the movement makes it terribly hard to work on your technique. If you can’t squat with proper form when the bar is light, it’s impossible that you’re able to do it when it’s heavy (assuming you can even get there).
You need patience, because progress slows down as you get more advanced. When you first start out on the Starting Strength Novice Linear Progression, you can easily add weight to the bar every session. But as you get stronger, you can’t add weight every session. The time between each weight increase lengthens – from thrice a week, to twice a week, to once a week, to once a fortnight, etc. The stronger and more advanced you are, the more stress is needed to drive an adaptation to get you even stronger, which takes more time.
As you get more advanced, you’ll hit a PR once every few weeks, months or even years. This will be the culmination of months or even years of preparation. Every single workout up till then will have contributed to your progress.
Don’t count your progress for individual workouts. See the bigger picture.
Being consistent requires patience as well. Stay the course. If you’re training for an event, let’s say you’ve signed up for a powerlifting meet, your focus should be on your performance on meet day. Each training session from when you signed up till meet day is all in preparation for your performance on the platform. On some days, you’ll walk into the gym feeling awesome and everything moves fantastically. Resist the urge to go off the program and test your max. On other days, it’ll feel like death. Resist the urge to hop to another program because the current one doesn’t feel like it’s working. Sometimes, you just know that you’ll surpass your goal. But other times, it’ll feel like there’s no way you’re even going to come close. You have to trust yourself, trust the process, and be patient. Because strength, like ageing good whisky, takes time.
Pushing through when the going gets tough
Patience is an uncommon trait because it is psychologically difficult. But if you’ve managed to train it, you will be able to achieve things you never thought possible and have an advantage in life.
You’ll be able to make (and stick to) long term decisions, because you don’t give up easily. How many times have you set resolutions that falter at the first obstacle? To achieve your goals, you need to stay the course.
All things worth having and goals worth pursuing comes with challenges. You’ll be able to calmly think when facing frustration or difficulty. This can improve your outcomes of achieving what you set out to do, whatever it is that you’re pursuing.
Barbells can be great teachers
Barbells will teach you many things, both inside and outside the gym, but only if you let them.
Yes, they’re the best way to get strong.
But if you embrace it fully, the barbell will inevitably teach you other valuable life lessons that will positively affect your mindset and shape your choices.
On this barbell journey, it’s not just about training your physical body. It’s also about who you become along the way.
In Part 2, we’ll look at the second lesson to learn: Hard Work — The discipline and willingness to do difficult things.