Thursday, December 29, 2016

The parable of the gym rat

There was once a gym rat. He had large muscles that he was proud of. Because he wanted bigger muscles more than anything in this world, he could be found in the gym lifting weights everyday for several hours. His life outside the gym was also consumed with his practice. He bought special food, ate at special times, slept at certain times, and shaped his whole day around weightlifting. While he felt great satisfaction in the progress he had so far achieved and the knowledge that he was fully encumbered with weightlifting, he nevertheless had a gnawing, quiet feeling inside him. A few years ago his growth had slowed down, then stopped. He tried to break out of the plateau by adding an extra hour of lifting, by drinking another protein shake, etc., but no matter which element of his routine was expanded, nothing seemed to work. He hoped that somehow he would figure it out, and meanwhile just focused on what had gotten him to that point.

One day, the gym rat was approached by a stranger. The gym rat was quite annoyed when he had to interrupt his mental focus, turn off his music, and remove his ear buds to hear what the interrupter had to say. "Hi, I noticed your workout is pretty long. You might try doing higher intensity, shorter workouts. Otherwise, you hinder your body's ability to recover from the stress you are inducing, which is counterproductive and will prevent gains." The gym rat was furious. He weighed at least 60 pounds more than this imbecile. He had never seen him before and, judging by his physique, he didn't hit the gym much. He ignored the stranger, put his ear buds back in, and continued his workout. He never made the gains he sought, and ended up tearing a muscle from his overtraining, forcing him to abandon weightlifting.

Several months later, the stranger--who by diligent study and acute self-examination had discovered the secret to rapid, intense gains--had gained around 60 pounds of muscle, but was starting to plateau. He had learned this method of training from an impromptu group of fitness hobbyists who happened to respond to a book that had been published on the subject. It had turned him into a devout exerciser through showing him the kinds of benefits weightlifting can bring when you actually do it properly. He found support in his peer group, and occasionally even had the courage to try to help the gym rats discover the same principles of weightlifting. In the months after the book was published, some splintering took place. Most did not faithfully adhere to the weightlifting principles. Some of them, finding themselves without gains, decided it was a bunch of rubbish. Others found solace in the social aspect of being a part of a movement and the fact that they were still exercising more than they had before. A very few--like the stranger--were true and faithful to every instruction they had been given, and had received all the gains that could be received from that instruction. Still, the stranger and those few like him found themselves beginning to plateau just as the gym rat had.

One day, the stranger was approached by a friend from his group, one who had--like him--remained faithful to the instructions he had received. The friend said, "I have discovered that in order to break through this plateau, we need to reduce our workout interval from 4 times a week to 2 times a week. It seems counterintuitive, I know, but by doing this I have been able to add another 20 pounds of muscle in two months. It is hard, because I feel like I should be doing things the way others do them, but by sticking to this I have experienced undeniable growth. I am stronger than I have ever been." The stranger felt very uncomfortable with this advice. His friend was suggesting that the book, while useful, was incomplete. He responded, "But what about all our other friends? Surely, if this was a good idea, they would be doing it too?" His friend said, "I've talked with many of them and I have found that majority are not actually interested in gains as much as they are interested in lifting weights. Though their form of doing so differs from the gym rats, their attitude is quite similar." This was offensive to the stranger. He identified with this group, and a judgment against them was a judgment against him. Besides, was this fellow suggesting that his lack of gains might actually be his own fault? He struggled to reconcile that with all the hard work he had put in, notwithstanding the obvious truth that this situation was precisely that of the gym rats--something he himself had worked to try to help them see. His friend continued, "Those who do care about gains don't believe that this additional instruction could be true or worthwhile. They say if it were important, it would have been in the book. They have made the book and its author their idol, instead of seeking gains." This, the stranger felt, had taken it too far. Who did this guy think he was? He didn't seem stronger than anyone else. Why would he think he knew more than the stranger? He decided to break contact. He didn't want to confront his friend directly, being without sound argument for his objections, so he just stood in silent response until his friend went away. Then, he passive aggressively disconnected from his former friend by switching gyms. The stranger's hopes for growth died that day, having cut himself off from the only path to get greater gains. He lived out the rest of his life quite content with his present size, despite the still, small voice that continually suggested something was off, until one day he found himself too old to lift weights.