Welcome back. So in the last post we discussed some of the physical benefits regarding why a man should train; train meaning all round athletic ability including strength training, cardio, swimming, combat disciplines and stretching. In this one we will look at why I think these things are important for your mind.
Firstly, I have always played some sort of sport or done some sort of training for as far back as I can remember. I played every sport I could at Primary School and boxed towards the end of it. I swapped boxing for basketball at High School and played that at a fairly high level competitively until I was 18. However there wasn’t a day that went by, where I wasn’t in the school sports hall every morning before school doing something that was on for that day, lunch time either back in there or on the field, and the same after-school. I played whatever was going for as long as I could. Then after that I played out on my street or at the park, usually football in the winter, tennis and cricket in the summer and then just generally riding our bikes anywhere we could.
From college age I got into going to the gym. I had a slight inactive period into my very early twenties which coincided with my last year of Uni. Unironically I put on some weight and got a bit podgy, I ate crap, drank a lot and invested my time in a lot of things which bought me no pleasure in life, just stress. I was very lost. Then I got back into the gym for a while before starting Muay Thai for a couple of years which reignited my love for boxing later on. I went a bit off the rails in my life from this point for a number of reasons but I always maintained some gym sessions a week and a bit of running as I had become extremely fit from the Thai training. I wasn’t making ‘gains’ but I was reaping some psychological benefits from getting a sweat on, and they were very much needed at that unstable time of my life. Then, at 25 I really sorted my head and life out, started training really consistently in the gym again and for the last 5/6 years have been working on all of those things mentioned in Part 1.
Fundamentally the reason I train is because it sorts my head right out! I feel a lot better within myself when I am training. Look, I’ve been stronger than I am right now (although not by much), I’ve probably had better muscular endurance due to boxing training than I currently do, I’m not sure about stamina as right now I feel I am running the best I have ever ran (take out when I was 15 and running 10Ks but weighed about 9 stone) however over the last 5 years I have always maintained a good level of fitness, strength and shape due to consistently training in some way. Everything ebbs and flows and if you want to get strong, your ability to run longer distances quickly will suffer, if it doesn’t you’re not making very good gains in strength as to get strong the level of intensity you have to put into your training sessions wrecks you for days afterwards. If you want to start running faster average miles you have to accept you’re going to lose a bit of strength. If your life is very busy you have to accept you may not have the time or physical effort to get into the best shape of your life but you will have the time and effort to do enough to keep you well. Right now I would say I feel the best I’ve ever felt. And that is what’s important. How I feel!
I don’t take my phone to the gym. I do when I’m running for music purposes but sometimes I leave it at home too and just run for the sake of it. It’s actually really enjoyable and helps with your breathing. I don’t like to talk to people when I’m training. I’m not there to socialise. One reason I have never gone down the career path of a personal trainer is most gyms (and PTs) annoy the life out of me (no offense to the good ones). It is also shocking watching what some people are being paid to make people do which will inevitably cripple them in the long run. Some PTs I see don’t even lift with a safe technique… and they’re telling others how to! I am lucky to live around the corner from one of the best, old-school gyms in Manchester. But even in there you get the spanners that have nothing else going on in their lives, throwing big weights about, screaming and constantly videoing each other with no respect for the people who just want to train without ending up on some self-conscious, trying to be extroverted tool box’s Snapchat story.
Training for me is therapy! I love focusing on how I’m going to perform in my session that day and how I will improve each lift by 1 rep or 5KG from the last session. I spend all week thinking about my training days. I love preparing the night before for a morning run, knowing I have to get 8 hours sleep and when my alarm goes off shoot out of bed ready to smash a few miles in before work. This stuff pumps me up, it gives me a mental focus, it gives me discipline!
I used to train at 5:45 on a Saturday morning for about 6 months with a guy I know. The training ended up fizzling out as a lot of things that extreme do but at the time it was the only time we could meet when we were both free. It was 20 minutes in a car to the gym we used. I had to get up at 4:30, have a black coffee, get ready and go. I might be out for someone’s birthday meal the night before and they would be going to carry on the celebrations elsewhere and I could tell they thought I was weird when I said I had training in the morning and couldn’t come where they were going afterwards. At this time in my life I had stopped drinking so I had no reason to have to carry on the night, stay up really late and it mess with what I actually needed to do to keep my mind well which was train. When you get into a solid routine of consistent training these decisions which will overall better your life become much easier.
Now I’ve already admitted that was pretty extreme. But for a number of years now I’ve been very busy and I had to be strict with when I could train and make sure I did or I simply wouldn’t have had any other time to get it done. I am in a much more balanced routine with it now but do you know how that came about? By doing all of the other stuff and working out what is right for me.
Right now I lift two days a week, I try and run on one or two, I’m adding sprints to that which may take up a day of running and on the others I do a little morning walk which I have found is an amazing way to start my day. Boxing circuits are done sporadically and whenever I do them I wish I hadn’t waiting as long inbetween but you cannot do it all! An old-timer in my gym about a year ago asked me how often I train (weights). When I said two days a week he said, “Wow, you look like you train a lot more than that”. I told him I’d been training at least two days a week for the last five years, sometimes more but mostly two. I’ve never dropped off on that. The odd week, maybe here and there when I’m away I missed a session, but more often than not I’ve got two weight sessions a week in for the last five years. It adds up.
When you lift weights and make gains in strength you feel like a Viking warrior who drinks the blood of his enemies after winning a battle. When you run the same route you’ve done before and you hit a PB after feeling like your heart was going to explode going hell-for-leather on the last 2 miles you feel like you are the king of your city and people will talk about your name for centuries to come. When you feel yourself getting more supple through a tiny bit of stretching every day you feel your body become free and begin to feel as though you’re gliding as your walk and can move around people or obstacles in the most agile of ways. When you learn some degree of combat ability you feel yourself able to balance in range of standing positions knowing that if somebody came at you right now you have the confidence and ability to do what you need to do. If a fighting situation ensues which has nothing to do with you, you begin to subconsciously move into a fighting stance, with both feet balanced favouring the back foot, with your fists clenched and eyes alert and when you know you can swim you have the confidence to take part in some amazing water activities like surfing, coasteering (cliff diving) and kayaking, enjoying them for the amazing experiences they are also knowing that you could save someone else’s life if you had to.
Training gives you a mental skillset, confidence and focus that you just don’t get by sitting on your arse, watching TV, eating crisps. The best testimony of this is to get off your arse, get out and do a bit. Even just a couple of miles walking through some woodland, a park or a field will do wonders for how you feel. Fresh air feels amazing. Combine that with some level of physical exertion and once you’ve finished you’ve hit a high far greater and cleaner than any you’ve ever hit on a night out. Running endorphins are very, very real!
The beauty in it is once you start, you almost immediately build an overwhelming desire to continue within a couple of weeks. Results talk far more powerfully than another human ever could so give it a go and it won’t be long before you’re encouraging others to do the same.