Training For the Most Important Event of All – Life

Training For the Most Important Event of All – Life

When I look back at my relationship with the gym over the years, it’s interesting to see its evolution over time.

In the beginning, I joined purely to get into better shape.

Like so many other women, I wasn’t happy with my body. And after half a lifetime of home exercise and jogging yielding poor to mediocre results, I decided that I needed to get serious and take my training to a new level.

I really wanted to lose my excess body fat and trim down. So of course, joining a real gym was the next step.

A couple of years later I discovered that competing in body building contests was a thing, and that became my new mission in life. As crazy a goal as it seemed at the time, I went after it with gusto. In my mind I could see myself standing up there on stage looking amazing, and I was determined to make it a reality.

After about a year of super-intensive, specialised, mostly weight training I entered my first show as a Figure athlete.

I placed third at state level.

In my very first contest.

It felt absolutely amazing, and right away I knew it was what I was born to do.

Long story short, I was a competitive Figure athlete for about six years. And of course, over those six years the sole purpose of my training was to put on as much muscle and sculpt the best physique that I possibly could.

Then of course depression came into my life and sidelined me, and it would be about three years before I would see the inside of a gym again.

Post depression I’ve never felt the desire to compete anymore, but I do find myself loving working out in the gym just as much as ever. I set myself a goal to get back near to my previous physique.

I have found it much tougher going this time around though, probably for two reasons.

Firstly, because I’m not as disciplined with my diet as I was as an athlete. Because let’s face it, I don’t need to be.

And secondly, I believe there have probably been hormonal changes in my body, as well as other effects, resulting from three years of serious depression that have just made things different.

But that’s OK. As I said, I love working out so I’ll stick with it, and I WILL get there.

My New Revelation

I have made one big change to my training routine however as of about 18 months ago that I feel has made a profound change for the better. And that is that I started doing about an hour of cardio each gym day in addition to my weight training.

But I don’t mean the slow, mind-numbingly boring type of cardio that involves spending hours on a treadmill or bike.


I’m talking about high-intensity circuit training. The type that really gets you to dig deep and pushes you to your very limits.

Think Crossfit.

But it’s my own, safer version.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Crossfit is fantastic. But I’m way too uncoordinated to do that without ending up in a wheelchair.

So I design my own, spine-friendly circuits instead.

In the beginning I decided – reluctantly, to add high-intensity cardio training to my routine to help me trim down faster. I say reluctantly because the truth is that like the majority of sane human beings, I’ve never been a big fan of soul-destroying, high-intensity cardio exercise.

Because it really, really hurts.

But what I’ve since found is that it offers benefits that go way beyond the obvious fitness improvements.

What I consider the most important benefit of all is that it builds your mental toughness like nothing else. Or at least, it gives you the opportunity to, depending on how you do it.

So it prepares you for life, and everything it has to throw at you.

Because once you make a habit of facing and overcoming challenges that really scare you and make you question your ability and even your will to keep going, your entire attitude changes. You develop this mindset that nothing can stop you.

You become unstoppable.


And that’s a much better way to go through life than to live inside of your little comfort zone, at the mercy of all your fears.

Eleanor Roosevelt had this great quote:

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Eleanor Roosevelt

I think she had the right idea.

She understood that actively going after and facing down your fears on a daily basis makes you immensely braver and stronger.

It’s a concept that’s pretty foreign to most people. Because let’s face it, it’s human nature to gravitate towards ease and comfort. That’s just how we’re wired.

But of course, the more we give in to those instincts, the softer we become. And the more vulnerable we become to being getting hurt and being controlled by our fears. And our creature comforts.

But what I’ve discovered is that high-intensity training goes even one step further than this.

Yes it is scary, so it checks that box. It forces you to face fear.

But it also forces you to fight through some serious pain.


So not only are you facing something that scares you, you’re facing something that hurts you as well. It doesn’t just make you braver, but mentally tougher as well.

Much tougher.

Which is why these days, even though I still hate doing it, I’ve grown to love it at the same time.

The Gym’s Dirty Little Secret

There’s a little secret among many gym freaks that they don’t like to talk about or even admit.

Not all of them, but a lot.

And that is that deep down, they fear cardio training. Especially the high-intensity type – you won’t even ever hear them acknowledging that that’s a thing.

Because the truth is, weight training is easy. Relatively speaking, of course.

Sure, you have to work hard, dig deep, all of that.

But with weight training the line between what you think you can do and what you can actually do is pretty thin.

When you’re near the end of a tough set feeling like you’re near or at your limit, you may be able to eek out another rep. If you dig deep, maybe two. Maybe even three.

But it means you’re only really hurting for a handful of seconds. And right after you’ll be able to rest and recover anyhow. Not easy, sure. But a pretty cushy deal when you compare it to high-intensity conditioning.

Why do I say that?

Because with high-intensity conditioning, there’s an enormous gap between feeling like you’re at your limit and actually being at your limit. And how much of that gap you manage to cross comes down to one simple thing.

Mental toughness.

How much pain are you willing and able to endure?

How much are you prepared to suck it up and push through it?

Fatigue makes cowards of us all.

George S. Patton

There’s a concept that former Navy SEAL David Goggins, widely considered to be the toughest man on earth, created to help develop mental toughness. It’s called the 40% Rule.

The 40% Rule states that when you’re absolutely, utterly exhausted and wiped out, when you feel like you can’t go a step further, you’re actually only at 40% of your limit.

That means you’ve still got 60% left inside you.

But getting that 60% out of you will test you like nothing else.

Imagine the feeling of being hot, tired, and covered in sweat. Your lungs are burning, your are legs trembling and feel like jelly. You’re on the verge of throwing up. The voice in your head is screaming at you to quit, you’re done.

But then you pick up the weights and bust out a set of squats anyhow.

Before moving on to the next stage of the circuit.

You get the picture.

Yes you will get fitter and stronger, that’s for sure. But the real training is going on in your head.

You’re teaching your brain that the self-defeating little voice in there is a liar. You’re teaching it that you can actually do much more than it gives you credit for.

And that extends into all areas of your life, not just in the gym.

Whenever life throws a tough challenge at you, rather than buckling into that familiar fall-back belief of “I can’t do this”, instead you’re instinct becomes to remind yourself who you are.

And what you’re capable of.

It’s What the Experts Do

Think about how the military, especially special forces, trains its warriors.

It’s the same deal.

It’s all about keeping them out of their comfort zone, and forcing them to push beyond their perceived limits.

Yes, they need to be fit and strong.

But it’s mostly about developing mental toughness. That’s the key element.

War would without a doubt be the toughest, most psychologically and emotionally challenging experience any human being could go through. So they need to be prepared to face the worst.

And demanding, intense, soul-destroying conditioning is the way it’s done.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never have to face the horrors of war. But I know that even normal life can dish out its fair share of blows.

And that’s why whereas I used to only do cardio training out of necessity – when I had to cut weight, now I do it for different reasons.

I do it because getting mentally stronger makes me feel good.

The greatest feeling in the world is to get stronger; and people don't get stronger without facing challenges.

Firas Zahabi

But I think it will always be a love/hate relationship.

Every now and then someone in the gym asks me what I’m training so hard for.

I never want to respond with the old cliché – “life”, even though that’s the truth.

So I usually just smile and say, “I love it”.

Which of course, is only half the story.

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