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7 Keys to Living the STRONG Life

Zach Even-Esh Presenting at the 2015 Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference

When I was younger—and especially during my early teenage years—I was scared of the world… until I stepped into a gym. Then time would stand still, I would lose myself and find myself. You might have imagined the opposite, especially considering the gym where I trained during my early years. There were monsters everywhere, and heavy barbells and dumbbells were dropping to the floor on the regular.

This gym had a platform built from wood and car tires. It had a single squat rack bolted down, and you didn’t dare step on that platform unless you were invited. Those who were invited, earned their way to the platform. I was not one of "those guys". Those guys would squat or deadlift 5 plates and up. And they would dumbbell bench the 150s for reps.

I weighed only 135lb when I started training there. Some of the nicknames in that gym were Crazy Eddie, Big Eddie, Big Stan… These guys were all big and strong, and most were described as crazy, but to me their passion and intensity was "normal". Crazy Eddie would bench 315, then do weighted chins with 90lb, one-arm dumbbell preacher curls with a 100lb dumbbell and then triceps pushdowns with the entire stack plus a plate pinned on for extra resistance.

I learned a simple lesson at that gym: you will get the best results if you work hard and lift heavy. For some odd reason, the heavy lifting didn’t sink in until I was 19 and 20. Some of us take longer to learn, and I was a slow learner. What I saw happening in the gym was not always the same as the magazine articles I was reading—the magazines said to squeeze the muscle and isolate everything.

The cable machines at this gym were always being loaded to the max and guys would find a way to pin and rig an extra 45lb plate or more on the max loaded weight stack. The gym owner was a welder and built all the machines. While at most gyms the weight machines stop at 200-250lbs, this gym had machines with weights up to 300-350lb.

I would train while taking in the way others lifted through the corner of my eye. I would ask the older lifters questions, and sit at the juice bar to talk with the guy on staff. I even found a way to do my homework at the juice bar. I’d often be at the gym for 2-6 hours.

I still remember the day the guy at the front desk told me, "Zach, you just love to be amongst the weights", as I sat there doing my homework. My parents dropped me off at the gym and I did my workout, bought a protein shake for two bucks, did my homework, then rode the stationary bike or lifted some more. I recall waiting for my parents one day, and by the time they showed up, I’d ridden the bike for 26.2 miles, a marathon. This was all after I lifted weights.

My school work never fully sunk in because my mind was filled with bodybuilding. I memorized all the workouts cited in the books and magazines. My solace was hearing the weights slamming together on barbells or being dropped on the floor. The world stood still for me at those times. I paid close attention to the simple details, and noticed that the guys who were the strongest and best built were the guys who ate the best, trained the hardest and essentially showed up to kick ass and take names. The guys who were always talking and BSing non-stop didn’t seem to make any progress, they were just happy to be there. Even though this all happened around 1990 to 1993, I remember those days like they were yesterday.

That brings me to sharing a few key points about living a STRONG life. I personally follow these ideas and they have led me to success both in the gym and in life. The two go hand in hand.

As The Ultimate Warrior said when he spoke at my first ever Underground Strength Conference, "Don’t just be a badass under a barbell, do it in your Life!"

Lesson # 1

Wake up early and get work done. Getting up earlier than the "normal" people out there gives you a mental edge. You begin taking pride in starting off your day under your own will, while most people start off their day bummed out for what lies ahead of them after the sound of the alarm clock.

Start your day with some power reading. Choose anything that inspires you. Read two pages minimum. Reading feeds your brain and arms you with both knowledge and inspiration.

Most people start their day reacting to an alarm clock, then they check the news or social media. They begin their day with other people’s happenings. To live a STRONG life you must have the discipline to craft your own rules.

I wake up between 5 and 6AM. I work before anyone else in my house is awake and before the dog wants to get off the couch. I read and then I write. I do this everyday, even if I don’t feel like doing it.

This brings me to the next lesson.

Lesson # 2:

Take on challenges and build strength from overcoming even the smallest ones. Small victories add up quickly, in turn you will build greater confidence in yourself. You will begin taking pride in being victorious rather than surrendering to what most people in society surrender to:

"I’m too tired…"

"I don’t have the time…"

"I don’t have the money for that…"

"I don’t feel like writing…"

"I don’t like doing that…"

There’s a saying amongst Navy SEALs that goes like this, "You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it."

At this point in my life, I have learned that it doesn’t matter whether I like something or not, I am hunting down the end result. But over time, you learn to love the challenges. You start loving the things you didn’t like when you can begin to find solace in the challenges. You can be proud of doing things that 99% of people complain about.

Lesson # 3

Strong Mind, Strong Body, STRONG LIFE—they all go hand in hand. They can exist alone and I have seen plenty of people with just a strong body or just a strong mind but when someone combines a strong mind and body, then they TRULY begin to live a strong life.

Many successful people—in their lives and financially—take their health seriously. They often train early in the morning because the feeling of overcoming "resistance" and pushing your mind and body as one makes the rest of the day’s challenges seem much, much easier.

A common theme among Dragon Door authors is the choice of simple training methods, but used with a laser-like focus, intensity, and dedication. Marty Gallagher speaks about radical transforming using the big 3 lifts. The Kavadlo brothers speak about eating simple earth-grown foods combined with bodyweight basics, as does Paul "Coach" Wade. Max Shank encourages sprinting and blending mobility drills, basic barbell lifts, basic kettlebell lifts, and bodyweight exercises.

The answers are in front of you, the knowledge is there for the taking. You must merely make the decision to do the thing, or not. Success is a choice. Strength is a choice. They are both earned and that is the beauty of it.
Zach Even-Esh and designer, Derek Brigham at 2015 Dragon Door Health and Strength Conference

Lesson # 4 & 5

Pay attention to details. Success leaves clues. These two lessons go hand in hand. Notice that I mentioned other coaches earlier and what they do. Notice that I also mentioned what other successful people—ranging from military, entrepreneurs, athletes and more—do in life.

Success leaves clues. Pay attention to what other successful people do and apply these clues to your own life.

Lesson # 6

Have the guts to go for it! I am often asked about why I am "successful". There are certainly many definitions to success, it is sometimes viewed from a financial standpoint, other times viewed as a level of happiness. Interpretations can go round and round, but here’s the bottom line: If you want to kick ass and take in life and lifting, then you must be an ACTION TAKER.

As they say, "Do the damn thing!"

The man or woman with excuses is the man or woman who will always toil in mediocrity. I have zero aspirations of being average, mediocre or "happy to be a part of the team".

This can be interpreted as dedication, intensity or passion. I don’t know how to describe it in one word, but I simply view this as being all in or not at all. There is no power playing in the middle ground where the majority congregates.

Every day, you must take action with the following:
  • Never stop learning. Read every day.
  • Always challenge yourself. This can be as simple as waking up five minutes earlier than normal or adding two reps to an old PR.
  • Control your time, don’t just manage it. Wake up early and get work done.
  • Be a man of action. Success comes to those who earn it. You don’t deserve anything—except what you earn.
  • Work your ass off. Getting more out of your life will require greater passion and commitment to your journey. It’s an every day thing, not a sometimes thing.
Lesson # 7

Returning home from Minnesota after being around other highly motivated people at the Dragon Door Health & Strength Conference fired me up BIG time.

Lesson #7 is to surround yourself with passionate, hard working, great people. It will inspire you. The attendees all invested in their education. Yes, "investing". A scarcity-minded person would call it "spending money" or would say, "I can’t afford that". Stay away from those people! And, as I tell others, when you can’t physically surround yourself with great people, then do it through great books and podcasts so you are "virtually" surrounded by great people.

Life goes fast.

Unless you decide to start Living The STRONG Life, life will take you for a ride and not the ride you want to be on. Every day, the choice is yours!

Zach Even-Esh HSC thumbnailZach Even-Esh is the author of The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength & Conditioning and the founder of the Underground Strength Gym. Zach is also the creator of the Underground Strength Coach Certification and has worked with hundreds of coaches and thousands of athletes between his gyms and online coaching.