Don’t Fear the Work, EMBRACE It!

Zach Even-Esh Deadlift Garage Gym

"They" say things change as you get older.

They sure as heck said it to me time and again, ever since I was a young kid who refused to leave the gym. I would finish my workout and then ride the bike for an hour. Then I would do my homework at the smoothie bar.

I just HAD to be amongst the weights. Hearing the plates clanging and barbells dropping to the floor and rumbling the ground always made me feel at peace. I loved the gym.

At the young age of 14 I was impressionable and listened to everything the older guys had to tell me about life or lifting. I took it all in, but I always got pissed when someone told me that my passion for training and my ability to be strong would one day all slip away.

Ha! Bullshit! I thought to myself as they shared their weak words of wisdom to me. Maybe it was their way of excusing themselves from getting weaker. Weaker in the gym and weaker in life. I wanted no part of such living. I took a stand and you can too, and you don’t have to be 14 years old, either.

I knew there were people out there who would think I was crazy. I knew this because I read about it in Arnold’s Education of a Bodybuilder. He spoke about how his own parents called him crazy for having dreams of being the best built man in the world and wanting to become a Hollywood star.

I learned to tune out the negativity and the naysayers. It’s a skill you’re going to have to learn and apply if you want to succeed. Your thoughts and your inner conversation are extremely powerful. You can choose to think weak or you can think strong. Being strong is a choice you make in your mind, first and foremost.

I’ve also heard that you can’t teach mental toughness, that you either have it or you don’t, that it’s something you’re either born with or not.

Time and again, I’ve seen the naysayers proven wrong. But, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up on the wrong side of the road yourself, literally. You’ll catch yourself making up lame excuses for missing the gym or why you can’t work out like you used to. You’ll begin using your age as an excuse.

One excuse will lead to another. One day quickly becomes one year and before you know it, you’re looking in the mirror wondering who the hell is this person?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

You CAN be strong.
You CAN be tough.
You CAN keep kicking ass and taking names in lifting and life long after high school or college sports are done. And if you’re not kicking ass in training and in life just yet, there is no better time to start than NOW.

You know that voice in your head that finds his way into your thoughts, telling you that it’s OK to skip today’s training, that you’ll train tomorrow and work extra hard, right?

Here’s what I’ve learned to do when the inner laziness starts talking weak: I punch my inner laziness in the face and get to work.

I get my hands dirty.

I sweat.

I fight back.

I work hard.

I lift whatever is near me or I use my own body.

The only valid excuse you have goes out the window when you change your frame of reference.

You worked too hard today and you’re exhausted?
Your legs are killing you from standing all day?
Your back is sore?

When I catch myself coming up with these excuses, I think about people in wheel chairs who wish they could have a sore back and tired legs.

I think about my Grandparents and how they fought for their freedom. My Grandfather first served in the Polish Army during World War II. During this time, the Polish army was destroyed very quickly and he escaped to Russia where he was forcefully conscripted into the Russian Army. Incredibly, he survived during the war even though Russia was greatly overpowered and outnumbered. Men would go into battle while only 1 out of 10 would have a gun.
Grandfather Saba and Zach Even-Esh at the Statue of Liberty

When my Grandfather finally returned to Poland after the war, he learned that his entire family was erased in the Nazi concentration camps. During his return he met Sara (my Grandmother) and within 2 months, he meets her father and asks to marry her and plan to leave Poland to go to Israel. Together, they walked and took trains to Italy. After a year in a refugee camp in Italy, they took a boat across the Mediterranean Sea to Israel.

In Israel, he joined the Haganah, Israel’s precursor to The IDF (Israel Defense Force) of today. This was now the third country where he's served in the military.

These are the thoughts that run through my mind when I come with excuses of being tired. We all have a deeper side to our thoughts and you need to connect with them so you find meaning behind your training that goes beyond your bigger biceps and stronger deadlift.

There are certainly valid times where I listen to my body and perform the appropriate recovery and mobility work to stay healthy. Don’t get confused or disappointed in me because I am not encouraging the perfect workout and optimal lifestyle.

Unless you’re an Olympic athlete living overseas, it is very likely you don’t live or train optimally either. Your favorite weightlifting athlete whose workouts you might be copying is likely living a totally different lifestyle than you are.

They’re not working a full time job. They’re not wasting their time or emotional energy on Facebook. Their meals are cooked and prepared for them. Their laundry is done for them and they get massages on the regular.

As a society we’re all getting soft, myself included. If you don’t fight back, your inner laziness will take over your mind and eventually your body. Your life will reflect this weakness. Instead of going above and beyond at work you begin doing only what is expected or written in the "job description".

On the flip side, the strong man or woman shows up early and gets more work done than anyone else. This person aspires to climb the ranks and has zero interest in merely "getting the job done".

You see, we all have an inner gladiator, or as Ryan Holiday wrote about, your Inner Citadel. You must embrace the hard work required to succeed and fall in love with the challenges rather than avoiding the challenges.

Once you skip one workout, once you accept any excuse, once you slack 1%, it negatively affects your inner gladiator.

You start losing your edge. Not just your physical edge, but more importantly, your mental edge begins to slide. Those regularly skipped workouts and regularly accepted excuses quickly add up and before you know it, you become "normal" and fit in with "everyone else".

I was warned when I was 18 to never lose my edge. The man who warned me was a dangerous man. He started every workout with 100 sit ups. He benched 3 times a week and did curls at the end of every workout with a 45 on each side of the curl bar. He was built like a brick shit house.

At the time, I followed ALL the rules of training and feared breaking away from what the experts insisted was overtraining or under training. I told him that he would over-train. I told him it was too much training and that he should cut back.

Looking back at my "words of wisdom" to this man, I realize that he had the edge over me both physically and mentally by a LONG shot. My lack of believing beyond the norms was what held back my success as an athlete and it was holding me back in life as well.

I was setting limits on myself and my friend was not. He insisted on pushing the limits and embracing the challenges, NOT avoiding them. I’m sure he had those excuses try to enter his thoughts but he punched his inner laziness in the face enough times that eventually, it dared not come back again.

When I finish a long day of working, yes, I often do feel tired and exhausted. But I refuse to let those pathetic excuses run around in my head and take control.

Instead. I fight back. I fight back before they can convince me and turn me into normal. I warm up with my last group of the night at The Underground Strength Gym. I sneak in mobility along with my athletes throughout my hours at the gym. I hit the sleds with the last group at the end of their training.

What was likely to be a skipped training day has now turned into a solid warm up. My mind and body begin to connect with one another rather than clash against one another.

I begin taking pride in the fact that I can go home and not tell my kids that I quit because I was tired. My muscles feel primed and ready. My mind begins to brew with excitement.

I don’t discriminate against the training tool. There are plenty of tools around me, all of which can get me stronger, tougher, bigger and faster. Stones, dumbbells, kettlebells, the good ol’ barbell and my own body. Power cleans get heavier and heavier and I transition into deadlifts.

In between each set I perform clapping push ups, rope climbs and various ab exercises. The science books say you must rest for optimal power development but I’ve got a 45 minute drive home and I can rest in the car. Time is of the essence and I’m not training for the Olympics, I’m training for LIFE.

Being accountable and reliable lets my family know they can count on me when and if the shit hits the fan. And trust me, it will. It’s the little things, like waking up throughout the night to change diapers. Waking up earlier than everyone else to start that business you’ve always dreamed about but never took the initiative to start.

It’s when your town gets hit by a hurricane and your carrying around a generator loaded with gas day in and day out. That perfect warm up you always did doesn’t count when your kids need a warm bed to sleep in and they’re counting on you to farmer walk those gas cans back home to keep the generator running.

It’s OK to train hard and push beyond that perfect program that you read about. Don’t worry, your T levels won’t drop and your muscles won’t shrink. Instead, you’ll discover that you’re stronger than you ever imagined, not just physically, but also mentally.

When your mind understands that you’re capable of much, much more, your body will follow suit. Somebody, somewhere is counting on you to be strong. But before you can make them proud, you need to make yourself proud. You owe it to yourself to be strong. Now get out there and do the damn thing.

Z Deadlift Garage thumbnailZach Even-Esh is the founder of The Underground Strength Gym and the creator of the Underground Strength Coach Certification and author of The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning now available from Dragon Door Publications.

Since opening his gym, Zach has trained hundreds of athletes from youth levels to the Olympic level. Many have gone on to achieve All-State, All-American and National Championship titles.

In addition to operating his training and coaching services on a daily basis, Zach serves as a consultant for Division 1 wrestling teams along with coaches and athletes around the world.

His mission is to help you kick ass & take names in life AND lifting without the hype, fancy fads or gimmicks coupled with real world experience dating back to 1989.