So You Think You Don’t Need to Be Mentally Tough?

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Was there anybody tougher than Butkus?

In my 25 years as a trainer, I’ve trained clients in various gyms in the Los Angeles area. I’ve worked with bodybuilders in the mecca of bodybuilding, Gold’s Gym. Also, I trained clients in many overly priced chic gyms with fancy high tech equipment in both Los Angeles and New York. All my clients had one thing in common: they wanted to look good. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve one’s body. Having a better body is attractive and makes us feel good about ourselves. Men spend hours bench pressing to get a bigger chest while many women slave away at the treadmill so they have can have firmer legs. Go to any commercial gym and I bet you’ll see a lot of guys benching and a majority of the women working in their legs. Focusing on specific muscle groups is how the majority of our society works out. This is how I trained for most of my life. Working to have a better body was never a sign of narcissism; this was the conventional norm and there were really no alternatives. However, by concentrating only on strengthening our bodies without strengthen our minds, we all have suffered and paid a huge price to our aesthetic vanities. We as a society have become weaker. A hot and toned body cannot compensate for a weak mind.

Now with all my potential clients, I tell them my first priority is to get them mentally tougher. During our initial meeting, I emphasize the importance of this to every client. By becoming mentally tougher, they will learn how the mind will push their bodies to do amazing things and get them in the best shape of their lives. But, more importantly, I tell them how a strong mind will improve their overall quality of life by teaching them how to get over adversity. However, the majority of my would-be clients get a bit put off by what they wrongly perceive as my lack of focus on their body, and could care less about being mentally tougher. A common response from my female clients is “I don’t want to be tough, I just want a tighter ass.” The males that I meet are just as superficial. “Dude, I don’t want to be linebacker and play football. I just want to get all cut up for the babes.” There is a misconception that being mentally tough is about being a macho rough neck. This is hardly the mental toughness I teach my clients. Mental toughness is the ability to persevere. It is a skill that can be honed and strengthened.

The problem is most people don’t see how advantageous it is be mentally strong. The average person is too hung up on their body and doesn’t see a need to work on the mind. They believe that having a tight or muscular body will lead them to ultimate happiness. Having a good body can improve one’s self-esteem, but one will never reach his or her full potential if the mind is neglected. The truth of the matter is, getting my clients to lose weight or build muscle is relatively easy. People feel euphoric and proud about their body transformation. However, psychological improvements are more difficult. Just because one has a physical transformation, does not guarantee a mental one.  Getting them to believe in themselves, now that is the real challenge.

With hard work and a clean diet I’ve seen many people over the years make drastic body transformations by losing tons of weight and building a muscular body. I’m always motivated and inspired when I see people’s hard work paying off. Unfortunately, for many that lose the weight, I’ve seen most of them gain it back and then some. The problem is not initially losing the weight, but sustaining the new and desirable weight. They look good for a while, but soon fall off the wagon and return to their old habits of eating tons of carbs or slacking off. There are many reasons why people fail at maintaining their new body, but the underlying reason is a lack of mental strength development during the transformation.  I’m not blaming these people either. I don’t know many trainers who are qualified to teach mental toughness skills and the available material on this subject just isn’t very good; until now.

In my next blog I will discussed a very interesting observation I have made in the gym world.

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