What I have learned from working out 263 times in one year
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What I have learned from working out 263 times in one year

Dominik Bärlocher
Zurich, on 01.02.2017

One year ago, I decided that I would go to the gym five times a week. A year on, this project has come to an end, and I am taking stock in terms of motivation and discipline.

"From now on I am going to the gym from Monday to Friday", is what I told my girlfriend exactly one year ago. This was not a New Year's resolution, a conversion to fitness or the motivation to lead a healthier and sportier life. I just wanted to see if I could do it. One year later I can say: Yes, I can!

Here are a few statistics:

  • Over the past 365 days I went to the gym 263 times
  • One workout usually lasted around two hours. This equals 526 hours or 21.91 days of workouts
  • I missed four days. Three days due to illness, and one because of work
  • I wore out one pair of shoes, and soon it will be a second one
  • I had to throw away two compression shirts
  • My chest has increased by seven centimetres
  • My abdominal girth has decreased by eight centimetres
  • My biceps currently has a diameter of 45 centimetres

Preparing for a tough year

A year ago, I was already lifting relatively heavy weights. But compared to today, that is nothing, of course. This is because I have since become a Strongman athlete, and I take part in competitions. I will tell you more about this later. After all, before you can get anywhere near your personal best performance, you will need a plan. Given that I get on quite well with the gym team, I told them about my plan. My training plan was then adapted in a way that would get me through the year safe and sound.

My training plan initially entailed three "arm days" and two "leg days." This way, I could assure my trainer, my muscles would have enough time to regenerate between workouts to regenerate, my trainer, Camillo Ferreirinha assured me. The results are plain to see. The maximum weight I could lift went up in no time. My cardio workout on the bicycles became easier every time.

The road to becoming a Strongman

"Why don't you become a Strongman?" my trainer Fabian Graf asked jokingly one day. He said this because I had surpassed my own body weight a week before when I was doing squats. It was quite a lot since I weigh quite a lot. It goes without saying that I have always watched "The World's Strongest Man" at Christmas, and I admired Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson playing Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane in "Game of Thrones." However, I have never seen myself as part of the the group of the very strong men. This is why I just laughed at this suggestion.

Two weeks later: I sent Stefan Ramseier of the Swiss Federation of Strongman Athletes an e-mail. I asked him how much weight I would have to lift in order to be eligible to take part in this competition without ending up far behind in last place. Last place would be okay by me, but only if it was by just a bit. He invited me to join their training.

My first 150-kg dead lift was in July. Meanwhile, I manage to lift a quarter of atonne. In the background: my trainer Nina Züger

On that Saturday in June, everything changed. I have never been as tired and exhausted in my entire life. Yet I could not stop smiling although every part of my body was hurting, and I almost passed out twice. I was not hungry; I had to eat. It was primeval. I devoured a banana, a sandwich, a packet of biscuits and a muffin in about two minutes and washed it all down with two cans of Dr Pepper. My decision was made, though: I would become a Strongman.

And then I replaced my worn-out running shoes with a pair that would be more suitable for weight lifting.

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Converse Chuck Taylor All Star (41)

My first competition

By October the time had come: my first competition. We competed in two disciplines in in front of a large audience at the Fitness Expo in Basel. My aim was not to be in last place.

In Axle Clean and Press, weights of at least 75 kg are placed on a bar of 5 cm in diameter. It is then tossed up into the air. I broke my own record and managed to lift 100 kg. This put me in sixth place, i.e. second to last place.

The second discipline, Front Hold, does not only demonstrate an athlete's physical but also their mental strength. It's all about lifting 25 kg to eye level with your arms stretched out. For as long as possible. I managed to do this for 42.7 seconds before I dropped the weight – my whole body shaking. This meant that I ended up behind everyone else, in third place. Niklas Jäggi of CrossFit Bern came in second, and he managed 50.1 seconds.

It may look easy, but it is much harder than you would think

At this event I suddenly realised something: This is for me. This was because finishing in fifth place overall was more than I had hoped for. And I also felt welcome among the Strongmen. We cheer each other on, celebrate together and in the end it doesn't feel like anyone has lost.

The two ways of getting something done

During my year of training, I learned a lot. Above all though, I learned there are two ways of getting things done.

  1. With motivation
  2. With discipline

Since then, I've become a big proponent of the second point because motivation is definitely the wrong way.

Motivation relies on external factors. Simply everything has to be right: your mood, the weather, your workday, your cat's frame of mind, etc. Only when all these things are just right, will you be mentally in shape to manage your task.

Discipline, on the other hand, separates function from frame of mind. In other words, you are doing something without any regard to your mood or other circumstances. That way, you actually turn the principles of motivation on their head. You successfully complete tasks and that brings you joy. That way, you take matters into your own hands by creating all the conditions that a "motivation"person needs to get started. The implications of this mind-set are clear: you become better! At everything.

You can easily apply this to all aspects of your life, whether it's training, work or getting out of bed in the morning. Let's stick with training for now. In practical, athletic terms, the difference looks like this:

  • A "motivation" person waits until he or she is in Olympic shape before starting their training
  • A "discipline" person is training to get into Olympic shape

If you rely on your motivation, your inner slacker will always look for more and more factors that have to be just right before you get off the couch and start training. With discipline, on the other hand, you get things done. End of story. If you're waiting for your feelings to allow you to get something done, then you're sabotaging yourself. That's exactly what you'll get when you put things off to the last minute or constantly kick things down the road.

The question you have to ask yourself is, "How can I get my work done without constantly having to nag myself?"

The secret is to separate your emotional well-being from the task in question. In any case, you'll feel better after you've completed the task no matter what. If you make all your tasks dependent on motivation, you'll wind up on the couch, playing PlayStation in your underwear, while your work piles up just because the stars didn't align the right way that day.

Motivation versus discipline in everyday professional life

Let's be honest, there are parts of every job that nobody can be expected to be motivated about doing. That's true about your job and it's true about mine. So if you're a "motivation" person, you run into a brick wall here. Those daunting tasks pile up and, since the time is never right for them, the mountain of work becomes bigger and you start to feel even worse because your workload simply doesn't get any smaller.

Have you ever been so bored at work even though you had tons of things to do?

It's like torture trying to motivate yourself to do those bland tasks at the office. "I am passionate about holding this meeting! I'm so motivated to fill out this Excel spreadsheet!" Ugh! No thank you! If that's the only way you can get through your workday, then you'll wear yourself out. And nobody wants that. Not your boss, not your boyfriend or girlfriend, nor your parents and definitely not you. Because at some point your brain reaches breaking point and you wind up either with a burn-out or a brown-out or some other thing I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.

If, however, you tackle those tedious meetings and boring Excel sheets with discipline, then things work out. Monday morning, two hours of Excel-mania. Then it's finished. Done. Every evening after work, you go to the gym, end of story. Sure there were days in the past year when I went to the gym purely for the sake of statistics, but even then I did more cardio and lifted more weights than I would have done if I'd gone straight home and plonked myself on the couch. And that makes me feel good. The motivation to lift weights again the next day is much greater than if I know it will be a complete waste of time again.

In short, motivation is the art of getting yourself to want to do something. Discipline is just doing it, no matter how you feel.

But how do I get discipline?

Discipline is something you can learn. How? Simply by teaching yourself habits. At some point, you learned to switch off the light whenever you leave the room. That's discipline. Brushing your teeth after a meal? Discipline through force of habit.

Just like you can make a habit of brushing your teeth, you can make a habit of working out. Take your time and do what you need to do and you will see that within a short period of time, you will not only achieve success but you'll also feel better.

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Journalist. Author. Hacker. A storyteller searching for boundaries, secrets and taboos – putting the world to paper. Not because I can but because I can’t not.

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