The Strength in Discomfort

Posted on March 05 2018

The Strength in Discomfort

Everyone who works out has a reason for it. The most common is to lose weight or get healthier. For others, it is a job necessity. For those in the Sheepdog community specifically, the importance of physical training is paramount to perform their job exceptionally, survive and win. There is a saying in the Marine Corps, “train like you fight.” It’s difficult to draw a parallel between the gym and combat, but the facility you use and how you approach training says a lot about what you’re preparing for.

For most of my youth I worked out in your typical globo-gym. The equipment was always sparkling, floors clean, sauna’s and steam rooms in the locker room, personal trainers neatly groomed walking around in their polo’s. Everything was neat and in order, seemingly focused on making its members the most comfortable they could be. In this same gym, there was a basement where the free weights were. The benches had silver duct-tape covering tears in the fabric, the moisture & humidity in the room rusted the iron plates, and those who inhabited this basement didn’t appear nearly as approachable as those upstairs but instead, intimidating. Most were twice the size of me so generally speaking, I stayed away; that is, until I made the decision to join the Marine Corps. Suddenly, the purpose of working out had changed from picking up chicks to surviving and winning in battle, where men either lived or died. If I was going to prepare for battle, perhaps there was more to learn about preparation in that basement. I meekly stepped into the dark, creeky stairwell, sounds of plates clanging and the grunting growing louder as I descended. It was time to get real.

In Iron Ambition, My Life With Cus D’Amato, Mike Tyson discusses the entrance to Cus’ Gym. He writes, “The gym was up three flights of rickety stairs. If you stood at the bottom…you could see all the way up to the top. Once you got up to the top, there was a big hole in the door, patched up with mesh wiring, and there was a huge watchdog that would smash up against the mesh, barking like crazy. If a kid came up alone and wasn’t deterred by the dog and pushed the door open and said he wanted to be a fighter, Cus knew he had something to work with.” For Cus, the first and most important aspect of fighting was mental and stepping into the face of your fears. If you didn’t have a modicum of that, you had no foundation. Nothing to build upon.

I’m not disparaging clean and tidy gyms full of shiny new machines. But for our line of work, it is not nearly as suitable. I firmly believe that the “Spartan” environment tests a man (or woman) both mentally and physically as well as attracts a type of person that is more like one you should be associating with. No one is there to screw around. Testing these traits regularly do more in preparing one for combat than the Planet Fitness’s of the world ever can. Physically, when you’ve got 400 lbs of weight on your back and you’re seeing stars, you are doing much more for yourself in preparation for war than reading a magazine while on an elliptical will ever do for you.

I will always remember fondly the make-shift gyms in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some were outside, plates buried in the sand, hot to the touch from baking in the sun all day. If we were lucky enough to have a floor, it was wood that creaked and bowed under the weight. The equipment was often cobbled together, a mix of miss-matched plates, sandbags, rusty steel rods that served as bars, ammo cans filled with concrete, and pullup bars welded together with spent .50 caliber gun barrels. If we had a treadmill, the sand quickly destroyed it so we would resort to cutting laps around the FOB in a flak jacket in 120-degree heat, refreshing ourselves with water of the same temperature. It was often a mental struggle to get out there and put the work in. But it instilled a greater depth of discipline in me than going and getting your sweat on in an air-conditioned spin class. And it was often the only time you had to yourself…a time to exercise your demons. To this day, a gym is not only a place of preparation but a sanctuary for me.

If you’re visiting this site, you’re more than likely pretty serious about what it is you do. Make sure that you’re training is serious too.

Leave a comment and tell us the crappiest gym you’ve ever had to train in, and why you remember it so fondly.


Founder / Sheepdog Strong


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