Lessons from the Gym

Mar 17, 2022

By: Don Yäger

Most who know me know that going to the gym 5-6 times each week is a necessity – it’s how I relieve stress, how I think through issues & ideas, and how I just turn off. One of those thinking times happened after I recently reached a milestone, inspiring analogies and lessons for all things we do in life.

Six years ago, I got my 16yo son to go with me to the gym. Of course, we are both super competitive and I ended up injuring my shoulder, which meant no more lifting for a bit. This hindered me to the point of frustration and resulted in a long gap of not working out. I made a commitment last year when my wife and I went on a long vacation out of the country that I was going to work out every single day and, well, that was one year ago today.

Here are just a few lessons I learned that translate for leadership:

Where there is pain, restoration also lives
My shoulder injury kept me from what I loved and created fear every time I went to the gym, to the point of stopping altogether. Ironically, stopping actually made it worse and more persistent even though I thought I was protecting my shoulder. When I finally started back up again, it forced me to start slow, do things differently, and use much lower weights over a longer period of time.

What I found out is that I was actually strengthening the support system of my shoulder until it was strong enough to take the full weight on. Pain gets your attention and there are many ways to react to it, but to not address it at all will continue to weaken that part. Sometimes you just need a different path or to rely on others to help you through it, but you still have to move forward no matter what – you and your team will be stronger.

You are the real competition
I always played sports when I was younger, including baseball, basketball, golf, marathons, and more. I knew that my best performance came when I played within my skills and didn’t try and be something I wasn’t (a power vs. scatter-hitter, for instance). Getting back into my gym routine, I was forced to appreciate others, but still focus, stay in my lane, and be patient, Because I knew if I didn’t, I would fail.

It is good to observe others – their routines, style, and methods – as you can learn a lot, but only if you’re able to determine if you should adopt or adapt. There are many effective leaders, but you have to learn from observation and take the time to adapt in order to fit your own style, personality, and approach. Otherwise, it can have damaging results by forcing things or taking on, for instance, too much weight when you are not ready. This can set you back or have damaging results. Knowing who and “how” you are ensures success through self-awareness.

Goals without plans is failure
I accepted the fact that I was going to have a different journey. One goal was to just start bench pressing again without pain or fear. It took research, learning, iterations and, indeed, some setbacks. But through it all I had a plan with steps and milestones, knowing that some levels could not happen until other dependencies were complete.

A vision cannot happen without a strategy and detailed plans; you will have challenges along the way and, without a plan you are lost. With a plan, however, you can adjust and continue the journey. This can be tedious, but you don’t have to go it alone. Sharing your plans and getting others to help provides accountability and motivation to persevere. It always amazes me that the human spirit is such that we are never satisfied, always moving forward, and once a goal is achieved, we set new ones and strive for even more success.

I never thought I would be able to bench press again – this was never my forte and I was always so impressed by others who could do it flawlessly. I never realized that I was doing it wrong, but I accepted that this was going to be a different journey, so I created a totally different plan, was patient with myself, and took the time to enjoy simple wins. It was over a year before I could bench 250# (I benched 245# at the time I injured my shoulders). Truth be told, it has taken me a lifetime to reach that goal; however, the real success was the journey. And there’s no going back.

Lessons from the Gym