broken strapsI don't know if this happens to other people, but sometimes things just hit me. Thoughts come in rapid-fire succession. Patterns emerge from seemingly disparate events and circumstances. A cascade of insights floods my mind. Like the other day in the gym, when one of my lifting straps broke.

By way of background, I work out often. In fact, I consider working out, eating right and staying fit an integral part of what I do. Scuba diving and free diving both entail physical effort. I figure it's best to stay in shape so I can get the most out of my dive adventures and not worry about getting sick or being unable to keep up with my younger friends.

Lifting straps are short straps you use to help maintain a grip on heavy weights, so you can concentrate on executing a tough lift, instead of worrying about losing your grip. The pair I was using a few days ago was about 14 years old. They were made of leather and had turned a dark, sweat-stained brown, a reminder of years of exertion in gyms around the world.

When one of them snapped, I had 120kg in my hands. I was in the middle of a deadlift, and one side of the weights plummeted to the floor. Gravity sucks sometimes. Luckily, I reacted quickly and dropped the other side, so I didn't get wrenched into awkward, painful contortions by the free-falling weight.

And in a split-second, years of gym experience raced through my mind and coalesced into one of those moments of insight...the sudden realisation that the gym is full of metaphors about life.

Shi*t Happens
Unintentionally dropping 120kg can be traumatic. Try it some time. But the first thing that came to mind is that I shouldn't stop the work out.

I was shaken, but not hurt. The equipment wasn't damaged. So as soon as I apologised to the managers for the unintentional racket and simulated 5.0 earthquake, I picked up right where I left off...sans broken strap of course.

I've had other mishaps in the gym, as well as while diving, free diving, engaging in other sports, in the office (when I had a respectable job), in relationships, etc. Though I hadn't really thought of it until this particular instant...things always worked out best when I picked myself up and just kept going.

Life is Asymmetric
With the amount of travel I do these days, it's tough to stay in shape. It takes two to three months to get in top shape, but only two to three weeks to drop conditioning.

Getting to the point where I could safely deadlift 120kg (actually I got up to 140kg that day) took about 2.5 months of steady working out, progressing bit by bit, climbing back up the ladder I've been up dozens of times before.

Each time I head out for a few weeks' of travel, I know I have to start all over again when I get back. It's a bummer, and can be demoralising, but that's the deal.

Never Get Discouraged
And of course, each time I have to climb back up that sucks. Having to struggle with weights I could easily handle a few months earlier can be incredibly frustrating. Getting discouraged and quitting doesn't help though, so the only option is to tough it out.

A coach I worked with about 20 years ago used to scream "Never give up!" at the top of his lungs whenever he thought I wasn't giving 100% (he always knew when I was flaking). He was much bigger than me, so naturally, I listened. But actually, in hindsight, he was right...about the weights, and about life in general.

Ignore Negative People
I weighed about 50kg and wasn't strong at all when I started working out. A lot of people told me I would never be strong and that lifting weights would be bad for me (your joints can't handle it; your heart will become deformed; you should study and not risk hurting yourself, etc.).

I'm no Schwarzenegger now, but I've gained 20-25kg of weight, and I'm a heckuva lot stronger and in better health than most people my size and age.

There are far too many negative people in life. It's one of my pet peeves. Too many people saying and thinking versions of the word "no", and discouraging other people from trying new things or pursuing dreams. I'm glad I'm as stubborn as a prickly old bull, and I tend to tell people like that to piss off.

Try New Things
A lot of people in gyms and in life are stuck in a rut, doing the same things day in, day out. One thing I've learned from working out is that your body and mind adapt quickly to prevailing circumstances. When that happens, you stop growing...physically in the case of the gym, mentally and emotionally outside the gym.

The way around hitting plateaus and getting stuck in ruts in the gym is to change your routines, try new exercises, do something really different to shock your system into waking up and responding. Doing this is often painful and always requires effort, but always pays off. The same seems to hold true for life in general.

Keep an Open Mind; Learn from Others
Most of us suffer from the certainty and arrogance of youth at some stage. I certainly did (and arguably do).

new strapsIn the gym, this can get you killed or seriously injured. Fortunately, I learned to take advice from more experienced people early on, and to suppress my self-confidence just enough to keep an open mind to what other people think...even if I eventually disagree.

There are few things worse in the gym or in life than dealing with someone who knows everything, and yet understands nothing.

It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You End Up
I still remember the first day I walked into a gym. I wanted to turn around and walk right out. Everyone was several multiples my size. I didn't have the slightest idea what to do. Looking back, I'm glad I didn't chicken out and give up before I even started.

There are so many parallels in life. I can't even count the number of times I've been thrown into situations where I was less knowledgeable and/ or competent than everyone else. But just like in the gym, it's where you end up that counts, not where you started.

There Are No Shortcuts
Progress in the gym requires dedication and effort. There's no way around it.

There are people I see in gyms who think a couple of quick workouts a year should turn them into instant paramours of fitness, but a mirror is all that's required to refute that notion.

And yes, there are people who take performance-enhancing substances to get stronger, faster, whatever...but there's always a price to pay for that in the end.

Shortcuts never work.