‘Soldier of Steel’ campaign: Gym Jones shows what real men are made of

Mark Twight Gym Jones

Years ago I met a friend who was heavily influenced by the Gym Jones training philosophy. I had always thought I was a pretty fit guy — and then I met Mike. Those workouts broke me. They were truly a humbling experience, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They taught me a lot about myself, as well as just how much more was possible if I was willing to venture deeper into the realm of pain and anguish than I ever had before. Some of our greatest moments of mental, physical and spiritual growth are born out of pain and suffering, and in a bizarre way the person who realizes this truth comes to love and appreciate such feelings in proper doses. And that is why I highly suggest watching the “Solider of Steel” video for the new ‘Man of Steel’ movie by Zack Snyder.

When I was in the military, there was a joke that was made during our morning PT or in the middle of road marches: “Pain is weakness leaving the body!” Gym Jones offers plenty of pain, but there is so much more. It’s the kind of philosophy that turns boys into men.

Mark Twight, Gym Jones trainer, explains:

For me in the mountains, fitness was often the difference between life and death. In a military environment, it can be the same thing — you never  never want to come up short due to a lack of conditioning. When we talk about training one of the most important characteristics I believe, is functional training. And by functional I mean “transferable.” The training that you do in the gym should be transferable to the actual task, which means that if I have to sprint forward to grab a buddy who might be injured and drag him back to a point of cover, then sitting on the a bench wearing a little seat belt doing  quad extensions is not transferable. When you’re training for your military tasks you should be training to develop functional fitness, not the appearance of fitness.

Point number one in our training philosophy in the gym is that the mind is primary. And one of the outcomes of training the mind in the gym is the development of values. Values that are very similar to military values. One of the things for me that is important in the gym is that you always do what you say you’re going to do. You show up every single day. What we practice in here becomes  a habit, and if my habit is always to do less that’s how I’m going to behave in the field. So get in the habit of doing more than you’re asked to do.

Respect starts with self respect. If you respect yourself, you prove to others that you are worthy of their respect. One of the things I like to do is to set up a tag-team type of workout, where one guy has to accomplish a particular task all the while his teammate is suffering. And the faster he does it the less his teammate suffers. These types of workouts really cause a person to digger deeper than they would to save themselves because we will always work harder in the service of someone else.

In the gym context we always know when people are telling the truth and when they are not telling the truth. If you do what you say you’re doing when in comes to diet, then the result is going to be obvious. If you do what you say that you’re doing in terms training, then the result will be obvious. When we make that honor, that honesty, part of our daily life, then it becomes automatic.

A lot of times we assign homework to people outside of the gym because I need to know how they’re going to behave on their own. Does that person have the integrity to do what they said they were going to do? In the training environment, if we practice on a daily basis confronting the things that we’re afraid of and confront our fear — if we get in that habit — then we’ll be to express that in an automatic way once we get outside into the real world.

Wow. Mr. Twight’s passage is a thing of beauty. If all Americans were exposed to this philosophy, let’s just say that the political landscape would change dramatically within a single generation.

Gym Jones is not for everyone. It should be, but it’s not. The reason is because it doesn’t accept excuses, and the modern world is filled with people who live to make excuses for their failures, be it with their diet, love life, personal finances, physical fitness or any number of things.

Regardless, check out the other videos if you get a chance. If you’re interested in taking the first step in transforming you mind, body and spirit they’re a great place to start.

Editor’s note: The image of that guy falling off the rowing machine into a lump on the ground in Episode 3 just gave me a flashback. Sometimes hitting the floor is the best way to motivate someone to reach for the stars.

Here I am doing a workout inspired by Gym Jones, 2009. Pain never felt so good.
Here I am doing a workout inspired by Gym Jones, 2009. Pain never felt so good.

Rock climbing as a metaphor for life: Conservatism vs. Liberalism

Douglas Ernst rock climb

Today I ran across an old picture of me ascending a rock climbing wall while at the Cumberland County fair in Maine. For some odd reason it dawned on me that rock climbing is a great metaphor for life. Before this picture was taken I had been working a booth for The Heritage Foundation, talking to the good people of Maine about the organization and its principles. A National Guardsman dared me to take the climb and, not one to back down from a challenge, I accepted.

Given that, I will now explain rock climbing as a metaphor for life, as well as how one’s worldview changes how they approach the wall.

In life, we all have an end point we’re shooting for. We all want to get to the top of some mountain. Some people want to prosper monetarily; others seek spiritual wealth. Some people seek knowledge; others wish to experience their fill of earthly pleasures. We all value different things, and as such our lives will all take vastly different twists and turns before we call it a day.

In between our starting point and the final destination there is an infinite number of paths laid out before us. We have a general idea of how we want to go about attacking the mountain, but there’s a big difference between gauging obstacles from afar and then experiencing them up close and personal.

Just like with rock climbing, sometimes the path that you thought would get you to the top in theory doesn’t work out in practice. You have to recalibrate your route. You might have to backtrack or go far out of your way to traverse a difficult section. In a worst-case scenario you might even fall off the wall, but thanks to a harness you don’t kill yourself and, if you so choose, you can start all over again — armed with the knowledge only failure can teach.

The conservative knows that every person who attempts the rock-climbing wall of life will have different strengths and weaknesses. Some people want to shoot for the top, and some don’t. Some people have amazing upper body strength, and others have an iron grip. Some people are light and some people are heavy. Some people are tall and some people are short. Given all these variables, the conservative generally doesn’t worry too much about what the guy next to him is doing and begins climbing away. He focuses on his technique. He monitors his strength. He takes time to stop and pause and re-evaluate his strategy when necessary. He isn’t afraid of falling. The conservative does all this, and in the long run he is generally rewarded for it.

The liberal, by contrast, does not fare too well. He complains about the size of the footholds. He looks at their placement on the wall and wonders who put them there and if there was some sort of nefarious plot connected to the decision process. He complains that he doesn’t have chalk, but the guy next to him does. He wants better shoes. It’s unfair that he has to climb in rainy weather, when the guy before him had nice weather. The winds are shifting one way or the other. He wants a different belay man. The list is endless. And at the end of the day the liberal sits at the bottom of wall, having wasted valuable time that would have been better spent just climbing the damn wall.

Sometimes, the liberal will look up and see his conservative counterpart smiling at the top of the mountain and will yell nasty things in his direction. The conservative will be accused of being a heartless bastard for basking in the sun’s rays and enjoying the view while the liberal down below must sit in the shadows — again, even if it was the liberal who chose to spend the limited time and resources afforded to him unwisely.

If you have a rock climbing wall around your neck of the woods, I suggest giving it a try. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, both mentally and physically.

See you at the top,

Doug

The New Year’s resolution: Self-improvement’s kiss of death

Years ago I had the pleasure of managing a gym, and the start of the new year brought in a wave of people into the facility, which predictably receded well before Spring. It seems as though New Year’s resolutions are the kiss of death for most individuals’ efforts at self-improvement.

The problem with most plans is that the mind is in the wrong place from the start. The individual says “I’m going to go to the gym more often,” or “I’m going to eat healthier foods.” The heart is in the right place, but the mind is not. There’s a reason why they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions…

Instead of doing something, you should be something. Instead of saying, “I’m going to do more running this year” you should say, “I am a runner.” In one case you’re asserting the desire to engage in an activity and in the other the activity is integral to who you are. Psychologically, these two positions seem to be only off by degrees, but when you plot out the vectors they produce, on a long enough timeline the differences are profound.

It always puzzles me to see people go on drastic diets or exercise programs. They swing life’s pendulum wildly in one direction and convince themselves that it isn’t going to come barreling back the other way. They enter into an exercise program that leaves them unable to walk for days on end, get discouraged and then give up because they didn’t scale the workouts to their ability level. They go cold-turkey on drinking or smoking or eating — or whatever the vice may be — and then fall right back into bad habits because they never properly committed to the right lifestyle to begin with.

When you take possession of a lifestyle, questions disappear. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you should have that extra piece of cake — you just don’t. You don’t have to wonder whether or not you’ll exercise the next day — you know that you will. It’s what you do because it’s who you are.

Over a year ago I severely injured my shoulder. I couldn’t lift my left arm up to wash my hair and had nights where I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Needless to say, when I finally was able to start exercising again my weakest exercise — the pullup — was even worse. I made a rule: Any time I exited or entered my room I would do a set of pullups. Over time I got stronger … and stronger … and stronger, until one day I realized my pain was gone, my mobility had returned, and what was once a weakness was now one of my strengths. It took almost a year for that reality to unfold, but it all began with a mental directive that while the timeline was negotiable, the end result was not.

Mother Nature uses time and pressure to mold the physical world around us, but I firmly believe we too can use the very same methods to achieve success, wealth, health and happiness in our own lives. Once you honestly determine the person you are, your mind will seek out ways to bend reality to your will and you’ll attract the kind of company into your life needed to assist you in your endeavors. Make that switch from doing to being and check in with me three, four or five years down the road. My bet is that you will have done away with the practice of making big New Year’s resolutions in favor of constantly recalibrating the little things, which reaffirm and enhance the better person you’ve become.

Hungry high school kids learn early: Big government needs a diet

If you ever asked yourself why you’re fat, then you should have also asked yourself if the federal government drones have ever instructed you to make decisions that were bad for your health. Why? Because they have.

It turns out that there are a lot of high school kids who aren’t happy with how the new USDA guidelines are impacting the way they eat at school. Shockingly, when the government got more involved in their school programs the main thing it accomplished was a higher price for everyone involved and a product that no one really liked all that much.

In Wisconsin, high school athletes are complaining about not getting enough to eat each day, due to the skimpy new school lunch menu mandated by the United States Department of Agriculture and First Lady Michelle Obama.

The story … on that subject is unfortunately not unique. Students across the country are complaining about the new school lunch regulations. …

Some are throwing away their vegetables while others are adapting to the rules by becoming industrious. In New Bedford, Massachusetts, students have created a black market — for chocolate syrup. The kiddie capitalists are smuggling in bottles of it and selling it by the squeeze, according to SouthCoastToday.com.

Nancy Carvalho, director of food services for New Bedford Public Schools, was quoted as saying that hummus and black bean salads have been tough sells in elementary cafeterias.

The sad thing is, if these kids are getting a public school education that was anything like mine, they’ve probably already been primed to root for President Obama on election day. Hopefully, this experience will change their, umm, “gut” instinct moving forward.

Take a look at two food charts, the classic “food pyramid” that I grew up with on the right, and the newer version the USDA has put out on the left.

On the left we have an “improved” food pyramid put out by the federal government. On the right we have an older version, which is interesting because there’s a good chance if you tried to follow it over the years you now have some extra weight around your midsection.

For years, the federal government told us that the foundation of our diet should be a carbohydrate-heavy mix of grains. The masterminds in Washington, DC had it ass-backwards! A healthy diet should actually have whole grains and starches at the top of the pyramid, and one good reason for that is because carbohydrates affect your blood sugar. Eat too many of the wrong carbohydrates, and you’re just begging for insulin and weight issues down the line. The modern “food plate” and “food pyramid” still has it somewhat wrong, and yet Michelle Obama and her ideological allies have the nerve to get on television and lecture the rest of us about and obesity epidemic. The federal government has repeatedly instilled perverse incentives in the population under the guise of improving health, and then used the predictable consequences ( ‘predictable’ to free-thinking people) as a pretext to write more regulations.

We don’t have an obesity epidemic — we have a stupidity epidemic. We have individuals who would rather abdicate important decisions about their health to complete strangers in the nation’s capital than to bear down and take control of their own personal wellness.

When I was a kid, the federal government scared people into thinking that eggs were bad because they could increase cholesterol. So eggs were out, but meanwhile citizens weren’t educated about foods with a high-glycemic index. Eggs were “bad,” but no on said a peep about foods that were high in trans-fatty acids until much later down the line. The truth is, eggs aren’t bad for you if — just like anything else — you’re smart about how many you eat. And the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many studies the USDA puts out, it’s ultimately up to the individual to take control over not only what they put in their body, but what they want to put into their body.

Proper nutrition begins at home, and if an increasing number of children aren’t getting healthy meals where they’re need most, then perhaps that’s where public policy makers should look for answers. Mandating that kids who eat school lunch get black beans and hummus (I’d like to see much more chicken, turkey and other proteins provided) does nothing for a kid whose house is stocked with Oreo cookies, potato chips and leftover Pizza Hut from the night before. The current food pyramid actually looks like it’s trying to encourage vegetarianism; when done incorrectly that puts the body into “starvation mode,” making the body store fat! But I digress.

For those who are interested in health and nutrition, I highly suggest the documentary Fat Head. It was made on a low budget in response to Morgan Spurlock’s Super-Size Me, and while it’s obvious that the director will never win an Oscar, the content is pretty sound. It’s an eye opener, not just about how misleading Spurlock is as a filmmaker, but also the role the federal government plays in impacting your dietary health.

Keep protesting the new regulations, kids. Just don’t forget this lesson when you step onto your first college campus. These days, the ones who are supposed to “questions authority” dutifully take orders.

Schwarzenegger’s ‘Six Rules for Success’: Sage advice for all Americans

Schwarzenegger’s most important rule of all for attaining success: “Work your butt off.” Sage advice from the Austrian Oak.

Like all of us, Arnold Schwarzenegger has his moral failings. We know what they are since he’s a public figure, but if we’re honest with ourselves we know that we too are “warped timber.” Given that, the question becomes:  How did a scrawny kid grow up to become the Austrian Oak, and can the principles that helped bring him success be applied to the rest of us? There’s a video that’s been on YouTube for quite some time that highlights Schwarzenegger’s “Six Rules for Success.” I believe they can be inspiring to anyone, in any field.

As I’ve noted before, it’s been my experience that those who are serious about lifting weights tend to have a conservative streak in them — or at least seem to be more open to the worldview than my other friends and acquaintances. The weights are about tough love, and Arnold does a great job imparting their wisdom here:

Now of course, people ask me all the time, they say to me: “What is the secret to success?” The first rule is: Trust yourself. But what is most important is that you have to dig deep down — dig deep down — and ask yourself, “Who do you want to be?” Not what, but who? I’m talking about not what your parents and teachers want you to be, but you. I’m talking about figuring out for yourselves, what makes you happy no matter how crazy it may sound to the people.

Rule #1 is: Trust yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks.

Rule #2 is: Break the rules.

We have so many rules in life about everything. I say break the rules — not the law — but break the rules. It is impossible to be a maverick or a true original if you’re too well behaved and don’t want to break the rules. You have to think outside the box. That is what I believe. After all, what is the point of being on this earth if all you want to do is be liked by everyone and avoid trouble? The only way I ever got anyplace was by breaking some of the rules.

Which of course brings me to Rule Number 3: Don’t be afraid to fail.

Anything I’ve ever attempted, I was always willing to fail. You can’t always win, but don’t be afraid of making decisions. You can’t be paralyzed by fear of failure or you will never push yourself. You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision. And you know that it is the right thing to do and success will come. So don’t be afraid to fail, which brings me to Rule #4, which is: Don’t listen to the naysayers.

I mean, how many times have you heard that you can’t do this and you can’t do that and it has never been done before? I love it when someone says no one has ever done this before, because when I do it that means that I’m the first person who has done it! So pay no attention to the people who say it can’t be done.

I never listen to “you can’t.” I always listen to myself and say, “Yes, you can.” And that brings me to Rule #5, which is the most important rule of all: Work your butt off. Leave no stone unturned.

Mohammad Ali, one of my great heroes, had a great line in the 70’s when he was asked: “How many situps do you do?” He said, “I don’t count my situps; I only start counting when it starts hurting. When I feel pain, that’s when I start counting because that’s when it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion.” And that’s the way it is with everything: No pain, no gain.

While you’re out there partying, horsing around, someone out there at the same time is working hard. Someone is getting smarter and someone is winning. Just remember that. Now if you want to win, there is absolutely no way around hard, hard work. None of my rules for success will work unless you do. I’ve always figured that there were 24 hours in a day.  You sleep 6 hours. There are 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there now who say, “Well wait a minute. I sleep 8 hours or 9 hours.”  Well, just sleep faster, I would recommend.

That takes me to Rule #6, which is a very important rule. It’s about giving back. Whatever path that you take in your lives, you must always find time to give something back. Something back to your community. Give something back to your state or your country.

Let me tell you something: Reaching out and helping people will give you more satisfaction than anything you have ever done.

Remember these six rules:

1. Trust yourself
2. Break some rules
3. Don’t be afraid to fail
4. Ignore the naysayers
5. Work like hell
6. Give something back

Well said, Arnold. Well said, indeed.

Related: ‘Pumping Iron’ inspires, decades after its release