03 Jun I Train Warriors — A Note on Goal Setting
I see a lot of people come and go in the gym. I have had clients who have been diligent for months on end suddenly drop off the face of the earth. One guy even started to outright not acknowledge my existence if I came across him on the street. There are those, however, who stay. I have clients who would follow me to the end of the Earth, deep into the gates of Hell. And it has nothing to do with me! It has to do with them, their passion, and what they want out of their training and even their lives. You see, training follows life pretty deeply and if you get your training in order, it tends to remedy most other things.
Brutalizing yourself in the gym, fighting for what you want, who you want to be, how you want to look… All of this reflects onto life. It results in a firmer handshake, a brighter smile, a fuller and straighter posture. Strength in the gym is the strength to persevere, to refuse to back down, to refuse to be defeated. The clients who walk away, who quietly ignore me in the street, these are the cowards who let life devour them up and run and hide at the first sign of conflict.. And those who stay? Those who fight for themselves? These are the brave and the resilient.
One of my clients is a 62 year old French woman with Alzheimer’s Disease. The exercise keeps neurons firing and helps to maintain her memory, but she is quite literally and very slowly losing her mind. She knows that it’s happening and I’m sure a very large part of her is terrified of what she will be, who she will be, when her mind entirely leaves. If she cannot remember who she is, then is her body simply vacuous? But she fights, day to day, and extra hard when she’s with me. She’s fighting for her mind, her soul, and her life. She’s fighting for that slim chance that she can leave this world as herself, not lost into oblivion. That is her goal, her aim: to stay alive in both body and mind. To persevere. I have not only had the pleasure of helping her in this fight, but to glimpse at the dedication and drive and fire that fuels her onward. I have seen the intense ferocity of her anger toward the ignorant who treat her like any other senile old woman and ridicule her when she isn’t there. I have seen the pressure of her condition and her disease weigh so terribly on her shoulders that she has broken down into tears during our sessions. I have seen the fear overwhelm her when, all of a sudden, her awareness of where she is evaporates from her mind. I have been the one to sit down with her, reassure her, comfort her and remind her that this is the gym, the battlefield of her mind, and that I am here to help her fight her war. Most importantly, I have never seen her give up on herself. She is a person who will fight to the very end.
You see, I train warriors. I train people who know exactly what it is they want out of what they do in the gym. I train people who know exactly what they want out of life and are willing to fight, to bleed, to suffer in untold amounts in order to achieve it. The most important thing is to know who you are and then decide who you want to be. If your training, your work, your studies, and everything else doesn’t reflect that, then what does your life really mean? And I don’t mean, what does it mean in an existentialist manner. No, what I am asking is, what value does your life even have to you if you are not fighting at every second to be who it is that you want to be? UrbanFitter and traceur Sebastian “Seabass” Cuellar came into our gym pretty significantly overweight. He was diligent, showed up regularly several times a week, and hussled like no other. I have seldom met people in my life with as much fight as Seabass. There is an intensity to his diligence. There is a fire and a passion in his eyes that screams at him every day that drives him to our facility, to be tortured by our trainers and coaches, and to fight with every ounce for who he wants to be. In almost no time at all, Seabass dropped 40lbs while getting into the strongest and best shape of his life. He still has a long way to go, not because what he has achieved isn’t phenomenal, but because Seabass here is a true warrior: “good” is never good enough.
Too many people look for the easy way out. They fall for the fitness trends and they think a dainty promenade on the treadmill five days a week will do something. But they get fatter. They “eat right” but have no conception of what it means to completely change your diet or the depression, insomnia, mood swings, hair loss, and bouts of insanity that come with being in a caloric deficit. They don’t know what it’s like to finish a workout on a hot rubber floor covered in dirt and dog hair, sucking air that’s laced with particle debris and not giving a crap. They’re the ones who set lofty goals that can’t be measured and frustrate themselves over never reaching them, and still they have no qualm going home to a piece of cake and a six-pack. They have want and desire, but no burning need.
Look, I’m all for having fun in fitness, in performance, and in aesthetics. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard work. At UrbanEvo, we play, we laugh, and we smile while we train. But there are also moments where each of us has to reach deep and muster up the fight and spark in our souls to get something done. To make that gut-wrenchingly terrifying jump. To climb up that silk just one more time, even though your hands are shaking, red and blistered. Or to just crank out that last rep, even though your body screams at you to stop and your knees are shaking and your eyes are tear-filled with blurred vision, because you know you can do it and you know you must. Fun and hard work go hand-in-hand and we cannot disillusion ourselves to the fact that to get where we want, we must fight for it. One of my favourite lines ever from a fitness professional – one who I deeply respect, value, and consider a friend and mentor – is a simple four words:
Vanity is hard work. – Leigh Peele
I believe this with all my heart. I believe that everything one wants to do in the world of health, fitness, and performance is going to be hard work. It takes a lot to change your body, in any regard. A lot of the times, it has to be lived. And that’s the heart of what I’m getting at here: define yourself, not as who you are, but who you want to be. Realize the distance to get there and fight to make it happen. No matter how hard it is. We’re athletes, aren’t we? That comes with a small caveat: we’re a little bit nuts.
Athletes, by our very nature, are insane. We have to make goals that most people would consider impossible.
- I want to lift 500lbs.
- I want to jump off a building.
- I want to be put into a ring and beat the crap out of someone I don’t know or be brutalized myself.
- I want to climb a silk ribbon up 20ft and then drop down it to be fully suspended by only my ankles.
Maybe they’re not all impossible, but go and ask a random person outside your home or office right now to do any of these things. They will laugh at you. Or at least give you a very strange look.
Here’s my point: if you’re really serious about anything – in sports, business, life, whatever – you are going to have to set a goal. That goal has to be integral to who you want to be as a person and what you want to achieve. If it isn’t, then it normally drops by the wayside. People make goals all the time like, I want to lose 10lbs. But that’s not good enough, is it? Ten pounds is nothing in the grand scheme of things and these people fail all the time to reach the goal. Why? Why do I see so many people set the goal and end up gaining 10lbs more often than not? It’s because they would like to lose 10lbs. There’s a difference between wanting something and needing something. Seabass needed to lose weight. He was forging a new identity and needed the old one to decay.
Months ago, a former Parkour student, Justin, emailed me asking about lifting competitions, how I got into the sport, and what drove me forward. He felt stagnated. He felt like progress and fitness didn’t mean anything anymore, and his soul yearned and ached for something more. He needed a purpose, a reason, to get into the gym and bust ass every day. After all, torture without cause is just cruel.
I set him on a path and introduced him into the world of heavy lifting. This is a whole different breed of insanity. Not a lot of people have the balls to put tights on and go lift on a stage while a bunch of monstrously huge athletes watch and analyze you. You should have seen the look on his face the first day he walked into the gym with the singlet on. There was embarrassment and self-consciousness that could rival the time your buddy was caught waiting in line for the latest Twilight premiere. (Yeah, sure. Waiting for your “girlfriend.”) But I wanted him not just to get used to how it felt, but get used to lifting in something that would make any guy uncomfortable at first. When you choose to compete, you are making a declaration: I am a lifter, God damn it! And no matter how much your Johnson is flopping around underneath that singlet for everyone to see, you have to be God-damn proud of your identity. All of this, eternally, is about fighting for an identity, clamouring against the overwhelming tide of mediocrity. We cannot be content with that idea, with being just like everyone else. I say, Fuck no! We are traceurs. We are aerialists. We are breakdancers, capoeristas, powerlifters, and whatever else. Own it. And fight to deserve the title. Don’t even settle to just be an average athlete. Be one of the best.
While you’re sitting here, reading this, wondering why the hell I’m going on about identity in a post that’s supposed to be about goal setting, I want you to ask yourself a few questions. Who do you want to be? What is the purpose of your life? What do you want out of it? Hold these thoughts in your mind for a moment. If you didn’t come up with anything, that’s okay too. Just think about it. You don’t need to have an answer. Just think. Now I have another question. Does your training reflect what it is you want for yourself? I don’t mean whether your sport or physical activity is part of who you are. I want to know whether every day, you wake up knowing exactly what you want to do, physically or mentally. In your life, in your work, or in your training. I want to know whether this means anything to you and whether you are fighting for what you want out of life. My Alzheimer’s client, Sebastian, Justin, myself and countless other UrbanEvo athletes, and athletes around the world, are fighting every day. We know exactly what we want. We know exactly where training fits in and how it can fit in best. These are the things that give us purpose, give us focus, drive us forward.
This isn’t a blog entry about setting goals. It’s about the fight you have after you’ve set them. What are your goals? And how hard are you working to achieve them? What does your training really mean to you?
Are you a warrior or a coward? That’s a big question. But what it all really boils down to is an even bigger question:
What does your life really mean to you?
Andy Tran is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the NSCA. He has been a major voice and leader in the North American Parkour community for over six years and written extensively for various outlets. He is one of the lead Parkour instructors at Urban Evolution and also serves as the head strength coach. An accomplished powerlifter, he competes with Team Force in Northern Virginia and holds four state records for raw lifting with USA Powerlifting in the 148lb class and open division.