Why and How I Work Out (Hard)

I’ve had several conversations with friends about why I exercise. I was inspired to put some of my thoughts into writing by John Piper’s blog post, Physical Exercise: What I Do and Why (Part 2). It seems like girls push me harder on the issue than guys do, and that puzzles me. Girls seem really concerned that vanity can be an issue. If John Piper admits that it’s possible that his justifications for exercising might come across as vain, then how much more should I, a young, single man in his “prime” who lives in New York City, a city full of vanity.

But to start, I think vanity (pride in one’s physical appearance) is, in general, less of an issue for guys than girls. The pressure from culture is so much less for guys than girls, although it is still there. I think most of us would agree with the anecdotal observation that there a ton more guys who care very little about grooming, hygiene, and fashion than girls. Maybe that’s why fewer guys than girls mention vanity when we talk about exercising.

Here are some of my reasons for why I work out:

1. Discipline and active recreation are virtues

People who are disciplined about working out are often disciplined in the rest of their lives. They also realize that life is not all about work or school. For those who are sitting all day on a computer, engaging only their minds, vigorous exercise several times a week can provide mini-Sabbaths. Work with your mind, Sabbath with your hands and feet. Just as mindless amusement is not proper Sabbath observance for those who are in very physical occupations, neither is physical slothfulness proper Sabbath observance for those who have very mind-intensive jobs.

2. Physical pain is a reminder of weakness

I can’t really relate to people who enjoy exercising because “it gives them energy.” My workouts are intense and I am worn out by the end. But intense workouts are great opportunities to be reminded of my weakness, my limits, my frailty, and my finitude. To feel pain, fatigue, and defeat during the course of exercise reminds me that this life is not perfect, it is not comfortable, and that this earth is not my home. Physical weakness reminds me to be thankful to God for the use of my body, and when I am sore I am thankful that it only means that I am becoming stronger, not that I am deteriorating. At times, I am even reminded of the suffering and persecution of the saints when I am hurting and tired during a workout.

3. It gives me street cred that I can use for good

Guys like to size one another up. It’s funny how easily you can shut guys up if you are stronger or bigger than them. There is a certain amount of respect that some guys give to guys who work out and are in shape. There are some who respect the discipline it requires, on top of the discipline required to do well in school or career. There are others who simply respect the fact that you’re “better” than them. I can’t quantify these effects in my own life, but whatever “street cred” I gain, I want to be a good steward of it and use it for good. Not to puff myself up but to build others up.

4. Curls for the gurls wife

While lifting weights and exercising in order to attract superficial physical attention from the opposite sex is not a pure motive, what about doing it as preparation for marriage? This, I find, is a harder motivation to convince people of. I see physical fitness as preparation for serving my future wife. It’s the cherry on top, the icing on the cake, the total package. If I am being faithful with all my other responsibilities as provider and spiritual leader, and as long as devotion to exercise doesn’t diminish devotion to my wife, is she ever going to complain that I’m fit, healthy, and strong?

And here are some thoughts on how I approach working out as a Christian:

1. There is always someone stronger than me

More often than not, there’s someone pulling or pushing more weight than me at the gym. So those are good reminders not to get too full of myself.

2. My (spiritual) heart

What is the state of my heart when I enter the gym? Most of the time, my workout is so intense and I’m so tired that I physically can’t care about what other people think about me. I don’t care whether people are staring at me. All I’m thinking about is how many seconds I have until my next set. I’m wincing in pain and burying my drenched face into my shirt. But even when it’s not intense, I try to purposely avoid eye contact with others, especially the more egotistic guys who think that every lift you’re doing is a direct challenge to them. But not only does avoiding eye contact keep them from getting puffed up, it also keeps me from getting puffed up with pride. It’s possible to be considerate to others who are sharing gym space. Even though sometimes I do circuit workouts and super-sets where I need continuous access to a piece of equipment, if it’s crowded and someone asks me how many sets I have left, I ask them if they’d like to work in between sets. I still occasionally recite Philippians 2:3-4 before I set out for the gym. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That is the posture I strive to have when I work out.

I’m so curious about how a female point of view might differ from this. Haha.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Billy on November 11, 2011 at 1:43 AM

    Thoughtful as always. Hope the weather’s treating you nicely!

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