Fitness Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Guest Post by Jett Murdock

Everything I Wish I Knew As A Young Athlete
So there I was on the gym floor with hundreds of pounds of pure iron on my shoulders, with sweat dripping in my eyes and a burning pain in my legs. I had one squat left in my set, and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I wasn’t sure how, but I knew I had to finish it. It wasn’t about the squat really, or finishing the set, but it was just something I had to do. I had to conquer myself.



That’s my experience as a young, lifelong athlete. As someone who started working out as soon as I was old enough to go into the gym, I learned so much more in balancing life with fitness and health than I’ve ever learned in anything else. It’s not so easy to stay focused on eating right and working out when literally everyone else in your world is abusing their bodies with alcohol and greasy, two-day old pizza.


Yeah, it’s been a long-hard journey, but I’ve gotten so much out of it.

Stuff you can only glean from committing to good health.There’s so much I wish I knew when I started, though, that could have made health, and life overall, so much easier on me.  One thing I figured out was that fitness isn’t about being perfect all of the time. It’s about being better than you were the day before. In fact, being perfect all the time might be worse for you than allowing yourself a teensy bit of wiggle room every once in awhile.


I personally was horrible about judging myself on how much I made myself suffer and stick to my plan. Almost as soon as I picked up my first dumbbell at the tender age of 13, I hopped on and found my first meal and workout plan. was pretty much where I spent most of my time. I read articles about muscle gaining and fitness for hours on end. But the more I read, the more I decided that I needed to hole myself up in a little catabolic bubble and never miss a workout and never associate with refined flour, sugar, and fatty foods. Pretty much everything I read made me think that if I touched ice cream or sat down to watch a movie, my muscles would instantly turn into flab.


The problem was that the more I banned from my life, the less I had to work with. I was like a Jenga tower that was running out of pieces. It took a major burnout for me to realize that fitness is just as much about knowing when to give yourself a break as it is about pushing yourself.


That whole experience made me think about who I really was. What had I really gained from all the effort, pushing and dedication? It wasn’t about the body or the 5:00 mile, or the double bodyweight deadlifts. It was about finding that something deep inside of me that let me push myself harder than everybody else. It was about realizing that fitness is about more than just the physical results.


Fitness is a state of mind, not a “level” to reach.

If you need proof, go check out the 4 Deserts race. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s four consecutive 250-kilometer races through four of the most inhospitable deserts on Earth. Because you have to carry all your own food and supplies with you, it’s a cross between extreme camping and ultra-running. It pushes even the most elite athletes to meltdown point.


The thing is, many of the people you see at the finish line aren’t super fit athletes. They’re everyday people who decided to prove to themselves that they could do something. It proves one of my favorite quotes by Robert Schuller, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”


Fitness isn’t about finally becoming the best or the strongest or the buffest (although that’s nice). It’s about getting to the point where you not only overcome your body, but your mind as well.

One of the biggest problems I see in beginning athletes, especially teenagers, is a problem that I’ve totally struggled with as well. That problem is believing that more is always better in fitness. Over time, I learned that quality exercise beats over-exercising any day.

For a long time, I was that guy that practically lived in the gym, but never got any stronger. My day would begin right after I got out of school, when I swung by the health food store, picked up a snack, and went to the gym. I would chill in the sauna, and then pump iron for a good two hours. I wouldn’t leave the gym until I knew I wouldn’t be able to sit down the next day. I did that every day, seven days a week. No wonder I didn’t really grow.

Fast forward to fairly recently, when I started Crossfit for the first time. I was in my “Crossfit Box” (It was actually just a rock climbing gym’s back room) for maybe twenty minutes a day, but it was a dreadful twenty minutes of nonstop barbell cleans and burpees while my heart pounded in my mouth and I lost most of my vital body fluids. It was sort of like doing sprints in death valley in a sauna suit.


The crazy part was that I gained more strength and muscle than I ever did with my two-hour long workouts. Intense workouts definitely trump long workouts.

Lastly, I wish I had known that the human body is such a powerful machine, and it’s capable of so much. I was, like most young athletes, pretty doubtful about my body. I always listened to everybody else when they told me not to work myself too hard, and that I couldn’t handle challenges.

The truth is, your body isn’t fragile. You can pretty much do anything you commit to. The Dutch daredevil Wim “Iceman” Hof climbed mount Kilimanjaro in his shorts, for Pete’s sake. If he can do that, you can reach that one-rep max, or that mile time, or whatever else you want to push your body to do.

Long story short, the past three or so years in fitness have all really boiled down to four things:


– Setting clear, measurable goals

– Getting in tune with my body, so I can tell just what I need to do for optimal performance

– Being willing to push myself, even if I don’t want to

– Having the strength to feel okay about myself, even if I miss a workout, or have a cheat meal

Fitness really is that simple. Heck, five years ago, I would have been the last person on the planet to touch a barbell. If I can do it, anybody can.

Jett Murdock
Jett Murdock

Jett Murdock is a former junk food addict turned fitness buff, adventurer, and master of cooking. He writes to motivate and inspire people into their best self with healthy recipes, killer workout tips, and adventure motivation at his blog. Read more at


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