10 Life Lessons From 10 Years in the Gym

7 min read

One wrong step and they plunge.

Gracefully the two climbers made their way back to the ground.

There they were, adventurous and strong.

Both with an impressive set of abs and pretty girlfriends waiting for them.

It’s not hard to imagine that this scene stuck with a slightly chubby 10-year-old boy.

The boy was me, and the wish for six-pack abs was born.

Ever since that day, I was obsessed with achieving an impressive physique. In the early 2000s, I had no access to YouTube, so I went to the library and read a book about exercising. Since I also played soccer, I only did some pushups and crunches at night. I quickly became very fit, but I never had the muscular look of those climbers I admired as a young boy.

At the age of twenty, I ended my soccer career because of returning injuries and because I moved to a different city to study chemistry.

It was there I joined the gym for the first time and stuck to it over the last ten years. I’m now much more muscular than the boys I once admired, but more importantly, going to the gym taught me some valuable lessons.

Let me share them with you.

The Power of Persistence

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”  ― Bill Gates

In January, the gyms are packed. Everyone is trying to burn those cookies and prepare for the next beach season. But once summer comes closer, you won’t see many of the same people anymore — They gave up.

I saw many guys come and go over the last ten years. And I can tell you, even the ones with lousy genetics look amazing after ten years of continuous training.

Ten years is a long time. If you commit yourself to do something this long and you strive always to get better, you will become great at it.

Overcoming Limitations

“You will never know your limits unless you push yourself to them.”

If you see someone benching over 200 lbs for the first time, you can’t imagine ever doing the same. Today this feels relatively easy to me. The way I got there was simple. I added weight to the bar over time.

This principle is called progression, and it applies everywhere in life. Maybe you read the article by Nicolas Cole, where he says that he can write 10000 words a day. This is an unbelievable amount for a beginner. How can you ever get there?


Commit to writing every day and, over time, push your output.

Most of the time, limits only exist in our minds.

Some call this the Roger Bannister effect.

It was named after the first runner who crushed the 4-minute mile mark. An achievement which previously was thought to be impossible. After he did it, other runners stopped thinking it was impossible and soon ran faster than Bannister.

Don’t limit yourself by thinking something is impossible — instead, take small steps every day get there over time.

More Is Not More

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucious

Imagine a group of 20-year-old-boys at the gym. Everyone tries to be the strongest and to do the most reps. You take a strong pre-workout, which lets you forget all the fatigue and adds another rep or two — Been there done that.

It’s good to seek out your limits from time to time. But growing muscle and success in life are a marathon, not a sprint. You can’t go all out every day. There is always a point of diminishing returns where more input doesn’t generate more output anymore.

Instead, use the 80/20 principle and focus on the 20 percent input that generates 80 percent of the output.

Recovery Is the Key

“A single day is enough to make us a little larger or, another time, a little smaller.”
― Paul Klee

Maybe you’ve heard that you don’t grow muscles in the gym.
That’s right.
You go in there to create a strong enough stimulus to trigger muscle growth in the recovery phase afterward.

You not only need to recover from exercise but form mental tasks as well. Only if we fully recover we can come back stronger the next day.

Sleep is about the biggest biohack we know to boost recovery. Our brain and body heal, and we store memories.

Here are a few tips to improve your sleep according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

  • Set a schedule — go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Exercise daily; somedays hard other days light but no later than a few hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid caffeine and nicotine late in the day and alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Relax before bed — meditate, take a warm bath, or read.
  • Avoid blue light and bright screens before going to bed
  • Keep the bedroom cold
  • If you can’t fall asleep, get-up, and do something relaxing until you feel tired again.

So sleeping is the most crucial part when it comes to recovery.

If you take in some magnesium and integrate meditation into your daily life, you are and the right path.

I recommend the Oura ring. I only use the ring for two weeks now, but I’m already a huge fan. The rig will show you your recovery status and gives suggestions based on the data it generates.

The Power of a smile

“A smile has a magical power; it makes everyone smile back.”
― Debasish Mridha

I can’t tell you how many times I said hello to someone at the gym only to see them ignoring me.
I don’t go there to make friends.
I go there to workout.

However, I made a lot of friends at the gym by merely being polite and smiling from time to time. Without even tiring to befriend someone.

I smile more often than the average person, and this opened many doors for me.

Sometimes people get the wrong impression of me — I like to dress elegantly, I have muscles, and I want to style myself. Many people think he must be arrogant. But as soon as they look at me, I smile and talk to them. People like me without me trying. This makes it a lot easier to form lasting connections and friendships.

Give it a smile.

Don’t Rely on Motivation

“Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough.” 
— Og Mandino

You missed three out of you four workouts this week. Now you try to save your week by cramming all into one for hour workout? Don’t.

I see it over and over.

People who are highly motivated at one day and then don’t make it to the gym for the rest of the week.

Those are the same people who watch a motivational video but then never follow through.

You must build a system that is less reliant on motivation.

  • Make it a habit
    Once something is a habit, it doesn’t take motivation anymore, you do it because it’s what you do.
  • Gamify the process
    Dopamine is a strong trigger. It’s the reason we can play videogames all night. By structuring processes in a way that you get better over time with small wins along the way, you take advantage of Dopamine’s powers.

Don’t Be Dogmatic

“Leaders are not dogmatic. They are principled and know that change is never easy, but when it’s necessary, they must lead. ”— Mark Cuban

For almost every year I’ve been in the gym, there was at least one diet or training regime that was hyped and should have been revolutionary. From calisthenics to Crossfit and from Atkins to vegan.

Every time something new comes out, you have people following and defending the new protocol like a religion.

I don’t say you shouldn’t stick to something if it works for you. But you should avoid hopping on every new and promising trend.

Wait until its no more a trend, then look at which parts worked and include them into your routine.

Consume vs Produce

“Unless each man produces more than he receives, increases his output, there will be less for him and all the others. ”— Bernard M. Baruch

In the gym, this relationship is relatively clear. You can’t just eat a lot of calories and expect your muscles to grow. You can’t watch a bunch of workout videos and expect your muscles to grow. At some point, you have to go to the gym and lift some weight.

In other areas of life, this seems not so evident to many people. I often catch myself reading another article or watching another video instead of taking action.

Mastering something consists of learning (Input) and then reflecting, implementing, and sharing (all output).

  • Learning
    You need quality information, and you need to be able to focus. Build mental models in your mind, space out your sessions, switch up subjects, and frequently test yourself.
  • Reflecting
    Once you know something, it’s time to reflect on it. In which areas can you use the new knowledge? What projects could you start now that you have this knowledge? A good time for reflection is after meditation when your mind is in a creative state
  • Implementing
    Without implementation, you end up with the illusion of competence. You feel like you understood something. But you cant pull it off in practice. Before you learn something new, schedule, when, and how you implement what you learned.
  • Sharing
    You only truly understand something when you can teach it to someone else. You can also write about it or discuss it.

Focus more on producing than consuming; a good ratio would be 2:1 or higher.

There Are No Shortcuts

“If you take shortcuts, you get cut short.”
— Gary Busey

In the gym, one obvious shortcut is using steroids. I saw many guys using them and making impressive gains in a short amount of time. Most of us know that they come with severe side effects.

But only a few people talk about the underlying mindset. We all want to get to our goals fast. But what do we do once we get there? There’s the saying the path is the goal.

I now start to understand what it means. Once we achieve a goal, we no longer get a dopamine hit. We have to look for a new purpose to trigger the excitement again. But if we took a shortcut, we missed a lot of knowledge and self-development along the way.

Only if we go through hard times and suffering, we grow. Through this growth, you maybe learn that your original goal was not what you wanted anyway.

I, for example, started to get a six-pack. Then I was motivated to do a natural bodybuilding show. But along the way, I learned that I’m much more interested in testing different training styles and helping other people than to step on stage. But this process took me ten years. Had I taken steroids, I could have stepped on stage after three years. But I wouldn’t be happier now. Maybe I would have even given up training like many others I knew.

Don’t take shortcuts. Instead, embrace the struggle and let it show you the way.

The Takeaway

Sometimes you have to pause and reflect — Look how fare you’ve come and remember the lessons you learned along the way. No one can stop you if you never give up and learn from your mistakes.

Ready to become limitless?

If you want to become limitless and speed up your learning dramatically, check out roadtolimitless.com.

Marco Tiro My name Marco Tiro and I’m on a mission to help people get unstuck through the power of learning. On my site roadtolimitless.com, I write about all the skills people who refuse to accept limits need. I’m a chemist and have an EMBA in digital business.

2 Replies to “10 Life Lessons From 10 Years in the Gym”

  1. Recovery is absolutely KEY. Thanks for sharing these. It would really guide me in my journey to fitness and life journey

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