The first pillar in a solid human foundation is perhaps easiest to understand and train (What are the pillars of a human foundation? Read our introduction here.) Your physical pillar, your body, is one of the most profitable assets in this life that you can invest in. Why? Read on.
It is easy to disbelieve the above statement in this Age of Enlightenment–what could be called the Age of the Mind. Education and mental ability are king in western civilization. A degree is touted as the major deciding factor in a person’s life. Indeed, education is a worthy enterprise and, in today’s society, it might be all you require in a career.
However, we are not talking of base requirements, we are talking of success. Not just success in a career but living successfully, living with purpose and fulfillment and maximizing your full potential. Accomplishing this requires the body as well as the mind.
The benefits of strengthening the physical pillar of your life are many. Just in our personal journeys (here at Live Spartan) to strengthen our bodies we have noticed some of the following results:
- Increased physical power
- Increased discipline
- Healthier mindset
- Decreased depression
The benefits don’t stop there of course. As with all aspects of the human being, the effort you invest in strengthening your physical pillar is proportionate to the scope of new possibilities in your life.
How To Build Your Physical Pillar
How do you strengthen the physical pillar of your human foundation? It’s not as simple as “working out”. In our opinion, strengthening your physical pillar is comprised of four main areas:
- Building strength
- Building endurance
- Practicing balanced, natural nutrition
- Proficiency in physical skills
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these areas are beneficial to our lives.
Increasing your strength is integral to building your physical pillar. Strength is a primary factor in your overall health and your ability to protect yourself and others. It is the practical way of preparing for many different situations (working around the house, defending yourself from an attacker) and increases your capacity to engage in the world around you.
Strength is also the proverbial backbone on which the mind, emotions, and spirit are built. It allows the mind to physically explore and experience that which it could not. It disciplines and harnesses the emotions and teaches you control. It is the framework on which morality is structured.
Now, the ideal of strength is a highly disputed topic and has changed over the years. Primitive tribesmen tended to be lightly built due to a lack of a steady source of protein. Ancient Greeks (Spartans anyone?) had chiseled musculature. Depending on circumstance, men up until the 1950s-60s tended to have a sinewy, workman build.
We at Live Spartan have a very functional ideal of strength, and confess to being influenced by movements such as CrossFit and MovNat. We believe that every man and woman should be strong in every sense of the word, and that a balanced approach to strength is the healthiest approach. We do not personally appreciate training for aesthetic purposes or for gaining genetically maximum size; it is not useful in every day life (unless you need to pick up a car, in which case, please ignore our advice).
In today’s world, the most expedient method of building your strength is in a gym. If you are one of those people who are repulsed by this idea, I would recommend that you read Henry Rollins’ essay on the Iron. It is an excellent exposition of the life lessons to be learned from strength building. It will make you want to familiarize yourself with the Iron!
Building your endurance as much as possible without severely effecting your strength is another key component of your physical pillar. It is also the key to saving your own life, as many life-saving acts are acts of endurance:
- swimming to safety
- running from pursuers/running into battle
- Climbing (this takes endurance and strength)
The Art of Grit & Boredom. The first part of building your endurance is mastering the Art of Grit & Boredom. Boredom because of the monotony of mile after mile; Grit because of the mental solidity it takes to keep going, constantly. We will not lie to you and say you’ll love this facet of fitness; we will say that besides demonstrating sheer strength, there is nothing so glorious as completing the final mile in an endurance event.
There is an important point we want to make about endurance training. Running is not the only method of endurance training! Running is a method, but not the only method. As Greg Glassman mentioned in the above quote, running, swimming, biking, and rowing are all ways of increasing your endurance.
Power/Cardio Cycle. The second part of building your endurance is mastering the Power/Cardio cycle. The Power/Cardio cycle is a training technique. It increases your fatigue threshold at short or medium distances and trains your body to adapt to a heart rate that performs at high intensity levels and recovers at medium intensity levels.
An example of the Power/Cardio cycle is a Spartan Super Sprint. At 8-10 miles in distance it qualifies as an “endurance” event. But you also have to contend with approximately 25-30 obstacles of varying intensity. You have to train to conquer the obstacles (think HIGH heart rate) and recover by running.
For that reason, we would like to add sprinting to Greg Glassman’s list because of the amazing effects it has on your long distance running. Similarly, we would add climbing because of the full-body athleticism and endurance required. These are only two methods for mastering the Power/Cardio cycle. There are many others and we hope to explore them in other articles. For now, if you are interested in learning more about the two phases of endurance building (and strength training) we would recommend that you read our on-going series 13 Weeks To A Spartan Super Sprint.
Balanced, Natural Nutrition
Nutrition is, somewhat surprisingly, 60% of fitness. You can workout like a god, run like an olympic athlete, and swim and bike like an Iron Man; without balanced, natural nutrition you will make zero progress in building your physical pillar.
Due to the amount of literature devoted to nutrition, and the specificity of the subject, we will not try your patience by replicating it all in this article. Eating natural, with as little processing and added ingredients as possible, and eating plenty (yes, plenty) is perhaps the surest path to set yourself on. That being said, don’t go scouring the internet for the optimal human diet that will grant you magical powers and life everlasting. Common sense, a little research (research not blog reading), and some understanding of how the human body metabolizes should be sufficient. Remember that you are an individual with a specific goal; your nutrition should reflect that.
Proficiency in Physical Skills
This is the facet of physical “fitness” that has been preached the least in recent years. All the strength and endurance building–the excellent nutrition–is a readying process to make you better able to “do something”. You will not be satisfied building your physical pillar for abstract reasons.
So why do we build our strength, endurance, and nutrition? We have hinted at it throughout this article. Theodore Roosevelt Sr. said that we “make our bodies” so we can carry our minds further. Sir Ernest Shackleton’s (a personal hero of ours) motto was “By endurance we conquer”. Victor Lindlahr, inventor of the Catabolic Diet, coined the phrase “You are what you eat”. All three of these opinions suggest that by building your physical pillar you are bettering your existence in this world, but they also all seem to have a more tangible goal.
What is this goal? Our theory is that you build your physical pillar in order to become proficient in “physical” skills. The last phrase of Greg Glassman’s quote, “Regularly learn and play new sports”, is simpatico with this assumption. We would take it beyond sports. Regularly learn and play new physical activities like:
- Building retaining walls (try using railroad ties)
- Lake/Ocean swimming
- Rock climbing
- Horseback riding
The possibilities extend as far as your imagination and effort. Build your physical pillar and explore life.
Conclusion: Do Something
We realize that when we said training your physical pillar was easy, we meant it was easy by relative comparison. Reading through this article might be a bit overwhelming.
We talk a lot about becoming the hero of your life story and about realizing your own personal legend. These are processes, and developing the physical pillar of the human foundation is part of that process.
That process cannot be accomplished in a week.
But it can be started.
This week, do something, no matter how small, to strengthen your physical pillar. Concentrate on one of the four main areas.
Wishing you well,