Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Training for Life

by Jordan Burnett, SSC | August 27, 2019

time and training jordan burnett

The year was 2016. I was 22 years old, clocking in at 6’1 and 140 pounds. I’d been in and out of the gym for months, following the most critically acclaimed templates to “bulk up” provided by the extremely reliable first clickable option of a thoughtless Google search. Sure, I couldn’t squat my body weight below parallel, but I could get a hell of a pump going in my 11-inch arms. The results obviously left a lot to be desired. I’d find myself at the end of several weeks looking the same as I had my whole life: skinny and weak. I was spinning my wheels, and before too long I became resigned to the fact that I was going to be small forever.

To understand the impact that strength has had on me, I need to take you back a few years. As a kid, I was a bit of an outcast. I was very socially awkward and struggled to make friends. I was constantly picked on, and my self-esteem was non-existent. I found myself as an anxious teenager with no motivation and no direction. It wasn’t too long until I found comfort in the only thing that seemed to make me feel any better: alcohol. By age 18, I had developed a full-blown addiction to drugs and alcohol, and at 120 pounds in bodyweight, I was skin and bone. In February of 2012, I overdosed on a combination of alcohol and Xanax. I probably should have died.

I made the decision to get sober in March of 2012 and went into recovery. I gained a few pounds back, got a job and started to get my head on straight. After I found my rhythm being a normal human again, things were great for a while. I’d made some friends, I managed to hold down a decent job, and I was more clear-headed than I’d ever been. What I didn’t realize was that just because I wasn’t drinking anymore didn’t mean that the personality flaws that drove that type of behavior were gone. I’ve always struggled with instant gratification, laziness, apathy, and using things that feel good to neglect reality. I did a lot of work on myself, but those things never truly seemed to go away. I’d grown stagnant, and soon the idea of relapsing crept up on me. And although I’d gained some self-esteem back in recovery, I had no confidence in how I looked or felt physically.

My friend had decided to start going to the gym and he invited me to join him. I saw some results for about two weeks. After minimal progress, I began to despair. I thought, “This should not be this complicated.” I started looking for simple training programs. They were all geared towards one thing that all the others were not: getting stronger. I read about how strength makes every other physical attribute better, and that by getting stronger I would also get bigger. It was the most logical thing I’d read among all the other silly bullshit I’d come across. The rapid physical change was astounding.

What sold me on strength training more than anything was the tangible markers of progress. If more weight was added to the bar, then I had gotten stronger. It was cut and dried, black and white. I was literally a stronger and better version of myself than I was the day before, and within a couple short months I was more than twice as strong as when I’d started. I made a conscious decision to eat my groceries and gain weight. But something else was taking place that was more impactful. Training was the first thing I’d done that I was actually willing to work hard for. I enjoyed the work. I enjoyed the struggle. I could see a long-term goal and be fine with putting the effort in, a little at a time for a long time, to achieve it. It taught me to take risks, and that trying and failing is better than not trying at all.

When I first started lifting, I didn’t know what I was capable of. Everything was easy at first, but as the weight increased, my reps got slower and slower until every work set was an all-out grind. I'd have one more minute of rest before my last set of squats, filled with doubt and fear, but the timer goes off and it’s time to approach the bar. I'd get under the bar and un-rack it. Goddamn, this feels so heavy. I don’t know if I can do this. I go down and the first rep comes up slowly. The second rep is slower, and the third rep slower still. I try my best to reign in my thoughts and will myself to keep going. I go down with the fourth rep and it’s painfully slow. I want to rack the bar so badly, I’m positive there’s no way I can get this last rep. I steel myself and do it anyway, and there’s this moment on the way up where the bar stops moving. It’s only for a second or two, but in that moment, time stops. I have this incredibly quick conversation with myself about whether I’m going to choose to keep pushing, or if I even can. And then it’s over, and all there is left to do is keep pushing or let gravity win. I barely finish the rep, in total disbelief that I did it.

The more times I won that fight against gravity, the more I started to see the parallels between training and adversity in my own life. When things are bad and I feel like there’s no way out, I experience a similar moment. I can let life bully me, let my fear consume me, let my doubt overtake me. Or I can choose to keep pushing an inch at a time until I make it through. And even if I fail, then at least I gave it everything I had.

The basic life skills that fell by the wayside in my youth were being taught to me by a barbell, of all things. Over time I noticed these qualities starting to bleed over into other areas of my life. Not only was I willing to work hard under the bar, but I became willing to work hard at my job. I developed more profound and mature relationships with other people. I gained an air of confidence because I knew I no longer had to prove anything to anyone other than myself. And most importantly, I had found something that irrevocably trumped the thought of relapsing – something I cared about so much that I pursued a career in coaching, and ultimately have found myself as an Assistant Coach at Starting Strength Dallas working towards the SSC.

I’m not going to lie to you: I’m not cured. I’ve been sober for seven years and at the end of the day, those personality flaws will always be there. I’ll always think of using or drinking from time to time. But training has given me the tools to manage those things better than anything else I’ve tried. I’ve been training consistently now for three years. I weigh 220 pounds and have gotten my squat up to 440. Barbell training has saved my life. It has made me a man of substance. It didn’t get me clean, but it has certainly kept me clean. I am much happier being strong than I was being weak.

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