8 Warrior Traits to Help Maximize your Fitness Training
What image does the word “warrior” conjure for you? From modern day soldiers in battle fatigues to ancient Spartan fighters with nothing but spear and shield, the Warrior motif is one of strength, discipline, and excellence. But being a warrior isn’t about violence, war, and death. It’s about developing and honing the traits necessary to live life to it’s fullest, meet challenges head-on, and come out victorious when things go sideways.
Fitness works the same way. We may look at it as a great six-pack, the ability to lift hundreds of pounds, or just being able to do something simple like run effectively. The reality of a “fit” person is very different. Are you fit if you can lift a ton of weight, but can’t run more than a few yards without rest? No. Are you fit if you can run 20 miles without rest, but can’t do a single push-up? No. Fitness is about surviving life in the best, most healthy way possible, with minimal injury and sickness, at the highest level of general performance you can maintain.
“Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.”
― Mark Rippetoe
Let’s talk about how becoming more of a Warrior can help you be stronger, healthier, and more fit to survive in a world of ever-changing challenges.
Being aggressive often gets a bad rap. It can be the thing that sets the “violent frat boy” apart from the “Buddhist priest” when you go to extremes. A Warrior finds the middle path where their aggression becomes an uncompromising forward push towards their goals. They do not yield to adversity, and being told that something is impossible is a great way to get a Warrior more motivated to succeed against the odds. Warrior aggression is intelligent, thoughtful, and driven.
In fitness, you need goals and aspirations. The meek individual will look at even simple things and think, “meh, seems pretty hard, maybe not.” The Warrior will look forward and find the things that will make them happier, more successful, and healthier, then set themselves to the task of attaining those things. Others may shy away from goals that seem nearly unattainable now, but the Warrior will use that challenge as motivation.
Aggression in fitness is about going after what you want, regardless of how hard or far off it seems. It’s about listening to the voice in your head that says, “just do it” and ignoring the voices (internal or external) that are telling you to rein in your aspirations and aim lower.
“Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.” – Russell Warren
The Warrior is dedicated to their cause in total. They recognize that every great thing that was ever accomplished, was done so by a person who was so driven to complete their task that they would allow nothing to stand in the way. This can slip into the negative when you shirk duties such as family and society, but the smart Warrior knows to find the balance and put in efforts when and where they’re due. Dedication to one thing does not have to mean neglect of another.
When it comes to your workouts, consistency is key. You will not see sustainable results or make meaningful strides towards your goals if you are not consistent. Constantly changing goals or plans or workouts or gyms or diets doesn’t net you results; sticking with an effective plan long term does. The only way to be consistent? Dedication! Your dedication may make others nervous which can result in people behaving negatively when you take steps towards what you want. All too often this seeming “concern” is more about the other person feeling inferior for not trying hard, for not striving for something greater. Be empathetic and kind, but don’t let their misgivings stop you from pursuing what you want in life.
Historically, Warriors have engaged in violent conflict between individuals, states, and nations. Many, many philosophers, generals, and psychologists have written on these battles, but a theme does tend to permeate the collected works: strategy matters. A good strategy can allow 300 archers to repel 3,000 calvary over an open field, or lead a team of Navy SEALS to infiltrate behind enemy lines without suffering losses. Combat is a microcosm of competition between opposing forces, and what we learn from combat we can apply to other forms of competition: any time you are competing, strategy matters.
The Warrior answers the 5W+H questions: who, what, where, when, why, & how.
Who is my competition? What are we competing for? Where are we competing? When will this happen? Why are we competing? How are we competing?
These questions – and their answers – lead to a better understanding of the “enemy” and how to beat them. If you know where the competition will be held, you can plan to use the terrain to your advantage. If you know why you are competing, you can trick your opponent into making mistakes by confusing them. Etc.
When it comes to your workouts, you need to be just as strategic in how you plan things. Answer the 5W+H questions for yourself:
- Who are you working out with?
- Who are you working out for?
- What are your concrete goals?
- What conditions mean that you “win”?
- Where are you exercising?
- When are you exercising?
- When does your timeline start/end? When is a reasonable time to have hit your goals?
- Why are you exercising/eating right in the first place?
- How will your workout plan support your goals?
You may not know all the answers to these questions, and that’s okay. The strategic Warrior uses the resources they have at their disposal to find these answers. In combat, that might mean scouts and radio transmission interception. In fitness, it means a qualified coach or trainer found online or in-person who can act as your filter to the very complicated world of health and wellness.
There is no direction without purpose. All the aggression and strategy in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t know what you’re working towards! The purposeful Warrior has a concrete goal or set of goals that they can cite at any time; a clearly defined “winning condition” they find when they ask their 5W+H questions. They march ahead, rather than drifting along. Few (if any) commanders ever won a war by showing up just to see what happens, and few (if any) business mogul ever made a that first million (or billion) without aiming for it.
You need this same type of purpose in your workouts and diet. Nebulous statements like, “I want to be healthier” or “I want to feel better” aren’t going to cut it. Too many people take the route of describing their feelings or large intangible ideas as their goals. The problem is, these things can’t be measured! When I was fat, I had days where I actually felt pretty good about myself, but far more where I didn’t. If I had stuck with the goal about feeling good, I would have felt like I was in a constant state of failure. (Full Disclosure: this is exactly what I did and exactly how it felt. I don’t recommend it.) You need things that are measurable, so that you can hold yourself (and your plan) accountable to results.
Take the time to really think about what physical changes will lead you towards the feelings or ideals you want. If you’re holding a lot of extra body fat, chances are you’ll be closer to feeling good/sexy/fit/whatever if you drop a couple percentage points of body fat. If you’re really skinny, then maybe to become more fit/manly/strong you need to focus on adding muscle mass. Your goals can be for any reason and lead to many results, but you need something that you can point to and say, “done!”
Without purpose, there can be no victory, and the only thing across from victory is failure.
“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” – Helmuth von Moltke
A Warrior sets themselves against adversity using the knowledge, skills, and abilities at his disposal to move toward overcoming the challenge. This is the nature of competition. While the earlier traits are related to the definition, planning for, and pursuit of the goal, the trait of adaptability is critical when things go sideways. Maybe the enemy soldiers may have more numbers than your scouts reported, or the opposing football team calls in a series of replacement players that have strengths in odd areas you didn’t know about. Whatever the monkey wrench, life and your opponent tend to throw things at you that you don’t – and can’t – anticipate.
Strategy and Adaptability form two sides of the same coin. The first exists in a well-informed peace, while the second only shows up during the dirty chaos. The adaptible Warrior knows that all plans must be fluid, so that when a piece breaks down, it can be rethought and replaced with a more appropriate course of action.
So, too, with your fitness training. You won’t always be able to make it to the gym when you want to. You won’t always have the time you need to finish that fancy training regimen. You won’t always have the equipment you need to do a full powerlifting circuit with accessory work. Day to day, you need to be open to modifying your plans so that moving towards your fitness goals receives the attention it’s due, while utilizing the resources at your disposal, and maintaining dedicated consistency.
Another place where this becomes important is when a program ceases to help you progress. It’s very common that people switch exercise programs too soon to have seen their benefit. This is very common, but is a problem of Purpose and Dedication. The other end of the spectrum has people so dedicated to their chosen plan that they fail to make changes when the plan no longer works! The (fitness) plan no longer survives contact with the enemy (of plateauing). The adaptible Warrior athlete recognizes when it’s time to switch plans, so that overall progress is sustained.
An effective Warrior needs to understand a lot of things: enemy, environment, objective, etc. All of these things are forces outside him/herself that affect the strategy they take into battle. To really understand all of that in the most productive way, the Warrior needs to remove themselves from the equation to a significant degree. Having too big of an ego can put a serious damper on the ability to estimate the strength of others, or the consequences for competing in different environments. A boxer with too much ego might lose a championship match because she underestimates the strength of her opponent. A soldier might find himself unable to survive a fire-fight because he was too confident of his own urban combat skills. Or maybe you might find yourself going in circles while lost in the woods, because you were too confident in your own outdoor craft to admit you don’t remember which side of the tree moss grows on (north or south?).
The act of supressing the ego lets you see things more objectively, without letting your personal biases weight in too heavily. Especially when assessing others, humans have the tendency to view those outside themselves or their group as being less skilled or less able in some way. This tribal instinct that, “my group is always the better group” can be a helpful tool for survival when it helps you build a strong community, but it can backfire easily. The Warrior needs to be able to evaluate a challenge fairly, without the bias of thinking themselves too capable or their opponent too weak.
When you’re managing your health and wellness, you need to take your ego out of the equation in a few specific ways.
First, admit when you just don’t know what the heck you’re doing. There’s no shame in not knowing something, especially when you’re not a professional in that field. Which one is better for developing your posterior chain, the Deadlift or the Power Clean? If you use the copious resources that most of us have at our disposal (the Internet is huge!) and go into solving the problem not assuming you’re right, then you’re likely to come out ahead.
Second, don’t mis-estimate yourself or others by drawing bad comparisons. Just because a workout helped the cast of “300” get rippling muscles, doesn’t mean doing exactly that routine as written will work for you. At the same time, remember that the human body is varied between people, but out physiology is basically the same. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake, so don’t waste time looking for a super specific workout that seems tailored just to you. Want to get a stronger chest and arms as a beginner? Do push-ups. Want to be able to do 10 pull-ups in a row? Do pull-ups. Adhering to the basics will almost always provide better results than trying to come up with a Super Secret Squirrel Snowflake Hipster Workout for yourself.
Lastly, admit when you can’t do something in your workout, and adjust to a skill/weight/reps/time/whatever that you can do. High levels of fitness and athleticism take a lot of work. The best athletes you’ve ever seen in any discipline didn’t get that way on talent alone. Does it help? Sure! But what sets them apart and makes them elite is the massive amounts of time and energy and work they put in to get as good as they are. Some movements are too advanced for you, and some weights are too heavy. Some workouts will take longer to complete than you can keep up with, and sometimes things are just moving too fast for you. And that’s okay! An Olympic champion in the 100m Sprint didn’t start running yesterday; they spent years working day after day to improve their speed by fractions of a second.
Wait, what?! Didn’t we just say that you have to get out of your own head and let the ego die down? How can you be ego-less and prideful at the same time? Actually, it makes sense when you break it down a bit.
Pride is not about feeling superior to all others and being an arrogant asshole about it. The people with narcissitic levels of pride will act that way, but Warriors maintain a healthy amount of respectful pride. They love themselves and recognize their own worth, without having the need to diminish the pride of others. You might call this self-respect or self-love or another more politically correct term, but in the end it’s having pride in being the person they are. A Warrior knows that they are a worthwhile individual who deserves basic respect.
Healthy pride recognizes that others are also worthwhile individuals. Unhealthy pride sees all others as threats. A Warrior builds others up so that they share their pride, while a Narcissist tries to break others down so that they seem better in comparison.
Your health suffers when you don’t respect yourself enough to maintain it. A wonderful quote is, “I don’t workout because I hate my body. I workout because I love it!” This is the essence of healthy Warrior pride as applied to fitness. Recognize that your body is worthwhile and deserving of respect, just like your mind and emotions, and act accordingly. Some goals like fat loss may seem negative, as though they are based on loathing rather than pride, but don’t let this be true. Always come at any goal, any workout, any health decision from a point of pride.
A note about exercising for aesthetics:
Some people workout because, frankly, they want to look good naked and be attractive to others. I’ve worked with a lot of clients who only admit this in private and feel ashamed about it. Their reasons are almost always something like, “I know I should be working out to be more healthy or to live longer or to…” and the list goes on. They’re listing what they feel are “acceptable reasons” why they should want to be more fit.
Here’s my professional opinion that I often use as my direct answer: “you do you, and everyone else can f**k off.”
I support my clients’ goals, and I neither care nor judge them on what those goals are. If you come in for help getting healthier – regardless of the reason – I’m here to help you. Sure, some people are coming in to live longer and play with their kids more often. Some people are coming in because they want to go to the beach without a shirt on, and have people go, “daaaammmmnnnn….” when they walk by. Neither of these goals are better than the other. Period. Anyone who says otherwise needs to lay off their own Ego a little bit. (See what I did there?)
Last but not least, a Warrior is a minimalist. There is a certain amount of everything that is needed to get the job done. Whatever that job is, the Warrior wants what they need, when they need it, for as long as they need it, until they don’t need it anymore. Whether it’s research, personnel, equipment, or time, the minimalist Warrior doesn’t glut herself on taking more than necessary. The glutton Warrior takes too much, weighing himself down with extra gear or logistics or people that serve no purpose other than making things more complicated than they need to be. Even the minimalist allows that a little redundancy should be built into the equation as a safety margin, but too much is still too much. If 5 of something will suffice, then take 9-10, but don’t take 50.
The same principle applies perfectly to fitness: use what you need, lose what you don’t. In my experience, about 80% of people have one of a few goals: lose fat, gain muscle, prepare for a competition, or a combination of these. About 20% are specifically rehabilitating an injury or using fitness to treat an illness, but even these tend to circle back to building muscle or losing fat. Body composition can be improved through nutrition and exercise by burning calories to lose fat and doing resistance training to build muscle. A smart program will strategically include some things and leave out others to build the most effective routine with a minimum of “pomp and circumstance”.
To minimize the minimalist entry: stick to the basics, don’t add more complication if it’s not specifically necessary for your end goal, and keep it as simple as possible. If a 10 year old can’t understand why you’re doing it, reconsider doing it.