Brains and brawn… Friendships forged in steel

Published 2:31 pm Friday, February 5, 2021

I often think about a story a friend told me regarding his experience in basic training for the United States Army.

He told me that one morning his drill sergeant ordered his company to move a huge pile of sand from one side of an empty field to the other. This man and his fellow soldiers worked all day in the hot sun to complete this mission.

As dusk neared, they finally moved the last load of sand using a wheelbarrow and shovels. The sergeant looked at their work and said. “Great work, men, but I think I liked it better where it was. Move it back.”

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As you might imagine, the men who had just worked all day were furious at this. I’m sure they wondered why they were asked to move the sand in the first place.

The sergeant’s orders might seem capricious and cruel to a young man working all day at nothing, but they were actually a brilliant leadership strategy.

There is no bond greater than the one forged through shared hardship.

Every great coach knows this and tries to build these bonds in their players. Did a coach ever give you a seemingly pointless and difficult task to do with your teammates?

I bet they were looking to bring you closer together. The same techniques are used by great leaders of every stripe to forge these iron-clad bonds in a group.

One way this kind of bond has been forged in my life is with my weightlifting partner Alex Campbell. A good weightlifting partner can help you find it in yourself to push through a challenging set, drag yourself to the gym even when you aren’t feeling like it, and can make sure you are safe when completing a potentially dangerous maximum effort lift.

Along with these more practical matters, a relationship with a good workout partner in the gym often becomes so much more.

You know that person has your back and will look out for you. This translates to a deeper trust than with friendships that do not include shared hardships.

As you push each other to greater and greater weights, bigger and bigger sets, and more and more reps, you begin to know that person more completely than you ever could otherwise.

Struggle is good for the soul, and shared struggle is what makes a weightlifting partnership work.

I remember a thousand times I stared at a heavily loaded bar preparing for a serious set and let doubt or fear creep into my heart.

Alex could always sense this and would give me the encouragement I needed to get under the bar and make it happen. I have tried to play this same role for him.

Our deep and abiding friendship has been cultivated through a thousand heavy sets, hundreds of max-effort lifts that might have resulted in disastrous injury if not for having a seriously skilled and strong spotter, and more grueling high-intensity reps than I care to count.

It can be difficult to engage people in the gym.

Some people exclusively like to work out solo. They are missing out on a great deal, in my opinion, but to each their own.

Even people open to partnerships might not have the same workout strategies, goals, or intensity as you. If you workout for a long time, you will have a lot of short-term workout partners that don’t last for one reason or another.

Eventually, if you keep working hard and do not give up, you will find someone to push you and help you achieve your goals.

Friends come and go in life, but the ones that last are the ones forged in steel.