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By: Ness Oszast, SSC

The mind works in a similar manner. Not only does training in-and-of-itself provide a sense of normalcy when the rest of the world is collapsing around you, but it helps you to reclaim your sense of control within a world drowning in uncontrollable circumstances. It gives you the power to choose action over apathy.

Change

One word.

Six letters.

And thousands of undertones.

Change.

No matter how many times I attempted to shun it from my life, it stubbornly persisted. No matter how hard I plugged my ears or how forcefully I squeezed my eyelids, “change” had made its presence known. Regardless of how piercing my screams were and how belligerently I scratched, “change” was ready to claw back.

The one advantage we have over change, however, is that when it catches you it must take you as you are. Fortunately, I discovered Starting Strength in early 2015. Truth be told, I thought it was a fun hobby I could pick up between daytime auditions and evening bar shifts. I thought it was a cool talent I could throw onto my resume to stand out in a sea of LA clones. Little did I know, the barbell would teach me more about life and growth than any self-help book or motivational speaker ever could.

“Change” and I have grown close over the years… I’ve never been a stranger to change, and there have been seasons in my life where I threw caution to the wind and pursued change with the courage of a lion. After university, I said goodbye to my parents, I packed up my Acura with as many belongings as it could fit, and I drove thirty hours across the country to take a stab at acting. In Los Angeles, I had no home, no job, no family, and few friends. But my destiny was in my hands, and I thrived off of that.

The problem is that sometimes change finds you when you are not ready for it, when your guard is down and when you’re finally starting to feel comfortable again. When change is not a welcome guest to your dinner table, you find that the tables have turned and that change is pursuing you.

Somewhere along the way on my journey in acting, where I found barbell training as a byproduct, that byproduct led to my most meaningful relationship to date, a cherished career as a strength coach in one of the best gyms in the world, and clients who became some of my closest friends. The result was a wonderful, complicated, messy, and ultimately heartbreaking situation. The last three and a half years have been the most agonizing, confusing, anxious, exciting, lonely, mysterious, and freeing chapters of my life to date, and at the tail end of that wild ride, I lost all of the above. I felt like I was breaking up with sixty people at once. Call me naive, but I truly believe I will never again feel as devastated as I did during that time of my life. I had lost every ounce of what I deemed important, and I had to sit with myself (whom I loathed at the time by the way), and come to terms with it. Did I beat myself up? Yup. Did I feel shitty about my life? You bet. Did I victimize myself as an attempt to punt ownership of my own feelings and resist change? Absolutely. But eventually, and ironically, I had to make a change.

I made the conscious decision to approach this setback as an opportunity rather than a tragedy, and again barbell training—this unconventional hobby—helped to provide some stability. I picked myself up from the ground and out of my puddle of pity, and placed myself halfway around the world to spread the word of the barbell. I chose action over apathy, and I did so with a confidence in myself that cannot be taught; this confidence must be earned.

Barbell training and Starting Strength are responsible for making me a strong, capable human, inside and out. Without the barbell, my loneliness and despair would have undoubtedly eaten me alive. In the words of our friend Henry Rollins, “I have found the iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds will always be two hundred pounds.”

When your wife leaves you, when you get laid off from your job of ten years, when natural disaster strikes . . . . The barbell teaches you that the process of change is painful, but passing, and it leaves you, as a person, changed as well. When we place physical stress on our body, it has no understanding of what our intention is. It only knows that once a stress is applied, it must recover and then adapt to said stress. In barbell training, you come to understand that you are capable of stressing your body and surviving the stress. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” You also realize that it is OK to feel shitty. It is OK to suffer. It is OK to hurt.

But it is not OK to give up. It is not OK to throw yourself into a ditch of self-pity, and it is not OK to take the backseat of your life in a never-ending loop of “woe is me.”

It is obvious that strength training with barbells is beneficial for muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. We place some weight on the bar, squat three sets of five reps, disrupt homeostasis in applying this stress, recover, and adapt.

The mind works in a similar manner. Not only does training in-and-of-itself provide a sense of normalcy when the rest of the world is collapsing around you, but it helps you to reclaim your sense of control within a world drowning in uncontrollable circumstances. It gives you the power to choose action over apathy.

The Benefits of Training

Psychologically, this habit of training with barbells acts as your emotional insurance policy when you must adapt to change. Having trained three times a week for a lengthened period of time, consistently and with persistence, regardless of how quickly strength is attained or how hard it is to muster up the courage to return to the bar, provides an internal strength and mindset shift that arms you for battle.

This intentional shift in mindset is a powerful psychological tool that you wield in times of personal stress. There is a phenomenon of psychological adaptation to stress and negative emotions that mirrors the physical stress-recovery-adaptation cycle of training. Both are survival mechanisms. Human history being what it is, described by English Philosopher Thomas Hobbes as “nasty, brutish, and short,” the species would not have fared so well without both physical and psychological adaptive mechanisms. While the psychological process is less well-understood, we do know that positive emotions help you adapt to stress.

At least one model for psychological adaptation posits that positive and negative emotions co-exist during times of increased stress, but that “positive emotions are more likely to diminish negative emotions on days of elevated stress.” (Ong, A.D., Bergeman, C.S., Bisconti, T.L., & Wallace, K.A. (2006) “Psychological resilience, positive emotions, and successful adaptation to stress in later life,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 730-749.) Ong et al looked at a collection of studies to investigate the nature of psychological adaptation, suggesting that “the experience of positive emotions amid challenge and adversity may contribute to stress resistance, and hence adaptation, by interrupting the ongoing experience of negative emotions during times of stress.” The intentional mind shift to grasp the positive in the face of adversity means you are better adapted to stress and change.

Does this conclusion make struggle or suffering any easier? No. But it prepares you to tackle psychological stress head-on, with the confidence that eventually, you will adapt. The decision to return to the gym to face the weight that stapled you to the ground last week gives you the strength to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when a relationship has fallen apart. The grind you chose to endure during your heavy triple last Friday prepares you to pull the trigger on a difficult, risky, but ultimately rewarding decision necessary to advance in your career. Pulling yourself out of bed and to the rack after a sleepless night of insomnia and worry shows you that you are a capable human who can do anything you set your mind to do.

The best way to elongate suffering is to resist change; the best way to adapt to change is to practice doing so. The bar has a way of knowing how to humble you at your highs and hold you during lows, and if you give it the loyalty and respect it deserves, you’ll be rewarded with the confidence and strength to tackle any obstacle you must overcome. Are you armed and ready for battle?


Ness Oszast is a Starting Strength Coach. Before graduating with a degree in Musical Theatre Performance, Ness stumbled upon her passion for lifting after being cast in a Shakespeare production that demanded strength and a knowledge of wrestling. Little did she know, Starting Strength would sweep her off her feet and leave acting in the dust!
She feels most fulfilled by making people stronger and giving others the sense of confidence and empowerment that strength training provides. Her clients nicknamed her the “iron pitbull”, but she’s a real softie at heart.

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