Working out

Do you enjoy weight training? Perhaps there is some other form of exercise that is more appealing to you. Maybe you don’t enjoy exercise at all. Regardless of your natural preferences for or against working out, there is a phenomenon associated with exercise that is counter-intuitive to say the least.

This strange paradigm is that “pain sometimes feels good”. Because strength training is my preferred approach, I’ll speak about it. When you lift heavy weights, it hurts. Heavy, compound movement exercises such as squats, power cleans, and deadlifts take a tremendous toll on your physiological system. Sometimes you work to the point of nausea and you usually get sore, but there is joy in that pain. Somehow it feels good. You’ll share a smile or a shout and a fist-bump with the other gym rats and no words are necessary to describe how you feel. The same can be said for running — the “runner’s high”. Chemicals are released that increase your sense of well-being.

How can it be that an activity that hurts in the moment: 1) makes you feel great; and 2) causes your subsequent performance to increase? When you lift heavy weights, you tear muscle fibers (at the microscopic level) and, when they heal, they are bigger and stronger provided you have the required nutrients available. Your body responds to the temporary stress by repairing itself to be able to respond to that stress next time. If you are not working hard, near your limits, then you probably won’t see much benefit from the exercise…

Could it be that this physical response is part of a bigger picture? Could it be indicative of the way that God made us? Perhaps this physical growth and added strength mimics the way God wants to grow and strengthen us spiritually. Consider James 1:2-4 (NIV).

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Outside an understanding of God’s intention for our growth, this statement sounds, at best, like a platitude and, at worse, just plain silly. However, maybe we can learn something from our bodies about how God matures his children. Chances are that you have a trial in your life right now and, if not, one is probably on the way. I encourage you to use that trial to “strength train”. Get in the gym, get under the bar, and lift! God will grow your strength and you will be able to move heavy weights that you never dreamed you could.

P.S. Don’t forget to get fed. Engage in a church that is alive in the Holy Spirit and watch the growth happen.

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About Tony Schmitz

Tony Schmitz received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from Temple University in 1993, his MS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1996, and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida in 1999. He is a mechanical engineering professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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