Discomfort Builds Growth
Outside of majoring in “Humanities” during my first few years in college, and taking the obligatory Introduction to Philosophy class to fulfill my course requirements, I don’t consider myself much of a philosophical person.
I’m not one to sit around and contemplate the meaning of life, why we’re all here, or to argue about which came first: the CrossFitter or the comment from the CrossFitter that they do CrossFit?
I tend to leave those sort of things to people who are way smarter than myself and drive Priuses.
Start a conversation with me on Star Wars mythology or the writings of Kurt Vonnegut (or bring up the best Jason Bourne fight scenes) and you’ve got my attention.
So, yeah, I don’t consider myself a philosophical person per se. I put my socks on like everyone else. But something struck a chord and jostled my thought process recently as I was listening to a podcast.
And it was this one simple quote: “Discomfort builds growth.”
Discomfort Builds Growth
Let it sink in for a moment.
The easy analogy here – and most fitting – are the things we do in the weight room.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t go to the gym day in and day out because it tickles.
I do it because I want to feel strong, look strong, and have pecs that can deflect bullets.
However, how many times have we noticed someone do the same routine, with the same exercises, in the same order, with the same amount of weight, routinely, who look exactly the same and are just as strong as they were three years ago?
Hell, I’m sure everyone reading knows a friend, family member, colleague, arch nemesis who falls under this umbrella.
Maybe it’s even…YOU!?
I’ve worked with countless people in my career as a personal trainer and strength coach.
98.5% of them “get it.”
Meaning, they know they have to put in the work in order to get the results they’re after. They don’t just expect muscles to magically appear or to walk underneath a rainbow and lose five dress sizes.
They have to EARN it.
They’ll do what they’re told – throw some barbells around, push the Prowler, swing some kettlebells, perform endless numbers of push-ups and chin-ups, tolerate Wu-Tang Wednesdays – and love to hate it.
It not so many words (and at the risk of being overly cliche)…
They’re Comfortable With Being UN-Comfortable
This isn’t to say one must train to the point of passing out or shitting their liver in order to reap any benefits. That’s a bit much.
(anyone who knows me and is familiar with my writing knows how I roll as a coach: Easy Training is Good Training).
Conversely, just because you “showed up” and made an appearance at the gym doesn’t really mean anything.
Why drive to the gym only to walk on the treadmill?
For many, they’re lucky if they elevate their heart rate during their “workout” any higher than if they just stayed home and watched an episode of The Last of Us.
Very generally speaking, those people who have physiques and fitness levels we most admire (and desire) are those who strive for, nay, ACCEPT discomfort.
The human body is a highly adaptive “machine.” The reason why many people never seem to make routine progress in the gym is because they continue to do the same things they ALWAYS do. Even worse, they continue to do things that they’re good at or that’s “easy.”
I don’t blame them – it’s human nature.
I know I’ll catch some flak for saying this, but a glaring example would be people who tend to gravitate towards “cardio.”
Performing dedicated (steady state) cardiovascular work is important and it does serve as an component to a well-rounded fitness program. But I do feel it’s often drastically OVER-emphasized because, well, it’s easy.
And we’ve established that people like easy.
And while I don’t want to make this into some anti-cardio diatribe, one of the main reasons why I feel there comes a point of diminishing returns is because you have do MORE of it (steady state cardio) in order to get the same training effect.
As one becomes more “efficient,” they have to do more work in order to burn the same amount of calories.
And just working out for the sake of burning calories is kinda lame. As my friend Bryan Krahn has noted in the past:
Here’s a thought. Say you hit the treadmill for three 1-hour runs per week. What does it do? Well, it burns a bunch of calories, improves your cardio vascular capabilities, yadda yadda. Fantastic. And that’s about it.
Now let’s say you swap the cardio for three 1-hour martial arts classes. You’ll burn a similar amount of calories but also work different movement planes and improve flexibility — things that basic gym training doesn’t address.
(A big part of my training code is to expose yourself to new things, identify any weaknesses, and then address them. I call it having no holes in your game.)
The same mindset can be applied to lifting weights as well. In order for a muscle to grow you need to apply enough of a stimulus to break down the actual muscular filaments – actin and myosin. Assuming ample recovery (and calories) are applied…you progressively get bigger and stronger.
Again, many trainees miss the mark here.
There’s a lack of intent and purpose in the way a lot of people train. I can’t help but think some people feel so long as you walk into a gym and look at a dumbbell you’re going to get results.
This Applies to Life Too
Throwing myself in the spotlight I can think of a handful of scenarios where leaning into some discomfort served a greater good in my life.
Some of you reading will remember a time when meeting someone over the internet was borderline creepy. By today’s standards it’s no big deal, but back in 2004 it would raise some eyebrows.
I met Eric Cressey on the internet.
Eric and I knew each other via various training forums online (most notably T-Nation.com). When he graduated from UCONN he landed a job as a personal trainer in Ridgefield, CT.
I was still in central NY working as a trainer myself and Eric got a hold of me one day and mentioned that he had gotten a job at a gym and that the people who owned it were still looking for another trainer. Knowing that I wanted to get the hell out of dodge, he thought that maybe I should look into it?
I was hired, and in less than two weeks, despite some major reservations and second guessing myself, I was moving to Connecticut to start a new job with a dude I had met over the internet and whom I had only met once in person.
Understandably, I had to assure my mom that I wasn’t going to get murdered.
In the end, I think it all turned out pretty well…;o)
And then there was the one time my wife, Lisa, had me try a sip of her whisky I had brought home from my trip to Scotland. It was like taking a sip of battery acid. Disgusting. The only thing I grew in that case was more chest hair.
I guess you win some, you lose some.
Discomfort, trying new things, taking risks, doing things differently, challenging yourself…both in the gym and in life.
Maybe that’s the missing link for some people.
Comments for This Entry
Jason InghamGood post Tony, taking risks I think is the foundation for a fulfilling life
February 19, 2014 at 11:05 am |
Shelley"Why drive to the gym only to walk on the treadmill?" - hehehe :) The other day I saw a person standing on the eliptical and playing solitaire on the screen. I bet that burned some serious calories.
February 19, 2014 at 12:39 pm |
TonyGentilcoreOne of the more comical scenes I've seen in the gym is someone reading the newspaper WHILE performing leg presses.
February 21, 2014 at 7:23 am |
John J BrooksGreat post. This is "the secret" to success in the gym. Embrace the suck. Have you read "Anti-fragile: things that gain from disorder?" I have it, but haven't started on it. The premise is related to this subject.
February 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
TonyGentilcoreNo, haven't heard of that one John.....but thanks for the tip!
February 21, 2014 at 7:24 am |
GavAntifragile is a fantastic (but very long) read. Nassim Taleb is brilliant. After seeing your pile of behavioural economics books on Twitter, I'm sure you'd enjoy Antifragile too.
February 25, 2014 at 5:13 pm |
Tim NewtonGreat post Tony. I am pretty much living "uncomfortable" right now. But , that's the only way I have ever gotten anywhere. It surely does make the pay off sweet. Hopefully someday we can catch up again. Best wishes.
February 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm |
TonyGentilcoreTim - it was soooooo good to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by and good luck in Nashville dude.
February 21, 2014 at 7:24 am |
Michael HollI have to agree - Kimchi is terrible.
February 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm |
February 21, 2014 at 7:25 am |
Chicken and Waffles, Being Uncomfortable, and One Thing At A Time | Ian Fagala's Simply Strength[…] Discomfort Builds Growth- Tony Gentilcore […]
February 21, 2014 at 6:58 am |
F&F Friday Favorites ~ 2.21.14 | Fitness & Feta[…] Yes, yes, YES: Discomfort builds growth […]
February 21, 2014 at 7:00 am |
Shane McleanTony, you hit the nail on the head, as always. A friend sent me this interview between Jerry Seinfeld and Harold Stern. Watch between 31.min40sec- 34 min 8 sec. let me know what you think. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXbDJ3uBl9M
February 23, 2014 at 3:02 pm |
TonyGentilcoreBRILLIANT......thank you for sending that my way.
February 23, 2014 at 3:53 pm |
Shane McleanThought you'd like it. In the same ballpark of what you were saying.
February 23, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
terry o doherty ptLol brilliant, enjoyed reading that. Nail well and truly smashed on the head lol
March 4, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
Jonathan GoodmanRemember when people left comments on blogs. Ahh, those were the days. I liked this article a lot man.
April 6, 2023 at 4:13 pm |
Steven HeadAlways enjoy reading your stuff, Tony. As the cliche' goes, 'growth only occurs outside one's comfort zone.' One of the key concepts I tried to get across in my book was this notion of discomfort being inevitable to improving health, fitness/strength. And, it had to be distinguished from 'pain.' and it shouldn't be feared. Hell, life is uncomfortable often enough. Gots ta overcome our insistence on comfort and our aversion to discomfort- both are liabilities, and antithetical to growth & progress.
April 9, 2023 at 4:10 pm |
Diana GiurgeanThis is the first blog post I've read in years!! I used to really enjoy consuming this kind of content. Thank you Toni for taking the time to write this! Now on to reading more 😜 (totally outside of my comfort zone to leave a comment on a famous person's work)
May 3, 2023 at 6:20 pm |