Discomfort Builds Growth

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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.”

Copyright: parilovv

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.

It’s physiology.

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.

Best cardio ever.

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 did.

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.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

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