As I slid another 45-pound plate onto the bar, I had an odd sensation of nostalgia. This felt somewhat disturbing, so I stopped and wondered when the last time was that I had lifted as much weight. For the better part of the last year, my workout had consisted of exercises unrelated to weightlifting, such as running long distances and doing a bunch of jumping jacks.

Getting back into the weightlifting routine, I realized I was a whole lot weaker on the bench than I had been a year and half ago. This decline merited further examination.

Measuring progress and fitness can be a challenge. Many newcomers make the big mistake of comparing themselves to gym queens at the YMCA. This can be intimidating and discouraging. After discussing working out with my friend “Incitatus”, we agreed that a very good method for measuring progress or degradation over time is yourself. Here is what he said:

id go nuts if i didnt work out. modern man has no battles to fight, just apathy
i started working out and continue to workout solely for the feeling i get, looking the way i do being appealing to females is just a side effect. but doing it for myself solitary, on a rigid schedule, created for me personal battles id engage in with myself, and to me defeating a weaker form of myself is more than i could ever get lifting more than someone else.

I asked him why and how this method of introspection applied to physical exercise works for him:

i take the mentality into my workouts that its a literal struggle for my life, and if i wouldnt give the same amount during a time of physical conflict, then i dont deserve to live
yeah i really internalized that concept, of killing off an old version of myself
thats why when i hear people saying they need to have a workout partner to get them motivated, i know they havent lit the fire yet

 

tanmuscle

My employment over the last decade has given me hard numbers of many aspects of fitness that I accomplished in the past. I have noticed I can run faster whenever my schedule stabilizes and I can run more often. Could I outrun myself 10 years ago? No, but I have not degraded too far from that point.

As for lifting weights at the gym, from the squat rack to the bench, I am at the point where I can lift about 30 to 40% more than I could 10 years ago. Aside from comparing fitness with one’s own self, you could ask other questions related to it.

As for “killing off an old version of myself,” if i could to get in a physical altercation with myself from 10 years ago, I am pretty confident a present-day version would come out on top. Other factors such as knowledge, experience, and jadedness would come into play on this one. Taking this thread a little further, if i were to play the most dangerous game with myself of 10 years ago, I still think today’s version would win.

This internal comparison caused me to look at people I know. A lot of my friends were in great shape when they soldiered beside me many years ago. It’s sad because more than a few of them have up clearly declined from that level since then, and I have noticed that the slide into has-been status correlates with a decline in socioeconomic status.

Buying big trucks with deployment money is no longer an option for some. Whether one causes the other, I do not know, it just correlates. Some of my friends have been able to maintain or exceed what they were in the past and their success also correlates with a higher socioeconomic status.

What can one do to avoid the slide into has-been status? First thing that comes to mind is the obvious: continue doing what put you into shape in the first place and not stop. Second, avoid poisoning your body by smoking and drinking. Eating at McDonald’s won’t really help improve yourself. A cut flower will always die, no matter how often you change the water the vase.

A lot of people think they were heroes in their own time. Even more think they are still heroes in their own mind. Stop and think about whether the accomplishments you brag about seem to be in your distant past, and if so, what direction you are heading in. Could you kill a past version of yourself?

Read More: Self-Improvement Is Not Just For Young Guys