Earn the Weekend with a Gut Check

You might be getting stronger and fitter, but are you getting tougher and more resilient? No training week is complete without a gut check.

“Everybody’s working for the weekend!” I’m a millennial, so that is the only line that I know to this popular 80’s ballad. After that line, I just awkwardly hum the melody: “na na na na na na na.”

“Everybody’s working for the weekend!” I’m a millennial, so that is the only line that I know to this popular 80’s ballad. After that line, I just awkwardly hum the melody: “na na na na na na na.”

While the “working for the weekend” approach lacks the focus to spur sustainable fitness or occupational success, it is a wonderful strategy to bust through Friday malaise. I’ve found great power in using this concept as a challenge. Don’t just work for a day off, earn it! Regardless of your fitness plan, each week should feature a gut check, and there is no better time than during the final session of the week.

The gut check has merit. It is not simply a display of bravado to tickle the ego and justify a little Clint Eastwood swagger. The gut check trains discipline and resiliency, perhaps the most essential qualities for life success while eliminating the increasingly common expectation for convenience and comfort.

Missing Toughness from Modern Life

Growing up in Texas without air-conditioning, my grandmother slept on the upstairs balcony all summer. My grandfather grew up with access to only cold showers for most of the year. Today, Roombas sweep the floor and people are shocked that my lawn mower is not self-propelled. Voice command, sock-sliders, back-up cameras, and a culture built on convenience conspire to leave us physically brittle and less resilient. We absorb conveniences unthinkable a generation ago, so much that their removal would feel like the cruelest injustice. Each rise in living standards establishes a new set point for conveniences we would feel oppressed to live without. This normalizes our bizarre luxury and can make us soft, feeble, and unhappy.

Luxury is not a new concept to humanity. The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote of the need to practice resiliency in a world prone to abundance, over-indulgence, and entitlement. He instructed that:

It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence. In days of peace the soldier performs maneuvers, throws up earthworks with no enemy in sight, and wearies himself by gratuitous toil, in order that he may be equal to unavoidable toil. If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.

Life is difficult, particularly when doing passionate and fulfilling work. Those who do not train their mind and body are doomed to fates of regret, self-pity, physical incapacity, and limited impact. The discipline, resiliency, health, and emotional balance necessary for optimal living are all trainable.

Training to Be a Hero

Limited experience with discomfort causes you to exaggerate your own plight. This leads toward self-interest over heroism. Capacity for heroism is necessary for our own happiness. As Sebastian Junger explains in Tribe, “Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary.” We become necessary through competency built on discipline.

Photo by Bev Childress

Our greatest societal aim should be to create people capable of and inclined towards heroism. This is impossible without training resiliency and an ability to delay gratification. Willpower is trainable and proves to be the greatest determinant of success and fulfillment. Delayed gratification means the ability to put up with discomfort. A relative concept, discomfort lies on a continuum from mild to extreme.

“The things that hurt, instruct.” – Benjamin Franklin

Much of health simply requires the discipline to persistently enter mild discomforts: taking a walk first thing in the morning and making a smoothie, rather than snoozing the alarm and picking up Chik-Fil-A. However, we must also train a capacity for thriving through more extreme hardships.

Typically, fitness success means avoiding extremes and committing to a sensible, long-haul approach. Yet, with more experience, we benefit by training our willingness to enter into a “Gut Check.”

The Gut Check

A weekly gut check trains the toughness required for those inevitable times that life demands true force of will. It teaches us a great deal about ourselves through intense trial. It creates an iron will, resilient to whatever the world throws its way and capable of great action when necessary. There will be times in our life that demand great courage– conscious decision to enter real pain for a greater value- whether that means social criticism for standing up for a cause or the ability to ignore pain to help others in a crisis.

For happiness, self-worth, and fulfillment, there is nothing better than a weekly gut check. You build the ability to take action and be the person you want to be rather than an impulsive, weak-minded child of the smartphone age. The gut check requires you to stare pain in the face and run towards it. It trains the ability to decide that five minutes of pain is worth becoming who you want to be.

You’ll feel a pit in your stomach when you think about the task ahead. A barrage of thoughts will invent reasons to skip it. Then, you’ll have to confront disappointing yourself. You’ll know that you’ll have failed if you do not make it happen. The entire day you’ll operate in the shadow of your own mental weakness.

Our Choices Define Us

We know what we have to do. Rachel Hollis, author of Girl, Wash Your Face (I promise, my wife told me about this), frames this as never breaking a promise to yourself. I’ve always favored my high school football coach’s directive: “99% is a wimp.” Regardless, the message is clear: plan the gut check and execute. You are capable. Do it for yourself.

Why We Need a Gut Check

Consider the intense luxury of the modern world. We fly to different cities, have access to more information than we could ever process, and experience tastes, comforts, and entertainment that most humans in history would have ever thought possible. The weekend offers these luxuries in even greater abundance. Earn them.

Privilege must be earned. No juice is sweeter than the juice you squeeze. Delayed gratification and earned privilege let us fully appreciate our comforts.

Photo by Bev Childress

Creating Your Gut Check

So, what do you do now? My premium programs always end the week with a challenging metabolic day, but you might prefer to focus on one big finale. Maybe it’s 500 jump ropes or a weekly Tabata front squat. It could be timed 400-yard repeats. Author of Original Strength, Tim Anderson told me he does a 1-mile bear crawl. Training for the RKC, I discovered the brutal five-minute snatch test. Now, each week I do as many 1-arm kettlebell swings as possible in five minutes. The US Secret Service selection process features a 10-minute kettlebell snatch test to take things to the next level.

Approach all gut checks with the same progressive mindset as any other training. I do not recommend the Secret Service test or high repetitions of anything for which your form is not perfect. Regardless of your level and experience, there is a weekly challenge for you. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to earn the weekend.

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