Bryan Fordham

Don't Skip Leg Day

There's a joke you may have heard that often comes at the expense of some guy who has spent a good bit of time in the gym. People go to the gym for a lot of different reasons, but I am fairly certain that, if you spend enough time there, you will find at least one guy who is there to only work on his upper body strength. He will likely have well-defined arms and tiny bird legs.

So what’s the joke? “Don’t skip leg day.”

Leg Day

No one (well, almost no one) likes leg day in the gym. Simply put, it tends to be boring and painful, which is a terrible combination. If you’re only concerned with your appearance, the reasoning may go, “I only care about how I look, and I’m not likely to get noticed for my strong legs. So I’ll just stay around the curl rack.” It makes sense, sort of, but does not lead to balance, and certainly doesn’t lead to overall health, which is something you think would be important to people who spend a lot of time working out.

In many ways I think this is a good metaphor for something we all tend to do. We stay with the easy or fun, and skip the fundamental work that will actually help us.

What does it mean to skip leg day in your life? There are two ways you can think about it.

The first is, "Am I only doing things that are fun or flashy?" When I was in my teens I worked with my dad during the summers doing construction. I remember getting frustrated at what I thought were mundane tasks, which is all I seemed to get assigned. I complained about it — I felt I was much more important and capable. My dad's response was, basically, "You want to do what you think is important. But I need you to do what actually needs to be done." As it happened, at that point it meant doing mundane tasks because those tasks were necessary. Not fun, not flashy, but necessary.

Sometimes this comes out as procrastination. Sometimes, it manifests (as in my case) with a general dissatisfaction with what you have to do. I've seen people avoid doing preparatory work, instead diving right into a project unprepared, because they simply could not bring themselves to do things they found boring or beneath them. In the end, though, the results you get will reflect the work you put in.

The second way you may be skipping leg day is in dealing with your weaknesses. The advice to “go with your strengths” has been floating around for years. There is some wisdom to it: If you are very good at something, it makes sense to try to build up that skill or ability, and to focus a lot of time on it.

The problem with that advice, though, is it is actually rather unhelpful. You simply cannot “go with your strengths” unless you also build up areas where you are not so strong. This will look very different for me, perhaps, than for it will for you. But no one is good at absolutely everything, and we all need to practice and hone our skills. It is especially important, however, that we do not neglect the parts we do not enjoy, or forget the areas that do not seem to come easily to us.

Being dissatisfied with mundane work, putting off what we don’t enjoy, not wanting to work on skills we struggle with — these make perfect sense. Who wants to practice something that’s not fun?

But here’s the big secret to success in any area of your life: There is no secret. You simply have to put in the work. And after a while, the part that we did not enjoy may be transformed into something we actually find joy in.

Unfortunately there is no easy, simple, or quick way to this. You have to show up, and you have to do the work. I think simply acknowledging that you are trying to avoid something goes a long way toward helping you overcome your reluctance. We have to stop making excuses before we can even begin to address the problem.

My challenge to you in this is: Pick one thing you have been putting off working on. Identify what “leg day” looks like to you. And then make a schedule for the next 30 days to work on it. It may be something you can do for 30 minutes, three times a week, for four weeks. Whatever it may look like, commit to it. And then show up and do it.

Don’t be the guy camping out at the curl rack, with arms to make Arnold proud and toothpick legs.

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