Physically fit individuals – not just lean and muscular – are true warriors who stop at nothing in order to see their programs through. But, what is their secret weapon? What is it that separates them from the Average Joes? It goes without saying that exercise technique, training programs, diet, muscle recovery, and the number of hours spent in the gym determine your fitness results. This may or may not be enough, though. There are certain things that can help you predict the outcome of your efforts, even before you step into a fitness arena. You are either prepared to fight tooth and nail for something, or you’d better accept the bitter odds. So, do you wish to be in the shadow of towering titans your whole life or walk among with them as an equal?

Rites of passage

The traditional measures of success have proven ineffective, and there is only one foundation upon which physical greatness can be built: mental toughness. Take the example of an exhausting gym routine. Yes, your body composition can be of help, but it is not worth a dime when the goal is to arrive at the point where your body begs for mercy. The flames of muscle hypertrophy are the forge in which mean muscles can be crafted. Strongmen have taught us that, as well as how to perfect our technique and build impeccable determination. Yet, even their potency pales in the presence of people who are thrown into the pit of pain as mere boys.

The Rift Valley in Kenya is the birthplace of many elite marathon runners, presenting the greatest concentration of athletic talent in history. This is the result of the prowess which was bred into the tribe of Kalinjen over centuries, and their very unique tradition of “pain practicing”. Their manhood rituals revolve around one thing, and one thing alone: enduring a great deal of pain. So, if your hardships seem intimidating, check this out: boys about the age of 15 first have to crawl naked through African Stinging Nettles, and then go through a beating with sticks on the ankles, as well as some squeezing of knuckles. That is not all, because the final part involves wiping the acid from the said nettles on their genitals.

Some versions of the ritual include one ultimate torment. Namely, mud is cracked on the face and allowed to dry. What follows is a circumcision carried out without any anesthesia or surgical instrument, only sharp sticks. This may sound barbaric and cruel to many people, but these practices are the reason why Kalinjen are able to withstand tremendous amounts of pressure and pain. Compared to them, we look like lesser mortals, squealing on the first sign of muscle soreness. This extraordinary story implies that the way you are raised and grow up has a great impact on your fitness prospects.

Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way saying you should expose yourself to pain on that scale. The point I am trying to make is that the path to success starts unwinding beneath your feet at a quite young age. If you start engaging in physical activity as a youngster, chances are your body will be predisposed to greatness. On the other hand, if you have spent your childhood in an overly protective environment, you will simply have to kick it into a bit higher gear, nothing more. Your body will quickly get the hand of being more active – it is your mind that you have to train to succeed.

Growing pains

The above mentioned extreme also proves that pain tolerance is one of the best predictors of success. We, western men, have been taught to avoid pain, both the physical and mental kind. Yet, it is also true that people go through great lengths to make up for the lack of physical trials and many of them are able to attain the most ambitious goals. They discover that pain is your twisted companion, the monster lurking in the shadows of your own doubts and fears. Still, once brought to light, pain becomes a great ally, showing you the way ahead and warning you of potential pitfalls.

Thus, you must be able to mute the voices telling you to stop until you are on the verge of dropping dead. Psyche yourself up if need be, and do that extra set. It’s all in your head after all – and you can teach yourself to focus on the progress, and not on the pain. Hell, there are Buddhists out there who truly feel no pain. You don’t have to get there – all you need to learn is to get through that extra set. For example, I am a runner. And there were times when I was in that magical place between a complete rookie and a seasoned veteran. I could run my laps with ease, but was not yet into beating my own records every single day. Then I decided to go the extra mile, literally. If you have ever run long distance, you know that it is a lonely business. Nothing but your mind and your legs. And there is a point when your mind starts whispering little challenges into your ear. Stop now – you are tired. You will never make it any further. This is as far as you go, buddy. The end of the road is near. This is the point when you either give up, and never finish a marathon, or the point where you spit in the voice’s face and speed up a fraction. Once you cross that threshold, the pain becomes a thing of the past. I know it sounds ludicrous, but it is true – it is worst just before you get to the finish line.

Still, getting a serious injury would defeat the whole purpose, which is why you also need to know your limit and when to listen to your body and its signals. Injury and soreness are indications you might have gone overboard or neglected the importance of proper rest and recovery. Even predators realize when the time to lick their wounds is. Learn to listen to the signals your body is sending you. If you think you are seriously about to collapse and that no amount of self-coaching can get you through – don’t force yourself to injure yourself.

Warrior within

A lessons that can be learned from our African daredevils holds value in other areas of life as well. Saying that today, anyone can succeed and make it to the top is only half-true, and often a misleading notion. For example, studies have confirmed that intelligence and self-confidence serve as a superior predictors of professional success, much more reliable indicators than things like education, family, etc. It is incredible how internal psychological strength allows us to acquire tangible benefits such as sculpted body or material wealth. All of us start out from a different place in life – some have to climb higher in order to reach what is merely the first hurdle for others. Getting a head start does not a race winner make – in fact, those with more experience in climbing can often outperform their more fortunate combatants.

Personal motivation, identification and the meaning you give your goals are the things that make a real difference in any arena you chose to enter. Add a high level of testosterone-fueled confidence and aggressiveness, and fortune should smile upon you. Hence, you either have it in you or you do not. All other things like social capital and sheer luck have a marginal influence compared to what are you prepared to do in order to live the kind of life you crave for. The pain and suffering do not mark the end of the road. And until we have some life left in us, we have to stand like a man. So, stick to your guns, do not hesitate to shoot from the hip, and never fire blanks.

Unleash the best

Without mental stamina or proper upbringing, people easily decide to throw in the towel, and never reach the goals they have set for themselves. You do not want to fall at that hurdle too, do you? If the answer is no, you have to show an ability to persevere, and set discomfort and pain aside. Snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and never despair over your current predicament. Unleash the inner monster and nail that gym routine. Every single day. Perseverance is what distinguishes the boys from the men. Getting through to the other side is what will teach you who you are and what you are capable of. If you are not able to go into overdrive, and never say die, you will be replaced by the stronger and more determined. Kalijen-type stoicism might be out of reach for people enjoying too much comfort of the capitalistic society, but these champions should serve as a guiding light whenever you find yourself dwelling in the dark corridors of pain and suffering.

About The Author

Mathews McGarry is passionate about many forms of strength training, and has spent years lifting, dragging and flipping all manner of heavy objects. After graduating from the Faculty of Health Sciences, he started writing about his experiences, and sharing tips for a better life.

You can contact him at –


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Chad Howse

Chad’s mission is to get you in the arena, ‘marred by the dust and sweat and blood’, to help you set and achieve audacious goals in the face of fear, and not only build your ideal body, but the life you were meant to live.

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