We are now at 3,500+ articles deep in our archives, so we have decided to republish classic pieces every Friday to help new readers find some of the most timeless gems of the past. This article was first published in August 2014.
I didn’t place too much importance on physical strength when I started The Art of Manliness. While strength of character was important, physical strength was secondary. Perhaps it was partly because I founded AoM to escape the excessive fetishization and promoting of getting ripped in men’s magazines. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t in good shape at the time. We often define manhood according to what describes us best. I know this temptation well. After playing football in high school, I found that my exercise routine was less intense and more sporadic after college. This was particularly true when I was in law school. Between trying to maintain my grades and running a blog, exercise wasn’t something that was important to me.
However, over the past couple of years, lifting weights and working out has been a major part of my daily life. It all started with my 90 day testosterone experiment. I began exercising regularly to test the effects it had on my T levels. The habit lasted even after the official experiment was over. From being apathetic to exercise, I found that I now look forward to my workouts. My body was a major influence on how I felt as a man.
My research into the core masculinity provided me with a theoretical understanding about the role of strength within the ancient code of manhood. I was convinced that strength is the core of manliness and makes all other manly virtues possible.
I learned the importance of strength-building for a man’s viability over time. My bones and mind were ingrained. In today’s world, where most men work from home all day, strength may seem unnecessary. Being strong is not a disadvantage and can often be a benefit on many fronts. The most important thing is that strength is the foundation of the code for manhood. Let me tell you why.
Why Every Man Must Be Strong
One of the most important differences between men and woman is their physical strength.
The Protector role is the core of masculinity. Physical strength is its nucleus. It is the key to whether a man is able to hold his own in a fight and whether he can push back when challenged. This is how we humans judge manliness. It doesn’t matter if you call it stupid, silly, or archaic. But it all comes down to how we judge men. Could they keep the perimeter alive in a crisis. Even though we live in peace now, it doesn’t change the fact that women and men alike — even the most advanced — find men who look physically fit and strong more respectable, authoritative and attractive than those who aren’t. Lifting also increases testosterone, which is the lifeblood and strength of masculinity. You should build your body if you want more masculinity and to be treated as such.
Strengthening your mental and physical health is key.
Obesity is a killer. Exercise and lifting your T (which includes lifting weights) will keep your body in good health and fight depression. Do you need more?
Physical strength is practical and can be used to prepare for any emergency.
Strength is still a valuable asset even in a safe suburban environment. I want to feel strong enough to rescue someone from a burning house and save their lives. I also want to be able lift heavy mulch bags around my home. I want to be able put an attacker to the ground.
In a way, strength can be classified as an antifragility-increasing redundancy: most of the time we can rely on our tech and tools to get the job done for us, but you never know when you’re going to need to get down in the dirt, and when you do, you’ll be glad to be able to call upon your bodily strength. The most basic struggle is what remains after all else has been removed. It’s muscle against nature and muscle against muscle.
Physical strength is essential for a life of excellence and full flourishing.
Too often, we see strength-building as something that is for weak cads.
Many great men, including writers, philosophers, statesmen, and writers, have rejected this false divide and stressed the importance of developing mind, body, and soul. A strong body is essential for any man to be able to fully develop all his virtues.
This truth is likely familiar to you. Theodore Roosevelt transformed a sickly boy into a virile, strong manhood. His father told him that he had the mind but not the body. Without the body, the mind can’t go as far as it should. TR said, “You must make your body.” He continued to do so for the rest of his life, boxing, swimming, hiking, hunting, and wrestling until his death.
You may not be aware that Winston Churchill was almost the same story as him. William Manchester, his biographer, describes his transformation.
He was a sickly, uncoordinated, weakling with pale fragile hands and the voice of a girl. He was beaten, mocked, and pelted with cricket balls. He was frightened and hid in the nearby woods. This was not the stuff gladiators dream of. His only weapons were his unconquerable will, and his incipient feeling of immortality. . .
Churchill set out to alter his biology from the age of seven. Anthony Storr, an English psychiatrist and author Human Aggression concluded that Churchill set out to change his nature at seven years old. However, everything we know about human motivation shows the enormity of his task. W. H. Sheldon identified three dominant physiques with their associated personality traits. The three categories–ectomorphic, mesomorphic and endomorphic–Churchill fell into the third. His head was large, his limbs were small, and his stomach was tumescent. His chest was also small. He was so sensitive to his skin that he would break out into a rash when he didn’t sleep naked in bed at night under silk sheets. He could only wear silk underwear on his skin by the next day. Endomorphs are known for being predictable, lazy, calculating, easygoing and predictable. Churchill was not one of these. Churchill was not one of these. He changed his emotional constitution to be more athletic, and projected the image of a brave, indomitable bulldog.
He was discouraged at times. He wrote in 1893, “I am cursed with such feeble a body that I can barely support the fatigues….” But he was determined to be as tough as any mesomorph. He nearly died while jumping from a bridge in his teens during a game tag. He fell almost thirty feet and remained unconscious for three days. He fell steeplechasing again at Aldershot and again at Bombay when he was disembarking. His shoulder was permanently damaged and he continued to play polo with his arm tied to his side for the rest his life. He contracted pneumonia as a child. The rest of his life he suffered from chest problems. He was an allergic to anesthetics, and he occasionally developed boils. He refused to accept human weakness. He was not willing to make concessions to weakness in his inner world. He never complained about fatigue. He flew to war councils overseas in his seventieth years, sprawled on a tick mattress on the floor a World War II bomber. . . He will be remembered in the darkest hours of freedom as its champion, but he will always be remembered as a man.
Churchill and TR knew that they couldn’t spend their lives reading books and unable to grow their minds to the highest level. They would have to be able to travel and broaden their minds, as well as their physical capabilities, to prove their leadership skills in real life. They would be able to get where they needed to go and perform well in their field if they had a strong body. They would not have been able to achieve or become all they achieved without their physical strength.
If you want to reach your full potential, it is a good idea to follow the example of these men and to seek out what the ancients called mens Sana in Corpore Sano: A sound mind in an unsound body.
Life lessons can be learned by building physical strength.
Strength-building not only gives us the physical energy we need to conquer our challenges, but also offers many metaphorical lessons. You learn about humility, resilience, and discipline through the pain and dedication that comes with working out. Henry Rollins, musician and artist sums up the importance of lifting weights in building a man’s character in his essential essay ” The Iron”.
It took me many years to appreciate the importance of the lessons I learned from Iron. It used to seem like my enemy, and that I was trying lift something that doesn’t want to be lifted. But I was wrong. Iron is the most kind thing that it can do for anyone who doesn’t want it to get off the mat. It wouldn’t be able to teach you anything if it flew up and passed through the ceiling. This is how the Iron speaks to you. It will tell you that the material that you work with will be what you end up looking like. You will always be against what you do.
It was not until my late twenties when I realized that working out had been a wonderful gift. It was through hard work and some pain that I discovered that there is no good. I learn more about myself when I’m done with a set that makes me shake. When things get bad, I know that it won’t be as bad after the workout.
I used to hate pain. But, recently I realized that pain is not my enemy. It is my call to greatness. However, when dealing with Iron one must be careful to correctly interpret the pain. Iron injuries are often caused by ego. One time, I spent several weeks lifting weights that my body was not ready for. After that, I stopped using a fork for a while. The Iron will teach you some lessons in self-control and restraint.
I’ve never met anyone who was truly strong without self-respect. A lot of outwardly and inwardly directed contempt is passed off as self-respect. It’s the idea of lifting yourself up by taking on another person’s shoulders, rather than doing it yourself. When I see men working out for cosmetic reasons, it is vanity that I see. They are like cartoon characters or billboards for insecurity and imbalance. Character reveals strength.
Our virtue is built on strength.
Strength-building not only develops one’s character, virtue, and morality but it also provides the backbone – the right framework – to help us build our moral values. A man who lacks fire and fight will find the cloak of virtue droopy and sag when it is draped over a structure lacking strength and firmness. There are many amiable men out there who are sluggish or severely overweight. They look like they would burst into tears if someone pushed them over their shoulder and wind up climbing a flight stairs. Although these men are considered nice and gentlemen, we don’t think they deserve to be treated as gentlemen or men. They are good men but they don’t excel at being men.
Our virtue is secured by our strength
We may consider a kind but weak man but not consider him manly. This is because his claim of virtue is weak if it isn’t supported by virile fortitude. If those who cultivate and hold moral principles and intellectual achievements are subjugated by those who don’t care about these higher values, what good is it? While it’s important to have values, are you ready to fight for them? You can’t really say that you are a “good husband” if you’re easily outmuscled and abused by a bad man trying to take advantage of your wife or kids.
TR said it this way:
I would like to see the citizen feel, when someone wrongs the community, when there is corruption or betrayal or violence or brutality. I don’t want him to feel harmed and horrified and to be able to go home, but to have the resolve to confront the wrongdoer, to let the person who wrongs the people know that is his superior in decency and his superior in strength.
Strength-building honors your ancestors.
To survive and reproduce, a man must have been physically strong before modernity. Our ancestors relied on their physical strength and cunning to defeat the enemy, whether they were fighting the elements or other people. Men who proved themselves in battles and hunts, were brave enough to overcome any obstacle, and who had the physical strength to bear children were the ones who could pass their genes on. The gamblers who didn’t have the prowess and strength of their peers died without children and their genes were lost forever.
This means that all of us are descended from the most powerful, intelligent, and brave men in history — the world’s greatest alpha males. It’s not difficult to conclude (as Dr. Roy Baumeister did in Does There Anything Good about Men?) the blood of greatness runs through us.
What are you going to do with your genetic inheritance?
Playing video games?
Do you want to sit all day and eat taquitos all day?
Jack Donovan, in his essay “Train for Honor” (which is included in the Sky Without Eagles), argues that our male forebears are shameful by the way we waste the physical strength they left us. Donovan writes, “Imagine how disgusting and contemptuous our ancestors would feel for us all if we lined up modern men on a street.”
We should show respect and honor to the men who have gone before us. to be strong physically so we can live and enjoy the freedoms that we have today. A deadlift is like lighting the votive candle of our male ancestors.
Strengthening your body and mind is a manly experience. . . Amazingly masculine.
It’s amazing to be able to lift a lot of weight. When I lifted 450 pounds and saw the bar bend in the mirror, it was like I had been a beast. I felt a primal sense of accomplishment and carried that feeling with my throughout the week.
It is amazing to do what your body was designed for, and what it evolved for. It is shame to live your entire life without this sensation. This truth was preached by Socrates in ancient Greece. The philosopher rebuked a young man who was in poor physical condition and said: “It’s a shame to grow old by sheer carelessness before you see what kind of man you can become by increasing your bodily strength, beauty, and endurance to their maximum limit.”
What does it mean to be strong?
Some men are not born with the physical make-up necessary to become huge and ripped. Every man can be stronger than he currently is. No matter what your interests or build, if your goal is to feel virile and strong, you must get to know the iron.
The ideal strength is a subject of much debate and has evolved over the years. Primitive tribesmen were quite thin without regular exercise and a steady supply of protein. Spartan warriors were lean. The sinewy build that comes with manual labor was often a hallmark of great-grandpa. Some men focus on their size and want to build a physique. Others are more focused on functional strength and don’t care so much about building muscle.
It doesn’t matter what your goals might be, as long as you are doing something. It doesn’t matter what your goals are, as long as you find a workout program that you enjoy, that motivates you to move and builds muscle, and that you will stick with. Even if running is your passion, strength-building exercises are essential to your routine .
However, I won’t say you shouldn’t get so big that your mobility and cardiovascular systems are compromised. I also don’t believe you should run a marathon at an acceptable pace. You shouldn’t neglect strength. Doing too many reps at once will not increase muscle mass. You will never be able to lift a log off your head.
There are many options between these extremes. Explore and discover the activities and modalities which work best for you.
The defining characteristic of masculinity is strength. It is the power that allows generations of men to provide for their families. It is the force that made our roads and bridges possible. Even though our environment isn’t demanding us to be strong right now, it’s worth working on our physical strength as it will lay the foundation for becoming The Complete Man.
Today, strive to be stronger than you were yesterday. You’ll notice a change in your body and mind if you do this, I promise.
Vires et honestas. Honor and strength.