I am a cook. I work 12-15 hours everyday. I am surrounded by unhealthy food, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes at all hours. If you are in the restaurant industry, you’re probably surrounded by these things as well. Hell, odds are, if you’re a chef, bartender or server, you’re not just surrounded by these things, you’re probably ploughing through that shit like it’s candy. In our line of work, we make being unhealthy an art form. It’s what we do. And, let’s be honest, most of us think what we do is pretty bad ass.
I get it. I really do. We have stressful jobs. You need a drink or two or three after a day’s work.
There’s never enough time to eat properly, so your meals usually consist of handfuls of chocolate you stole off the dry storage shelves while the chef wasn’t looking.
You do drugs because you want to have a good time, to decompress or because they are just…there.
You smoke because, well, you’re addicted, but also because everybody else does it and it would be hard to stop even if you wanted to, which usually you don’t, because, uh, its just how you roll.
Like I said, I get it.
So, for convenience sake, let’s just assume we are all, by normal people’s standards, alcoholic, drug abusing, sleep deprived wanna be rockstars, ok? Let’s just assume we are all going to be like that for ever and ever, fuck what the haters say. YOLO.
Fine. But here’s my case for at least trying to stay active. Here’s why I think that if the only form of exercise you do consists of lifting a shot of mescal into your face, you’re hindering your ability to do your job properly, to develop strong relationships and to live your life with confidence and energy. Here is why I workout.
Most people in the industry who hear that I work out 4-5 times a week usually either ask “How do you have time for that?” or “What’s the point?”. Well, my answer is this: I make time for it because for me there is a big point to it. And the point is quality of life.
Let’s look at my two preferred methods of staying fit: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and weight training. On a physical level, Jiu Jitsu keeps me flexible and maintains my cardio at a decent enough level that if that zombie apocalypse ever comes, you best know I’ll be able outrun those fools (unless they are the super fast ones).
The weight training I do gives me real, functional strength. It gives me increased joint mobility. It tightens my core. It improves my posture. It trains and strengthens my entire nervous system.
These are things that all people, but especially those that work in our industry, can benefit from. How many chefs do you know with stooped shoulders, a quasi-hunchback or chronic back pain? How many people have you worked with who have injured themselves putting away deliveries because they were too heavy or lifted up improperly? How many servers have you met who complain of joint pain and muscle stiffness? I think you get my point.
In the end, though, and I think a lot of people who take exercise seriously would agree with this, the physical benefits of training are far outweighed by what it does for you mentally, even spiritually.
Let’s look at Jiu Jitsu. On the surface what I get is a great workout that also happens to double as a means of self defence. Sweet.
But really, this is what it gives me: confidence, humility, tranquility under pressure, the ability to face defeat and hardship and always, without failure, get up, learn from what I have done wrong, and keep marching forward with an increased respect for myself and those around me.
It’s inevitable you learn these things when every time you get on the mat, you discover something new, you get put into uncomfortable, sometimes frightening situations, you get beat up/beat people up, you get pushed to your physical and mental limits.
Weight training serves much the same purpose. This is especially the case with my favourite lifts: squats and dead lifts. These are exercises that engage the entire body and enable you to lift the maximum weight possible for the longest period of time. This means they can make you suffer like nothing else. And, really, that is what it’s all about.
When you are in your final set and you are going for those last few reps, and you are trying to maintain perfect form, and your legs are screaming and you’re shaking, and you feel like maybe, if you accidentally shift to the left a few centimetres you might just soil yourself, but you still push through and you finish your rep and you rack the weight and you’re light headed and in pain, I’m telling you, you enter a very special place. I’m talking some Rocky Balboa at the top of the stairs meets the Dalai Lama floating on some clouds type of shit.
After the workout, you are destroyed physically but you are happy. You are purified of the stress that has snuck into you over the last few days of work. You know that nothing you do for the rest of the day is going to be as hard as what you just did. This gives you confidence and energy. You are content, you are peaceful.
This is why I work out.