When many people think of the benefits fitness has to offer, they envision something easily seen in the mirror or quantified in a number. It's six-pack abs, bigger biceps, weight loss, or a new PR on a lift. Or perhaps their mind goes to the health benefits fitness offers: stronger bones, improved heart health, and skyrocketing energy levels.
But that's only one level of what fitness can deliver. It can also help to build life-changing skills or keep someone moving forward when they're about to go off the rails. Just ask Steven Lopez.
Sure, this IFBB pro, EAS Myoplex athlete, and active duty Coast Guard member can lead you through the Ultimate Shoulders and Triceps Blast. But his inspirational story definitely doesn't end in the weight room.
No matter your age, background, or situation, Lopez says, fitness can help you find your way in life. Here's how.
1. Fitness Helps You Bounce Back From Tragedy
In a matter of just a few years, a young Lopez lost his father, who was a great influence on his life, and suffered a serious motorcycle crash himself. This was at an age when, he admits, he was struggling to find himself. The potential for him to turn some hard years into a hard future was clear.
But something else was clear: Like many young men, Lopez loved lifting and training. And he was good at it. Having that singular focus, and the structure that comes with it, helped this young man understand that there is always a way forward—and that way is embracing hard work.
"Am I perfect? No. I've made a lot of mistakes," Lopez recalls. "However, my goal in life is just to move forward. When you set a fitness goal, you are teaching yourself hard work and dedication. You want to accomplish that goal—period."
2. Fitness Serves as Stress Relief
"Even when I'm in the middle of the ocean, training can be my escape from reality for just a brief moment," says Lopez.
Stop and think about the last time you were training hard. Were you worrying about how you would get that project done at work on time or thinking about your upcoming bill payment? Hopefully not. No, you were most likely focused on the task at hand: pushing, pulling, moving, and finishing what you'd started.
"In that moment, the only thing that exists is yourself and the chance to become better," explains Lopez. "Fitness is a way to cope with all the negative things that might be going on around you in life. It's a form of therapy if you allow it to be."
No matter what you happen to be facing in your day-to-day life, the gym can be your safe haven. It's where stress gets released and seems to disappear, even if for just a little while. And when you do need to face the music again, so to speak, you'll often find you see things in a new light.
Sometimes, the best way to see the solution to a problem in your life is to simply have a good workout.
3. Fitness Demands and Develops Discipline
The body of your dreams isn't going to come overnight—and if it does, sorry—it's just a dream. No, you will be required to hit the gym multiple times per week for years on end to make lasting progress. Lopez has built his enviable physique over the course of 11 years of serious lifting and eating. The take-home for you is that great things don't come easy or fast. Nor should they.
"Discipline and fitness go hand in hand," says Lopez. "To be fit, you need the discipline to keep focused on your goals. Goals keep you motivated, and discipline leads to success."
Being passionate about what you do in the gym and in life is important, of course. But passion without discipline is a recipe for bad choices and disappointment. Learn to control yourself first, and what you can endure—and achieve—is limitless.
4. Fitness Connects You With Other People
Whether you train alone at home or in a packed gym, you're part of the same passionate global community. All you have to do to be a member is to want to challenge and improve yourself. It's that simple.
"Once you start to make change, you'll be surrounded by others who are also trying to better themselves as well," says Lopez. "This helps you build a strong support system that'll be there for you when you have a bad day, even if you've never met them."
In fitness, just like in life, things aren't always going to go your way. When they don't, it's crucial to have others to lean on. And then, when you're further down the road, you can do the same for someone else.
"For me, fitness a is way to give back," he says. "Seeing someone take what you've told them, and hearing 'Hey, I'm seeing changes in my body for the better,' that's what it's all about.'"
5. Fitness Expands Your Professional Opportunities
It's normal to feel like you haven't found your "true place" in this world yet. Lopez knows the feeling well—and it's part of why he gravitated toward the Coast Guard as a young man. But when he finally got onboard, he discovered that his passion for training gave him a big head start.
"They were like, 'Hey, we've got a great fit for you,'" he recalls. "I was qualified as the unit personnel health promotion coordinator."
Within days, he began working with his fellow Coast Guard members to manage their nutrition, create fitness plans, and even lead group fitness classes. What was a private passion became a professional identity.
Physical Training Is Life Training
Think the only thing the gym gives you after you leave is muscle soreness? You're sorely mistaken.
"Being passionate about fitness will allow you to make the positive changes you seek in your life," states Lopez unequivocally. "Fitness has changed my life and has made me better in all areas. It's also allowed me to be a positive example for my kids, co-workers, family, and friends and has been a way to deal with life when nothing else is going for me."
And best of all, no matter where you go in the world, from your living room to a boat in the middle of the ocean, you can find a way to train. "The weights will always be there when you need them to be," Lopez says.