Strength and Honor: Why a Strong Nerd is the Best Nerd


“Strength and Honor.”

Young or old, big or small, being strong is the best attribute you can give yourself. Just as Maximus Decimus Meridius tells his army in the movie, Gladiator, there’s a true sense of honor that comes with being strong.

Back in high school, when I was cut from the basketball team – mostly because I sucked, but also because I was weak – I signed up for a gym membership to get strong. Maximus taught me there was honor in strength, and I wanted it.

Thus began my torrid love affair with strength training. Here I am, twelve years later, more enamored with being strong than ever before.

Whether you’ve never done a push up or you live to deadlift, you plan on running a marathon, or you simply want to be a better parent to your kids, being strong is the best gift you can give yourself.

It needs to be part of your existence as a nerd, and I am going to tell you why.

Strength lets you take back control


“I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect.” – Henry Rollins.

As Nerd Fitness began, a friend shared an article with me by the musician and fitness fanatic Henry Rollins. I think I read it three times straight, and have re-read it monthly ever since.

Iron and the Soul” is one of the best, most amazing things I have ever read when it comes to fitness, and I highly encourage you to take 5 minutes now to drop what you’re doing and read it.

I’ll wait 🙂

Done? GREAT. Although strength training is the best tool we have that can help us transform physically, it’s the mental challenges and changes that come along with strength training that truly make it an absolute staple for human existence.

Strength training teaches us about ourselves. What we’re capable of. Where our weaknesses are. What we can overcome with persistence, practice, and patience.

If life is great, or if it sucks, it’s easy for us to blame it on anything and everything – and most people do. Strength training teaches us that obstacles and set backs are merely things to be overcome.

And let’s be honest – we’re all nerds – we’re were the ones that got pushed around at school, on the playground…and maybe even still today in the office! We don’t really fit in, and although we’re taught as children to think for ourselves, why does it feel like being ourselves is frowned upon once we grow up?

Welp, you know who else is weird?

Thor.  That’s right. THOR.

You know who doesn’t fit in?

Katniss Freaking Everdeen.

You know who feels like he probably doesn’t belong?

Captain EFFIN America.

Yup, these people are weirdos who don’t belong among regular folks. They’re also badasses and super strong. They’re also in charge of their own destiny, and I know that goes hand in hand with being strong.

Strength training teaches us that we alone are in charge of the results we expect to get out of life. Nobody can lift the weight for us; there’s nobody to blame if we don’t get that job, and there’s no excuse that can change what’s happened.

Once we understand that our transformation is 100% in our hands, we can get to work picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and being better. 

It’s easy to feel like the deck is stacked against us – that everything is going wrong –  that we have lost control and things are falling apart. My best advice for you is: Get strong.

Everything that has gone wrong might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility – so focus on fixing one thing in your life that you have 100% control over.

Strength Changes YOU and your outlook on life


In every success story we’ve ever shared on Nerd Fitness, there’s something amazing that happens when the person gets strong.

As they developed strength, they started to build confidence.

And once they proved to themselves that they could transform their physical situation, they started looking at other areas in their life that they wanted to fix. Full of confidence and a sense of personal responsibility, they get to work on fixing other parts of their life or attacking challenges they never thought they’d be able to:

  • Saint got in shape for his wedding, then changed jobs and built his own app company – designing our entire Paleo Central app!
  • Staci got in shape and got strong, and now works full time for Nerd Fitness.
  • Anthony dropped 200 pounds, and then moved cross country, took his dream job and started dating after years of lacking the confidence to try.
  • Bronwyn lost a ton of weight, and now competes in freaking powerlifting meets!

In every situation, a Nerd Fitness Rebel focused on fixing one thing: getting stronger and eating right. As a result, they built momentum and then asked themselves “What’s next?” Strength training become a part of who you are – not a 90 day plan, but a LIFE plan. So, it’s no surprise it was easy for them to adopt and apply those same principles to any other obstacle in their life.

“I got a little bit stronger and more confident each day; why don’t I try that same tactic with [aspect of my life that I want to improve]?”

Strength training will change you at the most fundamental level. Just as it changes how your cells deal with energy (“use to build strength” vs. “store as fat”), so too will it change how your brain attacks obstacles.

Get strong, and old roadblocks start looking like mere speedbumps.

Strength Makes Life Easier


A strong nerd is a healthy nerd.

No matter what activity you are trying to accomplish today, be it strenuous or mundane, being strong will make it easier, guaranteed. Strength training improves how our muscles, joints, tendons, and bones all operate more efficiently with each other.

  • Carrying groceries in from the car and up a flight of stairs? Do it in one trip.
  • Wrestling with your kids in the back yard? Give them piggy back rides without worry.
  • Playing ultimate frisbee? Jump higher, run faster, stay injury free.
  • Is it “business time“? Leave your socks on, and go for longer.
  • Running a marathon? Strength training will help you stay injury free, improve your time, and give you an extra boost on ‘heartbreak hill.’

As we pointed out in our article about becoming antifragile (my favorite concept of 2014), our bodies work with a “use it or lose it” system. When we don’t strength train and push our muscles and bodies beyond the comfort zone, they get complacent and actually atrophy.

When we use our bodies and muscles regularly in increasingly challenging ways, previous exercises that used to tax us are suddenly no challenge:

  • If you’re used to deadlifting 250 pounds, then helping a friend move a couch will be a cakewalk (sorry for mentioning cake).
  • If you regularly do pull ups, then hanging from the jungle gym with your kids will make you look like super mom.
  • Hike regularly with a backpack up mountains and hills? Going for a walk with kids in a stroller will be a walk in the park (especially if you are walking through a park).

Seriously, almost everything we do suddenly becomes more enjoyable, and less strenuous as a result of strength training. Strength training improves fundamental human movements, like sitting down in a chair and getting up (squats), or bending down and picking something up (deadlifting). It’s everywhere!

The only bad part? Your friends will now be 100 times more likely to ask you for help when they need to move.

Strength Will Transform Your Appearance

barbell woman

“Appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

As I formulated the idea for what would become Nerd Fitness years ago, the movie 300 took over the internet and everybody wanted to know how the actors got in such great shape for their roles. It turns out they trained as if they WERE warriors, focusing on intense strength training with a disciplined diet.

The man who trained them, Mark Twight, said what has forever shaped how we view health and physique here on Nerd Fitness: “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

From that moment forth, how Nerd Fitness helped people get healthy was built around this foundation:

A strong body is a body to feel confident in.

We care about helping people get strong, because we know what happens to bodies that become strong – they transform, Optimus Prime style, into something that helps build self-confidence, momentum, and pride.

The best part about strength training? It teaches your cells how to deal with calories differently. If you just eat less, your body will start to pull from muscle along with fat to fuel itself. When you strength train, your body uses extra calories to rebuild those muscles, encouraging them to stay strong.

On top of that, strength training can help fix your posture! Pull those shoulders back, stand tall, look people in the eye. It’s amazing what this can do for how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you.

Strength training is the reason why these NF rebels altered their appearance (Click on their pictures for their stories):

Staci Nerd Fitness Before/After


saint transform

Before After Anthony

Athena Progress - Front

Yes, beauty is on the inside. However, strength training can help transform you both inside and out. Not only that, but it can freaking make you smarter too.

Strength keeps you younger, longer

ben before after

Age is only a number.

We all assume that as we get older, our cells deteriorate and thus we feel older. However, there’s plenty of science out there that suggests our cells deteriorate from lack of use, and thus we ‘get older.’

If for no other reason, strength training needs to be part of your future because it will keep you younger, healthier, more alert, longer.

Strength training can help negate the effects of OsteoArthritis.

Strength training helps with older folks with dementia.

Strength training helps keep you healthy by preventing falls, accidents, and other common issues as you age.

Do you think Willie Murphy feels 77-years old as a powerlifting grandma?

Do you think Gandalf feels like a 2,000+ year old wizard as he’s twirling his staff and kicking the crap out of orcs? hell no!

Age is only a number, and you are only as old as you feel:

we are designed to be strong


There’s a lot of great things that have come with the advancement of society – however, now that our survival is no longer tied to our strength, it’s no longer something ‘required’ of us.

But we are genetically designed to move. To be active. To be strong. It is IN our DNA, and it needs to be awoken if you want to become the healthiest, happiest, strongest version of yourself.

Plus, it’s in our nerd-DNA. Did you know strength training makes us smarter nerds? Memory benefits.  Less anxiety and improved cognition. Improved test scores.

I don’t care if you start with just a few push ups and squats getting up from your couch. The sooner you start strength training, the sooner you can reap the benefits and retake control of your future.

I strength train because I want to find out what I’m capable of. I want to know how strong I can become. I want to set an example for all other Nerd Fitness Rebels. I want to prove to myself that with enough time and focus, anything is possible.

I strength train because I believe it’s my responsibility to become the best version of myself. Anything less than that is unused potential and a missed opportunity, and I have no desire to look back upon an existence unlived and say “what if?”

I plan on living a long time, and I know that the best way to live a long healthy, happy life, is to be strong, and push myself to become stronger. I can’t wait until my next workout.

Your turn. Why do you strength train? Leave your comment below and share it with the community!



photos source: James Jordan: Superman

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51 thoughts on “Strength and Honor: Why a Strong Nerd is the Best Nerd

  1. Great article. I’m physically fit (I’m a competitive swimmer) and I hit the pool pretty hard, and I do a lot of explosiveness training (get off the blocks/walls faster is important in our sport) but I’ve recently become obsessed with strength training. I’m a pretty scrawny kid, and i always wanted to get bigger so I could impress girls, but now I’m doing it for myself, and my performance. Not necessarily bigger… But stronger is faster, and faster is our job. So thanks for the articles, they are really my guiding force. Before that, I was blind when it came to training.

  2. This is a great article. I joined nerd fitness just over a month ago and have started strength training for the first time in my life. I can honestly say that I already feel better than I have in years. I know I have a long way to go, but I see small improvements with every work out. This boosts my confidence and lets me push harder the next work out.

  3. Thanks for this post!

    I hated any kind of athletic activity for most of my life. My family was pretty sedentary and I grew up with the impression that I was small and sickly. I’m 5’3″ and (until recently) weighed under 90lbs. Everyone (including my closest friends and family) expected me to be weak.

    A year ago I started running (and shortly after started marathon training) and doing yoga. These helped with my self-confidence, but it was frustrating that people expected running and/or yoga to be easy for me because I was skinny. That pissed me off A LOT, and kept me stuck in my “small, scrawny” mindset.

    But strength training made all the difference. Lifting, free weights, body weight stuff – it’s all awesome! I can do pull ups for the first time in my life, and I’m up to 8 minutes straight forearm plank, or 2-3 minutes with half my body weight on my back. Squats are my absolute favorite! They feel amazing and pay off when running hills and doing yoga. I can not over-emphasize what strength training has done for me physically and psychologically. The sky’s the limit 🙂

    Sorry for the novel!

  4. Strength is great, but so is flexibility. I’d like to see more NF articles on stretching and mobility exercises.

    I’d also like to see a different female role model than Katniss, who had all the psychological strength of a mouse. But that’s just me.

  5. Just like you said, I strength train to feel better. I lost a ton of weight but didn’t get fit. Now, I’m getting fit and feeling even better every single day!

  6. I love strength training but the wrestler in me also knows the importance of balanced training. Strength is just one part of fitness. There is agility, speed, endurance, and flexibility too. Each deserves some attention, although of all them endurance and strength are the too that we can most modify through our actions. I won many matches not because I was stronger than my opponent but because in the last minute or so of the match I had more gas left in the tank and could keep going. Balanced training is the key. So you can not only show up to the fight but stay in until it’s over.

  7. I strength train because I must. I have osteoarthritis in both knees, at 33. (Yeah, I don’t know why, either.) I know that in order to get my knees to STFU, I must lift and squat and make my legs strong. I’m the only adult in my household. If I want to buy that giant economy-size box of cat litter, I’ll be carrying it inside. If I want to take an old dresser out to the dumpster, that’s all me. I battle with depression, so I need exercise. Some days, the only thing that gets me out of the house is a trip to the gym, where I visualize myself knocking hit points off the Depression Monster as I lift.

    On top of those things, I strength train because it’s fun. I have not yet stopped being entertained by the fact that I can lift heavy things. It’s amusing!

  8. A few years ago, after discovering Nerd fitness, I started out with strength training. At first for selfish reasons. Looking good naked, feeling good about myself, having fun doing it… the usual. Last year, however, someone else needed me to be strong. My dog, wich I dearly loved, was diagnosed with bonecancer in january 2014. The Cancer attacked his right hindleg and after a while he could not use it anymore. He could walk a bit around the house but he could not climb stairs anymore. I have a small garden behind the house, he could do his business there, but… there were stairs. So I had to carry him up and down. He was a big dog, a Rottweiler. Almost 50 kilogramm. I was huffing and puffing of course, but I was able to do it. I would not have been able to do it a few years ago. The cancer got him eventually :(. In Summer it got worse and I had to put him down. I did not want him to have any pain. Still… if I could not have been able to carry him up and down the stairs… I don’t know, I would have found another solution, probably. If not, I would have had no choice but to put him down earlier. My strength… our strength, bought us a few more months together, I guess. Precious months. Gosh. It has been half a year and I still cannot write about it, without crying :/ 🙁

    So, I guess the moral of the story is… you never know, when one of your loved ones need you at your best. So… push yourself everyday. It might save or at least prolong a life.

  9. Been strength training for four weeks now in the six week challenge. You are my hero. This blog is slowly but surely changing my life. Thanks, I owe you so much :).

  10. So Nerd Fitness is really inspiring me to get my rear in gear. So I read this article and I think…what about cardio? Should I only focus on strength training or should I alternate days between the 2? My biggest hang up is my diet though. Really working on choosing healthier options. I know you can’t outwork a bad diet.

  11. I’m purchasing a 3-month prepaid membership to my local health club/gym today, it has an excellent free weights section and fairly knowledgeable general staff available. I knew about Henry Rollins’s activism work, but never paid attention to his stories about his fitness journey or things like that. Thanks to “Iron and Soul” and a health program at work, I think I’m onto something. I’m only going for a 3-month membership because it’s convenient, but my work is also participating in the GiveIt100 challenge, and I’m gonna incorporate the membership into my challenge entry. I’m excited. I just did a fasting blood glucose analysis, and I went from being fine to pre-diabetic in four months – I’ve gotta fix that!

    Thanks for the great articles, Steve, and for posting some other great resources.

  12. Diet is 80-90% of the battle, and “cardio” is only if you enjoy it. I love playing, going for long walks, and lifting heavy things, so that’s how I get my “cardio.” i probably haven’t run more than a mile in a few years simply because running doesn’t excite me the way the rest of that stuff listed does.

    So, get strong, go for walks, and play. But nutrition is most of the battle!!!

  13. Thank you for answering Steve! I’m really going to focus on nutrition as that is my biggest obstacle but work on strength and maybe one day they’ll both come together for me!

  14. As always, right on point. Being strong makes everything physical you do easier, helps you avoid accidents. I fell off my step ladder two days ago and just bounced back up because my knee, the one I broke five years ago and is my weaker leg, has been so strengthened by my body pump and Trx classes and I’m dropping bootcamp to take yoga because I need more flexibility and it requires upper body strength, the other thing I need work on. It’s about balance and life and living well as long as you can. Yes indeed!

  15. Hi Steve, I love your articles and use them to motivate my sister and her partner on their journey to health, as well as my own. My uncle died from complications from massive obesity, and each day I visit a care home and see frail old people. I get a daily reminder of how quickly things change and the importance of health, strength and just doing stuff before you lose your chance.

    Anyway, female role models include Modesty Blaise, Ayla from clan of the cave bear, lead females in Conan books, Jane from Tarzan, Nina from Andy McDermott series.

  16. As a kid, I was scrawny, weak and very uncoordinated (it would take me decades to learn why). I was one of those weird nerdy kids that everyone picked on in school. I did dabble in a few sports from the age of 10, but the first serious fitness work came when I played a season of football in my teens. One of the coaches was particularly tough and his focus was purely fitness (strength, speed, endurance, etc), but I found I took to that like a duck to water – the harder he pushed, the better I got. The results of that one season of football were amazing, so much so that it affected other sports I was playing quite dramatically. This was enough to make the other kids sit up and take notice, despite my nerdy ways.

    I did keep some form of sport and strength training (even joined the local gym for a while), but it wasn’t until I turned 40 that I really “got it”. I had decided to join the gym to do some strength work. At the time, it was mostly about general fitness, and I made good progress, both physically, as well as gaining the mental and social benefits of regular workouts. A couple of years later, I moved out of the city, back into the country. One of the things I quickly did was rejoin the volunteer fire service, where not only could I get back to fighting fires, but I could also resume one of the most unique sports out there – our firefighting competitions, that I had to give up nearly 20 years earlier when I moved to the city. Now my strength training has more specific goals, because our competitions demand a lot of strength and power – the hose reels we push and pull down the track (at full sprint speeds!) weigh in the order of 300 pounds.

    Strength training has enabled me to make a comeback to a demanding sport at the age of 42 (I’m now almost 47) – older than many who have retired, and still be competitive. Similarly, on the fireground, I can drag hose all day, and I recall a job where I climbed up and down several flights of stairs, before remembering I had breathing apparatus on my back. Strength training had made that effortless, despite carrying around 40 or so pounds of extra weight. I’ve learned that anything is possible with hard work, and even age is no excuse – Often the source of many jokes in the team when someone complains of old age – they’re usually younger than me, often by a considerable margin! 🙂

    I can also attest to the mental health benefits. Those closest to me know I’m more centered when I’m training regularly. It’s become an essential part of my life. I joke that I take “large doses of iron” as my antidepressant “medication”. 🙂 I also see the mental side of strength – that inner calmness and confidence.

    Oh, and I’m still a nerd, that hasn’t changed! 😀

  17. Oh, and this season is almost over, only a few weeks to the state championships. I’ve already worked out some of the areas I’ll focus on in my off season. Will be focusing more on whole body exercises like squats and deadlifts, along with targetting known trouble spots). Also want to get some speed coaching – While I have very high power and excellent strength, I’m not satisfied with my sprinting speed (i.e without any extra load) and feel I can do better, which means a focus on technique and working around my neurological quirks, which come into play at those speeds.

  18. When my doctor told me I’d never lift over 25lbs again due to a back injury, I knew it was time to strength train. My toddler was already 25lbs, and I didn’t want to be a side-lined mom. Now I can deadlift 170lbs, my doctor’s are amazed, and I have no physical restrictions. My daughter is 3.5 and I am the strong, fun mom. Losing 75 lbs was just a bonus – the strength I’ve found is way more valuable than the weight I’ve lost.

    My favorite quote on the subject is, “It’s a shame for a woman to grow old without ever seeing the strength and beauty of which her body is capable.” – socrates

    This. A million times this. I stayed overweight because I felt like it kept me safe. Now that I am strong and capable, I don’t need the weight to protect me. It’s such an amazing liberating feeling.

  19. For me, it’s so I age well. I want to be strong and fit and capable into my old age. I’m (almost) 40, and have seen grandparents and now parents ageing and having issues, and I really want to avoid all that as much as I can. I want a body that carries me through life with strength and grace, right up to the end. If I look good too, well I’ll take it 🙂

  20. Such a great article! You always manage to talk about the hard work and the dedication needed in an encouraging and motivating manner, it’s so rare! I find that a lot of sport related communication is intimidating (for a nerd who always sucked at PE), but never on NF!
    I started strength training with NF in September, my major motivation was to not be scared anymore (several friends of mine have been assaulted or mugged), but it evolved into a “personal development project” ^_^ It took me 6 months ad 3 challenges on NF, but I can now do a full push-up for the first time since I was a kid! Thanks Steve and NF team!!

  21. Oh goodness, me too. Me too. I was very confused by the Superman picture because of that…

  22. The confidence part of strength training is what really got me. I always thought I was a pretty confident person, but I was hiding behind a facade that I couldn’t throw away. Now that I’ve started strength training, I’ve really started to examine my life and take charge, because I have the confidence that I have the strength to cope with whatever happens.

  23. I really love this article and the Henry Rollins “Iron and Soul” is exactly what I needed. I strength train because it helps me understand the true identity of myself, a creative. It makes me feel that a better version of myself constantly coming out each day and in exchange gives me discipline, courage and heart to go about my day. While everything else, everybody else and circumstances can push you backwards, strength training pushes you forward.” 🙂

    “Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”

  24. I strength train so I don’t become lopsided. As a runner, my upper body can easily be weaker than my legs. I am tired of having wimpy, weakling arms.

  25. Also, Gandalf is not human, He, along with the other Istari, was “clothed” in the body of an old Man, because the Valar wanted them to guide the inhabitants of Middle-earth by persuasion and encouragement, not by force or fear. He really is a Maiar, same as Sauron and the Balrogs, only those were corrupted by Melkor… Nevertheless the article is great!

  26. I like this article. Working inside a prison, I walk into a wolves lair everyday. I’m surrounded by predators who are trying to get one up on me mentally and physically every second I’m there. I live in a gladiators world inside. I must be ready and look and fit the part. That is the only way I can come home safe every night. Thanks you for allowing me to write and thank you for inspiring me and others.

  27. I’m bringing pull ups back, what?; Them other workout don’t know how to act. I think you’re special using all that back. So turn around babe and I’ll pick up that slack.

  28. I think that’s a great approach to take Barb! I know for me, good nutrition became easier once I was exercising regularly. For me at least, the junk food just didn’t make me feel good anymore after a good workout. Good protein-rich foods and snacks help you stay full longer, feel better, and recover faster so you can do more in your next workout. They definitely feed into each other.

  29. Congratulations! Push ups are hard. Many people cannot do a single regular pushup. Your victory is not small!

  30. This was probably one of the most motivational articles I’ve read on the subject so thank you for that.

  31. I’ve been a member of Nerd Fitness for over a year. Working on my diet (mostly), working out (mostly)… Then I got fired from my job of eleven years & took a nose dive. Depression, drinking alcohol daily & eating anything that didn’t run faster than I could (& believe me, I ran very fast!) & just sitting & watching Netflix or reading. I eventually became very ill & lost twenty two pounds in under three weeks (not a diet I would recommend). Now I’m better, but can’t even squat to get a pan & then get up without holding on to the kitchen counter! This post & all the comments make me more determined than ever to work on getting strong again — & stronger than I have ever been. Thank you all for your inspiration.

  32. Great article and I think it is important that weight training helps people in more ways than appearance. I started lifting weight my sophomore year of high school because of my football coach and he said what you put in is exactly what you get out. It was and perfect lesson for life.When you said “We are designed to be strong” is true for we all have our own strengths and with training confidence increases and we become comfortable with who we truly are. Once we can accept and love who you are is when it shows that we are strong.

  33. I strength train because I want to be fit. I strength train because I want to be a DILF. But most of all, I strength train because I want my daughter’s future boyfriends to be SCARED of me.

  34. I strength train because it is a joy to see the body respond when I put the demand on it. It’s possible! I am super stoked when I grow and become capable in areas where I was once unable. The first time I did a one-armed push-up was such a happy day for me. It’s all that you say too, Steve. I agree whole-heartedly.

  35. I just found your site and read 2 articles both were great and so informative. I really enjoyed reading this one and found it so inspiring. So inspiring that as I sit here reading it I decided to start up an exercising routine. Thank you

  36. Another fantastic article, thanks Steve!
    I start my journey in Strength training this week….again! I have given up, been derailed by injury, been sidelined by chronic health problems, but I’m starting again. This time I’m starting from scratch. I’m starting VERY slow and building myself up again VERY slowly. I’m in it for the long game this time, and I WILL succeed.

    Thank you Steve and the rest of the team for all the help you provide to us.

    You guys frakkin ROCK!!

  37. Thanks for the article, strength training is actually more important than most people think, and can ward off diseases. I kinda wish more people would realise how important fitness is for our lives.

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