How family and friends can be your fitness inspiration


After a weekend of reading answers to the question, “What was your first inspiration to start exercising and training?” I’ve noticed a trend.

Most people were initially influenced to start exercising by family and friends. Although the reasons ranged from athletic improvement, martial arts, and body image, there was also inspiration for many who saw their grandparents and parents not aging well because of their unhealthy habits.

Regardless of where they are on the exercise spectrum, most have been heavily influenced by healthy and unhealthy examples alike.

competition helps

Did your first inspiration spark a lifetime of healthy activity and fitness training?

Many remember their first push-up or pull-up challenge to see how they could do more in a single set. Some remembered their first timed run or race across a field or race across a pool or body of water. Then these evolved into weightlifting competitions with friends and peers that inevitably made each other stronger, faster, or better.

“Iron sharpens iron” is part of a Bible verse that provides a fitting explanation of the usefulness of working with others and can be a true source of inspiration to get started and keep moving throughout life.

Although we live in different cities now, some of my teenage workout partners and I still share workouts, weight loss goals, and personal records to this day. Find a partner to go on this fitness journey with you.

bodybuilding days

For many, bodybuilding began in the 1970s and early 1980s when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno competed in movies like Pumping Iron.

My personal journey began with a beginner’s bodybuilding book by Joe Weider and a 110-pound concrete weight set I got for Christmas when I was 12, both from the Sears mail order catalog. Movies like “Rocky” (workout mondays were always inspirational) and “Conan the Barbarian” launched a generation into weight training, calisthenics and martial arts.

There are many ways to get inspired, get off the couch, turn off the movie and get moving. Find yours and turn the initial inspiration and motivation into good habits that will develop into discipline and last a lifetime.

Future Marine goes to the gym with Dad

If you had family members who set a good example, chances are you attended training time with older siblings or parents. Reader Mike D. says:

“When I was 12, my father asked me if I wanted to go to the gym. I said yes sir! And he said ok here’s the deal you have to be 14 to get in the weight room so if anyone asks you have to tell them you’re 14. I was 14 for almost three years. I’m more than sure that everyone there knew that I was too young, but nobody cared.

We trained together for almost five years before I started training alone and whenever I came home on vacation during my time in the Marines we would hit the gym before he went to work. Those were some of my favorite days – training with my dad. I’m 42 now and still on the tactical side of fitness and he’s almost 70 and still staying young in the gym.

Linking physical exercise to a fond memory is another way to never want to give up your exercise.

Unhealthy elderly family members

Many were inspired by the opposite of a healthy lifestyle. When parents or elderly family members or friends are diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes or other diseases, it can give you a glimpse into your own life 20-40 years from now.

My friend Lyle changed his life after seeing family members die of diabetes and heart disease in their 50’s and 60’s by joining our local exercise group. Lyle explains:

Like many others in my family, I was diagnosed with diabetes. And having you to inspire me. And I lost 112 pounds while training with you guys. Thanks again for all the motivation and the never-quit attitude.”

Having a group or exercise partner can go a long way in helping you with the most important part of fitness in your life — being consistent, no matter why you’re exercising.

It’s never to late

Regardless of your age, you can make small changes that can bring great benefits to your life. Cliff decided something had to be done personally. He says:

“I looked at the scale and the mirror and decided that I could no longer sustain my life. I took part in a fitness challenge and lost almost 30 pounds and started eating better. It’s been a mental shift in how I want to live and inspire my children who also have weight issues. I woke up one day and didn’t say anything more.”

Objective measurements like the scale and tape measure are always brutally honest with you. Begin to do something when you see them reaching into unsustainable limits for you personally.

Otherwise, you’ll see them in other objective metrics like blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglycerides. If you have not exercised in a while and are fairly out of shape, consult your doctor before participating in any program.

Looking back, older kids in the neighborhood introduced me to lifting weights for fun. I then applied it to sports when I got into high school. Having a supportive family was a big help as converting the garage into a weight room wasn’t always the ideal option in a small house.

As I got older the journey changed to military style training which took me on a journey of not only creating my own healthy lifestyle but also helping others in theirs. Being a part of everyone’s journey to health, well-being and military achievement has been one of the most gratifying distinctions. To think that it all started with a little kid watching others train, which started it all.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness writer certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit him Fitness e-book store if you want to start an exercise program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to [email protected].

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