It took the spread of a deadly disease across our planet for me to start taking my personal health more seriously. And while I set out to strengthen my body, I ultimately ended up more so strengthening my mind.
I hadn't exercised for its own sake for two decades until I saw my muscles shrivel and my previously straight posture curl into itself like a question mark in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown.
What started with a pair of dumbbells has grown into a full-fledged home gym, equipped with a variety of barbells, kettle bells, resistance bands and a doorway pull-up bar.
I didn't even know what a Russian twist was a few months ago. And when I started doing them, I hated them because they were not only difficult but also hurt.
Now, I love them and do them almost every workout. They've become one of my favorites.
And I've likewise seen my first-set repetitions increase and, at best, in the case of chin-ups, nearly quadruple over the months.
I mostly use a "point of failure "approach, where a set is performed until the muscle can't complete another rep－until you absolutely can't lift your chin above the bar or press the barbell all the way up one more time. This means I keep going, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much I want to stop, until my body gives out. It's not a matter of doing it until I don't want to anymore－it's about going until I literally can't.
That's where mental toughness comes in. Your mind keeps telling you to quit before your body forces you to. You have no choice. Well, you do－you could give up at any moment－but you choose not to until you're forced.
Then, I take the number of reps I could pull off in the first set, triple it and keep doing sets until I've hit that number. Sometimes－rarely－I'll throw in an extra set or two.
While COVID was a motivator, there were many others, especially as China has become more focused on fitness in recent years.
Even before the epidemic, gym memberships, marathon running and winter sports participation－propelled in no small part by the rev up to the country hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics－have been on the rise alongside fitness-activity diversification, market research shows.
The number of gyms and customers are swelling in smaller cities, and pricier boutique fitness studios are flourishing in metropolises.
COVID, as it has coincided with recent information-technology development, accelerated an already ongoing upsurge in downloads of fitness apps, views of exercise and diet livestreams and short videos, and purchases of wearable technology.
And China's brick-and-mortar gyms are increasingly using such technologies as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and big data. These contemporary high-tech, social and market trends intersect with a traditional cultural focus on health and longevity that's venerated in ancient poems, folk tales and philosophical texts.
That said, beyond general health, I believe there's a mental toughness and discipline that many forms of exercise cultivate.
I chose resistance training for several reasons.
One is that I look at it a bit like life.
You pick up something heavy－literally, a physical weight, or, metaphorically, a responsibility, hardship or tragedy－and you bear it. You lift it. And you keep lifting it until you just can't anymore, in a way that's beyond your control to choose, continuing until your mind is no longer the limit but the corporeal world is.
It damages you. It literally rips your muscles. It makes your psyche feel like it's burning.
And that, ultimately, makes you stronger in every way.