The Secret benefit of being lean. The lesson of Lumphini Park Bangkok

It was hot.  Everywhere was hot, and there was no escape from it.  We had heard the elevated trains were not hot, so we went out to search for said trains.  We found them and they had air conditioning.  On the train it was cool again, but only for a few moments until your stop.  The tropical wind hit you as soon as you stepped off the train.  The smell was an assault on the senses.  The smell could be overwhelming to the foreigner, and we were foreigners.  All Asian countries have a certain smell, and i learned that exhaust mixed with street food characterizes Bangkok, Thailand.  My brother and I were “in country” for a few days and we wanted to lift some weights.  Our trusted Lonely Planet guided us to Lumphini Park, an outdoor workout wonderland. Lumphini park weight area was to be visited before the sun was too hot, and a few tons of iron was to be our breakfast.

The weights were old. Even at 10am the place was hot.  It was perfect.  At that time of day there were few men pounding the rusted iron weights, but those men that were there were well built. Years of heavy lifting in a hot environment had created strong men.

A single visit entry was 50 cents.  The air was hot and the company was good.  My brother and I noticed weights feel heavier in the tropics.  The days training went well and it was chased by a perfect post workout nutrition…a cold beer.  Over this beer it was soon decided that we would begin each of our days in Bangkok at Lumphini Park before the sun rose too high in the sky (no watches allowed on vacation).

It was sometime during that first workout that we noticed an older gentlemen that had quietly slipped into the gym.  By the time i had noticed him he had produced a sheen of sweat and was deep into his exercise of choice for the day, barbell squats.  He was very well developed from decades of lifting and easy aerobic exercise.  His shoulders were sculpted, as was his midsection.  He was thick and dense from heavy weight lifting. He carried himself with the grace and agility of a cat.  He was the finished product of sensible and systematic weight training.  We watched him out of the corner of our eyes.

Lazzaro was born in Italy but had been around the world.  When I asked him his profession he just shrugged and said “business man”.  Each new year saw him spending half his time in Thailand.  He lifted weight 3 to 4 times per week.  He was 53 years old.  When we got to the topic of diet our conversation went like this,

Me: Your in great shape for your age. Tell me, what do you eat?

Lazzaro: I don’t know. I never think about it

Thats when it hit me.  It was like being hit with a silver bullet to my brain.  After years of thought I had finally understood in one second the secret benefit of being lean.

People with a remote interest in fitness and health usually aspire to get lean and maintain that condition. They may also assume that reaching a satisfactory or awe-inspiring condition will elevate their lives to a new level. Much like people assume that winning the lottery will make their lives indefinitely better in just about every aspect.

I’m not different in this regard.  Of course at the time I wasn’t very lean at all. I had goals to get lean and had begun to work towards them. According to all successful business advice its best to model yourself after those you wish to emulate.  This man had just told me that he didn’t think about what he ate!

It was in that moment that it dawned upon me what the real benefit of being lean is. That is, lean enough for you to be completely content and happy about your physical condition.

Are you ready? Because I’m about to reveal to you something that is rarely talked about. Something few people might not understand before they’ve been through the same experience.

The secret benefit of being lean is that it’s an immense time saver.

Be honest with yourself: if you’re on a diet, you spend a fair amount of time thinking about it. Being perfectly content saves up an astounding amount of mental energy. Gone are the worries, doubts and obsessions about diet, weight and all other issues pertaining to reaching your goal. The itch is gone. No need to scratch it anymore.

But that void needs to be filled with something. You will suddenly rediscover new interests and hobbies . Don’t fill the void with more training*. Fill it with reading, family, friends or whatever you like. Learn to be content once your ultimate goal is reached. Set new goals**, but learn to accept slower, gradual progress.

* Guys have a tendency to fill the void with more training in order to pack on more muscle once they consider themselves done dieting. If they’re not dieting, they’re training themselves into the ground.

Relative strength should be the goal after achieving your lean goal. Progress in relative strength is in my opinion the best measure of lean muscle gain while maintaining low body fat.

What’s the lesson here?

After my experience, I tend to view fitness related goals as means to self-improvement, not happiness. Setting goals and conquering them leads to a sense of achievement and it teaches you things about yourself. If your “itch” is to achieve and maintain an extraordinary physique, getting there will make you a better person. But not for the reasons you might initially think. If the goal is of particular importance to you, as it was for me, it frees up an immense amount of time once the goal is reached – time that can be spent on improving yourself in other areas of life.


-Special thanks to

Jungle GymComment