All Spartans know how to get stronger. They make a plan, run the trails, hit the gym, and work together on progress. But true strength is being reinvented by one man: Zach Even-Esh. In his grassroots movement with big consequences, strength identity starts and ends with application.
“It doesn’t matter if you can do the most burpees, run the fastest mile, or deadlift the heaviest weight,” begins Even-Esh, “true strength has to transcend the gym walls. If you can’t take the grit from your training and apply that to life, you’re not really strong.” In the world of Zach Even-Esh—strength guru, coach, trainer, educator, and author—being strong in the gym means nothing if it doesn’t have a practical purpose in life.
“Humans have to get stronger about their circumstances,” says Even-Esh. “Someone loses a job and says, ‘Nobody’s giving me a job.’ They lie on the couch and collect unemployment. They don’t want to go and earn it. This is how I apply that to training: strength doesn’t care about gender or race or socioeconomic status. You have to go and earn it.”
How to Earn True Strength
“Since the beginning for me, even in my early days as a wrestler, every workout has always been a mental challenge. The bottom line is if you think you can do eight reps . . . you do 10.” Strength for Even-Esh is more than training, more than gains, and more than progress from a pamphlet. It is the mental fortitude and toughness to do the part of the workout that is necessary to get better, when that might be the last thing you want to do. It’s in the margins of discomfort that we actually improve.
A Local Movement
What’s next for the future? A tsunami of youth that is educated, prepared, and trained properly to embrace a strength-based mind-set: one that sees physical gains and psychological improvement simultaneously. “Being back at schools, coaching and teaching. That’s what I’m doing,” says Even-Esh. “Youth, more than ever, need training for life, and that happens when they get strong. The teachers in place in most cases are not highly qualified to deliver all facets of strength: mental, physical, and psychological.”
The origin of this transformative mission was not out of convenience; it was out of necessity: “I owned two gyms (one in the town I live in, Manasquan, New Jersey, and one in Scotch Plains), both private, pay-to-play situations,” Even-Esh shared. “We were finding that good student athletes were leaving our gyms to take mandatory weightlifting classes at their school. It was simply a case of going to the source to help them achieve unanimous strength.”
The process was about maintaining this strength for a lifetime of success. “Early on, it was helping individual athletes achieve all conference, or all state, and these students were dropping out of college sports teams, or as soon as they reached college, they wouldn’t continue,” said Even-Esh. That wasn’t good enough. Zach saw that students needed to be toughened up across the board to be able to handle the rigors of life. “These days students won’t go outside if it’s too hot. They’re taught that everyone can earn trophies, but they don’t understand the process to really be successful . . . to really achieve and use their strength. The goal is to start local, then go state-level, and then national. It starts and ends with the youth. I have this obligation to make it happen. And that’s the bottom line.”
The Bottom Line Is Available for Spartans, Too
How can Spartans step in to follow in the misson? “I think Spartans absolutely need to find a way to pay it forward. Don’t just coach a sport. Create some training that challenges young people to discover who they really are. You don’t need to start your own gym, but look at the recreation programs in town, look at your local school,” says Even-Esh.
“People fear strength. Instead of fearing it, they need to embrace it. Help someone you know; pay it forward. We shouldn’t fear the process of getting strong. You can’t give up.” Even-Esh knew that sound sport knowledge was the key to reaching young people, and that the delivery of that knowledge would pay dividends. “There are a lot of people out there trying to shut down physical education, and as Spartans we need to take this Spartan lifestyle to the youth earlier—at an early age. Comfort is the enemy. The more schools that fear things being too tough for kids (like it being too hot to exercise), or have no programs available, the less access kids will have to learning about life. We’re so afraid of strength, but strength is the ultimate gift. It would change the emotional health and mental health of so many young people nation-wide to learn it properly.”