Zach Even-Esh

One Man’s Journey To Find His Driving Force, Heart & Mental Toughness

Jim - pushup wih 55# rucksack

Guest Post by Jim Thompson

Working in the fitness industry I see vast differences in people’s attitudes regarding how they approach training, but there is one commonality among most of them; people train for the physical benefits and wouldn’t train if these benefits didn’t exist.

People want to be thinner, healthier, or more attractive. They want to improve upon themselves, or maintain the level of fitness they currently possess in order to continue to participate in activities at the same level. They want longevity and quality of life.

These are all good, valid, commendable reasons to train.

Whatever motivates you, right?

Then there are those of us who train, and train hard, simply for the sheer love of it.

Sure, we reap the benefits afforded us through our training, but that is not what impels us. Without these physical benefits we would do it anyway, because for us, every day is training day.

So what is the driving force behind gut wrenching, suck embracing, vomit inducing training sessions?

What causes a small minority of us to love to train so hard that, although every fiber in our bodies tells us we are finished and have nothing more to give, we dig deeper and push harder to then complete the entire second half of our training session?

What motivates us to do more, give more, be more, day in and day out, and to love every excruciating, glorious minute of it?

Can we instill in others this desire to so fervently embrace the suck? Can this be developed or is it innate?

In my personal experience, there are two components that play into this kind of training.

The most significant component is mental toughness.


There are many characteristics of mental toughness, without which an individual likely could not, and certainly would not, push himself/herself beyond what are seemingly the body’s limits.

It takes resiliency, adaptability, a high tolerance for physical and emotional pain, intense focus, courage, an unwavering determination to achieve a goal, and resolute self-belief in order to be able to hit a wall and then knock that wall to the ground and keep going.

The second component is what people refer to as “having heart”.

Realistically, having heart is probably a sub-component of mental toughness. But this is where, for me, the sheer love of training comes in.

I honestly can’t pinpoint what it is exactly that motivates me to train hard.

I grew up on a ranch and spent my childhood doing hard work, dragging 80# hay bales with a hay hook from the time I was 9 years old until I left home. I played sports, but couldn’t do anything until my chores were done.

I actually hated almost every minute of the ranching work, but it instilled in me a strong work ethic and helped me develop mental toughness. The days were hot and long and the work was hard, but my family’s livelihood depended on us all working; even with hay fever I did my part, because that’s what we had to do. I loved sports though, the competition, the camaraderie, the exhilaration felt after an exhausting workout. The gym, the field, the court… those were my sanctuaries.

I fell in love with weight training the first time I tried it and knew I wanted to be strong and huge. Unfortunately, in my younger years I wanted to attain this goal by any means necessary and resorted to steroid use.


I did make incredible gains in size and strength this way, but I ended up spending 8 days in ICU as a result of developing a tumor on my liver that ruptured causing severe internal bleeding.

I came very close to dying, receiving 18 units of blood during emergency surgery.

This experience drastically altered my attitude about training. I was told that I may never lift heavy again, and I was determined not only to lift heavy again, but that this time it would be all me.

I needed to prove to myself that I was capable of doing more and being more without the use of steroids, without any shortcuts.

I also began to desire an exceptional level of fitness, physical and mental, not just size and strength.

Finally, I desired to be a man of integrity, making my wife and daughters proud of the man that I am.

This is where the spiritual aspect of my training began.

Human beings are comprised of mind, body, and spirit; I began to recognize the divine experience that can occur during a brutal training session once I accepted that all three must be trained for an individual to reach his/her maximum potential.

During the last mile of the Murph workout, which I do every Sunday morning, when the hill seems to be getting longer and longer, I ask God what He wants from me. I always feel that He is telling me, “More.” I reflect on the extraordinary physical and emotional hardships that other human beings have endured in this life, and the resiliency with which they faced and overcame those hardships. I tell myself that if they can endure such extreme suffering and make it through, my body can work a little harder to make it through a workout. I give more. I laugh at the pain and I relish it.

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I’m not sure if mental toughness can be developed, but it can certainly be honed. Zach Even-Esh and Mark Divine have helped me immensely in this area. Having pushed myself for years and often thinking I was a little crazy, with Sealfit and Undergound Strength I have found my home.

They have taught me that I simply need to find myself daily, and that the brutal workout of today will be my warm-up tomorrow. Like mental toughness, having heart means you don’t give up in the face of adversity.

I think it also means that you don’t give up, not just because you’re mentally tough, but because you love it. You live for it. I think many people do “have heart”, but maybe haven’t found that one thing that truly drives them. The key is to find your heart.

For me it was being told I may never be able do something I really enjoyed doing again. That adversity made me love it and want it even more. I regret my choice to use steroids, but I am grateful that the hard lessons learned helped me find mine.

By Jim Thompson Billings, MT

What Is Project X? NOT For Everyone.


Category: Bodyweight Bodybuilding, Kick Ass Life, Live The Code, Powerlifting, Strength Building Tags: , , , , , , , , .

9 Responses to One Man’s Journey To Find His Driving Force, Heart & Mental Toughness

  1. Matt says:

    Love this post. It’s always great to get a reminder that training the mind is just as, if not more, important than the body.

  2. Matt says:

    This post ROCKS! So many times I get people telling me about the easier options for working out and proper recovery. We don’t work out, we train! We train for whatever life is gonna throw up in our face and sometimes that means being able to push on through even when you haven’t had the ‘optimal recovery window’ or whatever the gurus are currently pushing to keep them in business. Myself, I’d rather take the hard road. It’s always worked for me up until now and I’m 47 and still unstoppable! Must be doing something right!

  3. Mitch says:

    So what is the murph workout? It’s only referenced as a run.

    • Dayna says:

      The following explanation of the “Murph” was taken from, originally posted on August 18, 2005 as their WOD:


      For time:
      1 mile Run
      100 Pull-ups
      200 Push-ups
      300 Squats
      1 mile Run

      In memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005.

      This workout was one of Mike’s favorites and he’d named it “Body Armor”. From here on it will be referred to as “Murph” in honor of the focused warrior and great American who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is.

      Partition the pull-ups, push-ups, and squats as needed. Start and finish with a mile run. If you’ve got a twenty pound vest or body armor, wear it.”

    • Sven says:

      -Run 1mile
      -300 airsquats
      -200 pushups
      -100 pullups
      -Run 1mile

      Usually done with some sort of weight (weightvest, packed rucksack).

      Workout just burns you, shouldn’t be done that often. But its excellent for training the mind and mentality. What I do regularly though – do just 1/2 Murph. Actually its the basis of my bodyweight training.

  4. ck says:

    What a great writeup Jim. I feel lucky that I found you to be my trainer.

  5. Mike says:

    Excellent post, Jim. There are no shortcuts in life, and there shouldn’t be any shortcuts in your training either. Congrats on overcoming your steroid usage and going back to natural workouts!

  6. Greg says:

    good training materials and strength techniques

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Zach Even-Esh is an Author, Founder of The Underground Strength Gym & Creator of The Underground Strength Coach Certification.

Zach's inspiration in training comes from the Golden Era of Bodybuilding & Days of Old School Strength. His mission is to help You kick ass & take names in Life AND Lifting without the hype, fancy fads or gimmicks. Zach's Commitment To Your Success Is Unmatched. He Knows What It's Like To Go From A Weakling To An Unstoppable BEAST In Charge Of His Life, Business & Destiny. Zach Made It Happen Through The Iron and Now it's Your Turn!

Zach Even-Esh