Most of us started to lift weights because we wanted to fill out the sleeves of our T-shirts a bit more, or maybe so we could feel better about taking our shirt off at the beach. Others of us wanted to literally build a suit of muscle armor to protect ourselves from the evils of the world.

Whatever our initial reason for picking up a piece of iron, most of us found that lifting weights took on an unexpected significance. It became a blend between therapy, spirituality, and life coach that often spurred us on to achieve bigger and better things.

For some, weight training pretty much saved their lives. Here are a few such stories.

Had it not been for my intense desire to train and better myself from a young age, it's hard to say where I might have ended up, but it's likely that it would not have been in a better place.

I grew up the eldest of three boys in a very rural area, raised in poverty by a young mother and father, neither of whom ever obtained high school diplomas.My father was a chain smoker, alcoholic and during my adolescent years earned much of his income through selling marijuana.

It was not uncommon to see my father sitting on the couch with a cigarette constantly burning while he sifted seeds and separated out the dope he planned to sell.When my brothers and I were young we really weren't aware of exactly what he was doing and it was never made to seem as if it were acceptable, but it doesn't change the fact that we were exposed to these things on a routine basis.

He did his growing in a secret basement that was housed underneath a small shed that was invisible to the casual passerby. The basement was always locked and we of course were never allowed down there and never really told why.

I do remember one time my dad offering up the explanation that, "There's dangerous chemicals down there." Little did we know that the chemical he was referring to was THC. Still, by the time my brothers and I were in our teens, we'd figured out what was going on even though it still was a topic that really wasn't acceptable to bring up.

One would think growing up in an environment such as this I would have been tempted to follow in my father's footsteps, or at least have been curious enough to experiment with the things that he regularly partook in. After all, my youngest brother and his best friend did swipe some of my dad's stash at age 11 and snuck off into the woods to get high. I would venture to say that most people raised in a similar situation would probably have been tempted to do the same.

I can say with complete honesty that in spite of the environment that I grew up in, I was never tempted even once to try weed or cigarettes, or even alcohol while I was growing up. The sole reason for this was my intense determination to become bigger and stronger through lifting weights.

From a very young age I can distinctly remember having a very strong desire to be big and strong. Every time I saw someone that was big and muscular, I was fascinated by it and vowed to myself that someday I would be like that, too.

I was a very skinny kid with poor genetics for gaining muscle, but by the time I was nine I was regularly torturing myself with a makeshift set of weights I had made from milk jugs filled with sand loaded across a bent piece of piping I had found in the woods.

My bench was a wooden 2" x 12" laid across two cinder blocks.I would perform chins from tree branches and carry logs up sand hill to work my legs. It was this kind of obsession with gaining muscle that kept me from choosing many different paths that would have ultimately led me to places that I did not want to be.

It was precisely because of my goals that I never felt the temptation to do anything that would detract from my ability to achieve them. Had it not been for my love of lifting and the goals I assigned to this love, who knows where I may have ended up, but one thing is for certain: it wouldn't have been where I am today.

Dave Tate

In short: Training has never changed my life because it is a part of who I am.

In fact, I almost saw the weight room as the cause of keeping me from dealing with the things I avoided and, in some ways, this may have been true. What I was to learn, however, was that the gym was not an escape from things, but actually an entrance into the world of reality as I knew it.

It was the place where I could find inspiration and motivation, where I have had to deal with some of life's biggest challenges. And where I have had some of my best training workouts, business ideas and negotiations. In the weight room, I have forged powerful friendships, held therapy sessions, and made some outstanding breakthroughs toward achieving my goals.

To me, and to many others around the world, the weight room is not just a place to train, but rather a Zen-like temple – a place of symbolically higher ground where we bring our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. A place where we commit to grueling personal discipline and the continual challenge to improve ourselves: five more pounds on the bar, one more rep, another pound of muscle mass, another pound less body fat, more self-understanding. If we are serious, it is a way of life.

The weight room is a place where the trials never end. It is the place where we test ourselves continuously – we struggle to reach one goal, and, as soon as we reach it, there is another and more difficult one to meet.

And just like in the hard-knuckle realm of mathematics, the numbers don't lie. If your training goal is to bench 350 lbs., 345 or 349 won't cut it. There is only one right answer: 350. In the weight room, we learn the right from the wrong, the good from the bad.

It is a place where, in our determination to better ourselves, we learn control and self-realization. As in much of life, things might not always go our way, but in the weight room we train to try to shape the outcome of our goals as best we can.

In our programs and routines, we try to discover the right way to train, to "turn the eye inward" and deepen our understanding of what we are doing. We emphasize daily practice and a focused concentration on the task at hand, that we may try to achieve perfection. This means shutting out negative or extraneous thoughts and controlling all that you need to.

As with any difficult challenge, there will be sacrifices, disappointments, anxieties and frustrations, and most likely injuries. But these trials, if we survive, make us all stronger and better individuals. What we learn in the weight room will prepare us for the body blows that life throws at us.

During my life's most serious crisis, I went to the gym to train, and I learned more about myself in that one day than in any other time in my life. I was alone, and in doing one movement after another, my intensity of emotions kept building inside, ranging from extreme anger to abject fear.

I cannot tell you how I trained or the weight I used, but I can tell you I worked so hard that I had tears streaming down my face. This was not crying, but they were tears of rage, fear and finally – tears of happiness.

In the 9th Grade, when I learned to power clean and military press, I could hold my own with the guys NOT doing the lifts. I weighed 118 pounds. As a senior, I weighed 162 pounds and staggered people with my strength.

But no one wanted me as an athlete in Division One.

Then, I met Dick Notmeyer and learned the olympic lifts. Four months later, I weighed 202. From there, even though I was still undersized, it was hard to match my pure absolute strength and stability, and that has made all the difference.

Literally, lifting made my life (LMML).

If I were to tell you that you were about to get into a fight with the toughest opponent the world has ever faced, how would you prepare?

You'd probably learn some martial arts, do some combat training, get stronger, faster, better conditioned, hire instructors and formulate a strategy to take on the opponent.

But what if I told you that all the kicks, punches and chokeholds won't work against this opponent? It's invisible. Your instructors can't help you.

That's the reality of facing cancer.

I bested cancer. Twice. Most people don't survive the first time. I have no idea why I was given these extra days on this planet, but I treat them like a gift.

Prior to my bone marrow and stem cell transplant I had to undergo a battery of fitness tests. The treatment itself is so brutal, you need a certain level of conditioning before the doctors will even consider doing the treatment. They did heart tests, lung capacity tests, and a ton more.

I passed the tests and entered the "fight" and won. I didn't think much of it until after being in remission when I met a young girl who was facing the same transplant situation. She said, "Oh wow! You got the transplant -- that's amazing!"

I have to admit that I didn't feel that amazing.

She went on, "I need to get one but I can't pass the tests right now. I'm not in good enough shape to survive the procedure right now."

That's when I realized the horror of her situation. She, while fighting cancer, needed to improve her fitness, so that she could win.

How does a cancer patient get in shape when he or she is being bombarded with a malignant disease, chemotherapy, drugs, and radiation? It's an uphill battle for everyone, but cancer patients are starting well behind the starting blocks.

I knew then that I had survived in part because when the disease hit me, I was in condition. I was strong. I had muscle. I had cardio fitness. I had gritted my teeth and grinded out a heavy last rep, or a max effort sprint.

My body could handle whatever the doctors were going to throw at me. Cancer couldn't.

Because cancer didn't train the way we train.

I started weight training to improve my martial arts competition skills. Who knew that the lessons learned in the ring, and the qualities developed under the bar would save my life?

Lifting weights hasn't save my life, per se, but it's been an absolutely integral part of building my business. How? Because cranking out two extra reps of a heavy squat when you're dying to stop, or adding 15 pounds to the bar instead of five, builds mettle.

Training hard makes you physically tougher, but the fact that it makes you mentally tougher is what's most important. Dragging yourself through a demanding workout makes you embrace the idea of facing a challenging task in business. There's definitely a direct correlation between pushing yourself in the weight room and pushing yourself in life. When I work with a client for the first time, it's immediately evident how successful he is in business when I challenge him in the weight room.

The most successful people work hardest in the gym. The longer and harder I train, the easier it is to make myself finish a work project instead of lounging on the couch.

I started weight training at the age of 15 years old because I hated getting picked onby upper classmen in high school.

Inever start any trouble, I just hate backing down.

Igrew8 inches and 80 lbs. from my sophomore to senior year. After this,nobody seemed topick on me anymore.Being big kept me out of a lot offights over the years because most people don't want to mess with a guy who's6'4" and 230 lbs.

My workouts calm me down and serve as "stress relief" so I can cope better with everyday life.

Bodybuilding has helped mehook up with muchmore beautiful girlsand land much sexier girlfriends over thelast fifteen years as femalesare generally more attracted to guys who take care of their physiques. Sometimes I feel like I can die a happy man on account of the caliber ofwomenwith which I've been involvedin my younger years.

I made plenty of friends over the years in commercial gyms with like-minded individuals. Bodybuilding has contributed to many of my greatest memories in a roundabout manner.

Currently I make a living off writing about bodybuilding and strength training so it's worked its way out of the gym and into my everyday life. I may also get a PhD in Biomechanics, which is further evidence of bodybuilding's major role in my life.

Most important, bodybuilding hasinstilled in me dedication, consistency, and effort.When you understand how to be successful at bodybuilding, you learn how to transfer that to other areas of your life for continued success.

By nature I'm a fairly obsessive-compulsive person, and bodybuilding has allowed me to channel that trait into something "positive," that I've also come to make a living from.

If it weren't for having found bodybuilding in my late teens,I would probably not be enjoying life nearly as much as I am, and perhaps doing something much less productive with my time (like washing my hands 38 times after I touch any doorknobs).

Bodybuilding has also allowed me to "save" other people's lives by teaching them how to eat properly, manage their weight, and live a more active lifestyle. I'm constantly getting emails from clients about improved lipid profiles, lowered blood pressure, etc.

It would be cool to know how many pounds of fat I've helped people lose over the years – I'm sure it's approaching the tens of thousands.

Bodybuilding has saved my life, both internally and externally. By that I mean it not only changed things that had to with my mind, emotions, and obviously, my body, but also things that had to do with my financial security and standard of living.

When I started weight training, I wasn't far off from Urkel or Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory." I was mere intellect, or at least pseudo-intellect, but at a weight of 155 pounds and a height of 6'2", I most certainly lacked physicality.

I was socially inept, had a penis but didn't know how to use it, and lacked drive, confidence, and boldness.

Weightlifting changed that. As I grew physically, so did my confidence and so did my drive. It was as if I became an entirely different person.

I now know that I pretty much can handle anything, and I pretty much believe I can do just about anything, if I set my mind to it.

Likewise, weightlifting allowed me to change the course of my career.

It wasn't that many years ago that I was working in a cubicle, typing out software manuals because, with my diverse educational background in science and the arts, that's about all anyone thought I was qualified to do.

I wore a tie and crappy shoes and pants made out of weird synthetic fibers that I wouldn't be caught dead wearing outside of work.

The work was so boring that I had to fight to stay awake. I toyed with the idea of doing that old trick from Curly of the Three Stooges where you paint eyeballs on you eyelids so you can take a nap without anybody knowing you're asleep.

Lunch was the highlight of the day.

I hated my life. I kept my soul in an old cigar box that I stored underneath the steps to the basement.

Lifting weights was the only thing that kept me relatively sane.

I believed I had some talent as a writer (and not just as a software manual writer), but I didn't know how to claw my way out of my Biff Loman world.

Serendipitously, I met a photographer who made his living selling pics to bodybuilding mags. He said he needed someone to write articles to accompany his photos.

I did my first interview with some obscure female bodybuilder by hooking up one end of a suction cup microphone to a boombox with a tape recorder built into it, and the other end to the phone receiver. I got paid a couple of hundred bucks for it. In six months, I was banging out 3 articles a week.

I got published in most of the major bodybuilding mags, including some in Mexico and Europe.

Before long, I was able to quit my job as a software manual writer. Writing for bodybuilding mags wasn't always great and I often had to interview people who had the intellectual capacity of a toaster oven, but I was at least calling the shots. I finally salvaged enough self-respect back to retrieve my dusty soul from the cigar box.

Within three years, I got a job as Editor-in-Chief of a bodybuilding magazine (Muscle Media). I was responsible for all the editorial content and I wrote most of it. I helped develop supplements and got paid a percentage of the sales. I started meeting interesting and unusual people. I got to use my background in the life sciences. I got to write articles about my penis and get paid for it.

I bought a nice house. In fact, to this day, I tell people that Arnold Schwarzenegger built my house, because in a manner of speaking, he did. He got me interested in weight lifting and bodybuilding and he got other people interested in weight lifting and bodybuilding. He's responsible for my livelihood and, more importantly, giving me my soul back.

Got a story about how bodybuilding saved your life? Let us know in the forum.