How I Got Into Fitness
For my 8th grade graduation we lined up in height from tallest to shortest. My middle school class was only about 70 kids but I was still one of the shortest, including the girls. Needless to say I was teased for being short during middle school. It was clear that I didn’t get my fathers’ genes for height (he’s 6’4”). Males have an obsession with being large and in charge, it’s how we’re programmed. For that reason one of the worst things that you can call a young man is small or tiny. It makes them feel weak and helpless, which is how I felt.
During my Freshman year of high school I grew about half a foot until I was about 5’6”. Growing quickly means stretching out and getting leaner, so while I was taller I was also skinnier. My tennis game, and confidence, still suffered because I was still skinny, slow, and weak.
My dad always worked out in the basement after work. We had a bench press, barbell, and a couple of adjustable dumbbells. He would bench press and curl a few nights per week. This began to pique my interest and I would follow him down to the basement some nights to see what he was up to. At the time I thought that he was impossibly strong and fearsome and I wanted to be just like that.
One day I worked up the courage to ask him to teach me how to lift weights. He jumped at the opportunity to engage in such a typical father-son activity to help his son become a little less weak. We started with the bench press. He helped me un-rack the weight and I held it over myself with straight arms, feeling like I was holding most of the weight of the world above me (a barbell is 45lbs). I shook and wobbled and most closely resembled Bambi; the lovable cartoon baby deer, learning how to walk on ice. My feet couldn’t even reach the ground and my wrists were a little larger than my father’s thumb. Trembling, I brought the bar down to my chest and then attempted to press it back up with all of my might. I barely got one rep before my dad took the bar. Even though that was the least impressive weight room session of all time, I felt like a champion. Despite my arms being sore the next day- I wanted more.
The next time we were in the basement I was full of questions. I wanted to know everything but he just wanted to work out so he handed me a couple of books. I sat on the weight bench for hours reading about different workouts and techniques. Around the same time that I was discovering my newfound love for lifting weights my mother decided that her son shouldn’t be “a dumb weightlifter” so with much chagrin I left my weightlifting days behind me for a few months… until I received a very special Christmas present.
P90X is a very famous DVD series that features about a dozen different workouts that train various parts of the body. It even came with a nutrition plan. After much research and a few recommendations, I decided that it would be the next step in my fitness journey. I initially wanted P90X because I thought that it would make me better at tennis. I’d often wake up early and start my workouts around 6AM just to get it finished before school. As a result, I’d walk around school like a zombie for the remainder of the day.
I worked through the DVDs and was actually starting to get a little more muscular when I came to the conclusion that I could make a better workout program by myself. That’s when I started researching. At that time bodybuilding.com was becoming very popular and I would sit on the computer for hours learning about different workouts, exercise techniques, meals, and training philosophies. At the time this information blew me away but looking back I think that about 80% of the articles were not at all helpful.
I would go down into the basement three or four days per week after school to lift weights with one of my friends. I would decide what workout we were doing that day and we would blast some music on our cheap stereo while critiquing each other’s form. You could say that he was my first client.
While we worked hard we didn’t really see much progress. After a while we weren’t able to work out together so I was on my own once again. It was my senior year in high school and I really didn’t feel like I had made much progress since my sophomore year. I still felt skinny and weak. I had barely put on more than 10lbs and I was still slow on the tennis court. I decided to seek out a teacher to get me on the right track.
My father’s friend owned a gym near us and we decided to take a trip over one day so that I could ask him questions. He told me his story about how he was tiny in High School until he started lifting weights, got insanely strong, and turned his life around. While he spoke my eyes lit up and I nodded furiously. I knew then that I wanted to be bigger and stronger. He introduced me to a sport called powerlifting which basically consists of lifting as much weight as possible for 1 repetition for the squat, bench press, and deadlift. He showed me how to perform each exercise safely and effectively.
I took my newfound love for strength training and the incredibly simple workout plan that he gave me and got to work in my basement. My new strategy consisted of performing about 7 exercises per week and trying to gain as much weight as possible. During the first week I was incredibly sore and constantly felt nauseous from eating so much. After three weeks of this my momentum started to pick up and I was getting steadily stronger and bigger. Finally, something was working. At the end of the 9 week program I could squat 110lbs more than when I started, bench press 20lbs more, and deadlift 40lbs more. While I still wasn’t impressively strong, I felt powerful for the first time in my life. I was 170lbs, which isn’t big for a 5’10” male, but it was by far the biggest I’d ever been. It may sound stupid but being stronger and bigger was a source of confidence in high school and for the first time in a while I was truly proud of myself.
All this occurred in time for my start at Ithaca College. During my senior year I was still searching for ways to get stronger and faster which is why I chose Exercise Science as my major. While we talked about way more than lifting weights in school, I continued to lift weights with my friends and get stronger.
During my freshman year of college I joined a boxing gym and rarely lifted weights but I was one of the strongest and fastest people in the boxing ring, all because I was so dedicated to lifting weights. Boxing helped me to become even more fearless. Knowing how to use your hands to defend yourself is very powerful and made me confident and comfortable in any situation. Fitness slowly took away my fears, made me less timid, and gave me confidence.
In my senior year of college I started powerlifting again with some of my friends. Once again I started down the path of eating more and training hard, and once again, I discovered a confidence in myself that I had previously forgotten from a lack of boxing or strength training in my life. I competed in three powerlifting competitions over the next two years and in the third competition placed a respectable third in my division. While I never set any records or dominated any competitions, I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished in a weightlifting sport. I was small and weak most of my life, and honestly I was better at playing the viola than any sport. However, I wanted to be bigger and stronger and I made it happen. At my peak I was stronger than the average man and I can say that with pride as someone who doesn’t have any natural gifts in that area.
Not only did I overcome fear and gain confidence by lifting weights, I made a lot of great friends along the way. This includes all the people that I trained with, all of the people that I trained, and all of the people that trained me. Without fitness I wouldn’t have these lifelong friends. It goes much deeper than just lifting weights to impress girls, it was the process of becoming something that I wanted to be instead of simply accepting who I was. I gained confidence, discipline, and even learned how to build lasting relationships with people. Fitness gave me the willingness to set goals, the discipline to stay focused, and the toughness to see them through. It gave me the confidence to challenge myself. Above all it allowed me to realize that it was more about the people that I met along the way and the lessons that they taught me, rather than the goals that I achieved, that truly made everything worth it.