I stepped forward and slammed the bar onto the rack, stepping out from under it and back on wobbly legs. Adrenaline pumped through my veins, I could barely breathe, was on the verge of falling over with vision blurry from exertion, and yet it took all of my remaining strength to not yell in triumph at the top of my lungs. I had just beaten- no, annihilated- my personal squat record. That’s what this shit is all about. The rest of the workout followed in similar fashion as the Iron Gods smiled upon my efforts in the rest of the day’s lifts.
As I stumbled to my car and plopped unceremoniously into my seat, I thought back to the days I could only dream of putting up the weight I put today. The Scrawny Days. The days I stared enviously at the big mofos in the gym, wishing I could one day be just like that. During those days I wondered what they were taking, what their secret was, and how on God’s green earth they could be that big while I was so skinny. I wanted to believe that it was just something I was doing wrong or that there was that one secret technique, routine, or supplement I was missing out on. I hopped from routine to routine, took one magic supplement after the next, and after my hard earned newbie gains subsided and gains became harder to come by I began to despair.
With jealousy, pridefulness, and a bit of laziness thrown in for good measure, I waffled. I figured I looked good enough, and for the next couple of years followed the “I’ll lift when I feel like it” program, alternating between months off followed by months of intensity, fighting to earn back what I lost during the months I didn’t lift at all. It never got so bad that I ever went back to how scrawny I was in high school, but I was spinning my wheels and it was all my fault. Still, I stared at the big dudes wishing I could get that big.
Things began to change for the better my senior year as my buddy Fresh and I took lifting more seriously. We put more time in, put more effort into tracking our progress, and one of us was usually able to talk the other into going if he was feeling lazy or unmotivated. Before we knew it we threw together some consistency and began to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Girls who saw us in the gym would come up to us at the bars- lay ups. Others would feel our bodies on the dance floor and in dark corners. Finally, some pay off.
But, like many who lift just to look good, I began to falter. My drive, my reason for lifting, was other-driven. I was lifting for the ladies. Now receiving the rewards of my hard work, I got lax again, coasting on my gains. Gym attendance dropped slowly and surely as I became content with maintaining, and after graduation I didn’t touch a weight for weeks.
Finally, over two months later I hit the proverbial rock bottom. I couldn’t blame the bathroom lighting anymore, I was getting chubby. Too many late nights and Sunday fundays, too much sitting around and staring at a screen. Instantly, I was sick of my lack of discipline, of being an undriven piece of shit. What the hell had I lifted for for all those years, even if if I did take time off every now and then? At least that was something. Imagine where I could be at now if I hadn’t been so lazy! What was the point of being envious of big dudes when I wasn’t going to do anything about it?
I forced myself to the gym the next day, and spent the next two weeks enduring the expected soreness as I shocked my body back into a routine. Four times a week, sometimes five. Angry. Determined. I was done being a piece. After a few months I was back to where I had been in the spring and then began to surpass those totals. Soreness coarsed through my body every day of the week.
Had I bothered to look around I might have noticed I was becoming one of those bigger dudes I had been so jealous of previously. Instead, I stared at my lift totals in my notebook, calculating sets and reps, planning breakthroughs. When I wasn’t lifting, I was thinking about lifting. Every morning was a gift, a new day to push myself harder. I put in my time every week, hated rest days, and got pissed if travel or unforeseen circumstances prevented me from getting to the gym. Soon, I was putting up weight I had previously convinced myself was unattainable. Sweat poured down from my body amid the burn in my muscles. I fell in love with the pump.
All these years later, I had finally found the secret to getting swole: Dedication. I was lifting for myself and no one else. Each time I step foot in the dojo, it’s me against me, seeing how far I can push my body and my mind. As Henry Rollins once said, “the iron doesn’t lie”, and I welcome its harsh judgment every day. Lifting is no longer an obligation, it is pleasure, a passion. Sure I still steal glances in the mirror and chicks feel my abs at the bars, but none of that comes close to matching the feeling I get when I bust out that extra rep and set new personal records. It’s addicting as hell.
As far as I’m concerned, my work has only just begun and I have a long way to go, but I welcome the journey. I am building something real, something tangible, something to be proud of- myself.