I fell in love with lifting weights my freshman year of college. I graduated from high school earlier that year at 6’2 and 139 lbs soaking wet. I was skinny, lacking even a shred of self confidence, and, most importantly, didn’t have a passion for anything in life. I started going to the gym at the local community college that I enrolled in.
I started like most people do, with little knowledge but a strong desire for results. My workouts were terrible, consisting of mostly machine based exercises and some “dumbbell stuff”, as I so intelligently wrote in my training log. But I was doing two things right that many skinny guys starting out never figure out. First I was keeping a training log. It started as a spread sheet on my computer, and was born out of my desire to write things down and keep track of my results. Eventually I would realize the true importance of a training log and how to properly keep one.
The second thing I did right was eat everything I could get my hands on. This was a concept that I struggled with, but eventually embraced and understood. I remember finishing up classes at 11:50, and immediately heading to the cafeteria. I would order a double bacon cheeseburger with fries, and eat it as I walked down to the gym to get a workout in. After lifting, I would return to the cafeteria for a larger meal, before I headed home to do my studying. It was because of this, and also the program adaptations I made, that I was able to go from 139 lbs to 230 lbs in a little under a year and a half.
After I had been lifting for a few weeks I was introduced to the fitness director of the gym. He was a great guy, and very knowledgeable about training. He was also in his fifties, and his years of experience and a degree in counseling gave him a unique and wise perspective on training. I began asking him questions, and his answers, combined with my thirst for knowledge, spurred me to start reading everything I could get my hands on about training.
I frequented his office multiple times a week to ask him questions, argue about theories, and make fun of fitness fads. I was young and stubborn, but for some reason he entertained my pursuit and challenged my thought process. He almost always made time for our talks, and looking back I now realize the great service he had done for me. Sometimes I left his office angry, sometimes I left confused, and sometimes I left embarrassed. But each and every time I left wanting to know more. For that I will forever be grateful, and unbeknownst to him, I consider him my unofficial mentor and a large part of what drives me towards my goals today.
Perhaps the most important thing he ever said to me came in the form of a question. I was rolling out on the foam roller before a training session one day (women love a man on a foam roller), when he came up to me and said four words I will never forget. “Why are you here?”. The smart ass in me instantly replied with “I’m here to lift”, as I dug harder into my IT band with the piece of foam. “No, why are you here” he replied with a straight face. I looked at him like he was crazy, and continued to dig deeper into my IT band, hoping the pain would drag some brilliant answer out of me. What followed was the most important lesson I have ever learned about lifting weights, and at the time, life in general. He went on to state that there were two types of people who go to the gym. Those who are looking for something, and those who are hiding from something. He then turned and walked back to his office, leaving me sitting on the floor by myself.
That was one of the most difficult questions anyone had asked me, and at the time I thought my answer was that I was looking for something. After all, I was looking to get bigger and more muscular, purely for aesthetic purposes. Three years later I realize that I was hiding. I was hiding from the outside world that I wasn’t comfortable in. I was hiding from the anxiety that I didn’t even realize that I had. The gym was the only place I felt truly comfortable, the only place that really made sense. I found comfort in the hard work and progress. There was something soothing about knowing that all I had to do was bust my ass to add another plate to the bar. There were no tricks, no games. Just hard work and consistency. I enjoyed the grind, and soon I began to enjoy the process even more than the results. I turned my goals to strength rather than physique, and my results and my passion grew. There was something about the numbers, the progression, that grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go.
I still sit myself down and ask that same question he asked me three years ago. It is still just as difficult of an answer to find, but I’m starting to think it may not be so black and white. Some days I may go to the gym to hide from the stress of the outside world. However, I believe that my overarching reasons are that I’m looking for something within myself. I’m looking for that passion, that drive, that sweet feeling of success and the equally bitter feeling of failure. I look to test myself, to see what I’m made of when things get difficult. I’m looking to build strength, both physically and mentally, to better prepare myself for the challenges that life will throw at me. Most importantly I am here because I love it, and that passion has spread to other aspects of my life with great benefit.
If you’re embarking on a new fitness program, or have been training for years, take the time to ask yourself why you are here. Are you hiding from something, or are you looking for something? Chances are the answer to this question will teach you a little something about yourself.