Anyone who’s been pursuing a hobby or passion for 20+ years has a story to tell and lessons learned that others could benefit from. Here’s my story as it pertains to weight lifting.
Awestruck at Six
It started when I was six years old and struck by the awesomeness of the first person I laid eyes on that had muscles – a local lifeguard named Kirk Oswald. He looked like a superhero to me, and I said to myself whatever it is that guy did to get those muscles, I was going to do! Turned out he lifted weights, so I begged my Dad for a weight set. He thought I was too young to lift, but I wouldn’t stop pestering him, so eventually he bought me a pair of 3 pound dumbbells from Sears. It was better than nothing, but the 3 pound set was really more of a toy than an actual exercise implement. I was so jealous of my next door neighbor who had access to his Mom’s 5 pound dumbbells – it just wasn’t fair! Not to be deterred, I began doing push ups, sit ups, and pull ups like a madman/kid every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I wasn’t on any kind of organized program – I would just pop my favorite song into my cassette deck, turn it up as loud as it would go, and do as many push ups, pull ups, and sit ups as I could. After doing that on and off for a couple of years, I was still a skinny little kid, but I could bang out about a dozen pull ups and mini muscles were starting to sprout. I was hooked.
First Weight Set at Ten
At ten years old, Santa got me an actual 110 pound iron weight set for Christmas (thanks Dad!), and I built a bench out of scrap wood so that I could do bench presses, flyes, etc. I embarked on the 3-day-a-week program that came with the weight set and continued like that for several years, taking breaks now and then to focus on other important things like soccer and video games, but never taking more than a month or so off from lifting. I was still thin and entered high school at 120 pounds, but I was ripped compared to my peers who didn’t work out. What I learned about lifting from those early years is that you don’t really need to know what you’re doing to make progress and have a muscular physique. If you have enthusiasm and put forth some genuine effort with the weights and avoid over eating, you’re going to be much more muscular than the average person.
Lifting Til I Puke in my Teens
The next phase of my lifting journey was ages 15-20 when I got more serious about the weights and jumped on the “high intensity training” bandwagon. Sessions were always brief but very intense, going to absolute failure on exercises like high rep squats, deadlifts, military presses, pullups, and dips. Vomiting and/or laying on the floor for 20 minutes after a workout was a normal thing. I gained about 60 pounds during that time and got decently strong, but the last year I hit a wall and didn’t make much progress at all. What I learned from that teenage phase was how to push myself and how the mind is often weaker than the body. If you become mentally strong and learn to focus, your body is capable of so much more than many of us realize. I also learned that when it comes to training, nothing works forever, and banging your head against a wall hoping to break through is usually less effective than making a turn and going around it.
Powerbuilding in my Early 20’s
For the next five years or so, I did what’s called powerbuilding, meaning I focused on building muscle like a bodybuilder but used basic exercises and the heaviest weights I could handle. I also started eating more in effort to bulk up, and the result was another growth spurt, taking me up to 240 pounds. My strength was at an all-time high, but my abs went into hibernation, and I didn’t feel great at that body weight. I couldn’t move as well as I used to, and fun activities like hiking and tennis weren’t so fun anymore. During that phase I learned that size isn’t everything this once skinny kid dreamed it would be. Some lifters are willing to bulk up to 250-300 pounds to be as big and strong as possible, but for me the trade-off of losing your mobility, your sense of well-being, and let’s face it, your health, just isn’t worth it.
Olympic Lifting Dad
From ages 25-33, I shifted gears and began training and competing in Olympic style weightlifting (snatch and clean & jerk) and slimmed down to a more healthy 210 pounds. For most of that time, I was a single Dad taking care of my 2 little kids on top of a full-time job and studying for actuarial exams (similar to getting a PhD in math/finance), but I found time to train in my garage at night after I put the kids to bed. Training consisted mostly of low rep snatches, clean & jerks, and squats 3 times a week, plus some upper body work thrown in. I had no formal coaching but somehow managed to qualify for national events and got to complete in a few of those. During that period, I learned that there is no good excuse not to exercise and make progress if that is what you want to do. If you love something and it’s important to you, you will find a way to fit it into your schedule. Even if it’s only an hour or two per week, you can bust your butt during that time and get something out of it. Don’t let your goals and dreams slip away.
Lifting Boulders and Cars in my 30’s
After 8 years of focusing on the snatch and clean & jerk, I was ready for a change and got into the sport of Strongman which involves lifting or carrying odd objects like logs, stones, cars, kegs, thick handled barbells, etc. It can be hard on the body, but I loved the variety, the outdoor aspect, the athleticism involved, and the camaraderie of the competitors. During that period, I learned to respect father time and the body changes that occur at middle age. You don’t recover as well as you used to, injuries come quicker and leave slower, and your body inevitably stars slowing down. I also learned the truth of the adage “use it or lose it”, as I watched my sedentary coworkers become weak and broken down with age while I held on to most of my fitness and even hit some new PR’s in the gym. I was fortunate enough to win some local competitions in the middleweight (230 pound) class and finish in the top half at Nationals on multiple occasions. I was never in the running to win Nationals, but being able to hang with the strongest guys in the country, as a middle age steroid-free lifter, was pretty cool.
Back to my Roots at 40+
Now in my mid 40’s, I’ve hung up my competition belt and returned to my roots, lifting purely for enjoyment and to have the muscles I’ve thought were cool since I was six. As a bonus, my schedule allows me to exercise with my beautiful like-minded wife Amber.
What a thrill it is to own a gym and see people walk in the front door to begin or continue their own fitness journey. These days I want nothing more than to create a gym atmosphere that encourages our members and provides them everything they need to reach their goals. God willing, we’ll be on this journey together for many years to come.
Would love to hear your story some time!