For Many, 2016 Was About Loss, but For Me? GAINZ!

Fitness Top Stories Transformations

I’ve got Gains on the Brains (and the Biceps, chest, forearms, etc.)

2016 taught me how to be strong. I have never used the word “strong” to describe myself. If you asked me to use one word to describe myself when I was in college it would have been “drunk”. Other people would probably have used “fat” as the Polaroids of me passed out with shredded cheese in my hair can attest. Until this year. 2016 taught me strength. This was the first year of my life that I never quit lifting. This year taught me strength through pushing myself, believing in myself and knowing when to play dirty.

Staring up at a barbell loaded with a heavier weight than you’ve ever lifted is a unique experience. It changed me. I felt a little scared, intimidated, and psyched. Sort of like the first time I saw a butt. I wasn’t quite sure what to do when I put my hands on it. I had to shove all of that out of my mind and heave that beast up and down. But I’m never 100% satisfied. Even after a gym victory, I leave hungry for my next milestone. Getting my work weight on the bench from 185 to 225 was a huge milestone for me and then getting to above my body weight at 250 was amazing. Now all I can think about is getting my work weight to 300. That’s drive, baby, and it’s being cultivated within me through strength training.

Not me, but a dramatic recreation of what I probably looked like when I started.

I wasn’t always driven. In fact, I can be super lazy. When Skyrim came out, I played it for 24 hours straight and kept a jar of peanut butter in my lap so I wouldn’t have to get up to make meals. However, strength training is changing this. Every day I hit the gym I’ve got a plan. I have goals. I struggle to reach those goals, hit them, then feel a sense of massive achievement.  Goal setting and discipline are the skills that transform your life and practicing this in the gym will bleed over to all the other areas of your life. I also wasn’t prepared for discovering how strong I could be.

Strength training changed my self-confidence. It should be no surprise that stand up comedians and actors have a few issues with self-confidence. I’ve always found it fascinating that the dudes who are willing to stand up in front of a crowd and tell jokes are also the ones most terrified about what people think of them.

When I first started to notice physical changes in the mirror, a couple months into lifting, I felt amazing. I’m also one of the strongest dudes at my gym because I work out at a community center. That means it’s mainly just weirdos in jeans talking to themselves in the mirror like De Niro. I wouldn’t bat an eye if they allowed smoking and replaced the water fountain with a giant bowl of soup. In fact, there’s one guy who lays out a mat and does exercises I can only describe as a modified sobriety test. For real, he actually touches his finger to his nose. So, it’s not a high bar for me to be one of the strongest guys there but it feels great to get the bro nod from the trainers when they see me lift.

The changes in the mirror reshaped the way I looked at myself. I now have a big, muscular chest so I stick it out and carry myself with good posture instead of slumping my shoulders over to hide my man boobs.

I feel better about my body so I dress better. A huge milestone for me was buying pants. Rather than just rocking out non-stop cargo shorts I finally felt good enough to wear actual pants like a full on adult. This may seem like nothing, but my wife looks at me with a hunger that makes it look like I just popped on a fitted suit from Mad Men. All of this has changed my self-confidence for the better and it’s all because of strength training.

This newfound trust in myself has also allowed me to learn when to play dirty. Specifically, I’ve learned how best to cheat on my diet. Before, cheat days would turn into cheat years. Now, I can’t binge out like that, partly because of my ketogenic diet and partly because of how hard I go at it with weights. I’ve learned that for me, I can pretty much only cheat on leg day. My work weight on squats is up to 365 and that’s a lot for me. I have to partially attribute this strength to the fact that I’ve been super fat most of my life and I’ve had to use my legs to walk from one place to another. So, you could say I’ve been setting my lower body up for success through the classic strength training program of being a tubby guy that can walk. Regardless, I lift heavy on leg day and I love it. I’ve also come to realize that lifting that heavy (heavy for me) comes with a price. If don’t eat a ton after my leg day I feel physically ill and end up faltering in my other workouts. I’ll sometimes even get sick, like with a cold.

By turning the dreaded "leg day" into my cheat day, suddenly, my legs don't much.
By turning the dreaded “leg day” into my cheat day, suddenly, my legs don’t care…as much.

However, the beauty of this is that I can have a cheat meal immediately following my leg workout and it doesn’t seem to impact my ketosis states or my scale. I’ve also learned what foods to cheat with. I can’t just shove ice cream in my face or I’ll get a food hangover. I can have carbs right after my workout but they have to be starches and not sugars. I’ll rock out some pizza or fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy if I feel the urge to splurge but it stops after that meal. And that meal is once a week. It gives me an outlet for eating the foods I miss on ketosis without throwing a wrench in the works. It also seems to  shorten my recovery time.  I’ve noticed I don’t have keto flu-like symptoms as I transition back into a high fat, low carb diet for the rest of the day.

I’ll also play dirty when I’m feeling unmotivated. If I’m at the gym and can’t stand being there I’ll hit what Always Sunny In Philadelphia calls my “glamor muscles”. I’ll work my biceps, hit incline bench and then just flex in the mirror. It may not be the workout that benefits me the most but I didn’t bail on the gym. It’s like strength training taught me a way to compromise with the lazy part of my brain and still get a workout in. Also, maybe I’ll reward myself with a few thunderbolt sound effect noises while I flex that glamor all up in the mirror. A little boost to the ego every now and then is healthy, in my opinion.

Strength training through all of 2016 taught me how to be strong. Being strong taught me how to carry myself, how to take pride in my accomplishments, how to set goals, how to have trust in myself. Lifting weights for a year is like having a Valkyrie for a therapist. I recommend it.