Several years ago, I was in a lifting class in high school. We worked on bench press, squats, and power cleans. That was it. Every other day we lifted. It was an interesting journey. I progressed well. I managed in just 1 year to bench 270lbs, squat 345lbs and if I’m remembering correctly, power clean about 225lbs. Not earthshattering numbers. I was bigger than most though naturally and so they nicknamed me Brutus. Brute has also been used.
After the semester was over, that was the last time I thought I’d lift. Nothing about it called to me. No addiction. No thoughts of intense gym workouts. It was what it was, a high school class that had me lifting 2-3x per week.
I was 16.
5 years later I was 21 and just home from 2 years of living in Spain. My brother was still in high school and convinced me to go to the gym with him. He said it would be fun. Since I had a summer of work and not much else till I started college, I decided I would. Just for funsies.
I just did whatever he did. I remember one of the first times I benched. I remembered bench 270 in high school and thought 200 would surely not be that difficult. False! It was tough. Not checking my ego at the door, I tried 250. My brother had to help me. Fortunately I didn’t hurt myself, that time, but it got me mad. I understood the use it or lose it mentality, but I was young. Only 21. How could it go so quickly?
Many days we haul our carcasses to my pickup and just sit there. I was driving and could barely move, on the verge of puking, or passing out, or both. Once after a shoulder workout, I could barely pick my arms up to put them on the steering wheel. My brother was no better and it took a solid 5 minutes of just sitting before we could do go. It was cool on one hand, but annoying on the other. The thought of working my body to the point of being unable to merely steer a pickup was enthralling. A pump in my arms and shoulders felt amazing. Being so weak so as not to be able to drive was annoying.
And that’s when something clicked.
I needed to get stronger and have more energy.
It was also during this first summer vacation after my first semester of college that a girl kept asking me what I was going to do with my life. I was interested in a relationship with her and knew she wasn’t going to date some slacker who didn’t have any goals. I’d always thought about healthcare, even since I was a boy. Maybe be a doctor. One morning I woke up and the very first thought into my head was, “Look into pharmacy.”
So I did. I went down THAT rabbit hole.
The girl who I wanted to date ended up with someone else, but the medical profession flirted with me, taunted me, challenged me. It berated me to accept the call. I focused my efforts into getting accepted to pharmacy school, even transferring colleges in the hopes of becoming a doctor (of pharmacy). All the while continuing to work out, lift weights and seek the elusive pump that made my skin feel like it was going to rip off. It was almost painful at times, but I couldn’t get enough. If it wasn’t skin tearing painful, it wasn’t a real pump.
Pharmacy school came, along with a bride a couple weeks before I started. Many guys I knew grew fat upon completion of a marriage ceremony. With someone to share food with regularly and sometimes who would cook for them, weight and the dreaded downfall of health. I didn’t want to fall into that trap. So I kept going to the gym. I even had a friend who would come with me. I don’t remember any specific workout, though a couple times we did leave barely able to walk. I do remember one thing he said one morning though. “Working with my dad (in construction) isn’t so hard anymore. Things that were heavy don’t require so much effort to move.) This guy didn’t have rippling muscles, or even look like a typical gym goer. The difference he noticed in his daily life is something I took a mental note of.
Lifting got me through some tough times in college. After my first summer with my brother, I stopped when I was at school. Just didn’t seem like a priority, even though, as I mentioned before, something in my brain clicked. I think it was more a seed being planted than a switch being turned on though. I noticed that when I wasn’t exercising, school, and life in general seemed harder, more stressful. When I was lifting, the problems didn’t go away, but did seem more manageable.
This was most apparent during my last year of pharmacy school.
I’d blown my ACL in a game of basketball and required surgery. While I went to the gym, doing any lower body, in any serious way was out of the question. And with the increasing pressures of my pharmacy rotations, the gym slowly, and then more quickly, distanced itself from me. Who am I kidding? I distanced myself from it. I gained weight and was sitting at a hefty 255lbs. My gut was big and protruded from my shirt. Stress had caused me some nasty GI issues at both ends. I felt crummy and my head was never clear.
I managed through the last few months, somehow, and continued to my new job. Not even needing to check my blood sugar, I knew it wasn’t good, especially as diabetes runs on both sides of my family. So, I quit eating nearly as much. It had been the only time in my life when I embraced hunger so I could reverse some of the damage and get back onto a course that would be sustainable.
So in a couple months I dropped from 255 to 215. No exercise, just some portion control. In fact, I hadn’t gone to the gym in a while and was starting to miss my iron mistress. She beckoned me to come back. I’d lost plenty of fat during my portion control, but my muscle had gone away too. During my second year of pharmacy school I managed a 405lbs raw bench. Not bad. After all this, 200lbs made me feel like I was back after a 5 year hiatus from my sophomore year in high school.
Still, I couldn’t deny the temptation to lift. And so lift I did. And it was good.
My mental clarity came back, though portion control helped that too. Things in my life seemed easier again. Stress management took some more time, as my new job and being a dad also took my time more than I was used to. But my iron mistress came to my rescue and things started looking on the up and up.
Then, when I found myself having free time, I decided to look into some diets to reduce some of that extra belly fat that hadn’t quite gone away during my portion control.
I figured something like the Atkins diet would be a great way to go about losing weight. I love meat after all. Having been in pharmacy school, I learned how to dive deeper into medical and nutritional studies, at least more so than I had before, and was able to look at the science at a level deeper than just the headline.
And then I discovered something I had not expected. My beloved Atkins diet betrayed me. It was no better at any other diet at losing weight. I went in with a genuinely open mind and the facts were very apparent. I looked at study after study. No significant difference.
I was frustrated. If the beloved diet to which I so wanted to adhere to for superior results was not quite what it had been marketed to be, then what else wasn’t true? I started down another rabbit hole. I haven’t seen the light of day since, though I’d like to think at times I’m back near the surface.
Carbs aren’t evil. In fact, they can be quite useful. Not all fats are unhealthy and some are quintessential to good health. Vegan, vegetarians, absolute carnivores, paleo adherents, Atkins adherents, and other trendy diet adherents can be very brutal to other humans online and in person, trying to convince everyone of the error of their ways.
One of the things I’ve learned is that we’re all individuals. While studies give us an idea of what works for a given population, those facts don’t always translate to the individual.
Weight loss deals with calories. That is a fact. The types of calories, mixed with activity, hormones, stress, etc. will determine body composition. Protein quantity will be a factor in composition. But eating broccoli isn’t crucial for being healthy. It’s tasty for one, and causes horrible gas for another.
Likewise, gluten can be relatively harmless to one and cause all sorts of nasty ailments for another.
A cherry pie isn’t much of a temptation to one person, but put it in front of me and I might eat the whole thing. No bueno (unless it’s pie day or my birthday).
Creatine may make a person recover quickly and lift more, while another may get bloated and feel puffy.
Some people respond to acetaminophen for pain, others ibuprofen.
Point is, no two people are alike and when trying to help a person, all these things need to be taken into account.
In going down this rabbit hole, I’ve been learning loads of information over several years and I want to share it with everyone that is willing to listen.
I blog and podcast to disseminate this information.
Enjoy what I have here. Use it to experiment with yourself. I view life as a grand experiment with my N=1 studies that I do on myself. Here, I’ll share my knowledge, experiments and everything else regarding life in general as a husband, father, and pharmacist who is addicted to iron.