17 Dec Evolution of a Meathead
Evolution of a Meathead
This blog isn’t intended just for the discussion of physical human performance but also for shared stories, insights, and discussing what makes life exciting. For this reason, I share this story. While it may not teach anything about strength and fitness, you may be able to take a lesson from my story that you can apply to your life or help someone else out. So without further wasted words:
“So when are you going to start getting bigger?” he asked.
I stood there, waiting for the punch line, but he was asking in earnest despite the almost smug look on his face.
“Um, I don’t know, thought I was doing better,” I replied.
We were in a typical gym in New York around 6 p at night. I was training with this guy who was actually responsible for sparking my love for lifting weights. I had never had a training partner besides the guys I trained with from time to time at my boxing gym. He was my first serious training partner and was 5 feet 5 inches tall, an aspiring bodybuilder, and had the frame and size to make you think he was much older and had been training for much longer than he had. Hard worker no doubt, and his physique didn’t reflect his young age.
I’d been training with him for at least five or six months after sheepishly asking him one day if I could work out with him. I was still in high-school at the time and didn’t have a clue, but I knew if I really wanted to get bigger, I needed to train with someone who was bigger and who looked like he knew what he was doing.
I had played some sports in high-school and had boxed for a number of years but lifting weights was to help with these pursuits and was never exclusively focused on until now. So, I trained with him as long as I could and learned everything he could teach me.
We did mostly bodybuilding workouts, as was his interest, and eventually, despite his comment, I got a little bigger and a little stronger and with this success, I gained some confidence in my ability as I head off to college.
College, Bodybuilding, Pumps, and Experimentation
There I was, on the hamstring curl machine wearing a tight sleeveless underwear shirt, silently sneering at all of the cretins around me. They’d of course never done exercises with such strict bodybuilder form as was accustomed to me and my buddy from home.
Yes, these were the thoughts actually going through my lizard brain.
Sure, there may have been some guys who were bigger than me, but it’s just because they were “bloated big”. And even if they were stronger, it’s just because they didn’t do everything as strict as me.
This was my solace.
So one day, I’m waiting for the freaking leg press and this jerkoff trainer wearing a hat is training his client on it. I gesture to a buddy of mine that I’d like to use it and he so happens to know the curly haired jerk trainer, so he tells him I have dibs next. The trainer politely tells me ok, that’s cool, much to my surprise.
I was ready to throw down in spite of the guy being noticeably bigger than me. Oh yeah, and he wasn’t just bloated bigger.
Fast forward a month or two and the hat-wearing trainer asks if I want to train with him and his buddies. This guy was pretty big and pretty strong so I figured why the hell not. After all, he was the one asking me, not the other way around.
Later, I found out that this guy had actually competed in bodybuilding and was actually pretty damn knowledgeable. Suddenly, my training wasn’t just about exercise form but about being effective in what I did and learning more about the processes involved in building strength and size. All at once, I gained a basic understanding of programming and organization of training and found that once I stopped trying to confuse my body (WHATEVER THE HELL THAT MEANS) that I was actually getting pretty strong .
So my focus shifted to doing what was necessary to build as much lean bulk as possible and to improve my performance. While I still wanted the bodybuilder look, I was a little less stringent about the bro-science guide to nutrition and did everything I could to get bigger. In that time period I went from 190 pounds to 235 pounds and started to realize how strong I could actually be.
Flirting with Strength, But Refusing Its Religion
During my senior year of college, I casually asked a friend of mine if he knew how to get an internship with the head football strength and conditioning coach at our University.
Folklore had spread among the school of this man and among the most popular, was that he could bench press over 800 pounds, which I later would learn was true.
I had no idea the magnitude of my decision when I walked into that weight room. I knew the head strength coach was known for his powerlifting records but what I didn’t know was that he was also a former NFL strength coach and was one of the few Master Strength Coaches in the nation.
He taught me the science and art of advanced programming for strength, athletic development, and overall human performance. This is where my love for the craft and the passion and thought to purse excellence developed.
The coached convinced me to train for my first powerlifting completion so I gained some more weight. I got up to around 245 pounds and didn’t concern myself as much with only building lean muscle. During this time, I learned that not only did I have the potential to become pretty strong, but that I had only begun to push my limits when I first came to this football training weight room.
Although I did great at my competition, I still held reservations about doing everything I could to pursue this love of strength, and thought that I would still pursue bodybuilding after this internship was over.
In Loving Surrender to the Strength gods
The summer of my senior year of college was over and I had spent a good chunk of time learning under the strength and conditioning staff and soaking everything I could learn about athletic development and organization of programming to ensure continual strength gains.
The powerlifting meet that the head strength coach, who ultimately became one of my mentors, convinced me to compete in was an overwhelming success. I’d never deadlifted over 505 pounds and after just 8 weeks of focused effort with these elite methods of training, I deadlifted 650 pounds — a 145 pound PR.
Unfortunately, I had to leave this Mecca I had found as I was finished with school and no job lined up. I moved back home to New York eventually, and worked as a personal trainer.
The passion that was sparked by competition grew in me and fueled a desire to get even stronger. This bled into a desire to master a craft, specifically strength and conditioning.
I worked hard to get as big and strong as I could at the health club I worked at and got up to 255 pounds bodyweight. During my time there, I competed in more powerlifting competitions and was pretty successful. I thrived on and looked toward the competition to keep my passion and virility in a less than optimal environment for such things.
The opportunity arose for me to return to Virginia and to eventually secure a full-time position as a college strength and conditioning coach. Finally, I could take my pilgrimage back to the temple where the gods of strength would take me back into their caring arms. Here is where I would develop myself as an offering fit for sacrifice.
And develop and offer myself I did. I progressed up to 290-300 pounds bodyweight and focused all my energies on the development of my strength. No time for conditioning, I had to eat instead. Besides, I couldn’t risk burning the extra calories as I needed them for my next bench, squat, or deadlift workout. After the workout, it was time to sit down and be as sedentary as possible. After all, I had to preserve as much energy as possible, I was in training.
I ate whatever it took to get me to the size I wanted and it was never enough. McDonalds, pizza, a pound of ground beef with a pound a pasta for a snack, Chinese buffets, all fair game.
Building lean muscle? Sure, but if I built a thick level of fat over this, that was ok, it made me stronger. Big I definitely became, there was no doubt in that. I was cultivating muscle mass… or something.
I learned all matters of strength and power development and truly studied all manners of program design from Russian training principles to record holding American powerlifters, weightlifters, strongman competitors, and speed gurus. I progressed nicely reaching my goal of bench pressing over 600 pounds equipped for a WABDL Junior World Record at age 24.
The gods are not kind
This went on for some time as I claimed some more titles and competed at some great powerlifting meets. In specialized a little in the bench press for the USAPL bench press nationals competition.
Here, I came into this meet as strong and as big as ever weighing in around 295 pounds but probably over 300 after I bloated myself the next day (if you’re unfamiliar with powerlifting you may be scratching your head due to this comment, but that’s ok).
Going into the competition, my heart wasn’t in it. I loved powerlifting and I loved doing everything for the quest of strength but my interests included so much more, and had for some time. I longed for other athletic pursuits. I missed being able to just pick up and play a sport or go trail running and sprint up a hill full speed.
I started noticing all these adventure, obstacle races and mud runs and started to think how much fun it would be to do one. I looked at all the athletes I coached and really started to consider how great it would be to be able to run and jump just as they did without worrying about how it would affect my body that was specialized towards one task — maximal demonstration of strength.
As fate would have it, even being at my strongest, I bombed at Nationals and went home feeling pretty defeated and completely burnt out.
The pursuit of strength, and doing everything for it, is a noble cause and I applaud anyone who continues this pursuit relentlessly for years. But, I had other physical development goals, and that was ok, so I decided it was time to lose weight and discover these.
So I dropped down to 280 and then 270 and then 260. Then, the weight started coming off more rapidly as I trained myself as I would train an elite athlete (you know minus the talent and money and all that). Soon, I found myself at 235 pounds and in one of the best shapes of my life, having less fat on my body than a lot of people would have at 190 pounds with the same frame as me and oh yeah, I felt great.
I moved better, ran faster, jumped higher, and could do much more activity for much longer periods of times. My pursuit of strength gave me a base to excel in these activities.
I went outside and rediscovered that part of me connected to our ancestors who didn’t visit nature, but were a part of it, as I took long hikes up mountains.
My body became a new kind of machine as my health improved. I drank more water, ate more great whole food, moved around as much as I could in as many different ways, breathed deeper, and even began to meditate to improve my focus and to feel healthier.
Anyone who has worked to build as much strength as I had and lost as much weight after, can attest that the weight loss is unbelievably devastating towards strength. So there I was, great shape but weak, at least to my standards.
I’d gained a new appreciation for complete health, wellness, and performance, but to me, training is working towards a new standard of human performance and that involves becoming as strong as possible within a current condition.
So here I am, enjoying life, enjoying moving, while also pursuing strength and power. I’ve even entered some powerlifting meets again. Haven’t done as well as I’d liked but through smart training I’ve been scraping away and getting stronger.
In many ways I feel stronger than I was because I know I’m physically capable of performing multiple tasks. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not one of those guys who wants to be just good at everything and not great at anything. I want my performance to be phenomenal. What’s the point of never challenging yourself physically?
I want to live the life of the alpha in a pre-civilized world. The tribe leader of ancient man was not just good at everything but was the strongest and the fittest. Being fit in this term is being fit for any task that comes while journeying through life and experiencing it, not this new perverse idea created by the masses who make money off of a false definition.
This means challenging myself to excel in all areas of physical dominance.
Tell me I can’t set powerlifting records, compete in an Olympic lifting competition, and then go dominate a race in the same week. You hold on to your reality while I embrace mine.
Keep evolving, keep growing. Don’t forge one destiny, forge multiple. I’m tired of people telling me I have to act in a particular way, like certain things, or be a certain box of a certain height.
I would encourage you to transcend these lines and cross disciplines. Don’t eat certain foods with restrictions that don’t make any sense, don’t listen to certain music because that’s what other lifters say gets some psyched up.
Don’t be a one-dimensional athlete, don’t sacrifice yourself and your athleticism for the sake of being wrapped up in a persona that just makes you look weak despite what your physique tells otherwise.
This post is already way too long so although I’m not going to write part 2 but I am going to share some lessons that I’ve learned through my short journey so far.
Currently listening to Blood Bank by Bon Iver as I write this.
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