Monday, May 13, 2013

Beginning at the beginning

I was in the gym yesterday.  Contrary to popular belief, I'm not in the gym everyday, but I was yesterday.  I was doing some bench presses, and two of the guys were watching me.  I finished a set of 3, doing 275, and one of them remarked, "Congratulations, you can bench more than I can squat."  And it struck me, as it always does, as a peculiar observation.  I understand it was meant as humor, and possibly self-deprecating humor as well.  I have heard similar variations on that theme for a while, since I started lifting and learning about exercise and weightlifting.

I picked up my first barbell when I was 12.  And I promptly put it back down after doing three bench presses.  It was not an olympic bar, it was a "standard" sized bar, which might or might not weigh 20 pounds.  When I was 13 I started working out with the 10 pound dumbbells that were around the house.  At 14, I made the decision that I would go to the gym at school and work out.  Before I was allowed to go, however, I had to do some seriously heavy reading.  Dad made me before he would let me set foot in the gym.  How heavy?  Bodybuilding: A Scientific Approach, Powerlifting: A Scientific Approach, and Unleasing The Wild Physique.  It took me a couple weeks, but it was fascinating stuff, and set the stage for decent strength gains and muscle development that summer.

I was somewhere between 130 and 150.  I don't remember exactly.  I do know, that with regular training, I was struggling to stay at 185 my senior year.  Regular, not constant, because I was also a regular teenager and what did I know about consistency and effort?

Fast forward.  How long?  About 19 years, since I turn 33 in July.  Am I strong today?  Yes.  Stronger than average?  Yes.  I am pleased with, and take pride in, that strength.  I'm closing in on a 500 pound deadlift, I can squat over 400 pounds, and bench press over 300, right around 315 right now.

Can you guess how much I started with, when I was 14 and really got serious about it?

The same as Mark Bell, Donnie Thompson, Louie Simmons.  The same as Rob Orlando, Doctor Frederick Hatfield, Lou Ferrigno, and all the guys who have some serious longevity in sports and weightlifting.

The maximum amount that I could use, and still do reps with good form.  Which, for me, was the bar.  Olympic, this time, since my school was so blessed.

So, in essence, I started at the same place as you, and some of the greats in lifting.  The difference is not the starting point, but how much time has elapsed since then.  Work, mathematically, is a function of time.  19 years is a decent amount of time, and if I'd been lifting seriously for those 19 years, I could probably be a competitive powerlifter or strongman.  I don't want to, though, and that's okay.  19 years, though, represents the amount of work that I've done to be stronger, and bigger.  It's not a point in my favor, except that it helped me reach my goals.  In the same vein, it's not a point against people who aren't as strong as me.  Some people come to enjoy lifting weights later in life.  Just recognize that it doesn't serve you to compare your lifts to my lifts, even if you've been lifting the same length of time.  Just like it doesn't serve me to compare with Donnie Thompson or Rob Orlando. 

What does serve our best interests is to recognize the amount of work that we have put in, and the gains we have made, and celebrate those gains and those triumphs.  To compare the "you" of today with the "you" of last year and recognize positive changes is a beautiful thing.

Seriously though, I understand that the comment was made in jest, and should anyone say something like this to me in the future, no hard feelings.  I just want people to think about it for a second.  A physical display of strength is only the tip of the iceberg.  What goes unseen is the work it took to put on that display.