How To Get a 400 lb Squat in 10 years: (Why) Do You Even Lift, Bro?

Why do I workout so much? I mean I work out like...a lot. I'm so into it. Oftentimes when I'm not working out, I'm telling other people how to workout while I watch them. In terms of hours and minutes spent, that is the MAIN thing that I do besides sleeping. But why do I do it? My motivation for working out, or "training" as I prefer to pompously call it, has changed a lot over the years. In the beginning, I wanted the same thing that drives so many of us into an exercise regimen. I wanted 6 pack abs. I wanted them because they were such a rarity. I saw them on the covers of fitness magazines at the grocery store but nobody in real life seemed to possess them. So, how amazing would it be if I did? "If I could be that person...", I thought to my 14 year old self, "imagine the power that would bring me." I knew the ladies would pay me more attention but it wasn't just about them. I wanted to get shredded for the general population. I imagined that if I took my shirt off to reveal an abdomen rippling with muscular topography then man, woman and child would all say "Wow. Look at that young man's mid-section. That's really something." Maybe they'd say it to my face, in which case I would graciously accept the compliment. Or maybe they'd say it to each other, in my absence. I was fine with that scenario too. So, I crunched, sat up, and twisted in all kinds of ways. I did "cardio" to burn the fat that was obscuring my awe-inspiring abs and for the first time in my life I made conscious decisions to eat something less delicious if it would bode well for project Abz. Within a year or two I possessed the glorious 6 pack that I had pined for. But it didn't quite create the massive cultural shift I had hoped for. There were no news stories, not even on the local level. My perception of myself didn't really change much. It's like I was the same dude, just with slightly less body fat. The whole endeavor taught me a very important lesson; nobody really cares about your abs.

  Is anyone really surprised that the French version of martial arts is just retreating in a fancy way?

Is anyone really surprised that the French version of martial arts is just retreating in a fancy way?

So, I continued to putting forth just enough effort to maintain my hard-earned 6 pack. In my senior year of high school I became interested in Parkour. "Parkour" is a french word that translates to "Jumping around and climbing on stuff". It's practitioners see it as a cousin of martial arts. But instead of combat, it's moving through your environment. Parkour introduced me to a concept that shouldn't have taken so long for me to wrap my head around. An impressive looking physique is only impressive because of the capacity it implies. Bulging shoulders, mountainous traps and a ripped mid-section are indicators of what a body can DO. Form follows function. The pull-ups I had been performing to make my arms and back LOOK good, had incidentally made my arms and back DO good. It was just now occurring to me that this was a way cooler adaptation in the first place. So my motivation shifted. I was happy with how I looked, but I was nowhere near content with what I could do. I wanted to be capable. But why? I think it was the same reason I wanted the 6 pack abs years before. The ability to scale walls and leap great distances was such a rarity among modern domesticated humans. Being a capable Parkour practitioner was the closest you could get to being a real life superhero. I wanted to set myself apart. I wanted to be special. The abs didn't do it. But maybe this would. Alas, I learned that just like abs, nobody really cares how big a wall you can climb and Parkour didn't hold my attention for long before something else captured it.

I first got into Crossfit my freshman year of college. Here's what it was selling: "Do these workouts and you will be ready for anything, at any time...and consequently, look amazing. You'll be able to weather a natural disaster, survive a zombie apocalypse and deliver babies of any nationality." Crossfit literally claims to prepare you for the "Uknown and Unkowable". Which is a great sales tactic. It automatically tailors itself to the consumer's needs. "Imagine what you need to be prepared for. Yea, we totally have that covered. We have no clue what you need, but we will definitely deliver on it." Plus, a lot of people are sold on crossfit the first time they do it because they think to themselves "This is so goddamned difficult, it HAS to work." But, the part that grabbed me was this: In crossfit, every workout has a score. Performance is obsessively measured. Like my prior pursuits, nobody cared how good I was at crossfit either. Except now I didn't need for them to care because I knew. Every workout rendered hard numbers, proving to myself I was better than the masses. Of course, I loved that. This is a big part of crossfit's appeal. You're simultaneously measuring and building elite-level fitness better than anyone ever has... or so you're told by crossfit's founder, an overweight former gymnast who drinks too much. But why consider the source when the message is exactly what you want to hear?

 After 8 months of Crossfit. Still skinny. Still beardless.

After 8 months of Crossfit. Still skinny. Still beardless.

Crossfit was fun and I got a little stronger but I still had this waify little parkour body. If I had been half of an acrobatic cirque du soleil duo, I'd have been the guy getting hoisted into the air. I wanted to become more like the guy doing the hoisting. So, I traded in my crossfit-style training for a steady diet of heavy squats, deadlifts, presses and whole milk. These things were present in Crossfit, but not to the degree that I needed. This shift in focus lead to me gaining a lot of weight and even more strength. Unlike everything that came before, this really did impact the way the world and I interacted with one another. Whether they realize it or not, people actually DO care how big and strong you are. Broad shoulders, thick legs and easily moving furniture are all things that make an impression. Maybe it was all in my head but for the first time ever, I could sense the world perceiving me as more of a man than a boy. It's entirely possible that this was a byproduct of finally earning my own respect. After putting the work in, I was squatting numbers I could only dream of while doing crossfit months prior. This commitment to heavy lifting and eating was like a rite of passage or a catalyst to seeing myself as a man, and maybe the world was just following suit.

https://www.facebook.com/CrossFitDurham/photos/t.717605649/10151555336965448/?type=3&theater

So, that brings me to the present era. What motivates me to train currently? That need to prove myself has all but vanished. I'm a professional coach at a crossfit gym. So, to an extent, my body is my business card and even though I don't "do" crossfit, I have to make sure I can hold my own in any given workout. But that motivation is secondary to the knowledge that this is all going to pay dividends as time has it's way with me. A life-long commitment to lifting is like a 401k for bone density and muscle mass. These things become harder and harder to acquire as you age so it's best to hoard them while you're young.  Also, the time I spend lifting is meditative. In the gym, I'm focused in a way that is completely different from when I'm doing creative work. When the task at hand is picking 300 lbs up off the floor and putting it overhead, nothing else matters. There's no room for peripheral worries. The weight is so large it occupies the entire space between your ears. But, ultimately I train because it makes my life easier. I can carry bags of groceries up to my 5th floor walk-up or run to arrive at a comedy show on time without being a winded, sweaty mess when I hit the stage. Working out doesn't really matter, but these things do.

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