“Check out these gains!”
“What supplements you take?”
“DO YOU EVEN LIFT, BRO!”
These are things I have never, ever, heard at the gym.*
Yes, weightlifting has a negative image. Many think, thanks in late let to our popular culture, that guys who life are nothing more than meat-headed, steroid-abusing, unintelligent, overly macho, testosterone-soaked (like this is a bad thing?) jocks.
In truth, most of us are just guys trying to stay healthy in an environment filled with sedentary jobs, endless entertainment, bad food, and aimlessness of purpose.
If you follow my social media, you may have noticed that I’ve been posting about fitness more often lately, though I’m not giving advice.
I’ll tell you what gives: It all goes to the “Renaissance Man” (or “Woman,” if you get offended by such gendered language) aspect of life:
Never stick yourself in one box. Don’t look at having many different sides as a bad thing.
In life, be a generalist.
The mind and the body and the spirit are all connected. You cannot ignore any of these without negatively affecting the others.
If you are mentally or spiritually ill, it will have outward manifestations.
If you are physically ill, it will have inner manifestations.
The entirety of a human being is linked. This is why, though people mock Biblical statements about the body being a temple that should not be defiled by sin, including things like gluttony and lust, those boring old guys were on to something.
Let me give a little background here which may explain why I find fitness so important, despite the fact that I check pretty much all of the “Nerd” boxes.
You see, I am a former fatty.
I know, I know. Some of you might object to this term as well. I don’t care. It was only by being harsh with myself I was able to cut through the self-deception that convinced me to be comfortable in this state.
Until I was in my late teens, I never got serious about my health.
Yes, I have always been taller and bigger than most of my peers. Sure, I started studying martial arts when I was 13. Okay, my father got me interested in weightlifting and jogging when I was around 14. But I never took my health seriously due to one simple fact:
I ate way the hell too much.
Being Greek will do that to you.
And worse, I thought that all of the physical activity I did would offset that.
Newsflash: It didn’t. Especially when I was starting my fitness journey, so to speak, as a fat kid. I had to get to zero.
I mean, I didn’t look morbidly obese, but I was damn chunky. And I had man boobs.
So around age 17, when I started to grow taller, lean out a bit, and get some muscle definition in my arms, I thought: Hey, this is pretty cool! And I actually started to watch what I ate . . . a bit.
It wasn’t until the summer before college that I got really serious.
I remember cutting back on carbs and junkfood, lifting and jogging nearly every day that summer. Even my older brother commented, “Wow! You’re starting to get into great shape!”
And yet, the man boobs persisted.
Why was I so concerned about these? I’ll tell you why: Around this time I started to attract the attention of girls, which literally never happened before, and I was petrified of ever hugging one, let alone taking off my shirt in front of one.
So I ran. I lifted. I dieted. I felt great.
In college, I must’ve been the only one of my peer-group to lose the dreaded “Freshman fifteen.” Though in truth, I probably lost more like the Freshman 30.
And yet, the man boobs persisted.
Around this time, the Internet was a thing, so I looked it up “man boobs” on Yahoo or something like that and damn was that empowering (God, I hate that word . . .)!
You see, I self-diagnosed myself with a condition called gynecomastia, which is Latin for “man boobs.” And it is far more common than you think. The Pharaoh Ramses had them, apparently. At least he could murder anyone who made fun of him though.
Not that I’m condoning murder or anything, I’m just saying.
So in tears, and highly embarrassed, I brought it up to my dad (I was 19 at the time). And he looked at me with fatherly concern and said “Okay, let’s see a doctor.” We did, and that summer I had surgery.
No more man boobs!
My fitness journey continued. I got big. I mean, so big friends and family thought I was juicing or something. But I wasn’t. I just respond really well to weightlifting. And it felt good!
In the summer of 2010, I trained for an informal triathlon a college friend had at her family estate in the New Hampshire woods. And I trained hard. At the end I was still big, but I got lean and mean.
Alas, fitness, like life, is full of ups and downs. I gained a hell of a lot of weight after my son was born in 2012, culminating in nearly hitting the 300 mark(!). Consider that, in 2010, my wedding weight was 230.
So in the summer of 2013, after demolishing a huge and delicious Fourth of July barbecue (I am a bit of a grillmaster) and drinking my last beer for quite some time, I finally set my mind to using the P90X my wife got me for Father’s Day that year.
(An odd Father’s Day gift, right? But my wife heard me comment to a TV commercial about how much I’d like to try it and thought, “Maybe it’ll stop him from complaining about his weight so much.”
I’m sure this was not what she was thinking. My wife is just an incredibly thoughtful woman. That said, I was complaining a lot.)
In any event, with the help of the . . . rather interesting Tony Horton, I proceeded to lose 50 pounds over the next few months.
Fifty pounds! I mean, the diet plan accounted for probably 85% of it, but the exercises were fantastic. I felt great!
And then I began to suffer from the effects of a heretofore unknown Lyme disease infection and lost another 15.
Note: I do not recommend contracting Lyme disease as a way to lose weight. I’ll need to write about this experience sometime because all stories where you almost die or get permanently injured only get funnier over time.
Now, I hit the gym regularly, even if it’s 10:00 or 11:00 at night. The point of this narrative is to demonstrate that, no matter the craziness and stress in my life–of which there is a lot right now–I always feel better when my body is healthy. I feel like I can handle it better.
And I highly recommend that anyone reading this does the same, woman or man. You’d be surprised at how much weightlifting or running or riding a bike or anything just melts the stress away and helps you think more clearly about whatever difficulties you are facing.
Of course, vanity plays into it as well. I like how I look! I’m in better shape at 35 than I was at 25! My clothes all fit better! My wife isn’t complaining either.
I also like how I feel! I am in control of what goes into my body which keeps me from having negative health-related thoughts, which in turn helps my mind and my soul deal with mental and spiritual challenges better than if I felt imprisoned in my own body.
So why fitness? Because ignoring any one aspect of your being is a recipe for disaster. If you have a mental health issue, you see a doctor. If you are spiritually sick, you see your priest or your rabbi or other religious or spiritual teacher of your choice. So if the third leg of this triumvirate is in rough shape, and it’s not a disease or a broken bone or something like that, you hit the gym.
Stereotypes be damned.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that much of what prompted me to write this comes from Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes, who for my money offers the best, most realistic, and most honest fitness advice on the web. His Twitter is great too. Alexander writes a lot of what always thought about fitness and the mind/body/spirit connection but never articulated as such. So check him out, and sign up for his email list.
Oh, and also: If you have man boobs, see a doctor.
*The one time somebody at the gym did ask me what supplements I took, I told him I just drank a lot of milk. The look on his face was priceless.
And check out my Instagram here.