How and Why I Became a Bodybuilder

9 Apr

I didn’t start lifting weights until my senior year of high school.  The gym where we went was fairly small, and like many newbie trainees I spent way too much time on the nautilus machines.  Despite the fact that I had little to no idea what I was doing, I loved it.  Even a little bit of newbie gains, combined with a growth spurt, finally made me physically comparable to my older classmates.  I cannot stress hard enough how big of a deal this was to me.  After spending my entire high school career taking classes with kids who had the advantage of two additional years of growing, finally looking like everyone else was life changing.  I kept lifting through my first abortive stint at college, but I still lacked the knowledge and motivation to accomplish much.

When I started at UVM I got serious about lifting for the first time.  I had big, complicated, 5 and 7 day splits, 19 different bicep curl variations, strong opinions on wrist curls, and in retrospect, absolutely no fucking clue what I was doing.  Luckily for me the combination of  a 19  year-old metabolism, a summer job that featured sledgehammers in a starring role, and an abundance of enthusiasm can provide significant results even in the absence of a minimally intelligent training plan or a diet that came anywhere close to  healthy.  At one point I lifted every day for 6 straight months, and through some miracle avoided serious injury.  That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything of value during this time.  I learned how to lift when I was tired or simply didn’t want to be at the gym. I learned to tell the difference between the pain from fatigue and the pain that signaled an oncoming injury.  But most importantly I learned how much better I felt when I was working out consistently.

After I left UVM I spent three years bouncing around campaign jobs, which did not allow for an effective exercise routine, but did expose me to 3 very different gyms.

  1. A Gold’s Gym on the south side of Capitol Hill in DC.  This place was 50% skinny white guys that worked in government and showed up in suits, and 50% enormous black bodybuilders that tossed around 400lbs like it was a loaf of bread.  I didn’t fit in very well with either crowd.
  2. All American Fitness out by the airport in Burlington.  This gym would have been perfect, open 24 hours, 100lb plates, plenty of benches, and old school iron grip hex dumbells, in short all the toys I could ask for.   It had two problems, first, it was a bit of a pain in the ass to get to, and second, I appeared to be the only member not on serious doses of anabolic steroids.
  3. A Planet Fitness.  Nothing more really needs to be said, just that even in an untrained state I was the rock star at this place.

When I finally escaped the nomadic campaign life and ended up at my current job I decided I could now start going to the gym again.  This was the first time in my life where I was working a job with normal hours, had a gym within easy walking distance, and could afford the time and money commitment necessary to eat decently.  I spent most of 2010 doing the same sort of routines I used to do in college, and quickly exhausted my newbie gains.  After the 2010 elections I finally got my shit together, started treating leg day with the respect it deserves, and taught myself how to squat and deadlift correctly.  I bought a few sessions of personal training from a buddy of mine, who taught me how to perform the olympic lifts, muscleups, and TGUs which quickly became my favorite exercise.

But by the spring of 2012 I had burned through my initial set of goals.  I had pulled 500lbs, hit 100lb TGUs with an olympic bar, a dumbell and a person for the implement trifecta, and could pull off consecutive muscleups.  My favorite trainers were all leaving the gym, and due to it being a corporate box gym there weren’t many other members I could draw inspiration from, so I decided to find some way to stoke my competitive fires.  Due to a lack of other convenient gym options switching locations wasn’t an appealing option.  Powerlifting was the first thing I considered, but that would have necessitated a reduction in training volume that wouldn’t have fit with my lifestyle, and the equipment situation at my gym was less than ideal for that.  Olympic lifting was also going to be limited due to a lack of bumper plates, and my double jointed elbows are a significant contraindication for doing that competitively.  I went as far as going to the local crossfit box for an intro class, but quickly realized that working out in a large group wasn’t for me.

That left bodybuilding as the sole remaining option.  My buddy Pat had trained several female physique competitors, and he mentioned a show held every March in Vermont, aka the best place in the world.  That seemed totally doable.  We could spend the rest of 2012 putting on size, and post-election I could worry about the whole dieting, tanning, and hair removal thing.  A goal had been set, and I was officially committed to getting on stage.

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