I was about to learn a painful but valuable lesson: don’t overtrain! I had been neglecting my body’s core muscles and focusing too much on arms and shoulders. My stomach and back couldn’t stand the load I was placing on them. I was a mess. Henry sat me down, a faint smile on his face and gently asked me if I’d been doing the stomach and back lessons he’d written in my program.
So it was back to basics, literally. I thought that sitting on the mats with a medicine ball and doing prone holds I thought was boring. Abdominal crunches were worse. Balancing on those Swiss balls takes practice. After several embarrassing tumbles I eventually got my technique down. Luckily, my back recovered and I was ready to lift again.
By month eight I had reached my bench press-milestone. 20kg discs on each side. It sounds stupid but there was real pride in that. Lifting weights is an activity that allows you to measure progress in very small increments. For somebody who never imagined himself making it to the gym in the first place, reaching that goal I’d placed on myself only made me hungrier.
By month twelve I could bench-press my own body weight.
To my relief I started to see my body change. I actually had some shape to me now: wide at the shoulders and narrow at the waist. Instead of bones, veins now popped out of my arms and there was muscle where previously there had been none. My upper half was ripped and shapely. I had to throw away a lot of my old wardrobe.
For years I wore baggy clothes to make up for my lack of size but now I wore clothes that hugged my body. I bought my t-shirts a size too small so you could see my pecs. I had put on ten kilos and now had a healthy swimmers type body. For the first time in my life I actually wanted to show it off. I had discovered vanity. This was a massive achievement on its own. Though not quite ready for the cover of Men’s Health, another year and a spray-on tan might seal the deal!
But there was a more subtle change going on in my body which I had not noticed. For years I was a moping low life – still am in some respects – but that cloud of depression all but dissipated when I began regular exercise. My mind began experiencing a clarity it had never known. Other people have noticed the change in me too. Friends, family and colleagues not only point out my change in shape, but my positive mood change as well.
I once saw a health professional about my funk and he went on to prescribe me anti-depressants: “to even me out,” he said. Not once had any doctor told me that a gym membership, not drugs, is a better remedy for depression. Perhaps gym owners, not drug company reps, should start taking doctors out for dinner.
I’m still not totally satisfied with my body and still terrified of the women at the gym, but now I walk with my head up and allow myself a little self-love.
And now that a year has passed I can look back with only one regret, that I didn’t start exercising earlier. It’s time to throw away my ratty old sneakers and get a new pair for the gym year ahead.