I love lifting weights, I have done since I was 10 years old using tins of baked beans and doing 100 bicep curls with them. The passion is still there to this day. I won’t bore you with my entire training journey but there is an important message I’d like to get across in this blog. You see I have reached a point where I’m lifting weights I never dreamed of lifting.
Once the tins of baked beans, press ups, air squats and jumping jacks were not doing it for me any more, I got my first dumbbells. I loved them. I got hooked on the pump and knew this was something that would never get boring. Soon enough the dumbbells were too light and I got my first barbell and full dumbbell set. You might remember the classic gold York weight sets. The barbell with all the plates weighed 30kg, which at the time felt so heavy. I trained everyday because I loved it not because I felt fat, insecure or guilty for eating a pick n mix the day before, it was just for pure enjoyment. I performed 3 sets of 10 on every exercise that was listed in the York booklet that accompanied my weights set. On reflection this was not smart programming (lol!) but at the time it was all I knew.
My goal was to be able to do every exercise using the full 30kg stack, I honestly thought it would never happen, especially the bicep curls! However, I kept at it until I realised training everyday was not possible when I experienced DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and other things began to take precedence, such as footy, homework, PlayStation and of course just being a kid. Soon enough exercises such as shoulder presses, bench presses (floor presses in my case as I didn’t have a bench), upright rows and curls all felt too easy. I had out grown the weights, not bad going for a 12 year old kid.
I decided it was finally time to join a gym, however, the only gym that allowed kids of my age was a leisure centre which had a junior gym session at 3.30 – 5pm everyday. It only had machines, not a dumbbell or barbell in site but I was too young and so damn excited to be in an actual gym I didn’t care. I didn’t really understand the concept of programming so just did 3 sets of 15 reps with 30 seconds rest on every machine in the gym including the adductor and abductor machines, pretty hilarious now I look back!
I was young, full of energy and with so much passion for getting big and strong just like the older blokes I would see in the gym. I would watch them in awe on the bench press “stacking” the machine, which was 120kg I believe. These dudes were repping it out and I just thought “Wow, I wish I could do that!” I was pressing a piddly 50kg for 15 reps and despite feeling miles away from where I wanted to be I kept training.
I continued my unconventional 2 hour gym session using every single machine in the gym 3 times a week and playing footy in between. Slowly, over time the weights started creeping up and I was getting bigger. Someone then suggested lifting heavier weights and reducing my reps to 8-10 reps, so I gave it a go and I was over the moon when I realised I could lift more weight. Funny that innit? Perform less reps and you manage more weight. Oh to be young again!
Then one day….BOSH. I stacked the bench press machine and man it was such an awesome feeling, I was buzzing and felt like a champion. So what was next? I was stacking machines in the gym, getting bigger but to be perfectly honest getting bloody bored. I invested in my first copy of Flex magazine and read it from cover to cover. I saw training plans in there using exercises I had never heard of; hammer curls, tricep extensions, pull overs, dumbbell fly’s, etc. I found a local free weights gym and got the bus there the very next day for my first ever “chest and triceps” workout. I was 14 years old at this point and it took me 3 hours later to complete the session. Why 3 hours? Because I was so excited and enjoying it I added the back, biceps and abs workout too. Holy sweet mother of god I was in pain for daaaaaays after, no really! However, I really loved it.
At this stage I hadn’t discovered protein shake days so I would stop off at the chicken and chip shop on my way home from the gym and picked up fried chicken, chips and a can of coke. Wallop! That was how I rolled back in the day.
Similar to my first gym I was totally inspired watching the others guys training. This was an old school, spit and saw dust gym, full of absolute units lifting crazy heavy weights. Weights so heavy I couldn’t even remove them from the rack let alone actually do an exercise with them. I had that same feeling of being so far away from these guys, at times it was a little deflating but incredibly motivating at the same time.
Around this time I ended up going to Holland & Barratt to buy my first protein shake, I was so eager to put it’s powers to the test and couldn’t wait to train. I noticed I was getting stronger, bigger and my bodyweight was increasing, I gradually upped the intensity of my workouts. I have never been shy of some hard graft and loved pushing myself in the gym.
As I increased the intensity of my training I developed an insatiable appetite, I would finish a session and feel starving so I started to take some food to the gym. I opted for a protein shake with a banana and honey sandwich on white bread. It always tasted so good after a solid hour of training. The truth is whilst I don’t eat this now I was actually onto something without even knowing it. I was getting a protein hit and fast releasing carbs post workout to spike insulin and replenish my glycogen. This was my post workout meal for a good few years.
As the years went on, the training sessions got harder, the weights got heavier and my muscles got bigger. Next thing I’m 17 years old and 93kg. I had surpassed many guys in the gym who were once so far ahead of me. However, you are always left wanting more, that’s the way it works, always pushing to improve a little more whether that means getting stronger, faster, bigger or more ripped.
This brings me to now, I virtually never use machines because I prefer free weights. The 50kg dumbbells which were once something I wouldn’t even go near are now my 10 rep max for incline bench press. I can actually walk into any gym with a solid confidence in my lifting ability. BUT sometimes I forget this. Sometimes I see others squatting, deadlifting and benching more than me start to doubt myself; “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not lifting that much?” When these negative thoughts kick in I know it’s important to look back at my journey and weigh up the amazing progress I have made.
For months I wanted a 220kg deadlift. Why? Because it meant I would be lifting 5 x 20kg plates either side of the bar and that alone looks epic plus its over 2 x my bodyweight. BOOM I did it! Awesome, what’s next? 6 plates on either side of course. That’s the way it works. The 220kg triumph is a distant memory and I want that 260kg, the 6 plates either side. I want that bar bending. I’m currently at 24okg on my deadlift right now and plan to be at 250kg Christmas. Soon that 260kg will be mine.
I know what you are thinking, where is this idiot going with this. Well here are a few take homes I would like to leave you with from my own journey over the last 20 years.
1) Ignorance is bliss
This is so true, as a youngster I trained because I enjoyed it and I ate whatever I wanted as I never knew the sweets, burgers, chicken and chips were a problem. But whilst I would not recommend such a diet, nor can I unlearn what I know, I do suggest you stop trying to over think nutrition. Simply aim to eat single ingredient, home cooked meals most of the time and treat yourself the other 10-20%. I eat more carbs on training days and less on rest days. Simple.
2) Don’t always plan
I know its not for everyone and my age played a huge role but I got great results from not planning and simply just doing. Often I speak to people who strive for the ‘perfect’ training plan and end up not actually training much at all. Structure is important but sometimes you just need to bloody train. So what if your gym does not have certain machines or someone is on the bench press or doing curls in the squat rack, do something else. I promise you won’t atrophy just because you did dumbbell squats instead of back squats. Sometimes a good solid mix up is a welcome shock to the body. I trained at a gym the other day where the heaviest dumbbells were 20kg and had an epic workout by increasing the reps, slowing them down, reducing rest periods and boom I had crazy muscle soreness the next day.
3) Train because you love to not because you have to
I have always loved training and it breaks my heart to see so many people training because they hate their body, because they ate a cheeseburger or because they feel fat and ugly. Sure its great to exercise to improve one’s self but self loathing should not be the catalyst to train. For training to be consistent and for goals to be hit it needs to be enjoyable. Occasionally we need to suck it up and get it done but this should make up for a small chunk of the time. When someone says why do you train? If the first answer is not “Because I bloody love it”, then something needs to change.
4) Look forward but don’t be afraid to look back
It’s great to focus on the present and pushing forward but often we forget to look back at our achievements, how far we have come and all the progress we have made from the start of our journey. If you’re not deadlifting your goal weight yet, you soon will, but remember when you couldn’t lift half that weight? Remember when a tin of baked beans was enough for a workout. If you haven’t reached your target bodyweight yet, no drama, you’re getting there, remember when the outfit you’re wearing now had not seen the light of day for 5 years because it was too small.
We are always striving for more and that’s no bad thing, just don’t forget how far you have come. It’s a journey and it’s the smaller steps over time that makes for big and long lasting, positive change. So give yourself a high five, yell “I am awesome” and then write down 5 big achievements based on how far you have come. It can be weights you have lifted, going from no exercise to loving the gym, it can be fat loss related and of course it can be based on self confidence and how much happier you are now. Look back at all the time and effort you’ve put in over the years to get you where you are today. Smile, then look forward to doing it all again.
I hope this waffle has helped you and as always if you ever have any questions please get in touch.
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Have a great day,
Matt “Young But Wise” Whitmore