Gary reached for the keypad and plugged in four numbers, the same routine that marked the start of every morning.
The familiar green light and three beeps responded as the door to the office building swung open.
Clutching a thermos, he started the stair climb to his familiar desk and colleagues, the start of another week.
He arrives at his desk and throws down a lukewarm, vanilla protein shake (prepared the night before)
A homage to a younger Gary
A last ditch attempt to keep some form of order to his diet and physique.
He puts in time at the gym, or at least he tries to.
When lethargy and social callings aren’t dragging him away, he’ll squeeze in three or four sessions at his local gym with some friends.
Today was Monday, chest day, and the nagging reminder that his diet wasn’t quite up to scratch motivated him to fish for the last globules of whey in the bottom of the shaker.
Shaker back in the bag, he buckles down for another week – answering emails, fighting E-Fires and negotiating sales – he actually quite likes his job (most of the time) – it’s engaging and demanding, even the pay is reasonable.
Despite that, he still doesn’t feel “all there”
He spends each day in a sedentary stupor – staring through the fabricated office atmosphere at black type on a white screen.
He spends the evening with his girlfriend or friends – the occasional film, takeaway and night out punctuate his weeks as he rolls from month to month, year to year and decade to decade.
Underneath his happy exterior, Gary knows that something is missing.
As his 28th birthday draws ever closer he can’t help but remember the 20 year old Gary, he was fly-half of the University rugby team, confident, in good shape (good enough that all the girls notice at least) and he felt real drive and emotion behind every rep and set in training sessions.
He didn’t feel that alive any more.
He missed the adrenaline coursing through his system as he lined up the final kick to secure a win for his time, he missed the invincible feeling he got when, week after week, he felt bigger…stronger…faster.
A different reflection greeted Gary in the mirror these days.
A softer outline, a less confident presence.
I think we can all relate to Gary, regardless of gender. We’ve all felt the hold of adult life suffocating our competitive drive and sapping our willpower to make change and retain that raw emotion that comes with being part of sports or teams at school and university.
The thing is – we just don’t have time
Gary could seek out a local rugby team and get involved, but 2-3 training sessions per week and a match every weekend just wouldn’t be possible with his current work commitments, not to mention seeing his friends and girlfriend less.
Simply, not an option.
2 years ago today, I felt a lot like Gary.
I’ve never found it an effort to maintain motivation in the gym, but with the start of adult life, I could feel my motivation to squeeze in 4 gym sessions per week start to decline.
I’d never previously struggled to motivate myself to train, it had always just been a habit that was just “there” – it recurred weekly without thought.
Now the cost of my free time had risen, the idea of spending my Friday night under a barbell instead of having drinks with friends grew less and less appealing
Yusef saw this develop in me and made a suggestion
A week later, I’d signed up to my first powerlifting competition and, a little out of my depth, I enrolled the help of a coach and set to work.
On the 22nd November 2013, I stepped into a small local gym, day of the competition
The air was thick with chalk, there was the hard packing sound of metal on concrete, the low hum of drums and guitar emanating from the next room and tangible feel of tension and competition – it sounded like battle formations.
After several hours of weighing in and warming up, I was waiting in the wings for my name to be called.
That’s when I felt it.
My heart rate rose, fists tightened and background noise dulled – I stared with single focus on the bar suspended in space, shimmering in the stage lights.
Vaguely aware of music and applause, I flipped the lever on my belt as I approached the bar
As I toiled against gravity, I knew I’d found what was missing
The competitive drive I once felt, the adrenaline, nerves and raw excitement returned in waves.
Re-racking the bar, I was met with three white lights, applause and screams from my friends and family
I was hooked.
It’s funny, since that day, I’ve not once struggled to go to the gym – I’m no longer just doing it to retain some semblance of leanness, or grow my arms.
My body image no longer concerns me.
I am a weight class and I am a total.
I focus on my numbers, not how I look.
Sure, I’m not as lean as I once was but that’s OK – every week I make quantifiable progress and I get to compete in some awesome places around the world.
It reminded me a lot of my favourite film, Fight Club.
The whole story of Tyler Durden and the anonymous narrator is based around the idea that as we are funnelled through society’s structure, we slowly become grey and lifeless, bound by image and possessions.
We spend our days consumed by the pursuit of material gain, whether consciously or not.
We work jobs we hate, to make money we don’t need to impress people we don’t like.
Trapped in a web with no way out.
A little extreme? Maybe
But in a world where you’re only nervous for amorphous deadline and only out of breath when climbing the stairs, there’s a lot to learn about yourself from fighting against the heavy barbell under the bright louds and raucous screams of a powerlifting meet.
Even if you’re still on the greener side of the fence – yet to take on any adult commitments, still free and full of energy – I’d bet you’re caught up in how you look
A skinny girl with no curves and shape, bone thin from crash dieting.
A slim guy with defined abs, obsessed with clean eating.
Is that what we’re all trying to look like? Is that the new ideal?
To quote Tyler Durden….Is that what a man looks like?
In pursuit of relative strength, you will eventually reach the most aesthetic version of yourself, not through obsessive cardio and sets of cable flies.
Powerlifting has been a real saviour for me over the years and as the IPF grows in popularity, I’m seeing more and more young guys and girls get involved – it’s not the sport reserved for butch men that it used to me
So, I encourage you, if you feel like you’ve lost the energy and drive you once had – there is no better way to ignite the fire than jumping in before you’re ready.
Find a local powerlifting meet and sign up.
Do some reading or find a coach and learn the basics – you’re never going to break world records on your first try, but there is no substitute for time in the trenches.
Get out there and experience it – it might be the thing you’re missing too.