I had to read it twice.
This just wasn’t the sort of message I was used to.
My eyes scanned the black text on the white screen again, I wasn’t seeing things…
“Hey Jonny, if you’re free there’s a few people round at mine, fancy coming over?”
There was no on in the house to give me a lift, it was late December and the thought of walking in the snow wasn’t exactly the most appealing prospect.
But this this could finally be my breakthrough!
I hurriedly mashed at the keys,
“Yea, sure! I’ll be round in 20 minutes”.
After donning a hat, gloves and a warm jacket, I began the 1 mile walk through heavy windswept snow and sleet, along the dimly lit, icy footpath.
After what was more like 30 minutes, with throbbing pain in my fingertips, I finally reached the street.
Turning the corner, I was blinded by 2 sets of oncoming car headlights and muffled laughter.
As I stood like a rabbit in the headlights, I watched as 2 full taxis drove past, the passenger windows plastered with laughing faces and sharply pointed fingers.
My heart sank.
What I’d thought could be my chance to make friends with the popular guys and girls from school was in fact a prank, tailored for their amusement.
It must have been a tremendous sight for them, watching my confused, saddened, rosy cheeked face change from confusion to disappointment as I realised the reality of the situation.
See, as a kid, I had always been “the chubby one”.
Through nothing more than an enthusiasm for food and a willingness to ignore my satiety signals, I’d successfully managed to gain enough weight that to fuel the amusement of the kids at school.
My early teens had become a whirlwind of sharp remarks and being the butt of many jokes.
The term of school after this particularly painful December was the worst of it.
During summer break, I can recall finding it particularly difficult to cope with the comments and remarks that had been made only a few weeks before.
I wasn’t that overweight…
Why was it even funny?
The remarks had forced a self-criticism about my size and how I looked and It just didn’t seem fair to me that the it had been decided that I was the one to poke fun at.
Whether rightly or wrongly, in my 14 year old mind, this was the result of how I looked.
In reality, this was compounded by my non-existent self-confidence and shy demeanour – the perfect storm.
One evening during the summer holiday, like most bored teenagers, I’d run out of things to keep me busy.
Clutching at straws, I decided to dig out the DVD box set that I’d been given at Christmas. At the time, I’d cast it aside as an ancient set of films, no lightsabers or machine guns – sorry not interested.
I sceptically shoved the first of three movies into the DVD player and waited for the boredom to continue.
Much to my surprise, I was quite drawn into the story.
An underdog boxer, picked at random to fight the heavyweight champion of the world was busting his gut in training to get a shot at the title.
You guessed it…Rocky I.
I still don’t really know what it was that did it.
The upbeat music, training montages or the motivational under-dog story…something just clicked.
Something about Rocky Balboa disregarding the odds and doing it anyway, taking control of his future made me decide that I’d had enough with my lacking self confidence and soft outline.
I felt a binary shift from helplessness to anger and determination.
Like some dark force inside me had woken.
The next morning, I stepped into my local gym…more terrified than ever.
Of course, I had zero clue what I was doing, none at all. I decided to pick the nearest machine, chest press, and aim for as many reps on as many sets as I could muster.
Several reps into my first set was when I started to feel it.
The emotional release as:
I turned my pent up feelings into torque and horsepower.
I was fighting and winning against an unrelenting resistance, burning through my emotions like a lit match through paper.
The image of laughing faces in that taxi window spurred me on to push more weight than I’d ever thought possible.
I left the gym with a sharpened focus, itching for the next session.
11 years on and despite what most people told me at the time…my interest in fitness was anything but a fad.
I cannot speak more highly of what the combination of weights and a bar have done for me.
Two inanimate objects, suspended in space that can change your outlook on life, alter your thoughts, dampen anger and reverse sadness.
Light up the darkness.
The gym provides sanctuary, a constant space away from the ebbs and flows of life. As the old mantra goes – 100kg will always be 100kg and I don’t think gravity has any plans to change!
For most, weights provide a much needed sense of control in an otherwise hectic world, an earthing point to reality.
As Dave Tate describes it, he finds a point in the last set of an exercise where he
Enters a void.
A space where nothing else matters, it’s just him and the barbell, toiling with gravity.
As your vision blurs, time slows down and your hearing vanishes, you enter an almost spiritual state of presence.
As close to a religious experience as I’ve ever personally known.
I think, like me, most people first step foot in the gym to change how they look, to chase some perfect image or celebrity body.
And sure, fitness will create many of those changes.
I certainly look a lot different to how I did back then and I have no doubt that at least some of my new leases of confidence and self-worth are driven by image.
Although that’s not what I feel has been the most profound shift.
I remember the new found sense of:
I can do that.
When previously, I would have shied away from the boundaries of my comfort zone.
With constantly challenging your own paradigms, residing on the edge of your comfort zone with every session.
You begin to accept that, even though it may at first seem impossible, you can give it a bloody good go.
As Elliot Hulse describes, in training, you come across the transcendent rep.
Where your body is screaming to stop but your mind must persevere.
Pushing you past a boundary that you never thought possible.
After you’ve spent a good amount of time in the fitness industry, you begin to spot the patterns and commonalities.
Dave Tate and Elliot Hulse are just two examples of athletes that have forced through difficult periods in their life, using the brunt therapy of a barbell to keep them going.
This is something that can be harnessed by anyone, regardless of ability.
The gym is calm in the eye of the storm,
the constant amongst chaos that engenders confidence and self worth.
Without fitness I would be a shadow of the person I am today.
It is so much more than weights and a bar.
If you’re reading this, wrestling with low self confidence and battling your self esteem, on the verge of committing to change, I cannot urge you enough to go through with it.
Start somewhere, do something and do it now and I promise you, you will never look back. I urge you to at least take one step in the right direction.
Of course, there is an entire industry out there, trying to lead you down a long and winded path of deception for the sake of their bottom line profit.
You can’t really blame them for this, business is business.
The part of the 11 years that I didn’t mention was the convoluted path that I took to get to the point I am now.
The first few years of my time in the gym were fuelled by fitness magazines and online bodybuilding forums, saturated with pro-bodybuilder routines and contradictory messages.
For longer than I’d really like to admit,
I gained nothing but the realisation that what I was doing simply wasn’t working.
I trawled down the path of making things more and more complicated.
If the elaborate routine that I was following wasn’t getting me to where I wanted to go, the REAL progress must lie in even greater complexity.
Of course, the me that emerged from the other side of several years spinning my wheels, the me that is writing this today, knows that it truly is a set of
Simple rules that lead to the dramatic results.
Once the right principles are in place, you’re on the fastest track. Beyond this, all you can do is manage behaviour to minimise the frictions between your current life and the required action. That’s what we do best.