My initial decision to join the gym in town is a bit fuzzy. I think I just thought, “Well I am 23, out of school, working full time and I got kind of out of shape since college.”
Pizza, Ramen Noodles, Coke and Taco Bell will do that. I was starting my first full time job and finally had some regularity to my life, so I just thought I’d go for it. Plus I was getting married in a year and wanted to look good!
I made an appointment to check out the gym, signed up and had my first session with my trainer.
He had me walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes then we did a reasonably low key circuit in the gym with triceps extensions, curls, shoulder presses and a myriad of other isolated lifts. Afterwards, we went to the stretching room where he gave me my regiment, “Chest and Shoulders Monday, Legs on Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, back and biceps on Thursdays and legs again Friday. Do abs everyday. Eat salad everyday for lunch, quit drinking soda.”
“And you really think I could get down to 200 pounds?” I asked hopefully [At the time, I was about 225].
“Of course bud.” He responded condescendingly.
I got myself a coffee with two creamers and sugar from the café in the gym and went home. I did it!
I went back to my apartment and cleaned house, got rid of my pastas, potato chips, sugary drinks and cereals while blaring, “Eye of the Tiger” It was the first time step to a million mile journey. I had no idea where it would lead me but at least I had a direction.
For the next 6 months, I did the regiment suggested to me by trainer. I would go during my lunch break at work, listen to Tim Keller and Matt Chandler sermons and work out marginally, get my coffee with cream and sugar and go back to the office feeling like I accomplished something. My body toned up slightly, but I didn’t even get remotely close to weighing 200 pounds. I was frustrated and needed something new. This whole gym scene was not cutting it for me.
Late one night, I saw an infomercial for P90X, men with sculpted bodies banged out pull ups and curls and Tony Horton assured me, “90 days from flab to fit or your money back!” What did I have to lose? I ordered the DVDs, got a $30 pull up bar you hung up in your door and some dumbbells from Craigslist. Every day for 90 days I did P90X in the dark basement of the church I was working at. I ate 1800 calories a day [measured on my iPhone app] I got pretty lean and was feeling pretty good. Except for the whole part of being hungry all the time.
After that, I entered into marital bliss and like many newly married men, working out took a back burner for a few weeks, or months, OK, it was a year.
After a year, I thought its time to get back into this and I bought P90X’s cousin, Insanity. This was a cardio based program that well, didn’t do much for me. The workouts were mundane and predictable and I got bored pretty quick. I am kind of embarrassed writing about this as I can imagine you are picturing me in my living room doing jumping jacks and burpees with Shaun T yelling at me through a TV screen, it just seems so comical now, but I did it.
After hitting a wall of two frustrating months of home DVD workouts, I needed a change. I went back to the gym and tried to amp it up a bit, even started messing with free weights, squats, deadlifts, bench press. I didn’t know what I was doing, my regiment was inconsistent. I would just go until it hurt, never wrote anything down and just kind of did random machines that were open. I even went to Spin classes and BodyPump a few times. How embarrassing.
I remember seeing my old trainer there one day and he said, “You’re looking kind of soft, you alright?” As he smirked. What a jerk.
I don’t know what I was thinking, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was desperate for a change.
A friend of mine told me about this crazy thing called CrossFit, an exercise program that is in a class and the workouts are so hard and intense, you want to puke. I thought, “Sign me up!”
I searched their website and the closest one was RedShed CrossFit in Netcong, about 40 minutes away. After watching Youtube videos of what CrossFit was, I couldn’t shake the thought that this could be a good option for me.
I e-mailed the owner who invited me to a free class on a Saturday morning. I remember it distinctly because it was the week before Christmas and my parents were coming to New Jersey to visit later that day. I drove out to the class and walked into a small strip mall building where men half of my size were throwing weight over their heads that I couldn’t even fathom, metal music was blaring, the people were built like Greek gods. I almost threw up before the workout just because of the intimidation.
After the class, the owner started me and another guy onto the workout. 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats. As many rounds as possible [AMRAP] in 10 minutes. I thought, “What a stupid workout? 10 minutes? I drove 40 minutes to workout 10 minutes?” I couldn’t be anymore wrong.
The workout started casually enough. I struggled with the pull ups and after the second round and was given a resistance band to help, then instructed just to jump and try to get my chin over the bar because I couldn’t pull up with the band because my arms were so fatigued from the pushups.
I remember the last few seconds with my face on the ground, covered in sweat, grunting, almost crying, almost puking, trying to push my body off the ground with one more push up all while a complete stranger screaming at me, “C’mon Eric, push, push, push, push.” My arms were like jelly, I could barely move. I felt nauseous.
Then that guy had the audacity to get down beside me and start doing push ups too. The shame!
When that 10 minute buzzer went off, I laid there like a dead fish. Steam rose off my body as sweat poured from every inch of my frame. I sucked for air and couldn’t find my water bottle. I remember limping to my car to drive home and almost throwing up 2-3 times on the way. I walked into the house, legs barely able to move and told my wife, “I found it.”
For the next 6 months, I was a CrossFit junkie at Red Shed, going 4-5 times a week and finding incredible camaraderie with the athletes. I adapted a quasi-Paleo lifestyle and “drank the kool-aid” so to speak.
I began to look at exercising more than just “losing weight” but began to be more interested in performance. I wanted to do kipping pulls, I wanted to power clean 225 pounds, I wanted to RX a workout. I didn’t step on a scale once, but I remember looking in the mirror one night after a shower and seeing muscles in my chest, shoulders, back and stomach. I was changing.
I ran a Tough Mudder [a 12 mile military style obstacle course] and even felt good at the end. I had more energy in the day, and I was, in general, just a happier person. It was, I truly believe, a godsend.
A few months later, Cloud 9 CrossFit opened in Phillipsburg, which was only about 15 minutes away and I asked my coach if it was OK if I started training there in which he gave me his blessing. I found a great community there with Chuck and the other coaches and loved the emphasis on the lifts, though I wasn’t too fond on the cardio. [Go figure].
I remember one pivotal moment in my CrossFit experience was doing Fran. Fran is the mother lode of all CF workouts, 21-15-9 pull ups and thrusters. The first time I did it at RedShed, I could only do 2 pulls up, then 8 banded and the rest were jumping. I could only do 65 pound thrusters too. I did the Fran workout 2 years later and did it without any bands, did the 95 pound weight and beat my time! I was ecstatic; I even posted a photo on Instagram.
Going to Cloud 9 became my sanctuary, everyday at 5PM, I went and had a crew that was almost always there. It may sound ridiculous, but one of the hardest things about moving to a new state was saying goodbye to my Cloud 9 Family.
I remember very distinctly during a strength portion of a workout at Cloud 9, we were doing 5×5 back squats. I started off with 225, then 275, then 295, 315, 335. The last set, I struggled but got it done. Everyone else stopped their workout and watched me push through it, and encouraged me and cheered me on.
After racking the weight, Chuck, the owner said, “Eric you should try powerlifting.” I thought he was joking, maybe he was, but I took him up on it. Even though I had to go home and Google Powerlifting. I had a sense of what it was, but not really.
I entered my first PL competition this past summer, had a blast and even won a trophy! My first one since Little League. Since then, I’ve been bitten by “The Iron Bug” as its called and have been training for my next one in November.
There was something about the atmosphere of that meet that captivated me, maybe it was the metal blaring, or the camaraderie between the athletes or even just the general sense of savagery that we are doing something that dates back to classical antiquity. Nonetheless, there was no looking back for me.
This was my niche, not shoulder presses and ab workouts, not spin classes and condescending trainers. I stopped caring about “losing weight” and started only caring about having fun and pushing my body to its limits. There is nothing more satisfying than breaking your last PR [personal record].
My short term goal is to make a 1500 pound total [600 pound dead lift, 575 squat, 325 bench press] at my competition in November. My long term is to become one of the strongest drug free powerlifters in my weight class.
It’s funny looking back because 4 years ago, I had one goal, “Lose weight” but through events, people and time, I have much less interest in losing weight and much more interest in pushing weight. My body composition has changed, I actually have gotten bigger, but I am OK with that.
I never would have dreamed that walking into that gym four years ago wanting to lose a few pounds would bring me to a goal to become one of the strongest powerlifters in the country, but it has.
It took me several years but I have come to realize that the number on the scale is of much less importance than the passion in your heart. I can’t even fathom going through a boring workout again, just in the name of “wanting to lose weight.” Our bodies are incredible machines, and fueling them properly reaps rewards that I can’t even describe. May you take time to treat it well each day.
Thanks for reading, here’s to the road to 1500.