I always wanted to be big and strong, ever since I was a little kid. When I was 7 or 8, I wanted to grow up and look like a superhero. I couldn’t understand why anybody would choose not to be big and strong. And, in many ways, my thinking hasn’t really changed that much as an adult.
I still believe that people should go all out if they have the opportunity to do so because, after all, what is stopping them? At the time, as a kid, I wasn’t allowed to workout really. I was too young and people told me that I would hurt myself or mess up my muscles if I started lifting weights too early. So I put it off at the time but I knew that it was something that I wanted to get into later on.
Everybody that I looked up to as a man was big and strong. My father was big, my godfather was big, my uncle was big… and they seemed especially big to me at the time because they were full grown men and I was just a kid. I used to daydream about what it would be like to put big men in headlocks, not because I had any animosity toward them but just because I thought it would be cool to be big and strong and able to impose my physical will. I had that fantasy a lot as a kid.
The men whom I really idolized the most in the 80s were pro wrestlers and big lumbering comic book superheroes like the Incredible Hulk, Thor, and the Thing. I thought that, really, it was one of the best possible options that one could have in life just to be huge, muscular and physically imposing.
I read Greek myths about the powers of the Gods and I really got into the illustrations of them using their powers, muscles rippling, silhouettes lit up by the flame that would flow from their fingertips. I was skinny and pale as a youth, almost anemic looking. I thought to myself “There must be at least five or ten kids in America who look worse than me.” I couldn’t have been the worst.
When I was young, I would run around a lot, full of wild, untamed energy, wrestling with my friends and devising elaborate point-scoring systems to figure out who the true champion was. But we were all just skinny little kids playing make believe.
At night, I would watch action movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. My parents weren’t into it; they had minimal interest in macho male aggression and violence. But I ate it up. I thought it was great. I spent hours playing with my action figures, making castles for them to navigate and move around in and backstories for why they would need to beat each other up. On my way to school, I would spend my time escaping away into the world of comic books and pro wrestling magazines. Into a world where everyone was strong and there were good guys and bad guys. I looked up to my heroes. I wanted to be strong, just like they were. But, really, it took until I was a teenager to first step into a gym.
At the time, I think I was about 15 or so. I had no idea what I was doing. I would hit the recumbent bike for cardio and then hit up bicep curls and bench press and then stare at my little torso in the mirror. I knew that I wanted a bigger frame and I wanted to look more muscular, but I didn’t know how to go about it, really. I was a disaffected, self-conscious adolescent at the time; my hair was died blue and I was into skateboarding and eating candy.
I would try to figure out how to smoke cigarettes alone in my room while curling a fifteen pound dumbbell over and over again on the edge of my bed. I remember calling up my friend in high school over the phone and asking him how long it would take to get a six pack before our swimming test later on that week in gym class. I had a crush on some of the girls that would be there and I didn’t want them to really see how out of shape I was. My friend told me that if I did 1000 sit ups a day for 3 days that I would be ripped in time for the big day. I did about 200 a day for 3 days and it didn’t work. I was heartbroken. But, hey, at least I was in a bit better shape than I would have been had I done nothing.
It wasn’t until I had my first girlfriend that I began to get a bit more committed. It was around this time that I dropped out of high school. I was turning sixteen at the time and I was really poetically depressed. I wanted so badly for her to love me and to accept me and to think that I was the sexiest man on earth but, inwardly, I felt that she never would. So that is when I really started working out. I made myself believe that the whole world was against me but that I didn’t care because I was a rebel and I would play mental games with myself to see how long I could last, like if I didn’t complete this last set of sit ups or push ups that I would die a horrible, cruel death or that she would no longer love me and she would leave me for another man (which indeed ended up happening, just like it does in every sixteen year old teenage romance). But anyway, I would grunt and make myself push through to the very end, saying to myself, “Ugh… can’t… let… that… happen.” I willed myself into believing for a moment that it was true. And then I would be motivated, in a dark way, to get it done.
That was how it all began for me. Getting in shape started as an idealization I had as a child and then it came into a clearer focus in as I grew older through a combination of romantic insecurity and introverted pathos. Who I am today has a come about largely as a result of that.