I have always been attracted to weightlifting. It might have something to do with the WWF I watched with my brother when I was a kid. It might also have something to do with superheroes. When I actually started weightlifting, I might have stayed with it because as a discipline, it’s very predictable and regulated and you can do it by yourself. This is important when you deal with long term pain and limited mobility. (You can read more about that here).
I was never remotely athletic as a child, at least not in a way that could be calibrated and measured against the feats of others. I think one of the things that turned me off to sports was that I utterly loathe competition. Self-betterment? Sure that’s cool. But following random rules created by others and strategizing to overthrow an opponent, like, just because? Yeah screw that.
Actually, that may explain pretty much my entire outlook on life right now.
Anyway though. As a young person, I always failed miserably at those Presidential Fitness tests. So much so that after a while I thought of my failure as a badge of honor. But as I grew out of my teens, I decided I needed to do something respectful of my body. Sports weren’t really an option by that point. The summer that I was twenty years old, I took two classes at the local community college: swimming and weight lifting. Swimming was cool but meh. But the weights? Those spoke to me.
The smell of the iron free weights made me think of armor and swords. They felt cold and barbaric, which I liked for some reason. When I clanked the weights together at the top of a set, it sounded like warriors. I guess this might seem to conflict with my earlier statement about competition, but really this was just about me feeling powerful as an individual. As I perfected my form, I discovered my muscles and how to use them. I gained some sort of grace.
For a very brief moment in time, I considered becoming a competitive bodybuilder. And so yes, THIS would go against my previous claim to abhor competition. I think that the fact that it was even remotely possible intrigued me. I was at a gym in DeKalb at the time. The main trainer there, a woman named Lisa, said I needed to “lose the fat first,” so she could see “what I had.” For the first time in my life, this didn’t seem like a jab at my looks. It was an “athletic” concern.
I took a body fat test that year, and my result was 18%, which was described as “athletic.” THAT WORD AGAIN. I was also working as a figure model at the time. Once during break, one of the artists asked me what kind of athlete I was. WHAT THE HELL IS IT WITH THIS ATHLETE THING?
Just to be clear, I was really enjoying it though. It was both invigorating and hilarious.
That summer I attended a bodybuilding competition as a spectator; my potential trainer Lisa was one of the competitors. Everybody was orange and oiled up and posing to only the best eighties workout anthems. I really loved it. But I think that’s when I realized that competitive bodybuilding wasn’t about sport, or even health. It was just another damn beauty competition. So I gave up on my brief absurd dreams of looking ripped in a bikini.
(Editor’s note: a friend just pointed out that bodybuilding has changed a lot since the eighties. At the time, it really seemed to me to be all about a particular look and doing many unhealthy things to get there. Now, there are many different categories and integration of different athletic disciplines. I am not current on all this, but I am glad to hear about it!)
But weightlifting itself remained close to my heart. I love the culture of a good, dirty meathead gym. I like how it stinks like old butter. Years ago, those meatheads used to ask me to spot for them when they were maxing out on the benchpress. They told me, quite seriously, that I was a beast who could keep up with anyone. How can you not love that?
My gym now is a lot cleaner and brighter, with great equipment but not as much of the meathead charm. It has natural light and real plants. It’s definitely a pickup center. I call it the Disco Gym.
I have fallen out of the habit of regular weightlifting. And I really feel it. I think I am writing this partly to remember that primal satisfaction I feel when it’s a good day at the gym. I need that grace, that strength, the smell of the iron. I need calluses on my hands again.
COME ON GRETCH! BIG CHEST!