My first experience with a weight room was with my high school baseball team. If schedules permitted, we'd be in there twice a week for a grand total of 45 minutes, and only during the off-season. There was no structure to these sessions. No coaching. There was a white board with some exercises. There was loud music. There was 16-year olds talking about video games. The glory days!
I was good enough to play in college, where the weight room was more of a focal point. I spent countless nights grinding away in a poorly lit, well equipped box with 20 other guys who all shared a common goal: to make it. We shared the same intensity. The same desire to grow physically and mentally. It was a bond I'll never be able to replicate.
We were given a fairly traditional weightlifting protocol. Squats, deadlifts and bench press were buffered with accessory exercises like bicep curls, planks and dumbbell presses. Spend 10 minutes with us and you'd see what we were after. Size. Hypertrophy. Turning boys to men.
Hell, it worked. I put on serious mass in my college years. I remember one afternoon when my mother asked me if I was taking steroids (I wasn't, but my entire outfield was).
We did not pay one ounce of attention to other aspects of the human body. How well could we move? Were we mobile? Could our joints bare the load of the 315 pound back squat we just did? It wasn't that we ignored these concepts. We were ignorant to them. Could you blame us? It wasn't common knowledge. If you were in the weight room on a Thursday night after practice there was only one focus: Getting bigger, faster, stronger.
A few years out of college and I still maintained consistent training habits. My thought process hadn't changed either. At 23 I built a psuedo gym in my parents garage (yes I was living with my parents, bless their hearts). The focus was about strength. Powerlifting my soul into oblivion. Progress came, and so did injuries. There was always something wrong with me. A kink in the neck. Pain in the hip at the bottom of a squat. I figured it was just part of the process.
This went on for years. I never stretched. I barely ever warmed up. I only cared about the working sets. You know, the ones that you can write home about. The PRs. The sets that make you find that one Underoath song that gets your blood going.
Eventually I moved away from my parents house and had to leave the beloved squat rack behind. I always hated public gyms, so the thought of joining one turned me off. Instead I decided to spend time exploring bodyweight training. I figured I could save money and work out in the comfort of my own apartment. Maybe I would learn a thing or two.
This led me to The Bodyweight Warrior, a YouTube channel created by Tom Merrick. Tom opened my eyes to a world outside of traditional weightlifting, and for that I'll be forever greatful. I can confidently say that his work has allowed me to experience and learn from some of the greatest minds on the forefront of human movement.
Through Tom's work I began incorporating "flexibility sessions" into my daily routine. Every morning for 20-30 minutes I'd perform a basic stretching routine before making coffee. Nothing crazy. It consisted of various static poses held for 60-90 seconds. I did this for a few months and noticed some improvements. It urged me to seek out more knowledge.
Eventually I found the work of Ido Portal. If you haven't heard of Ido, go to YouTube and look him up. He's a practitioner of movement in its purest form. It took less than 20 minutes to digest his message and I was hooked. I had never considered movement as essential to the human being. As essential as breathing.
For years I operated under the assumption that barbells and free weight were the only thing that mattered when it came to working out. In fact, I was so hard-headed that I didn't consider any other form of exercise worthy of my time. What I learned was that "working out" is a social construct humans created to fill a space that our modern lifestyle has created. Our ancestors didn't need to work out. They lived a life full of physical activity and movement. They rose with the sun, ran with the wind and slept under the stars.
Now, at the age of 29, my mindset has shifted. Lifting heavier objects is no longer my idea of a man's physical capabilities. Don't get me wrong. Resistance training has its place, but is not the center of the universe. It is simply one piece of the puzzle.
Instead, I am on a quest to improve my capacity to move. I believe this to be a more thoughtful approach to the development of physicality.
It involves asking questions:
- Why do I feel pain here?
- What is preventing me from achieving this position?
- Is it a lack of strength, or flexiblity?
It requires understanding of how the body works at a fundamental level:
- How do humans move?
- What is the relationship between muscles and joints?
- What role does the nervous system play?
These questions lead to new questions. Each day I wake up with a clearer picture of what I am capable of and what I'm not. It is a lifelong pursuit.
"The first and greatest victory is to conquer self."
I am on a quest to close the gap between my abilities and that of my ancestors. We share the same vessel: the human body, and it is capable of so much. If only we give it the proper inputs.