Spartan in Training* and The Quest to Look Like a Man

I’ve always been skinny. Lanky to be more accurate. And I hated it.

I wanted big muscles. Not so big that my arms would have to hang bowed at my sides, but enough to get past the segmented twig look. So I did what most people did. I joined a gym.

And cancelled my membership shortly after.

All of my friends said the gym was a great motivator because being surrounded by other people working hard would make me want to work harder. My experience was the exact opposite.

To me, everyone at the gym knows what they’re doing. It’s like they’ve come to the gym to show everyone how awesome they are at exercising. And pardon the sexism, but as a guy, I look like an even bigger tool than a girl if I don’t know what I’m doing. Add to the fact that the weight I could lift paled in comparison to the other guys, feeling out of place was an understatement.

We’ve talked plenty of times on this blog about the dangers of comparing yourself to others. At the gym I couldn’t stop this and it totally affected my workout. I wasn’t going to push myself too hard in case it caused me to lose my balance or grunt or do some other dumb thing. I was also staying away from the more the more popular machines and benches because surely I’d be the one they’d all stop to watch and mock and maybe even have the guts to say, “You don’t belong here.”

Now I get that this isn’t how the gym truly operates, but this was one of the few times in my life where no amount of logic was going to change my mind. I still wanted the muscles, so I bought a weight set.

Exercising at home was perfect for me.

Beyond the convenience of having everything at my fingertips, I could take my time with each movement and push myself no matter how silly I looked. You know, actually workout.

But I still wasn’t getting the muscle I wanted.

I was increasing the weight I lifted, but I wasn’t eating enough. You need a lot of extra calories to put on muscle and if I ate that much food, I’d explode. At the suggestion of some friends I tried the protein shake. Ugh. Nothing I added could make it taste good and the idea of a bunch of weight gainers and supplements didn’t appeal to me. It sucked. Seemed my goal wasn’t in the cards.

Then I discovered Exercise TV. It was a free on demand channel through my cable that offered hundreds of ten to twenty minute workouts of all types. Finally! Well, not exactly.

The more I scrolled through, the more I realized that this channel catered to people (mostly women) who wanted to lose weight and tone up. I viewed toning as a step back from putting on muscle, so I never considered it. But I liked some of the workouts and decided to give it a try. I couldn’t believe how good I felt after my first workout. Besides the physical goodness, it was great to be working to a routine. The trainers did a fantastic job explaining the mechanics of what I was doing, which I loved. And as tried more workouts, I learned that toning combined with some cardio was actually a better fit for me than just weights.

So I probably won’t be filling out this outfit any time soon.

But with a lot of hard work, I think this is within the realm of possibility.

And being okay with that was a big step forward for me.

I was thinking about all this in light of my new writing direction and how much happier I am now than before my “perfect” plan was ruined. Funny how that stuff works out. Ever have a plan or goal that was turned upside down into something even better?

*Spartan in Training is a term my buddy Kait came up with to go along with her Goddess In Training campaign because God In Training sounded a bit snooty to me. End of fun fact.

17 comments on “Spartan in Training* and The Quest to Look Like a Man

  1. I would like to be T2 Linda Hamilton awesome, but it’s one of those things where it’s a wish and not a goal. I can’t make myself want it badly enough to put in the time and effort and it seems too far away and potentially impossible. It’s one of those many things I want to want enough. When the zombies come, I’m totally screwed.

  2. I don’t like the gym, either. The people, lights, smell, music…it put me in a bad mood. I’m like you-I love exercise videos, and I also like running.
    Here’s to throwing away perfect plans! *lifts coffee mug*

  3. The folks on the fitness forum I sometimes hang out on would say there’s no such thing as toning. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I’m big on the virtues of weights, but also on finding the workouts to suit you. Lots of people would like bulky muscle, but it definitely takes a lot of effort. It’s something to work up to rather than jump straight into first. And then there’s the maintenance. It’s a lot when lean muscles look good too.

    I try to use weights (okay, not so much when I’m on writing deadlines) for strength training because having lots of kids close together isn’t particularly healthy, but also pilates because it’s pretty perfect for sorting out the weakness than comes with the above. (Again, not so much when I’m going through the obsessive stage of writing). I eat chocolate a number of times a day so I’m probably more about making sure I can actually fit through my front door rather than get the perfect body. ๐Ÿ˜€

    I quite like the gym, but never alone. I definitely feel awkward, but when someone’s with me, we can laugh at ourselves, and it’s a lot less embarrassing. And it’s much easier to give it loads at home when nobody’s watching. The only problem is finding the motivation. Anyway, well done for finding a method to suit you. It’s super, super important for writers to keep moving. Says she who managed to damage her back from hunching over edits for too long. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I didn’t have anyone to go to the gym with. But even if I was in a group of ten guys and was the one lifting ten pounds with great difficulty, I feel like everyone would notice.

      I have done pilates. Not. Easy. Especially on Mr. Not Flexable.

      Hope you didn’t hurt your back too badly.

      • Nothing a week of painkillers couldn’t fix. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I went to the gym with my mother. She was way better than me. Tell me that isn’t embarrassing. LOL. I think most people are too into their own thing to care about anyone else, but it’s hard to convince yourself of that when you’re starting out and everyone else seems to know what they’re doing.. Good thing it isn’t necessary to go to the gym to get a decent workout.

        I did some ballet and stuff when I was younger so I’m probably still a little flexible. More than I deserve considering how lazy I am. I like that whole burning muscle, can’t move thing that pilates does. Makes me feel like it’s working. *Shrug*

  4. This is awesome!

    “To me, everyone at the gym knows what theyโ€™re doing. Itโ€™s like theyโ€™ve come to the gym to show everyone how awesome they are at exercising.”

    I think this is so very true (or at least it feels that way when you walk in to one)! I prefer working out at home as well, or in a small friendly group setting (like yoga outside, etc).

    I’m proud of you for making some changes and feeling good about them. I too moved my writing (and personal life) into a new direction (full story to be disclosed shortly) and it was a hard decision to make, but I am so much happier with it.

    Keep toning, keep writing and above all, keep smiling!

  5. This post made me giggle.

    I feel similarly about working out at the gym. I went through a brief stint where I went regularly. I felt like a total moron. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wore sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt, my unwashed hair in a baseball cap. Inevitably, I’d be working out next to the woman in skin tight short-shorts and sports bra, makeup and hair in place and not a drop of sweat as she effortlessly.

    Go you for making an effort to keep working out in whatever way keeps you going.

    And hey, if Christopher Gorham’s look is attainable, press on Mr. Mocete! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I loved the gym! I liked the machines they had and the power I felt while I was using them. I was in so much better shape then! (I have the opposite problem from yours. I NEED to lose weight.) This gym was big and very popular. And that was the problem. It got so crowded there that I started having to wait on the machines. So I quite. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    I have a Bowflex, free weights, a treadmill, Wii games…so many things that could help if I would just use them regularly. I felt more accountable when I was going to the gym.

    I don’t really know who that guy is in the second picture, but that certainly isn’t a bad goal! VERY few people can be Thor. LOL

    • That happened I at a gym I went to. It was so crowded that you had to go when it opened if you wanted a decent workout.

      The guy I’ll probably hang on my wall for motivation is Christopher Gorham. He’s on this spy show, Covert Affairs.

      And I don’t think Thor can even be Thor. I’ve been reading what guys like him and Gerard Butler (300) did to get into the shape they were in. In Butler’s case, his workout was so intense that he’s done permanent damage to his body. No thanks.

  7. Great post.

    I was super nervous the first time I went into a gym, and even when I was at my most addicted (and it was an addiction) I was training up to 2 hours a day twice a day most of the time and spending around $200 a month in supplements. I saw benefits but nothing that would shock the world. Yet even then I could not go to the gym and use the popular machines during the busy hours. It is a tough mindset to break, and now I too have started to work out at home. Having kids means prioritising your time is more important than ever and so a home workout is perfect. I am currently using – well kind of on a bad streak at the moment – EA Active 2 for the Wii. I think it really gets you moving and I certainly feel it the next day.

    Any exercise if good exercise wherever you do it, so good on you for getting out there and doing it.

    When I was in the gym I used to look at the people who were in shape and think nothing of them, but when I saw people who were over weight or who were skinny and trying to bulk up I was inspired by them. They were making the decision to improve themselves, whether for health reasons, self image reasons or whatever, I saw people who were getting up and doing something. To this day I applaud them, much like I am applauding you right now.

  8. Andrew,you are amazing. I loved this post. You always have such a GREAT message to share. I’m a firm believer that one will not ever achieve happiness if not happy with oneself. Comparing one to someone else is never a good sign. Love oneself. Be the very best that one can be. And realize that perfection is really just a figment of our imaginations. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I agree. I spent a long time not being happy with how I looked and tried all sorts of things to change that. Once I embraced me, my confidence went up (a little. I’m still rather self-conscious) and now I get more compliments about how I look.

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