From Untrained to Novice to Intermediate#fitness
My brother took me to the gym for the very first time in the summer of 2014. Ed had been lifting for a few months already to prepare for his ROTP admission. As for myself, “hitting the gym” was an activity that seemed so distant from my lifestyle at the time that it had never even crossed my mind. Thanks to gender dysphoria and bulimia weighing me down hand in hand by my side, I was able to find my rock bottom very quickly. It took some time, but I was finally ready to let go of things that are beyond my control, and move on to get myself back on track. Luckily my bother was there to help me get started with strength training.
First time weightlifting was a very humbling experience. I struggled to even bench press an empty barbell. Just about every exercise reminded my body of how weak I was. But the challenge appealed to me. When I returned to school in the following September, I started heading to the gym 2~3 times a week. I often felt out of place like some lost kid who didn’t belong at the gym. But I slowly learned to overcome it by focusing on the present moment and the exercise itself. And when I did, it was truly liberating. My counsellor had suggested countless times to practice mindfulness, yet I never got around to doing it consistently because it was very hard for me to let go of all the buzzing thoughts. But there I was at the gym, able to simply drop everything else and fully focus on my breathing, body and muscle, all effortlessly. Mindfulness came very naturally during exercise, and it is the most intuitive method I found so far that kept me in the flow.
After the first four months of light training, I recorded my strength level through Symmetric Strength.
I was still very much a beginner at this point. I remember watching a lot of youtube tutorials and asking people for help when I didn’t know how to do certain exercises. I also focused on improving my upper body strength because it was a lot weaker relative to my lower body. The following results are from working out for another four more months, training 3~4 times a week with higher intensity.
My vertical pull was the weakest muscle group so I continued to focus on that along with compound exercises such as squats, deadlift and bench press to improve all-around muscle coordination. The next results are from working out for another year of following my own program with increased intensity and volume, in a total of 1 year and 8 months since starting.
Other than taking 3 months off to recover from the top surgery back in May 2018, I have been very consistent with my training routines. I am now working towards various calisthenics skills such as the muscle ups, levers, planche and handstand. I am not sure if Symmetric Strength can continue to accurately represent my progress anymore since it can’t capture straight arm strength or skill-based exercises. Nonetheless, here is my current strength level at year 5.
Strictly looking at just the strength results, this 5-year progression didn’t yield the most optimal outcome. Had I been more meticulous with my programming, I could have gotten stronger faster. But I don’t mind having taken my time to experiment with different types of training style and learn from my own mistakes. By doing so it taught me how to listen to my body, which is an invaluable skill that can’t be easily learned from reading or being instructed. Once you get an understanding of how your body responds to your workouts, you can avoid a lot of injuries by being able to prehab or by simply taking rest ahead of time. Conversely, you can push yourself harder when you are able to risk it because you are aware of your limits. My current goal is to achieve a functionally strong body, which to me means more than just being able to lift heavy. I want to stay agile and flexible while continuing to develop strength. Weightlifting is now a complimentary exercise I do in order to build strengths for bodyweight exercises. Majority of my training hours are now spent on developing skills and conditioning through bodyweight exercises. Definitely stay tuned for more updates because phase 2 of my gym life had just begun!