On getting strong

So let’s talk about something other than writing for a moment, just because i’m almost repeating myself in the last few entries  (plus i’m really distracted by a poet i’ve been reading and need to not think about eroticism for a bit).

For the maybe one of you reading who hasn’t known me for years, I have an uneven history with physical fitness.

I grew up your quintessential fat kid. That’s not to say I wasn’t strong – I was, I was more or less born strong. But I wasn’t particularly athletic by inclination; I was a book nerd and always preferred reading to most anything else (well, until I was a teenager and discovered rock music, drugs and sex, at which time I was a book, music, drugs, and sex nerd, and I sorted that in the wrong order so assume it should be in reverse).

When I participated in sports that required brute strength I did well, but fast and agile, I wasn’t. I stayed fit, though, because any time I could get away from class and hike, that’s what I was doing (I went to school in what we used to call a ‘free school’ in the 70’s and would probably be called child-led-learning now, ie, everyone thought if you let kids choose, they’d keep wanting to learn. In reality of you let them choose, they’d rather play, so we did a lot of play.)

When I got out of school and started to work, though (and started to drink beer), the tendency to stay fit ended, and (apart from periods where cocaine tended to make me skinnier), I started to loose some of the strength and fitness.

It took me a long time to get fed up with that; I was strong enough, fit enough, to do what I needed. It wasn’t until my 30’s when I had my first child that I started to feel like I wasn’t gonna be able to keep up with a child (a child who turned out to be the energizer bunny).

So for the first time I got fed up enough to join a gym.

An aside here, the single biggest motivation in my life has always been being fed up. Most engineering projects, home improvement projects, self improvement projects, surgeries, etc, all start with goddamnit, i’ve had enough of this shit.

It did not take me long to understand that I liked the process of strength training itself, and loved the way it made me feel. I liked the way my body began to change shape – I didn’t have any intention to lose weight, but suddenly things began to redistribute, my chest bigger that my waist, my hips getting smaller, my arms getting bigger.

But i’m easily side tracked or disrupted, and after a few months I got too busy.

Later, after a few years, a new 24 hour nautilus/24 hour fitness place opened a quarter mile from my house, so I began again. This place was my favorite gym ever; small, but extremely well equipped, with a dedicated free weight room. Mostly soccer mom/wine mom types worked out there, so the few real gym rats like me had run of the weight room.

I eventually hired a trainer, who taught me about the crucial importance of form in everything one does when lifting. Over the next few tears I got to be the strongest i’ve ever been, deadlifting and squatting huge weights. I still wasn’t slim, but I was getting big, in terms of muscle. I still weighed somewhere north of 250lbs (i’m 5’9″), but it got to be a hard 250, not a soft 250.

This time, it was a series of injuries that stopped me. First a rotator cuff issue (left side), then a stress fracture in my foot (one small form mistake can break bones when you’re squatting twice your body weight). Then a meniscus tear. Each thing healed (some with surgery) but healing takes time and disrupts routines.

Re-starting sometimes is even harder than starting, at least for me. Because the longer you go, the less you’re able to lift, and it starts to feel depressing to go from curls with 45s to curls with 25s to curls with little ladies pink aerobics weights like they use in Physical.

Then my local 24 hour place closed, and the lack of a convenient place was another nail in it – if it ain’t fucking convenient, I won’t do it (you gotta know yourself, and I know i’ll avoid shit any way I can once it stops feeling convenient.)

After that I mostly stayed away from it. I had a go at my local YMCA but when i’m lifting, i’m serious; I lift heavy, I want to optimize sets. The Y had shit for free weights and the machine area was non-stop geezers doing circuit training (don’t get me started on circuit training), who’d glare any time I said, go around, i’m gonna do 5 sets on this machine, and it’s set up, do not touch. I tried a couple other places, including at work, but the inconvenience got me again.

It was a few years of that, but then I finally decided, I have some gear in storage, some dumbbells and a bench, let’s try it. I added a door mounted pullup bar, bands, etc. Combined with some other lifesyle changes, I shed a lot of weight (getting as low as 200lbs for the first time in my adult life), so finally began to to look muscular. I found that if my gear was line of sight  from my home office desk, i’d just keep going, which worked extremely well for me for a year or so, until a bad case of tennis elbow stopped me again (more surgery).

This leads me up to the beginning of pandemic and quarantine. One of the things that happened to a lot of us during that time was a push to improve things. For me, that was mainly home improvement tasks; clean, clear, organize, purge crap I don’t need. Making my home better was the only thing that was keeping me sane when I was cooped up full time, working at home full time, with family getting more and more stir-crazy,

But I found that at near 60, with several years away from lifting, that I literally wasn’t strong enough to do things I used to find easy. And I got fed up – see above. The power of being fed up.

In June of 2021, I started with my bands and dumbbells, then gradually added gear. A power rack to let me do squats, pulley attachments to do all the millions of things you can do with cables, a number of barbells, a better bench. You don’t really need a lot of gear to get big, if you get creative, stay disciplined, and have enough room and someplace to attach bands.

Over the next year, I built the most consistant, organized lifting routine of my life, logging workouts, tracking protein intake. I bought an apple watch to help track movement. Added an exercise bike. For the first time, I started to feel cut, with visible abs and obliques. And while building muscle is a lot harder at 60 than it was at 30 or 40, it was happening; steady gains, changes in how my clothes fit, the whole deal.

….and then I tore the other rotator cuff, and had to knock off for surgery in June of 2022.

It’s not a surprise – the Acromion in both shoulders hangs down a bit farther than it should (I was born that way), and rubs on the tendons. So I knew i’d need it eventually. I just figured it would be a few more years, so was trying to build as much as I could. My rotator cuff had other ideas.

I’m now three months out from that surgery. I’m doing physical therapy 2x per week (and maybe later i’ll talk about the massive crush I have on one of the receptionists at my PT office – pink hair, lots of really good tattoos, glasses, perky manner, a name that’d be perfect for a stripper. She wants to talk about tattoos with me every time I come in, showing off her latest tattoo – wait i’m getting distracted).

So here’s the difference; this time, unlike every other go at rehab after surgery, I have my gym right here in my house. As my range of motion returns, and my strength increases, i’m righ there, with barbells and bands and a still-fresh discipline. I’m able to keep at it, not just doing my prescribed PT exercises, but also the other things, core, bodyweight squats, cardio, etc. For the first time, I am resuming, not thinking i’ll go back to it when PT is done, which every other time, is what I did, and then failed to do so.

I have a long way to go. Rotator cuff is, as i’ve said, notorious for being painful and slow to heal. 6-8 months, my doctor is quoting, from the June 2 surgery date, before I am at full strength. My right arm is half the size of my left, after 3 months of left doing double work and right doing none.  I still can’t shave my head right handed. I still can’t  ride my harley; I can’t get my hands up on the huge ape hangers. But i’m getting stronger, and will be back at it, riding, deadlifting, squatting, etc, by xmas or a little after.

I won’t tolerate feeling weak anymore. As a guy now past 60, i’m keenly aware that getting back to it is harder and harder as that number increases. This needs to have been the last time, that spring of 2021, that i’ll feel weak.

The shots below are pre-surgery, as much to motivate me as to show my small home gym.


One thought on “On getting strong”

  1. Great post! You seem like you’re on the right track with it all. I hope you continue to get stronger and healthier.

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