With my plane ticket to NC cancelled, I looked forward to going home to my family for Thanksgiving.
However, my mental state deteriorated throughout the remainder of the winter semester. I spent longer and longer hours focused on perfecting my physique and spent the remainder of my time having outright anxiety attacks about all of the things that were keeping me from achieving that perfection: staying out too late at the theatre, waking up too early because the subway never came on time, spending too much time in class or in my room writing, not lifting enough, eating too many calories…the list went on.
During this time, however, I had two very positive influences (the first in the form of magazines; the second, a person) on my understanding of fitness, which actually helped me to become a more knowledgeable and, I hope, more efficient lifter.
Although I had originally picked up Women’s Health, Shape, and Fitness, it wasn’t until I found Oxygen Magazine and Muscle and Fitness Hers that I finally figured out what the hell I was doing in the gym. Those two magazines are written for women who are serious about muscle–they rarely feature frivolous articles on the best post-gym makeup, and they all but make fun of the women who say things like, “I want to ‘tone’ but not ‘get big.’” These magazines opened my eyes to the concept that weights are more effective than cardio at building a beautiful physique. I consider Oxygen and M&F my gateway drugs into the world of bodybuilding and fitness competition.
Armed with a slightly better arsenal of workouts (although I still continued to purloin tips from Jamie, since she’s a regular Oxygen contributor), I bundled myself up every morning, braced myself against the pre-dawn river chill as I made my way to the subway, and headed into the gym with renewed vigor.
I no longer had to look good for Lysander, but I still had to look good. For me. For ED.
Those early mornings at the gym were not spent alone; I was accompanied by the very dedicated few who managed to drag themselves out of bed and into the gym before an early morning lecture or seminar. In particular, there was one guy who was there every morning, lifting ridiculous amounts of weight (seriously, leg pressing with 1000 lbs?) or performing exercises I would never have even thought to do (blast-strap pushups, much?). And, before each of these superhuman feats of strength or testosterone, he would set up a camera so he could film himself.
I was immediately convinced that he was a jerk.
Who else would film themselves lifting like crazy at the gym? Only jerks.
And, it turns out, amazing, non-jerks like Ben. Ben Bruno was, at the time, a student at the university–though his sights were set on becoming a strength coach for athletes.* He was filming himself to study and correct his form, as well as document exercise progressions and PRs for others’ learning. And, without realizing it, he was teaching me a hell of a lot about the true meaning of a workout: to build strength and power, and not, as I’d always assumed was important, just to “tone” my muscles (whatever that means).
After a few months of seeing each other every day and not doing much but making eye contact and awkwardly acknowledging each other with a head nod, we started talking. He would ask about my workouts, and sometimes even offer tips. He told me about his personal trainer certification, and explained the whys and hows behind some of his workouts.
I will never forget the morning when some poor, Shape-toting female accidentally made her way into the weight room, where she picked up some 5 lb dumbbells and blew through about a million bicep curls with poor form before doing something equally useless on the lateral shoulder raise machine. Ben shared a knowing look with me. With me! This woman (not me!), I thought, was why women have a bad rep in the weight room. But I wasn’t like that–I knew what I was doing! I could lift weights! And guys knew it and shared knowing looks with me! I was one of the guys now! (Sure, I hadn’t given up my hour-long cardio sessions after lifting, but that was just because I still had to lean out…)
It got to the point where I realized that the only thing I cared about was working out. My time spent in the gym was the only time during which I felt validated and safe. I convinced myself that I didn’t even like my grad program anymore. Lysander had been right: it was a waste of time. I couldn’t be friends with the amazing people in my program because they didn’t understand why I had to work out and eat well–we were from two different worlds.
I was miserable everywhere but the gym. In the gym, I fit in. At the theatre and in classes, I suffered. So I decided, as the semester drew to a close, that I would drop out.
*Ben is now a strength coach at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in MA. He is also an incredible fount of knowledge when it comes to the world of strength and conditioning–and I cannot recommend his blog more highly. Not only does he put his own workouts and exercises on the web, he also aggregates the best of the best from all of the other strength coaches out there in a weekly blog post, so you can find out all of the latest goings-on in the industry in one place. (You should, at the very least, follow him on Facebook or Twitter for updates!)