By: An BLOC Lifter
This piece was written by an BLOC client who wished to remain anonymous. The author found strength training as a means of recovering and then continued training as part of a healthy lifestyle. The simple process of stress, recovery, and adaptation that makes us stronger through training has the potential to affect so much more than just our physical health. Stories like this one are an important part of the strength community. We thank the author for sharing this story with us.
I went through most of my high school like any other student, with pressures to go to a good college and start a successful life. Everything was going smoothly; I was getting the high marks I needed to get into top Engineering schools without much of a hassle. I started getting early acceptances, and my future seemed set for me. Yet, the thought of going away on my own to study for most hours of the day was starting to set in. I started experiencing low energy and periods of sadness. At other times, when I was faced with school tasks, my thoughts became harder to organize, and I seemed less efficient in my thought processes. Yet, I still managed to get decent marks because high school wasn’t really that difficult.
My transition from high school to college life was stressful. I was leaving the comfort of home, carrying the high expectations of my family, to face a full-time job’s worth of classes, while learning to live by myself in a foreign place. At first, it seemed like I was spending every waking hour going to classes and studying. Yet, while I struggled with feelings of low energy in high school, I now felt like I had a lot of energy. But the problem was my thoughts were a mess, so I would spend all my time reading and studying and it was never enough to absorb and understand everything.
My instinct was to try to cope with my unfocused thoughts. My roommate was seeming to manage with a fair amount of free time. And I figured I just needed to find a way to manage as well. I found I could calm my thoughts if I exercised throughout the day, doing push-ups, jumping jacks, and crunches. Exercising also became necessary at night in order to fall asleep. I would then wake up in the morning fairly early to repeat the process of studying and exercises.
Without any idea why I was having so much trouble, I continued my daily routine without finding a real solution. I was too scared to talk to someone about my issues, worried I would find out that something was wrong with me. At the end of the term, I was reduced to tears when I felt I was crushed by my final exams. I ended up getting an average that was one percent too low to advance to the next school term. However, I mentally put this aside for the time being, while I prepared for my first internship as a software tester for the winter term.
When work started, the pressures seemed even worse because I had never had a job before and I wanted to perform my absolute best. And I did perform well; in the first three weeks, I found as many software bugs as the full-time tester on my team had in 6 months. However, I was finding it harder and harder to think; so I was exercising more and more. I starting doing jumping jacks for 45 min straight a day. Not only that, but I found if I restricted my eating, my thoughts would remain clearer.
After the first three weeks, this just became too much to handle. I called my parents in tears and told them I couldn’t do this anymore. They picked me up the next day and we went home.
When I got home, I said to my mom “I think I lost weight.” I don’t know my exact weight at the beginning of my job, but in the summer before school, I weighed 135 lbs at 5’9”. When I stepped on the scale that day, I weighed 100 lbs. My parents rushed me to the hospital where they found my blood work was OK for the time being. But that began the process of me staying at home trying to regain weight.
I was used to eating around 500 calories a day, so food didn’t go down easily. However, my parents and the dietician were concerned and put a lot of pressure on me to gain weight. I decided to go full force and had a regimen of cooking, eating, and sleeping four times a day. I ate quite large amounts of food. So much so that, at one point, I gained 10 lbs in a week.
I also had developed strange OCD habits that the doctor said would go away when I reached my goal weight of 135 lbs, but they didn’t. I spent the next two months in a psychiatric ward, during which I was diagnosed with OCD, bipolar type 1, and psychosis.
Fortunately, most of the mental problems stopped when I was put on the right medications. Though, it didn’t solve the physical ones. While I was regaining the weight, I spent a few months mostly in bed, not regaining my strength as my weight went up. Even though I now weighed 150lbs, I couldn’t get out of a chair without using my arms to help. I felt weak and, as part of a new desire to bounce back from my illness, I wanted to get stronger. I researched online what programs to do and I ended up doing a circuit of machine exercises. After a couple of months, I probably reached my former strength and, through some internet research, decided to do a body part split routine. I continued doing this into the fall, when I decided to go back to school. School seemed much easier, especially since I felt I didn’t need to work nearly as much.
Going to the gym was a staple part of that term. First, it gave me a confidence I’d never had before, having been an unathletic skinny kid in high school. Next, it had a calming effect on my body and thoughts, which I would miss if I went a week without working out. Also, it became a fun hobby that gave me something to focus on other than school, fueled by a drive to lift more and more. Everything was great until I started feeling like I was spinning wheels because I couldn’t increase the weights like I used to.
Later that term, I happened to go to office hours for my first-year calculus class. The lecturer had a container of protein powder in his office, and I asked him about it. He said he was really into strength training and asked if I wanted to workout with him. So I went to the gym and he told me my squats were too high, my back was way too rounded during deadlifts, and that I should arch my back while doing the bench press. He then strongly recommended I order the Starting Strength book and follow exactly what it said.
Over the rest of my university career, I attempted the Starting Strength linear progression a few times. I would make progress for a couple months, but then, likely due to form issues, I would start to stall and eventually give up because it didn’t seem like I could make it work. Despite my repeated failures, I always came back to it because it gave me a stress and energy relief that helped me focus on my studies and put me in a better state of mind.
Years later, I am now using Barbell Logic Online Coaching to finally get it right this time. I started with a 165x5x3 squat, 75x5x3 press, and a 185×5 deadlift, having detrained since the last time I lifted consistently. First, my coach helped me with key form elements. Most notably, how to position the bar for low-bar squats and how to set my back correctly on the deadlift. Second, I am able to add weight consistently because my coach has helped me identify smaller form issues that crept up and given me cues to fix them before they became big issues. In the past, I would add weight until something hurt, still keep adding weight, and then either injure myself or re-attempt the weight over and over again, not really sure what the issue was. Trusting your coach removes doubt that what you’re doing is right and makes you feel that even if you have a bad workout, it’s not a big deal because someone’s there to help you through it. Finally, my coach has been very supportive when I’m not in the best state of mind and has motivated me to workout on bad days, even when I wasn’t feeling up to it.
After six months of being a part of BLOC, I reached a squat of 352×1, press of 154×1, and deadlift of 363×1 with 8 lbs of weight gain. I am very happy with my results and am excited to see what the future holds!