Do you have a quest? Something you have felt a drive to achieve, but never quite made it? Perhaps we all do. Some define quest as an unreachable goal – a dream – something beyond our reach, but worth pursuing. I have written before, and gotten some surprising positive feedback, on my own quest for improved fitness. Fitness in more than just the traditional body sense – extending into an overall place of well being, but very much including strength and physical health. In the past few months I have been slowly recognizing some factors that have helped me – not in necessarily traditionally measurable ways, but more in how I am feeling confident that I am on the right path. It’s been about 9 months since I posted about my progress – it seems like a good time to update you (and me, too!)
You can a find numerous books about lifting routines; technique; videos, apps, charts and more. I imagine they are all pretty helpful when used correctly – and I have bought (and given away) more than I care to remember. What surprises me is that there is relatively little written on the mindset one needs to embrace to move towards fitness, and I am realizing that is where every successful effort rests on a solid foundation. And that’s what I am going to try to convey with this post – some of the perspectives that have helped me refocus my efforts, creating results –the best of which will never be measured on the scale.
WARNING!!! Health advisory – my learning curve may differ significantly from yours! Were you among the “last picked” in PE? Have you spent your lifetime feeling like your body is best left unseen by human eyes? Have you found emotional comfort in food? Did most of your dating life consist of what flavor ice cream to binge? Then, well – maybe some of what I am about to share will resonate. Maybe, you too, have spent years yo-yoing between gyms and diets, workouts and guilt, success and failure; maybe there’s more like “us” who never reach their “ideal” – but keep coming back. Some might call it foolish, or compulsive; even destructive for some, sadly. But – something in us still calls to keep on striving. To not give up.
My not always effective efforts to become more like the physical ideal I yearned to be were thrown off track at age 60, when I had to be hospitalized for a parasite, and lost a great deal of muscle mass, and required physical therapy to resume first walking, and driving. When the time came to return to any kind of exercise 3 years ago now, I nearly cried at my inability to lift the bar on the bench without any weights attached at all. It felt like everything I had ever achieved was now gone – but I began to gradually build back. This spring I just turned 64; I did all I could during COVID to focus on improving, or at least maintaining, my fitness through home workouts and eventually limited gym access. Thankfully, our gyms are now fully open, and although in some ways I miss the backyard weight bench and adjustable dumbbells, I am so glad to be able to go be among others again and have a great selection of equipment to work with. But this is not some transformational success story, just yet anyway – I remain today far from an example of a successful gym rat.
We need to redefine “success”, and identify our own ideals
Here in SF, and being a gay man among many, the gyms are a kind of temple to what many hold as the masculine ideal – it’s on parade everywhere. It is so, so very easy to look at those muscular toned bodies, the tight outfits, the gleaming skin, and feel like a complete failure. Friends – take my word for it! To go in day after day and swim in that ocean of buffness is a potential recipe for depression! During COVID I began to realize, especially during the months when we had to stand in line to enter the gym by appointment, for less than an hour, outdoors – the people who truly inspired me were, well, the ones that might be classified as “rejects”. Not the models; not the gleaming Adonis (although I certainly still admire their physical state!) – but the ones like me. Overweight; skinny; average; older. I came to see that for me, and perhaps for them, because coming in took more determination, more commitment – often without visible results – they were showing me how to find that same energy within me. In fact, the one I remember most, was an elderly woman, at least in her 70’s, faithfully using cardio equpment, slowly moving her arms and legs, showing up like the rest of us – with greater effort. She would walk to the gym, and might have lived locally; she clearly faced many challenges – but that did not stop her. I never spoke to her, and now that things are “open” again, I haven’t seen her in months – but she is to me an example of spirit and dedication.
Insight the first – You’ve got to adjust your optics.
Having recently seen the latest “Fantastic beasts” movie, I reflect on the scenes where one wizard and another shoot the obligatory bolts from their wands – realizing that the setting for their battles has relevance for me! Now, I am not a “Harry Potter” expert by any means, but it seems to be kind of traditional that when they have these fights, they somehow move into a kind of shadow land, where it is just them, and everything and everyone else around them is kind of in a blur, another reality. Silly as it may be, I have started thinking of my time at the gym that way – surrounded by all these more physically developed – and younger, for the most part – low body fat percent flexing bodies, I move into a different mindset – where it’s just me, and the weights. I can’t “blur” them out of my perception, but – it really helps, somehow, to think of this as being my gym! When I walk in and stow my protein shake and keys in the locker, I walk out into “my” training ground – where I focus on what I need to do, right now, today. If I walk in with an attitude of not being exactly where I belong, well, I will go through my workout with less results! Don’t ask me to explain it – call me a kook if you like – but I am truly, finally feeling like I really DO belong there – in “my gym” – working on me, exactly where I am.
Insight the second – Our quest may be solo, but it doesn’t have to be alone.
Over the years, and at the roughly dozen or more gyms I have joined on an off, I have had both good and not so good experiences with trainers. Having a trainer is not some guarantee of success! A good trainer can truly help – but they can’t do the work, they can’t help you have the right attitude – although they can be encouraging, or worse – disheartening. Working with a trainer effectively requires trust – and trust means respect, and acceptance. If you don’t have those elements, you are wasting your time and money – best to move on. It took time, but eventually I found my current trainer, who had some availability, and we started working together twice a week about six months ago. I am truly seeing results – in part because of his encouragement and helping me with technique. And for the majority, who can’t afford trainers, or even a gym – you can find a cheerleader, if you look. And you can BE a cheerleader – lifting up those around you. You never know how a kind word at the right time might help a friend – or a stranger – find the strength to carry on. Like the Village People proclaimed in YMCA, “No man does it all by himself; young man, put your pride on the shelf”!!!
Insight the third – The worst cardio you can do is – running from reality.
I have never gone to a “boxing” gym – I don’t have to, I have a lifetime of experience in beating myself up!! Friends, not all of us are going to be calendar models! Not everyone is going to be anywhere close to the “ideal” we have – but we sure as heck aren’t going to get closer by having unrealistic goals, and then hating ourselves for not making them! Working out, eating right – these are ways not only of loving our body, but accepting our imperfect selves – and others around us – as we are, and rejoicing, even giving thanks, for what we are able to do with them now – balancing that with an honest assessment of our limits, and the passage of time. My best won’t be your best – whatever comes of my efforts isn’t entirely up to me, or you – but if we can say “I did my best” today, when we close our eyes, that is cause for celebration, not shame. We must relish our victory in the knowledge we are on the path!!
Insight the fourth – Find YOUR inspiration – and BE an inspiration!
So now I will be really personal, and maybe a little weird, but … one thing has really made a difference for me in my entire approach to what I call my “fitness journey”. Maybe it’s a kind of spiritual lens for this part of my experience – or maybe it’s just a mental trick to help me get past my own inner hurdles. Either way – it’s working – so here goes. Now, when I look at some of the examples of real bodybuilders around me at the gym – the well developed upper and lower bodies, the chiseled figures, the fat free curves of layers of muscles – I sense a kind of echo within me. I feel as though, somehow, I am drawn to them because those same possibilities are in me, awaiting to emerge. Perhaps it is like a kind of “future” mirror – we are, after all, not that different from one another – and somewhere, that new me, the product of the work I do today, all the yesterdays, and all the tomorrows – is waiting, eagerly, to emerge. I feel it with every set. And I see it happening – around me, and within me.
Insight the fifth – Blurring the line between the inner and outer you
Just as I am slowly finding my way to let parts of my own, long suppressed, dormant inner being be expressed, shared, enjoyed with others – so are the elements within my physical shell joining in that chorus of awareness. I am, somehow, feeling my physicality more now that I accept that the same possibilities that others have embraced are there for me, as well. I sense my body more completely – I actually feel more integrated within it as I work on the different muscle groups. There is an energy flowing through me that is a different level of being alive, as I slowly integrate this awareness. I think it is kind of sad that for so many, the concept of a spiritual aspect to our existence has become something to be avoided, to be denied; it is a loss. Yes, our bodies will, one day, be irrelevant; but they are the vessels of the gift of life, one we must treasure, cherish – and honor in one another. To care for our physical well being – and that of those we love – is no less an act of faith, love and devotion. It is a dance with grace. I am finding a new kind of joy, integrating my mind, my heart, my faith and my body – together, growing, and finding peace in just being, today, this moment – and the next after that.
Insight the sixth – The only “last place” is for those who never leave start.
We have to let our goals be our friends – milestones, not millstones. Just as this blog is subtitled my “journey towards authenticity”, I view my quest for a better body as one that does not have an end – a finish point. It’s not easy to balance goals with being realistic – I don’t pretend to be good at it. But I am a bit more balanced than I was, and – I am moving ahead. I still sense within me, yes even at 64, that I can do better; and I am not doing this for others, or what they think of me, or how they react to me, anymore. I am doing this because it brings me joy. I feel a possibility within me and I am working to give it a chance to become reality. There is no limits to what I can learn about fitness, although I truly acknowledge there are very real limits as to what my body can do, and it’s very different than what I might have been able to pursue 30 years ago. Does missing those decades of achievement mean taking hold of what I want now is a waste of time? I would say, not at all – but that’s a choice everyone has to make for themselves. Every goal we say “yes” to means an uncounted host of possible that we release.
Insight the final – There is a hero within each of us – waiting to emerge!!
I love music while working out – not the squealing beat of the gym pop that blares, but my own personal soundtrack. It’s amazing what you can find – including this beautiful cover of the song from Disney’s Hercules, as performed by a male youth and adult choir from Brigham Young University. The video is stunning – but more importantly, the voices are divine, and the words carry me through some of the hard times. Here are the lyrics, and I hope you will find that which inspires you, too, to reach beyond where you are, and where you thought you might never be, to become. Enjoy the quest, friends. I’m there beside you! I’m cheering for you – together, we are becoming – the champions!
I have often dreamed of a far off place
Where a hero’s welcome would be waiting for me
Where the crowds would cheer, when they see my face
And a voice keeps saying this is where I’m meant to be
I’ll be there someday, I can go the distance
I will find my way if I can be strong
I know every mile would be worth my while
When I go the distance, I’ll be right where I belong
Down an unknown road to embrace my fate
Though that road may wander, it will lead me to you
And a thousand years would be worth the wait
It might take a lifetime but somehow I’ll see it through
And I won’t look back, I can go the distance
And I’ll stay on track, no I won’t accept defeat
It’s an uphill slope
But I won’t loose hope, ’till I go the distance
And my journey is complete, oh yeah
But to look beyond the glory is the hardest part
For a hero’s strength is measured by his heart, oh
Like a shooting star, I will go the distance
I will search the world, I will face its harms
I don’t care how far, I can go the distance
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms
I will search the world, I will face its harms
‘Till I find my hero’s welcome waiting in your arms
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