From Bodybuilding to Barbells: The Trials and Triumphs from transitioning from physique to strength sports.
“They can crack jokes. They can sit back and analyze and criticize and make all the fun they want. But I’m living my life, I’m doing it. What are you doing?” – Kai Greene
"You have a dad bod now!" "
"You look like the 'before' picture in one of those supplement ads"
"Look at your belly"
"I barely recognized you!"
As a trainer, a coach, and a gym owner these comments used cut me to the bone. I am supposed to be an example for my clients , employees , and peers . Was I doing a bad job? Was I letting everyone down? At least at first I thought I was . However, after a while, I realized I was still getting after it, even if my training results weren't exactly easy to see on the surface . It took a while , but overtime Weightlifting has helped me to love myself, like real unconditional love. As you'll read it hasn't always been that way.
As an shy overweight kid growing up , there are parts of me that will always have a tough time recognizing the man I have grown into . I have always marched to the beat of my own drummer. I played Magic the Gathering, spent most of my time in our local comic shop, loved karate , and over the top action movies. I got picked on like all kids do , but I wanted a way out. I wanted to be left alone and allowed to do my own thing without fear of what my peers would say or do to me .
I had my blueprint, I would become like my heroes, no one picked on Conan the Barbarian , Goku, Batman, He-Man, and any other overly muscular early 90's action hero . When I got old enough I would get a gym membership and show everyone. Luckily for me I found out quickly the gym was good to me. My good Eastern European genetics and obsessive personality were a perfect combination for success with weights .
Pretty much from the age of 15 forward , my physicality and physique, were two of my most defining traits. I was the definition of a workout warrior. I was strong but more importantly to me I "looked strong". I loved standing out as the buff guy, the workout warrior, etc.
Then in 2004 my freshman year of college, I tore my right labrum and couldn't lift for 6 months. My physique suffered, so did my mood, my entire world came crashing down. Coming back from that injury was a pretty tough time for me . Retrospectively, it was probably also the first time that I recognized that I had some body image issues. But, no big deal I figured the negative self worth would go away when I got my body back . Much as I expected , it did. As my abs came back my depression went away and everything was all good...yea right.
Flash forward to 2009 , football was over , and I needed a new way to fill my time and help me find that self worth I was so desperately searching for. I started competing in drug tested bodybuilding, and I was good, really good. I won my first show, had a real agent, was fully sponsored , and was published in multiple fitness magazines within my first 90 days of competing in Bodybuilding! Un'fricken real! Over the next 5 or 6 year I remained active in bodybuilding , doing 2-3 tested shows a year, winning my class in most of them , I even was published in Musclemag again towards the end of my tenure as a bodybuilder. On the surface , everything was F'n GREAT.
Throughout this time, I really struggled. I went though multiple bouts of depression, toxic relationships, just overall unhappiness. But on the surface I was still thriving! I was ripped, jacked, buff, whatever word you want to use to describe it, "I had it all". After a while a stopped competing and found Crossfit. This temporarily filled that hole for a while. I was a Jacked Football player, then a ripped bodybuilder, and now a yoked Crossfitter! I had all the stuff, did multiple work outs per day, had a million abs, never had a shirt on, man I had found my thing. Until It wasn't my thing anymore. The happiness and the rush of belonging to a new group and being ripped wore off again and the depression and negative self work came back .
Then I found Weightlifting. Initially it was much of the same, I was a ridiculously ripped 94kg lifter, I have a big frame so for me to get to 94kg even at that time , took a lot of work. I competed at around 7-8% bodyfat at that first meet and went 1 for 6. I was all show ..no go. But I was hooked! As I lifted longer and longer , the weights got heavier and so did I . At first , I was really not OK with this at all , but luckily Weightlifting was about to change my life!
Over the next 4 years , as I focused more and more on my performance , I learned a lot about myself. I have found that if I train chest at all , I couldn't get into the positions I needed to. I also found out that too much bodybuilding work would cause severe bicep tendinitis in my biceps that would also put a damper on training. Like it or not , if I wanted to become a great lifter, my body was going to look different, whether I liked it or not. This forced me to make a choice, learn to love myself, or never progress in this amazing sport I'd fallen in love with. I chose Weightlifting and to love myself .
1.) You can be a real jerk!: If your reading this you probably are working toward some type of personal achievement. A lot of us (including myself) can get really far by working towards goals from a place of self loathing . However, progress can skyrocket when we chase goals from a place of love. As my body started to change, I couldn't help but compare myself to my competition days as a bodybuilder. This was a recipe for disaster for me . It took a lot of work but eventually I reframed my thoughts to realize, that I needed to stop being a freaking jerk to myself . When your fitness goals shift from appearance to performance it take a while to understand you are not going to see your progress in the mirror. For more daily victories that aren't physical check out :www.pfpbarbell.com/blog/when-the-pr-party-ends4-daily-victories-to-keep-you-motivated
2.) People can be jerks: As a Personal Trainer and a coach it can be confusing to friends and clients when you can appear to be getting "less fit" over time. When I competed as a bodybuilder ,100% of my energy was spent working on looking. As fit as possible. In weightlifting , progress is less visually evident. As I trained more and more to be strong and being a better weightlifter, my physique could do nothing but regress. As I have gone from newbie weightlifter to a 4 time National Qualifier and top 10 finisher, I hear a ton of negative comments. Most of them coming from clients, friends , peers, and co-workers . Initially hearing things like "dad bod", mention of me having a little belly instead of a six pack , "before" picture from a before and after picture, used to really get me down. It has taken some time to understand that those people will never understand the goals I am chasing are no longer visual. People are not always going to understand where you are going as long you need to understand you'll be OK . Find a great support system, whatever your goals are, there are coaches and teams of people chasing the same things you are , find a good team and don't look back.
1.) You are not a ___________: Throughout my life I defined myself as what I was doing. I was a "Football player" , then a "Bodybuilder", then a "crossfitter". By the time I began my journey in Weightlifting, I had decided that I was Thomas Duer, a man who along with many other things, liked to pick things up over my head. Once I experienced this shift , I learned to be defined less by my accomplishments and more my the quality of my character. This went a long way in helping me accept myself and not being defined by my physique. This helps even more while competing in Weightlifting. Meets become WAY more fun once you stop being defined by your total.
2.) Understanding I am a work in progress: For the longest time my external appearance was a direct reflection of how I believed I needed to be represented in the world. I didn't love myself when I wasn't "perfect" so why would anyone else. I am still working on this today but over time I have progressed considerable in this regard. Through a combination of Self-Care, my wonderful wife loving me unconditionally, and becoming more spiritual and nurturing my relationship with God, I have overcome this quest to present perfection (for the most part)
3.) Loving Myself: The experience of gaining weight and losing my facade of perfection has taught me to love myself UNCONDITIONALLY. We all should strive to this type of love. Don't get this twisted , this isn't a free pass to behave however the heck you want to . You still should strive to get better, call yourself out on your bullshit, and identify areas you want to improve upon. This simply means love yourself anyways , even when you come up short.
Here is the thing, successful weightlifters come in all shapes and sizes. I would be lying if I said there is part of me that I don't want to look sweet while lifting well. There are plenty of lifters who do . One day I will figure out how to balance my lifting performance with looking cool too . As I continue my journey in weightlifting and in life I can do so with my head held high with the understanding that even though I am a work in progress, I am enough . Life is about the journey and eventually we all have the same destination. I would much rather travel forward from a place of self-love than a place of hate.
If you would like to meet to talk about your goals and create a road map to success, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your free goal setting session.
Coaches and Athletes will be contributing to this blog. We will be discussing lifting tips, smashing goals, and much more.