Lifting My Way to Physical and Mental Transformations

Incorporating daily exercise will undoubtedly transform you in all aspects of life—it certainly has for me.

Before I got to college, I didn’t know the difference between a dumbbell and a barbell. I could barely do five pull-ups, and my hamstrings were stiff as boards. I had never squatted before and quite frankly loathed every trip to the weight room. “Why do I need this?” I would say to myself. “This won’t help me on the baseball field.”

I have never been more wrong.

In the fall, mandatory team runs and lifts forced me out of bed every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning. Three times a week my body would be pushed to the brink of its limits. At first, it was hard to finish the endless sets of reverse lunges, brutal circuits, and all the sprinting and agility work, but eventually I began to see more definition in my arms, my abs began to show, my quads began to grow. On the field, my fastball had more velocity, I was more consistent, and most importantly, I stayed healthy. Seeing a jump in my numbers was like an addictive drug—I was hooked.

My results really began to take off after I changed my attitude and truly began to buy into the program. I cleaned up my diet by swapping my usual snacks of cookies and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with more fruits and vegetables. I cut out sugary beverages and decided to stick to water. I chased the pump and the grind of a tough lift. I craved the dumbbell press, the rows, and core work that made my lungs gasp for air. I relished the early wake ups—the 6:30 a.m. runs on the football field while everyone else was sleeping. It made me feel alive and accomplished, like I was getting an edge on the competition.

After lift, I would skip the elevator and go up the Million Dollar Stairs to Fulton or Devlin. I was alert and awake, heading to class with a sense of accomplishment and confidence. Coffee in hand, I found it much easier to pay attention to lectures, and my grades reflected this new focus.

But aside from the obvious athletic and academic benefits, my commitment to the weight room really impacted my attitude and mental well being. With increased muscle mass and a more toned physique, I noticed a shift in my overall personality. I became more social, more outgoing, and less introverted. Every day had a purpose and plan.

Setting and achieving fitness goals has offered me a model for success in all aspects of my life. For instance: I couldn’t barbell squat for two years because of poor hip flexibility. It was a legitimate health risk for me to be in the squat rack, so our trainer prescribed a litany of stretches and mobility work that I followed religiously. I hated it, but I knew that to join my teammates on the squat rack, sticking to that regime was necessary—and that’s where I wanted to get. As much as I yearned to be putting up a big max, I understood that would never be a possibility if I didn’t do my mobility work for the day. I had to lay the foundation before I built the house. And that is what kept me going.

From my journey to the squat rack, I learned that some things just take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Especially when my eyes are set on a big task, I know all I can do is consistently work every day, whether I feel like it or not. It’s not about the days you feel good, it’s about the days you don’t feel good but dominate anyway. Trying to get that elusive A in Mircroeconomic Theory might seem daunting in August, but if you just fulfill your daily assignments, the task becomes much more manageable, and by December, it has been done.

It is also important to remember to take everything at your own pace. Sure, many guys are naturally much stronger than I am and some have been on an organized workout program for much longer. But the progress of others does not diminish my purpose or my goals. I am not even close to the strongest on my team, but I aspire to be. If I allowed myself to be stuck in a fixed mindset about my strength, I would never achieve any progress.

You can’t skip steps when it comes to fitness: You either did the work or you didn’t. The dumbbells don’t lie. There is a saying that, every morning, the gazelle wakes up and knows it has to run faster than the slowest lion just to stay alive. Conversely, the lion wakes up and knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or else it will starve. I have come to realize just how competitive the world is and that I’ll never regret the work I put into anything. Someone is always coming to knock me off my perch, whether that be athletically or academically. Now, I embrace that pressure.

Aside from the quest to obtain a larger chest, bulging biceps, and eye-popping abs, the discipline I have accrued from consistent weight training has given me the tools to take on whatever challenges might come my way.

Given my personal experience, I truly believe a commitment to fitness goes far beyond the obvious physical benefits.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor