April 18th, 2021
The starting point for this discussion is probably 11th grade. I was in Cairo, Egypt and was doing bodybuilding by means of weightlifting. I could go back even further to 6th grade, when extracurricular sports had me doing running for conditioning and high jumps, but I will stick to 11th grade and later because that is when my exercise was for myself rather than for school sports.
Bodybuilding is wonderful as far as exercise goes. The reason for that is the progress is easy and clear to see. You gain weight, you build muscle, and not to mention the weights you are lifting increase in size and number. I stuck with bodybuilding via weightlifting for a long time, well into college in fact. I was successful at it too. I gained about 40 pounds about one and a half or two years after starting. I reached 200 pounds and my body was looking like something intimidating to be reckoned with. Bodybuilding also changed my diet and what I was eating. It was important to eat enough protein in particular and food in general to build up muscle I was working on in the gym. I did experiments where I was drinking several liters of milk per day. I remember near the end I did an experiment where I was eating several large spoons of peanut butter out of the jar per day. Those experiments worked. My bodybuilding endeavors were successful. I was bigger, stronger, and more fit.
My training in high school did not only consist of bodybuilding. It was strength building as well. In fact I modeled most of my starting exercises after Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength book, which I had purchased. The exercises largely consisted of squats, bench presses, and overhead presses. My shoulders become pretty huge in high school on account of that last exercise, the overhead press. Near the end of high school I transitioned into five days a week training, rather than 3 days a week, where I would do one major muscle group on each of the five days. I believe the muscle groups were back, chest, biceps, triceps, legs. It was kind of strange, but it worked. I gained muscle mass. It was important that I did this after staring with squats and bench presses for strength (meaning less than 5 reps), because strength is the base you need before attempting to build muscle on top of it. It’s important because strength is important, and secondly because you won’t be able to lift the weights you need for muscle mass if you are not already strong. Mark Rippetoe’s book was a gift in that regard.
Now we go to college. After high school was over, I of course continued with my desire to exercise for myself and for my own sake. Surprisingly (or not), I managed to maintain my consistency exercising in college. I did squats, bench presses, and overhead presses. That was fun and good. I think I ended up losing 15 pounds, contrary to the “freshman 15” which predicts you would gain 15 pounds, and I think it was because I couldn’t control the food that was around me as much as I could in my own home. Also, there was a lot to do. Doing stuff = stress = losing weight. At least at that age. I was taking so many classes and talking to so many people doing different things I was bound to lose weight. Of course, I was trying to gain weight for bodybuilding, or at least maintain it, but that didn’t happen on account of the first year of college.
In the last year of college, I switched up some things. I took a swimming class in order to obtain the skill of swimming, which could serve as exercise for me whenever I wished. I also was already changing up my workout routines for fun and experimentation. I would go work out with friends of mine, which was fun, as we would chat about whatever. I tried to do German Volume Training in one period, which consists of 10 sets of 10 reps for alternating exercises. I also took a table tennis class. This was partly for fun, partly for exercise, and partly to improve my skills in table tennis. All of these experiments were fun because I was learning things and most importantly, I was keeping myself fit.
When I went to Columbia, I tried to maintain a weightlifting practice, but I was overworked, and so I only maintained a swimming practice. That was fun and a new type of exercise. I remember listening to podcasts and music using waterproof earphones while swimming. I still wished I could weight-lift, but that simply wasn’t an option for me at that point. I got pretty good at swimming. I would go swimming one time per week. I was swimming for one hour at a time. I was swimming for over 1.5 miles on occasions. And by the end of my practice I was swimming 1.4 miles continuously in the pool at a pace of 37 seconds per 25 yards. That is a lot of swimming and I surprise myself that I was able to do that much. I was feeling healthy and fit.
Now that I have been out of school and universities for over 2 years, I found myself experimenting even more! In the beginning I lost interest in weightlifting but still held on to the idea that I would return to doing it soon. Now, I’ve lost interest in it and I don’t mind about not getting back to it anytime soon. I still could, if I want to put my body in a certain shape, but I don’t feel a strong urge to do that anymore. Besides, my body, thanks to the big Starting Strength movements I would do, is at a very good base level of strength and physique as well. Since getting out of school, I’ve experimented with calisthenics (so bodybuilding but using natural bodyweight rather than artificial weights), Pilates, yoga, and running/jogging. Each experiment was in itself very rewarding. I started calisthenics at the beginning of my 2 years out-of-school (in the real world, with a job, etc), when I still had a hope that I would want to return to weightlifting in some form. It was fun and made me healthy. In fact, I found I performed better at work the next day when I had exercised calisthenics and showered the previous day. That’s a huge positive effect! I mean, that’s massive! Eventually I wanted to experiment with different things and signed up for group Pilates. That was interesting as well but I opted out when I wasn’t getting the workout I wanted. After that my eyes were opened to yoga. As a fan of anything Buddhist or south Asian, I was happy to discover that this form of exercise made me happy as well. It was a movement practice, which means it kept me flexible, mobile, and ready to move my body in any way. Yoga also proved wonderful. I am still finding my ropes with this form of exercise, so it’s an ongoing experiment. Finally, in the last month or so, I have gotten into running or jogging, which I do in the mornings. This is a beautiful form of exercise, because it only takes a little bit to get your heart pumping and to make you fit, not to mention healthy. I usually jog in the morning outside my house, then return to shower indoors. This is another ongoing experiment, and I might shift to using a treadmill perhaps in the future.