I guess it had to happen eventually. I undertook my university degree by correspondence and a part of that involved having to select my subjects at the start of every semester.
On one particular semester I chose a particular subject that got the better of me. Twice.
Now, when I was in elementary and high school, I had never had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of a failing grade, even on the odd occasion that I got a bad grade. But with this particular subject I finally got my ass kicked and it was not a good feeling.
Determined to get even, I selected the same subject again the next semester and despite studying harder and receiving better marks, it was still not enough for me to pass the damn subject.
It was at that moment that I decided the concede defeat. I didn’t want to waste time wracking my brains on a subject that clearly was beyond me.
Despite that little speed bump, my studies – and life in general – were still going well. I eventually went back to my winning ways at uni and I was still doing great at work.
And of course, I was still on top of my fitness. I stuck to the same routine that I had started the previous year, so muay thai followed by strength training with my dumbbells and bodyweight. However, there was a newcomer to the mix. Sometime during the middle of the year, my mother had purchased a treadmill and every once in a while I would forgo the muay thai training and run on that thing for twenty to thirty minutes as my form of cardio.
I can still recall the first time I went all Forrest Gump on that treadmill. Having not ran in years I was extremely rusty and boy was I humbled! I may have been in fighting shape but running shape was a totally different story. I stepped off that treadmill with jelly legs, my lungs were on fire, the room was spinning and I saw spots. I came close to blacking out on a couple of occasions and wondered if I was dying!
But rather than run away (pun not intended) from that treadmill forever I incorporated it into my routine. Those treadmill sessions may have served to remind me just how much I disliked running and filled me with dread but I saw it as a personal challenge to tame that machine rather than allow it to beat me into submission.
I continued to alternate between muay thai, boxing and running for my cardio workouts – grunting, swearing and sweating hard in the case of the latter – to further challenge my body.
Sometime around May of this year, I contracted a virus of some sort that left me incapacitated for a few days. The falling temperatures no doubt had something to do with it but in addition to a runny nose and sore throat my head was pounding, I felt weak and listless and I had chills despite running a high fever. For the next three days I spent my days in bed, robbed of my strength and appetite and unable to spend more than a few minutes on my feet without feeling dizzy. Sure, I took one day off work (I was struck down on a Saturday and took Monday off) but that one day off wasn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows. I spent the whole day indoors with a sore throat and blocked nose, though the headache had mostly dissipated by then. Yeah, it wasn’t exactly a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off type of situation.
Thankfully I recovered quickly and was back to normal by the end of the week. Although I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed about missing a week’s worth of training and I also missed a week of studying. Yeah, I know what you must be thinking; ‘You still could have studied since you do your university course through correspondence!’ True, but studying was the last thing on my mind when I had a sore head and throat and blocked nose to deal with.
We didn’t take any overseas holidays this year but we did return to Tasmania during the summer holiday in December. We had such a great time last year that we decided to do it again – and it was still every bit as enjoyable as it was in 2008.
All told, 2009 was a great year. Sure, there were two major F’s but other than that, it was all good.
Typical training routine for 2009:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
– Push ups: 3 x 10-15
– Single arm dumbbell row: 3 x 10
– Squats: 3 x 10-15
– Crunches: 3 x 15 – 20
– Leg lifts: 3 x 10
Finish off with 15 to 20 minute run on treadmill
Tuesday and Thursday:
Muay Thai or shadow boxing workout for 15 to 20 minutes
Finish off with three sets of fifteen to twenty crunches and three sets of three to ten leg lifts
By 2008, I had well and truly gotten everything I could out of my routine of shadowboxing and weight training. I still enjoyed it, and it still kept me fit and ripped, but in the back of my mind, it was time for a new challenge.
Funny how something always comes along whenever I have such thoughts to myself.
On one particular Sunday, while I was out and about in the city waiting to watch a movie with my father I decided to check out a bookstore to kill time. Naturally, I wandered over to the sport and fitness section and one particular book title jumped out at me;
Muay Thai Basics.
I picked it up and quickly browsed through it. I liked what I saw. All the techniques were explained in great detail, accompanied by detailed photos of practitioners performing the moves step by step.
That’s when another crazy idea popped into my head.
I decided that perhaps I should give muay thai a try. Having done karate as a child kicking was not too much of a stretch for me and the punches thrown in muay thai were similar to boxing, which I had been practicing for the past few years already so punching combinations were no longer a problem. I would essentially be performing my usual shadowboxing workouts but with kicks, knees and elbows thrown in for good measure.
I bought the book on the spot and on the following Monday before work, after I had completed my study session for the morning, I set off on my first muay thai-based workout.
Once again, it was a shadowboxing type of workout. I punched, kicked, kneed and elbowed the pads held by my imaginary trainer, went toe to toe with an imaginary sparring partner and beat the stuffing out of my imaginary punching bag. It’s amazing what the mind can conceive when you really, truly want something. And performing those spinning elbows and spinning heel kicks (the latter took some getting used to) made me feel a tad bit like a ballet dancer.
And of course, I followed that 45-minute shadow-fighting drill with some weights and calisthenics.
You know, those boxing workouts were tough. But using all four of my limbs, teaching my body to perform spinning attacks and conditioning myself to get used to kicking again really tested my stamina. Muay Thai featured a more extensive move set to boxing and I had to re-learn how to use all of my limbs.
And those spinning attacks sometimes left me feeling dizzy and uncoordinated. In the end I was drenched with sweat and breathing hard, shell-shocked but pleased with my effort.
What a workout!!!!
These muay thai workouts were also more challenging as far as space was concerned. While I was fortunate to live in a home with a pretty sizeable living room, throwing kicks, spinning and turning required a lot more space to be able to pull off perfectly without accidentally clipping the wall or, worse, furniture, especially since I had already scarred my knuckles doing just that while boxing! I still have faint scars on my knuckles to prove it.
It was also around this time that I decided that I wanted to add a bit more mass to my lean physique and so I began reading bodybuilding magazines in addition to the boxing magazines that had become my main source of reading material over the past couple of years. While I had no access to a fully-equipped gym, I still had my dumbbells as well as a truckload of determination and a wide imagination.
Can’t do bench-presses? Push-ups will take care of that.
Can’t do weighted squats? Loaded backpack on back then squat.
Can’t be bothered to go outside to run and don’t have access to a treadmill? Shadowbox my butt off.
Want to lift heavier weights but don’t have access to extra weight plates? Slow down your movements.
No excuses, kid. If it’s important to you, you will ALWAYS find a way, not an excuse.
I also decided to switch up the order of my workouts, going through a strength training routine first before following it up with boxing or muay thai. You see, I had read in some of those bodybuilder magazines that it was better to get the strength training out of the way first before cardio if muscle gain was the goal since the muscles would be too tired for lifting if I did cardio first.
And so I switched up my routine. It turned out to be an extremely painful but invigorating decision.
Having torched my muscles with weights and bodyweight training throwing punches, ducking, slipping, spinning and kicking was hell. My limbs felt like rubber and my movements were stiff and labored.
Good grief, what the hell was I thinking!?
I gritted my teeth and persisted with that muay thai workout but the worst was yet to come.
I woke up the next day in COMPLETE pain. All four limbs felt as though they would fall off my body, my chest and back muscles were on fire and my glutes hurt so bad that the act of sitting and standing made me wince.
And I found out the hard way that trying to scrub my body in the shower with sore pectoral muscles was no easy feat.
Oh yeah, and I was stupid enough to perform the ol’ switcheroo during a mid-week training session, and so I had to go to work the next day in extreme pain.
Still, I grew to love the pain, sick as it sounds. At least I knew that my muscles well and truly got worked over. But even then, those sore muscles bothered me for most of my shift and home time couldn’t come soon enough.
After three years in a row of international traveling we stayed closer to home this time, flying to the Gold Coast for my birthday in the beginning of the year, then over to Melbourne for my cousin’s twenty-first and then to Tasmania at the end of the year for a family vacation before Christmas. It was right up my alley, no long boring plane rides, no jet lag and I got to experience some of the good stuff we had right here in our backyard.
To ring in the new year I went out to the city with my sister and a few of her friends to watch the fireworks. I was still anti-social at the time so I reluctantly tagged along for the ride. It was a night to remember for good and bad reasons. While it was a fun night and the fireworks were spectacular, putting up with drunken crowds from beginning to end, all the way to the train ride home and not getting to bed until a couple of hours until dawn was not my idea of a good time. In my mind, having to put up with so many people in one night reinforced the reason why I put these walls around me in the first place. To hell with the world, solitude is where it’s at!
Oh well, at least we could say that we experienced it. Been there, done that.
Anyway, at this point life was pretty good. The bad taste from 2005 had all but dissipated and I continued to thrive at work and in my university course. And of course, I was still in great physical condition. Having continued those ‘boxing training’ sessions my body was completely ripped and rippling and my stamina was on point. I was looking and feeling pretty darn good!
But there was one little hiccup, as pointed out by my mother and sister one particular day.
You see, I had been going crazy with my training over the past couple of years that I didn’t notice how it was affecting my weight and I had consciously been cutting back a little with my food intake, believing that it was better to burn more calories than I was consuming in order to keep my body fat levels low. Sure, it gave me that coveted six-pack but I was also becoming too thin. At first, I dismissed their concerns but one look at the bathroom mirror one day while getting ready for work proved them right.
Much to my surprise, my head seemed bigger than my shoulders were wide and I saw some ribs protruding slightly. While I aspired to be lean and athletic I didn’t sign up to ending up rail-thin and have my clothes become baggy on me. I guess my days of eating like a normal human being – in which I would eat a decent-sized breakfast, lunch and dinner and barely have any snacks in between – were over. If I was going to train hard like a beast I had to eat like one, too, in order to maintain my size and shape. That meant increasing my food intake to a few small meals a day. I went with the three main meals plus a snack times in between meal lunch and dinner, usually something protein packed like a meat and cheese sandwich or a handful of nuts plus a piece of fruit like an apple or orange just so I wouldn’t shrink.
Oh yeah, a little note about my eating habits over the past couple of years……..because I was working the afternoon shift I was able to sit down to a decent-sized breakfast and lunch. Now, I tried to ‘eat clean’ most of the time, avoiding the obvious ‘junk food’ like candy, potato chips, cookies etc and loading up more on lean meat, eggs, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, but as a young man I also had my share of ‘cravings’. It wasn’t unusual for me to pack the odd chocolate biscuit or cake to work, and I wasn’t above having a slice or two of pizza for breakfast if there were some in the fridge! And I always, ALWAYS had to have a meat pie as part of my lunch. Kinda felt like an incomplete meal without if for some reason.
Yet despite all of that my physique didn’t suffer and I remained lean, ripped and athletic. Yay me! I guess the workouts and my youth allowed me to get away with being ‘naughty’ from time to time with my diet. I will admit that I kinda smirked as I watched others eat themselves to weight gain and guilt while I was able to eat and eat and eat as much as I wanted without putting on any unwanted pounds. It’s an insensitive thought but mind you, I was still in my early twenties and so immaturity and ego were still wreaking havoc in my brain. But I never expressed such haughty thoughts openly. I kept them all to myself.
Workout-wise, I kept up the same routine as I did the previous year, shadowboxing training for a good hour followed by half an hour with the weights set. Having been boxing (and following boxing) for almost two years now I refined some of my rough edges. I guess watching all those fights and highlights on youtube left their mark because I found myself imitating some of the movements of the great fighters I was watching. I was no Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather but I was no longer moving like an off-balance, wild-swinging amateur anymore either.
I tried mixing up my punching combinations while shadowboxing (or working with my invisible punching bag or the punch pads held by my imaginary trainer) rather than always following the same old jab-right cross-left hook and right cross-left hook-right cross combos followed by a duck or two. Taking a cue from Mike Tyson and Roy Jones jr I lead with my left hook from time to time rather than always leading with the jab, for example left hook-right cross-left hook or left hook-right cross-left uppercut, followed by a defensive maneuver like a couple of ducks or slips. Or I would lead with a defensive move and then follow that up with a combination, as though I was counter-punching an opponent’s attack. Forcing myself to try new moves further challenged my coordination and stamina, and even my brain and cognitive ability as I forced myself to think fast on my feet and improvise with maneuvers that muscle memory hadn’t quite picked up yet.
And you know what? It was A LOT of fun! I even imagined some grizzled old trainer that resembled Mickey Goldmill from the Rocky series hurling insults at me whenever I made a wrong move! Now I really felt like a true fighter.
Outside of work, study and training there was another holiday on the cards for this year. We took a family trip to Europe as part of my sister’s birthday, one week in Berlin followed by a week in Paris. Having just been to Berlin the previous year we explored our old haunts, pleasantly surprised to find that not much had changed after one year save for the lack of FIFA World Cup banners and themes all around the place! And Paris was a joy, our hotel was based in an area with PLENTY of good restaurants and food stalls so you better believe that my discipline and will-power were tested!
Nevertheless I passed with flying colors, although I did allow myself a few treats since I was in holiday mode and all. Aside from walking, I continued to work out even while on holiday. Sure, I couldn’t do my full routine as I was away from my usual environment, but I still found a way. I was still able to shadowbox (with the limited space I had to play with) and strength training mainly involved push ups, squats and various abdominal exercises and the odd backpack exercises that I had mastered in my senior high years.
No, those workouts did not compare to my usual routine back home but I was still proud of the fact that I was able to squeeze in a bit of training time rather than miss out altogether. Better to train a little than not be able to train at all and I’ve carried that mindset with me ever since. See, if you are truly committed to something you must find the time for it. It won’t always be readily available to you but if it is truly important to you, you will find a way to make it happen.
After the abomination that was the year 2005 I started the year 2006 feeling cynical about what lay ahead. Having transitioned (or should I say, regressed) from a happy-go-lucky optimist into a bitter pessimist the first thought that sprang to mind was the various ways that this year could possibly screw me over some more. Yeah, I was that messed up. A self-absorbed, victim-playing hopeless case who felt that the world owed him a favour. I’d slap the shit outta this version of me if I had the chance to meet him.
Anyway, by this point I had already began my Bachelor Of Arts (Communications major) university degree by correspondence so outside of work and training I was focused on that. It suited me just fine as it allowed me to study at home at my own pace, be my own boss and work in total solitude. It also tested my discipline and time management skills as I still had deadlines to adhere to. Thankfully, my work hours were not very demanding so I was able to balance study, work and training rather effectively.
Speaking of training, there was another change coming. I arrived too early for work on one particular day and so I took a walk around the nearby shopping centre to kill some time. I browsed through a bookstore during the walk and stumbled upon a book that would force me to once again re-evaluate my workouts.
The book’s title? Boxing’s Greatest Workouts.
As a gym rat that loved boxing I bought that book in a heartbeat and read it on the train ride home and for the next few days afterwards in my room between workouts and study sessions. Hell, I probably studied that book a lot more diligently than I did my university notes and texts! I examined each and every workout from all the boxers featured, studying the similarities and differences of their training programs and also their diet and amount of time that they spent in the gym. Not gonna lie, I felt intimidated while reading about their daily sessions. Two, three, four hours in the gym, hundreds of calisthenics, hours of shadowboxing, bag work, pad work, getting up at dawn to run come rain, hail or shine…..sheesh!!! During my own workouts I was already winded after less than twenty minutes of shadowboxing, had yet to cross the one hundred-rep mark in push-ups and crunches and was too socially withdrawn and lazy to go outside to run whereas these guys put in the hard work hour after hour, day after day, week after week……and that was before they put their conditioning and their lives on the line against another fighter looking to knock their blocks off in the ring!
Forget about being gym fit, fighters are a different level of fitness, strength and toughness. They would put many athletes to shame.
Anyway, after I had read the whole book several times over it was time to once again overhaul my training regimen. I wasn’t going to pursue a professional boxing career but I could still train like one. Having grown accustomed to shadowboxing I decided that it was time to step up, choosing workouts from that book that suited my fitness level and did not require too much time and fuss.
But there was an obvious problem; I did not own any equipment required for even the simplest of boxing workouts, nor did I have anything in the house to improvise with. At least when it came to strength training I was able to get away with using my school backpack in place of weights. I had nothing to improvise with when it came to punching bags.
Oh yeah, at this time I had enough money in the bank to buy myself a weights set so my school backpack was all but retired, used only when I decided to do weighted push ups, squats and pull-ups.
But I still had no bags, no jump rope, no gloves, no focus mitts…….so how did I get my boxing training off the ground?
I simply dug deeper into my imagination and pretended that I was hitting real targets. Taking my shadowboxing to another weird level, I moved and threw combinations at an imaginary heavy bag that hung in the middle of my bedroom, went crazy at an imaginary floor to ceiling bag by my bedroom door, dropped bombs at invisible focus mitts that were held by my imaginary trainer and even created sweet gym music with an imaginary speedbag that was mounted on my bedroom wall.
And I also skipped like Floyd Mayweather jr with my invisible jump rope, repeating all his tricks without once falling over!
Not bad, eh?
As you can see, I did these workouts behind closed doors in my bedroom. It was cramped and stuffy as hell in there, but my drive and determination overcame those limitations. Also, I knew that I looked silly during these boxing sessions, punching at air and sparring with ghosts, so yeah, no way in hell was anyone going to see that!
Still, I worked up a good sweat and I felt invigorated afterwards. Man, if this won’t carve up my physique then I don’t know what will.
After a few months of training like a boxing champ as written in that book and mixing it up with strength training and calisthenics (during which I gradually began to build up the reps for the push-ups and abdominal exercises I performed) I was absolutely floored by the results – muscles on my arms and legs became defined, my chest and back widened considerably, my fitness levels shot up through the roof and most of all……after five-odd years of working out I had finally achieved that Holy Grail of physique goals, the almighty six-pack abs!!!
Fuelled by the favourable results I continued with these shadowboxing workouts every morning after studying before work (around this time I was rostered in the afternoon shift), putting in an hour or an hour and a half of training before lunchtime. I would finish these sessions completely drenched in sweat, heart beating fast and breathing hard yet feeling like a champion and by the time I got to work the endorphins and good vibes from my morning training sessions powered me through my shift. I was focused and energized the entire day and even my quality of sleep had improved. While I wouldn’t call myself the most talented boxer out there I definitely felt more confident walking through the streets at night, though I never sought to put my skills to the test in a street fight.
Not bad for a professional shadowboxer, huh?
By the way, on that same year I traveled to Germany with my sister for the FIFA World Cup. Two weeks of fun exploring Berlin during their Summer and mixing it up with the friendly people – it was bliss!
I was also doing rather well with my university course through correspondence, achieving grades that I could never get while I was in high school and, dare I say it, having fun while studying. Perhaps being my own boss was really my best mode of study.
I had also made a few friends at my workplace.
Yes, you can say that the year 2006 was a complete turn-around from 2005. I felt like I was slowly climbing out of the abyss I had fallen into and becoming reacquainted with the sunshine.
But not completely.
I hate to say it but for the most part I was still that brooding chump with the chip on his shoulder. Given the good run that I had been through it does seem ridiculous and selfish on my part that I still chose to be a bitter little loser unable to let go of the past. I guess some wounds take longer to heal than others and my immaturity was a lot stronger than I thought.
So yeah, while I was happier this year I still had that ‘me against the world’ mentality in me. Pathetic, isn’t it?
But at least now I was a brooding chump with a six pack!
The year 2004 had ended on a pretty high note. I had money in the bank, I was in good physical shape and while employment was on-and-off (that’s casual employment for you) I was still a pretty happy camper. Nothing could possibly bring me down.
Not so fast, Kid.
Little did I know that the year 2005 was to be the very worst year of my life. How bad? Let’s just say that the year 2003 seemed like a vacation in comparison.
On paper, it was supposed to be a great year of exciting new transitions. It was my twentieth year on this Earth, I was due to finish my TAFE course later in the year before beginning my university degree via correspondence and, the biggest prize of all, a family trip to Europe was on the cards for sometime towards the middle of the year.
Indeed, there were some exciting times and significant changes ahead but a couple of crippling tragedies undid all of that and rendered the year 2005 as one to forget.
At the end of January I rang in my twentieth birthday, finally bidding farewell to my roller-coaster teenage years. I felt a strange combination of excitement and nerves on that day, because while I was relieved to finally leave my teens behind I was also anxious about the prospect of being an adult. I no longer had any excuses to fall back on as far as acting the fool was concerned, I had to grow up for real.
Sometime in May, the family and I took a two-week trip around Europe, exploring parts of Italy, Germany, France and England. Apparently, it was my parents’ reward for my sister and I for completing our schooling.
Two weeks of exploring iconic cities, taking in the sights, the culture and the FOOD……if that was our reward for successfully finishing school (and in my case, getting out alive) then all those years of homework and assignments was totally worth it.
That being said, I also discovered during this trip that I had grown to detest long flights. As a child I didn’t mind them. In fact, there was a time where I looked forward to sitting on a plane. But apparently, the adult version of myself was not a fan. Cramped seats, broken sleep patterns, jet-lag, lack of fresh air, rude passengers that recline their seats too far back, turbulence……..
Urgh!!!! GET ME OUTTA HERE!!!!!
Still, the torturous plane rides were totally worth the trip. It was a fabulous two weeks.
But behind the scenes, cracks were beginning to form.
I’m not going to reveal the details of the events that ruined the year – it’s too personal – but all I’m going to say is that the family suffered a couple of significant losses. The first was a heartbreaking loss that tore us up inside and left us grieving for some time but the second one brought my entire world as I knew it crashing down around me, as though I had survived a hurricane or bushfire but was left with absolutely nothing to show for it.
That was it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Forget about the good times, the completion of TAFE and seamless transition into university, the generous wage, even that trip to Europe. In my mind, the year 2005 can go screw itself.
Scratch that, the whole world can go hell!
Such line of thinking manifested itself into my personality. As a kid and for most of my teens, I was considered a ‘very nice guy’ but during that second half of 2005 and up until my late twenties a flick had switched. I was still well-mannered to people that I met, to family and to the few friends that I had, but deep down I had become a brooding, cynical, aloof and quick tempered piece of work that felt as though everybody was out to get him. I began to view the world as completely empty and worthy of throwing against a wall, seething with rage at what had become of my situation and it was a cold day in hell before I trusted anyone outside of my inner circle.
Was it a completely immature and unnecessary response to the tragedies? You bet it was. Was it a waste of life? Heck yeah! Looking back now it feels rather embarrassing knowing that I had wasted most of my early twenties being angry over something that happened in a single year that I had little control over. I know now that I could have and should have handled it better but I guess playing the victim seemed easier at the time.
It’s even more astonishing to know that I managed to keep up that bitter attitude for so long, even long after the problem was resolved!
Thankfully, I didn’t pick up any dangerous vices or turn to crime, mainly because there was a saving grace. Despite the storm raging all around me, one constant remained in my life to provide both relief and structure: working out. I mostly stuck to the same routine that I had been performing during the previous year (including those door pull-ups!) but there was a new addition to my arsenal: Shadowboxing.
You see, ever since the Rocky series had motivated me to storm through the HSC I had gradually become a big fan of boxing. Any news story concerning the sport grabbed my full attention and even just watching boxing highlights on TV during the news (boxing matches were not screened on free to air TV and youtube wasn’t around yet. Or perhaps I hadn’t found it yet) left me feeling pumped and I found myself studying and imitating the punches and movements that I had witnessed.
From there I started purchasing boxing magazines and read them from cover to cover. The sport had consumed me!
One day after work I decided that I wanted to try something new and interesting during my workout. I skipped the usual backpack and bullworker workouts and tried my hands at shadowboxing. A few days prior I had done some quick internet research on the proper way to throw basic punches and combinations, as well as the proper stance, foot placement, defense and head movement. I saved some documents before printing them, studied them for the next few days and once I felt confident enough, I trudged into the spacious living room, got into my best boxer’s stance and came out swinging, punching, bobbing, weaving, shuffling and doing my best imitation of Rocky Balboa.
You know what? After that one session, I gained a greater respect for boxers everywhere, whether they compete in the ring or do so for exercise purposes. After just five (yes, FIVE) minutes of intense shadowboxing, I was absolutely knackered. I fought through the pain and kept on dancing before I finally threw in the towel and it seemed like an eternity, like I had literally survived a twelve round championship bout.
But upon gazing at the clock, it turns out that I had only been shadowboxing for about eight minutes.
Eight minutes and already I’m out for the count. Wow!
Sorry for the boxing clichés but I couldn’t help it!
Ok, in my defense, I got too excited and went all-out from jump rather than pacing myself and gradually building up intensity. Also, I held my breath at times while punching, which is a big no-no in boxing as it depletes a fighter of their stamina, speed and striking power. There’s a reason why you hear boxers grunt or make a hissing sound through their mouthguard whenever they punch and even when they make sudden shuffling movements in a given direction.
I also made the mistake of tensing up whenever I punched, as though I was punching someone in the face as hard as I could, which was wrong since the purpose of shadowboxing is to practice one’s combinations and technique, loosen up the body and to also sharpen movement, defense and reflexes. The arms must also be loose and relaxed when striking air to avoid injury and friction to the elbow and wrist joints and the rest of the body also had to be loose to retain mobility.
Anyway, I finished up those eight minutes of huffing and punching with a series of push ups and crunches before resting up and hitting the showers, totally exhausted.
And boy, did I feel it the next morning and got to know exactly how many muscles are involved in the sport of boxing. It aint just the arms, shoulders and chest, folks. My back, lats, core, glutes and legs were also on fire – every muscle was literally torched!
Wow! What a workout!
And this was achieved after only eight minutes of shadowboxing followed by a few push ups and crunches. Sheesh! I can only imagine how sore competitive boxers must have felt following a day of training and especially after a fight, win or lose. This was not a sport for wimps.
Still, it felt great to add another workout to my routine. Until then, my regimen was strictly limited to lifting my backpack, a bit of work with the bullworker and closet door once in a while and walking to and from the train station for work. In other words, mostly similar to what I had been doing for the past two years. It was time for a new challenge and shadowboxing gave me something new to work on and also served as a good cardio workout.
I mixed up both workouts every other day, weights one day, boxing and bodyweight the next. It challenged my stamina and strength even further and I noticed more changes to my physique. My shoulders, chest and back broadened, my chicken legs at last began to catch up with the rest of my physique and I felt fitter than ever.
However, those abdominals still refused to come out and play. One step at a time, I guess.
All the sadness, anger and depression I felt were channeled into working out, learning how to box and following the sport so I had something to distract myself with. I guess you can say that I had become a boxaholic, guilty as charged! Hey, it was better than picking up a drug habit or becoming a delinquent with a big chip on their shoulder.
And taking a look at myself in front of the mirror and seeing some more changes was definitely a positive. I guess it wasn’t all bad after all, not that I would want to revisit that year again in a hurry.
And that, dear readers, was the worst year of my life and how I dealt with it.
How to get into a proper boxing stance:
Note: This is for a right-handed (orthodox) stance. Simply reverse the leg and arm positions for left-handed (southpaw) stance
Raise your hands, right hand by your chin, left hand slightly in front. Shoulders should be loose and relaxed and elbows tucked into your sides
Turn your trunk slightly towards the right so your left jab can shoot straight towards the center with minimal effort and to present a smaller target for your opponent. You shouldn’t be ‘squared-on’.
Right leg back, the toes of the right foot pointed towards the right, feet shoulder width apart. Bend slightly at the knees so they are not stiff.
Keep your chin down.
Body should be nice and loose
Moving in your boxing stance:
Lead with your front foot to advance, lead with your back foot to retreat
Lead with the front foot to slide to the right, lead with the back leg to slide to the left
Pivot with the front foot when spinning out to the side. Position your back leg based on which direction you’d like to go
Don’t bounce too much on your toes and never jump while moving
NEVER cross your legs when moving
Keeping your feet planted when punching will generate more power
From your boxer’s stance, shoot out your lead hand, straight down the centre
Can be aimed at the attacker’s face, chest or even abdomen, though that requires you to crouch
You can take a step forward to add power
‘Turn’ your hand as you jab
Remember to exhale whenever you jab
From your boxer’s stance, shoot out your rear hand, straight down the centre
Turn your body, swivel your hips and turn your feet with this punch. Don’t just punch from the arm, use your whole body
But be careful not to over-commit to the pivot so as not to lose your balance or injure your knee
You can step forward as you punch to add power
This punch can be aimed at the face, chest and abdomen
Breathe out whenever you punch
From your boxer’s stance, dip your lead shoulder slightly
Quickly swivel the hips and turn that front foot (as though you are squishing something) as you turn that hooked front arm over
This punch can be aimed at the attacker’s temple, jaw and body
Breathe out whenever you punch
The Rear Uppercut:
This punch requires you to slip to your right (or left if you are a southpaw)
Slip to the side that favors your rear hand. Dip slightly at the waist and rear knee, torque that waist slightly
Drive up from your legs from the ground as you torque your waist forward and come up with that rear fist in an upward motion
You must be very close to your target if you are practicing on punchmitts or a heavy bag
This punch can be aimed at an attacker’s chin, chest and mid-section
Breathe out whenever you punch
The Lead Uppercut:
This punch requires you to slip to your left (or right if you are a southpaw) and to lean slightly forward
Slip to the side that favors your lead hand. Dip slightly at the front knee and pivot slightly at the waist
Drive off the floor with your feet (mostly from the front), pivot from the front foot and the waist as you drive that lead uppercut upwards.
This punch can be aimed at your opponent’s chin, chest and mid-section
Breathe out when you punch
From your boxer’s stance, bend slightly at the knees and waist to avoid an incoming punch
Ducking a punch is NOT squatting – you only need to get low enough to avoid the punch, not squat down all the way to the ground
Bend from the waist, not your back, to avoid injury
Keep your hands up as you duck. This is not an excuse to drop your hands
Slipping punches (left and right):
From your boxer’s stance, bend your knees slightly and lean slightly from your waist to the left or right
Again, no need to over-exaggerate the move. As long as the punch sails past you it is all good
Keep your hands up when slipping
You can follow slips with a punch as you get back on balance – the cross or rear uppercut if slipping towards the rear leg, the hook or lead uppercut if slipping towards the front leg depending on the distance between yourself and your target
I’d be lying if I said that the months between the end of the HSC and my first job were an easy ride. There were days where I went to bed staring uncertainty in the face, wondering what to do with my life.
While I had finished high school and passed the HSC my score was not enough to get into my preferred university course and, with no back up plan in place, I felt as though I were in the middle of the woods, staring down different paths around me and wondering which road to take.
And on other days it felt as though there were no different paths in sight and that I’d hit a dead end.
I guess I was bearing the brunt of not having a Plan B, C, D and the lot. I was so lost.
Obviously, I needed to find work now that I had to start supporting myself but what kind of job? What the hell was I qualified for!? And I still wanted to earn a university degree but how was I going to get one of those now?
I was driving myself up the wall with these thoughts and getting nagged by my family certainly didn’t help. Day in and day out it was, ‘so have you found a job yet? Have you decided what you want to do with your life?’
I knew that they meant well but in my mental state their words were aggravating rather than helping.
I’m fresh out of high school and have zero work experience. You think I’ll find a fucking job THAT quickly!!!???
But despite all of that, I still kept on training. Just as it was during the tough times at high school, working out became my refuge from my problems. I woke up every morning looking forward to warming up and getting stronger and those thirty to sixty minutes proved to be the high point of my day where I felt strong, wild and free, sad as it sounds.
And then after I had cooled down and stretched, it was downhill again, back to reality, back to feeling lost and hopeless all over again.
I was so messed up.
Anyway, now that I was nineteen years of age and starting to see muscles popping out of my body I thought that perhaps it was time to put on some serious size and so I began to look into bodybuilding and the way that they ate and trained to see if I can incorporate some of their methods into my workouts. I guess you could say that the twelve-year old version of me had come out swinging now that school was over and I was old enough to train hard without worrying about damaging my joints and stunting my growth – not that I grew that tall anyway.
I continued to put my old school backpack to work, loading it up to zipper-bursting levels and slowing down the pace of my bicep curls, tricep kickbacks, push-ups and squats in order to place my muscles under strain, hopeful that it will spark some muscle growth.
Reaching deeper into my bag of tricks, I also began performing pull-ups using my wardrobe door! Thankfully, I am not that heavy so the door withstood my weight but nevertheless, I heard it groan and strain at times so I was still wary that it might snap off its hinges! Still, it was a good workout for my back and for the latissimus dorsi muscles (shortened to ‘lats’) that I had been trying to grow lately.
Inspired by the Rocky series that I still watched regularly, I also tried my hands at single-arm push-ups the way Sylvester Stallone performed them in the films. Having just mastered performing more than fifteen normal push ups without fatigue a couple of years prior my early attempts were, as expected, a huge fail. Just the mere act of setting my body up for the exercise was a challenge and I lacked the coordination and strength to do more than three on each hand without collapsing – probably closer to two and a half than three. Not one of my finest moments and I ended up hurting my lower back due to my terrible set-up, but I was still proud of myself for giving it a try.
I vowed on that day that I would one day perform single-arm push ups like a real pro.
Now, you would think that, at nineteen years of age I would have finally outgrown my body image insecurities. Well, for the most part I did, there was no more obsessing about my height and feeling bummed about man-boobs. But there was still one minor source of frustration. As fit and strong as my body was becoming, I just could not uncover that coveted ‘six pack.’ Don’t get me wrong, I was pleased with the biceps, triceps, traps, pecs, calves etc that were starting to develop but those damn abs refused to come out and play.
Let’s just say that I had become so desperate that I even brought the bullworker back into my workouts. The manual did include exercises for the abs and so I zealously incorporated them once more into my routine.
While those elusive abdominals still wouldn’t reveal themselves, I was impressed with what I had achieved so far. Muscles aside, I felt fitter, stronger and livelier everyday and well, I thought I looked pretty good. And the best part is that I had done the hard work mostly ON MY OWN without a gym full of fancy equipment at my disposal.
Screw the gym. An old bullworker, my school backpack and a door, of all things, for the win, baby!!!
As for my diet, having immediately got caught up in the old bro science advice of “protein builds muscles, bro” I went hard with my protein consumption. I would pile on as much meat as I could manage onto all my meal plates, ate at least two boiled eggs every breakfast and chowed down on nuts in between meals.
To be honest the only thing that did for me was make me gassy and full after most meals. But it was still worth a shot, right?
No, the reason why I wasn’t quite making the progress that I wanted was that I wasn’t training and eating as smart as I should have been. I mean, I was lifting heavy things every session and putting my muscles to work and feeling good everyday but outside of training sessions I wasn’t moving much, still mostly sitting on my butt watching tv or reading a book. It didn’t help that when I finally got a job it mainly involved sitting behind the desk and I complied wholeheartedly. The only times I would stand would be to walk to my locker to grab something from my bag or to go to the bathroom.
I guess you can say that while I considered myself ‘active’ due to my working out, I was technically still inactive since I would only move when required. Movement and mobility still didn’t dominate my day to day life the way it’s supposed to.
And while my diet was healthy for the most part, I still ate like a typical teenage boy most of the time. That meant eating what I wanted whenever I wanted without cutting back on some of the ‘guilty pleasures.’ Perhaps I had become quite cocky since I believed that I could get away with eating anything I wanted and that my workouts, all thirty to forty minutes of them, would burn everything off in addition to the house chores I still did every weekend. While it was true that my body burned off most of what I ate, I still could not achieve that athletic ‘ripped’ look that, deep down, I really wanted.
I was still very much a work in progress. There was still much to learn.
But there was one major change to my lifestyle. One that had been a long time coming. One morning, following a forty minute gaming session, I packed my beloved video game consoles and cartridges back into their boxes and stored them in my wardrobe, effectively ending my gaming days. Why did I do it? Well, it was primarily because the DVD collection was growing and we needed the extra space near the TV, but it was also because I had decided that it was time to move on. I was spending more time working out rather than playing games so it was better to pack them up instead of leaving them there, collecting dust like some unwanted old relics. They deserved better than that, having kept me entertained during my childhood.
Farewell, my old friends.
Things also began looking up in the work and study front from the middle of the year onwards. I finally landed my first job in late June and also began studying a small business management course at TAFE, not quite university but at least I’d be qualified to do something at the end of it.
I worked as a government employee from Monday to Friday and it didn’t take up too much of my time, only four to five hours per day depending on the workload and it paid me a decent amount of money and I only had to attend class for two evenings a week with the TAFE course.
In other words, I still had plenty of free time on my hands and I mainly used them to train and unwind. The stress and anxiety from the past few months had finally been exorcised and life was good again.
Finally, I’ve hit the jackpot!!!!
And so for five days a week I woke up, dressed my best and went to work before training in the afternoon, but for two days a week (every Tuesday and Thursday, if I remember correctly) those afternoon training sessions would be cut in half since I had to head out again for TAFE.
All in all, a pretty decent schedule that balanced work and health.
Pull-Ups using a door
1. Firstly, make sure that the door is sturdy enough to bear your weight
2. Cushion the bottom of the door with a towel / folded up shirt or anything of the sort to reduce pressure from above:
3. Spread out another towel / shirt or anything similar along the top of the door to reduce soreness to your hands
4. Grasp the top of the door with both hands, spread about shoulder width apart. You can go slightly outside of shoulder-width to really work those lats. Ensure that your chest and abdomen are pressed against the door.
5. Inhale before pulling yourself up as you exhale, squeezing those shoulder blades and using those lats. Your chest and abdomen should remain pressed onto the door all the way.
6. Slowly lower yourself back to starting position as you inhale and repeat for as many reps as needed.
I stood before the gates under the night sky, the howling wind and bitter rain lashing my face as thunder clapped from above. My heart pounded within my chest as I gazed at the imposing structure of the school behind the gates where the evil within lurked.
I grabbed the rusted handles of the gates and pushed with all my might, they were much heavier than I had anticipated. I had just set one foot into the school grounds when a flash of thunder suddenly roared overhead, momentarily lighting my surroundings in a flash of white and causing me to jump with fright.
And then I hear it, the sounds laughter emanating from the school. It was a sound like no other, mocking, evil…….my heart was beating faster now and sweat began to pour down my face despite the cold, windy storm around me.
It has awaken, the ultimate test.
No turning back now. It knows I’ve arrived. Clenching my fists and resisting the urge to turn around and run, I slowly trudged towards the school. It was time to prove my worth……..
Alright, enough of that crap. Sorry for the cheesy introduction but what can I say? I might as well have been the protagonist of a video game, set to embark on an arduous mission culminating in a showdown with the big boss. Twelfth grade was finally upon me and waiting at the end of the school year was the dreaded Higher School Certificate exams, aka: The HSC. For us students this was what sealed our post-high school fate, particularly for those that had high hopes in gaining entry into a good university with their preferred degrees.
Consequently, most students saw this exam period as the end all and be all of their futures and they stressed themselves silly all year and yes, I was one of them.
Guilty as charged.
I shake my head now every time I recall how I had allowed myself to fall into that line of bullshit thinking. Not that you could really blame me or the others for it since the teachers frequently drilled that malarkey into our minds on a frequent basis throughout the year, supposedly as a means to ‘motivate’ us to study harder.
Motivation my ass.
As the final year of my schooling there was ZERO feeling-out process on the first day back – in fact, the battle had begun during the summer break as it was to be devoted to revising our text books and study notes. Prior to the end of the previous school year our teachers reminded us that we were headed for an extended study break, not a school break, and that we were to go over our study notes while school was out. They also warned us that anyone who was having a little too much fun during those six weeks should expect to struggle this year as we were to hit the ground running from day one.
Ok, I’m going off-track here. This is supposed to be a fitness blog. Let’s get back on course.
Anyway, so I was in my final year of high school with the mother of all tests breathing down my neck. So does that mean that I slacked off on my fitness?
The answer is a resounding NO.
I knew better this time around. No amount of school work, assignments and stressing was worth letting my fitness go to waste over. If anything, working out proved to be a positive outlet for any stress and anxiety that I was feeling about the school year and believe me, there were plenty. I can honestly say now that the year 2003 was THE worst school year of my life and it wasn’t only because of the HSC. You see, I was a bullied kid for most of my school life but in twelfth grade, the abuse and teasing that I got from some of my peers escalated to ridiculous levels and even some students that I had once been friendly with turned on me. I don’t think I even had anyone left to call a ‘close friend’ anymore by the time the HSC rolled around. I was still on friendly terms with some of my other classmates but nothing more than that so you better believe that working out was a good way of coping with the crap I had to put up with on a near-daily basis.
You could say that fate had saved the worst school year of my life for last. A photo of me taken during my graduation showed the toll that the school year took on me. Check out that frown, the hunched shoulders and overall “I’m over this shit” look.
Anyway, I kept up the same routine that I did the previous year. It was push-ups, squats and various arm and leg exercises with the backpack for the most part, although I still relied on the bullworker for back exercises. Nothing too complicated yet got me working up a sweat and pumping blood into those muscles.
But something else was around the corner, something that would once again change the way I trained and in some odd way, my life. The first Rocky film was broadcasted as a TV movie on the Saturday evening a week before the HSC commenced and having never seen any of the films (yeah, I was late to the party) and recalling the story that my father told me about the obstacles that Stallone had to overcome in order to get that film made, I had to see it.
I was blown away.
Sure, the boxing scenes were thrilling, the love story between Rocky and Adrian was touching and Burt Young almost stole the show as the cantankerous Paulie, but what really made an impact on me was the training montage, accompanied by that incredible ‘Gonna Fly Now’ score by Bill Conti. Man, I had goosebumps watching that sequence, so much so that I had to fight the urge to get off my seat and try one-armed push-ups similar to the way Rocky Balboa was performing them onscreen before me.
For the following five weeks they played one film from the Rocky series on TV each weekend and I recorded them all (it was the year 2003. Video tapes and VCR’s were still around). And I have to say, their appearance on TV was a blessing. Watching those films once four weeks of HSC hell was underway was the motivation I needed to keep me going whenever I felt stressed. I would watch the training scenes on repeat in between exams and study sessions and especially before leaving the house and let me tell you, there was no better way to fire up and I faced even the toughest of my test papers without fear.
Alright, you useless piece of paper. Bring it on!!!!
With ‘Gonna Fly Now’ still ringing in my ears I attacked those test papers as ferociously as Rocky Balboa did to his opponents and that slab of raw meat at Paulie’s abattoir, my pen violently slashing the pages as I answered questions as fast as I could (or, rather, before my brain could forget any of the precious notes that it had retained), ignoring the increasing pain in my right hand and wrist the whole time.
I didn’t care if some of my answers may have come across as complete bollocks. I was in the zone and as long as it sounded correct in my head, I wrote it down. Better to give it a try than wonder about what could have been.
Dare I say it, but every exam seemed to be a breeze. It might have been due to my newfound confidence or perhaps because I made a great effort to study hard but suddenly this exam period that I had been fretting over for the last couple of years was no longer scary. Turns out I got worked up over nothing!
And once I had completed my very last exam paper after four weeks of exams I walked triumphantly out of the school grounds, head held high and grinning from ear to ear, towards my car in the parking lot and drove out of there under the bright blue afternoon sky, leaving my school, the HSC and my life as a school student behind me.
Now, you’d probably think that as soon as I got home I quickly removed my school uniform, threw it in the trash, turned up the music on full blast and danced around the house in my underwear like Tom Cruise in Risky Business. Hey, it would have been totally justified but I didn’t. Instead, I played one of the Rocky films and started working out as I watched, still riding high from conquering my personal Everest.
The most that I did as a final ‘up yours’ to high school was to throw my exam notes in the trash. No burning of study notes, no desecration of my school uniform, no vandalism of my school, no egging of the teacher’s car or any of that nonsense. While throwing my notes in the trash wasn’t exactly a grand gesture, it still felt so good!
To this day, I remain a huge fan of the Rocky movies and after all these years the training and fight scenes and the soundtrack still motivate me whenever I feel down.
I honestly don’t think I would have completed the HSC the way I did without those films. I would have most likely been running on nerves and probably would have failed several papers. The Rocky films changed that. I entered every exam confident to the point of believing that I could get the type of grades that once seemed out of reach and walk out of high school with a bang.
As it turns out I didn’t quite get the results that I was aiming for in order to get into the university degree that I wanted but I didn’t get any failing results either. In short, I had still accomplished my goal of passing the HSC and I had to be happy about that.
Tenth grade, the school certificate exam and six weeks of summer holiday, including one week spent in sunny Queensland, came and went. Before I knew it, I was getting ready for my first day of year eleven at another new school.
The old jitters that I felt on the first day of year seven four years prior returned, exacerbated by the knowledge that I had the dreaded HSC exams coming up a year later so I knew that there would be no more easy rides.
On top of that, I also had to start thinking about university and potential career paths since eleventh grade was the second-last year of my schooling. Couldn’t put all eggs in one basket, I had to think of multiple plans in case plan A didn’t pan out.
Time to get serious, Kid. No more goofing around.
Putting up with the extra workload was not too difficult, much to my surprise. Sure, some subjects were a bigger pain in the ass than others and my grades were nothing to cheer about early on, but all things considered I never hit the panic button. I simply adjusted and studied harder and soon, I returned to my usual form of passing most and average in others.
I guess being a battle-tested seventeen year old had allowed me to perfect the ability to adapt based on my workload but that was not to say that I had suddenly grown to appreciate school. I still entered the school grounds every day wanting to leave and I still became nauseous at the thought of assignments, especially now that they were growing in number AND level of difficulty.
I also noticed that in this school some students were extremely competitive. While they were generally cordial towards each other and hung out like typical teenagers during lunch hours and weekends there was an air of arrogance and superiority when it came to discussing grades and university in the classroom, that ‘I’m better than you’ type of swagger.
This was not to say that they were all like that. Some students took a more laid-back and relaxed approach to school and their lives in general and others were happy to excel without rubbing it in.
I, too, didn’t allow myself to get caught up in any of that nonsense as I had my own shit to worry about so to hell with what everyone else was doing.
Them: “I got 99% on that quiz, and am up to date on my assignments. Suck it, bitches!”
Me: “Good for you. No one cares!”
Yeah, you get the picture.
Away from school, I still worked out with that bullworker but my dedication had waned as I had steered my focus towards the never-ending avalanche of schoolwork that came my way. During the previous year I would work out for thirty to sixty minutes, five days a week without fail whereas this year I found myself missing one or two days at a time. Fitness was no longer a priority and while it didn’t have any significant impact on my physique it still left that sinking feeling in my stomach that I had messed up my progress.
I had to ask myself some serious questions.
Doesn’t a sound mind begin with a sound body?
Did you come all this way just to revert back to Mr. Boy-Titties?
Are you willing to throw away all that hard work over some stupid grades?
I soon pulled myself together and assigned at least half an hour every afternoon again to work out, usually while taking a break from my homework as a means to clear my mind.
But even after I had wised up and made the time to train more consistently I felt that I was growing stale. As effective and convenient as that bullworker was it did not offer much in the way of progressions. It got to a point where I had performed every exercise in the manual several times over and I inevitably grew weary and desperate for a new challenge.
And so I mixed up the bullworker with some extra exercises that I could do with minimal fuss like push-ups, crunches and squats as a means to stave off boredom and further challenge my body. For a while I felt rejuvenated as I mixed up the bullworker with exercises that I once struggled with during P.E. class. As a kid I couldn’t do more than ten push-ups. I gradually built up the fitness to knock off fifteen and then twenty push-ups and a similar number of sit-ups. Believe me, that felt really good.
But I wanted more.
As taxing as bodyweight exercises were for me back then I also yearned for the strength to lift heavy loads off the floor. I would have wrestled a bear to get my hands on some real weights to lift but I couldn’t afford them and I knew that my parents wouldn’t show me the money to buy some.
And so reaching deeper into my creativity and ingenuity, I found the solution in my own school backpack. I filled it up with as many heavy schoolbooks as I could and used it to perform bicep curls and tricep kickbacks to put some real load on my arms.
And I would also wear that backpack and perform squats, not my favourite thing in the world to do as I still hated training my legs, but I knew that my legs needed to catch up with my upper body.
Finally, I was training like a real gym rat. Each session taxed my entire body and I finished sessions sweaty and feeling pumped. With the bullworker, bodyweight exercises and my school backpack in my arsenal I now had a more varied training plan and didn’t have to do anything too drastic to get it. I mixed up the exercises daily and also paid more attention to warm ups, warm downs and stretching. Having grown quite cocky about the changes I saw on my body I eschewed stretching for a while, believing that they were a waste of time and that the workout itself was all that mattered but after a while of not doing so I felt my body growing stiff and that was enough to steer me back towards the right path.
2002 Workout routine using my school backpack
Weighted squats 3 x 10
Start with your back straight, looking straight ahead, feet shoulder width apart. Squat down and try to keep your knees in line with your feet. Push up off the floor through your heels in the ‘up’ phase to engage glutes and hamstrings.
Bicep curl 3 x 10
I was lucky enough to have a school backpack that had a handle on top and most backpacks are designed this way. Grasp that handle with your palm facing upward. Curl up at your forearm to engage the biceps and then slowly lower it back down. Keep your upper arm still.
Tricep kickbacks 3 x 10
Grasp the top handle of your backpack and contract at the elbow so that the bag lifts off the ground. From there, straighten out you forearm while keeping your upper arm absolutely still to engage the triceps. Curl at the elbow to return to the starting position but do not drop the bag until desired reps have been completed.
Following a family trip back to the Philippines (my birthplace) I returned to school for my first day of tenth grade, a few days removed from turning sixteen and already feeling anxious about the Higher School Certificate exams (HSC). It was a waste of energy since the HSC was still two years away and I still had to get past the school certificate exams at the end of this year, but from the moment you started high school you became aware of that mother of all exams and for many students it represented the end-all and be-all of their futures, where success meant a place at a good university and a bright future while failure could mean the end of life as they knew it.
Man, tenth grade sure was a trip. Unlike previous years there was no ‘feeling out’ process, so to speak. I hit the ground running from day one and the workload piled up quicker than I can say ‘gimme a break!’
By this time my friends and I were growing apart and my free times were becoming numbered. I had also become more interested in music than video games and so I spent most of my precious down time listening to the radio and watching music videos on TV while my video game consoles collected dust. I still played when I had the chance (sometimes with my father) but looking back it marked the beginning of the end of my gaming days.
As for my body, the man-boobs were long gone but I managed to find something new to gripe about – my height. At sixteen, I remained a skinny little shrimp while my other male classmates were tall and broad-shouldered and that’s not including the athletes. I guess my growth spurt wasn’t as dramatic as the others’ since I was genetically predisposed to being short and thin.
Aw heck, some girls in my year towered over me, as did some students from grades below me!
I felt like that chubby kid in sixth grade all over again. Being vertically-challenged sucked!!!!
But one day, in July that year (I don’t quite remember the exact date) my father gave me something that would change my life. A few months prior, he told me in passing that I should build some muscle on my body as I had become rather thin by then as a result of all the walking and I think he might have sensed my frustration about my height.
He gave me his old bullworker, a piece of exercise equipment that he had bought from a second-hand store when I was in elementary school. It consisted of a metal tube with two insulated, resistant plastic handles that can be pressed inwards to develop pushing strength, plus a couple of strong chords that can be pulled to develop pulling strength. This little portable gym, developed in Germany, could even work one’s legs, abs and neck and was extremely easy to store.
He gave me the gift and the manual that it came with and I read that thing from cover to cover, all the while wondering if this thing could work wonders for a dork like me. I remember looking at the guy that demonstrated the exercises within the pages. Granted, he had a funny 80s hairstyle, was fake tanned and was wearing tight white gym trousers but he was muscular and ripped. Perhaps this weird contraption could work wonders.
After perusing through the manual for a good two or three days I took that bullworker to my parents’ bedroom and, after having completed my homework for the day, I chose a few exercises and began my very first workout following a half-hearted warm up and some basic stretches.
It took about twenty minutes and I didn’t feel any different afterwards. My heart rate wasn’t racing, nor was there a drop of sweat on my face. Either I had underestimated my strength or I didn’t push myself hard enough.
Nevertheless, I performed the same routine again the next afternoon.
And the next afternoon after that I picked up a few new exercises and performed another routine. And this time, I felt my heart rate go up and a few drops of sweat rolled down my face once it was over.
From that day on I had a 30-minute date with the bullworker five days a week without fail, even getting some work done during weekends if I felt up for it. I guess you can say that it was love at first sight.
That being said, I didn’t exactly become a fitness freak, there were no drastic changes to my diet or lifestyle and I was still down about my height.
But the results were a pleasant surprise. After a few months of grinding I noticed that the muscles in my arms, chest and back began to emerge and I also felt fitter and stronger during the day. It kind of made me wonder if I could finally hold my own against my more athletic classmates during sport and P.E but that was probably my long-dormant ego talking.
Calm down, boy. One step at a time.
But unfortunately, like most teenage boys I quickly fell into the bad habit of over-training the ‘showy muscles’ and all but neglecting the others, though they were very important for the body’s overall functionality and structure. I worked my chest, arms and abs overtime while my back and legs didn’t get as much love.
Consequently, I eventually came down with some pretty bad lower back pain, probably due to the strain of my under-trained core and lumbar muscles having to carry my upper body. And my leg strength was lacking in comparison to my upper body. And for a kid with natural chicken legs I couldn’t afford to look like one of those guys with big upper bodies supported by stilts.
And so I wised up and I began to train my entire body once more, focusing on the whole article rather than picking and choosing what I thought was of higher importance. I guess you can say I realized that all muscles matter.
By the way, I ended the year 2001 on a pretty high note. I achieved great marks during the school certificate exams (well, better than I expected, anyway) and attended the Year 10 formal, opting for a white suit that made me look like an Asian James Bond rather than going with the ol’ black suit, white shirt combo that most of my male peers opted for. Can’t say I was terribly garrulous during that night as I spent most of it on the sidelines watching everyone else dancing the night away with their dates and I didn’t attend the after party. But apparently, I was considered the most uniquely dressed among the boys so I’ll take that as some form of victory.
A few days later came year ten graduation. Just as it was for my Year six graduation I left rather quickly with my family once it was all over, though I did make it a point to shake hands with the students that I was on friendly terms with and wish them all the best for the next year before leaving.
And once again I had to put up with the scenes of students openly weeping as they hugged each other good-bye. What can I say? These folks were most likely going to hang out together during the Summer break and go to the same school the following year so I didn’t see the point of getting emotional. Looking back now, I guess they just got caught up in the moment, which is fair enough.
I continued to work out during the Summer break, using that as another means to pass the time rather than sitting in front of the TV all day like I did a few short years before. My body continued to slowly transform but I also felt that perhaps it was time to turn up the intensity. I had gone through all the moves provided in the bullworker manual several times over and was beginning to grow bored, I was ready for a new challenge.
Little did I know, however, that the next two years were to be the most challenging of my adolescent life – and not just in terms of my schoolwork.
If I had to pinpoint exactly when my weight began to creep up on me as a boy I would have to say that it was when I was ten years old.
As you can see below, photos from when I was four to six years old showed a rather slim child but once I turned ten all hell broke loose. The inactivity and voracious eating must’ve caught up with me because photos from 1995 onwards showed a growing figure and by the end of 1997 I was chunky.
As you can see, I wasn’t quite on the level of that character, Üter, from The Simpsons or Eric Cartman from South Park but I was still chubby enough to have the rounded face, the big gut and (ugh!) the man-boobs.
Damn man-boobs…….they got me into some pretty awkward situations at school.
Swimming lessons were compulsory for the kids at my school and while I was a good swimmer and could hold my own against some of my more athletic peers, none of that shit mattered once the other boys caught sight of my not-so-lean physique after we’d stripped down to our trunks. I was quite a sight in those blue speedos and the laughs and jokes flew, particularly about how I looked like a ‘normal’ sized kid with clothes on but turned out to be a fat ass without them.
Shoot, even the bigger kids were laughing at me! I didn’t stand a chance.
I’m not going to lie. Every jab was like a knife to the heart. I don’t care how tough you think you are, being mocked for your appearance hurts and it hurts bad. You see people going down a dark road when they are insulted and body-shamed all the time and it’s a feeling that I know all too well. So while I hid behind a fake smile and laughed off most of their cruel remarks I felt sick deep down.
Yet all that teasing didn’t motivate me to change. I defiantly continued my sedentary lifestyle in front of a screen when I wasn’t focused on my schoolwork and while I was swimming, taking karate lessons and played soccer with some of my classmates during lunchtimes, I barely did any physical activity outside of them and ate until I nearly burst like only a young boy can. The swimming and karate, activities that I picked up when I was eight years old, were over by the time I turned twelve. I guess it was then that my weight shifted from mildly chubby to dough-boy with moobs as the inactivity continued.
And inactivity was exactly how I spent a majority of the Summer break of 1997, just gaming, watching tv and being lazy in general. But, you know what they say, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ and those six weeks of fun came to an end in a hurry. Before I knew it I was getting ready for my first day of high school.
Here we go. A new adventure begins.
I headed out the front door with mixed feelings. While I was thrilled at the prospect of a fresh start in a new school (no more man-titty jokes, yaaayyy!!!!), I thought of high school as a place with stricter teachers and a heavier workload, meaning that I would have to set aside time during the weekends to study.
Much to my horror, that part turned out to be true.
But there was a welcome change. Because my new school was close to home I began walking and it did my chubby body a world of good. The weight fell off fast and after a few months I noticed some changes to my body composition. The stomach was smaller, the infamous man-boobs shrunk, my face narrowed a tad and I didn’t feel as lethargic anymore.
And all I had to do was walk. Nice, huh?
Traveling to different rooms and buildings on campus throughout the day for different subjects also had a positive effect. The days of sitting in one classroom and learning everything from one teacher were over as different subjects called for different teachers and classrooms. Lord knows you couldn’t conduct science experiments anywhere other than a science room supervised by a qualified science teacher and it required a special type of room to house musical instruments.
The result was more walking and it served as the perfect form of incidental exercise outside of lunch hours. It felt good to get some fresh air into the lungs as opposed to spending a large portion of the day sitting and falling asleep on my desk in the same stuffy classroom until the bell rang. At least now I had up to six new classrooms every day to almost fall asleep in!
Ok, all kidding aside, all that walking and fresh air did wonders for my overall focus.
There were also changes at home. Now that we were older my mother assigned my sister and I with chores to do around the house. At the time I thought of it as cruel and unusual punishment and a distraction from my study and gaming times but looking back it was definitely beneficial as I was forced to get up off my ass and be more productive.
There were also some changes to the activities I enjoyed with friends during the occasional weekend hang-out. Long hours spent parked in front of the TV gave way to going for walks, playing basketball and, occasionally, practicing wrestling moves. Pro wrestling was pretty huge in the late 90s among young guys and so my buddies (and almost every male student at school) passed the time by practicing the safer stunts and moves that they saw on TV on each other, much to the annoyance of their teachers and, I’d assume, their parents.
I wasn’t really into that so when my friends decided that they wanted to imitate the likes of The Rock (before he became a full-time film actor), Bill Goldberg, Stone Cold Steve Austin I stayed on the sidelines and watched those knuckleheads go at it but at least I was on my feet outside rather than cooped up indoors in front of the TV.
And while I was far from being skilled I still joined in during basketball games. I missed the net far more than I scored but I still gave it my best and worked up a good sweat. And apparently I was good at ‘defending’ or whatever the hell that meant. Not bad for a non-athlete, huh? I will admit now that any physical activity back then made me feel superhuman, such was my lack of physicality
But don’t for a second think that I had suddenly turned over a new leaf. I was loafing around less but bad habits die hard. I didn’t do any exercise outside of house chores and walking and I completed my homework while seated, not while walking on a treadmill. True change happens over time and I had years of bad habits to overcome.
The sports carnival in the middle of 1998 was a humiliating reminder of how far I still had to go. During my elementary school years I was more of a spectator than a participant during school carnivals and on the rare occasion that I did take part I usually flopped during my events and was left winded and writhing on the grass like a dying fish afterwards.
Anyway, I reluctantly took part in a race that year – one that involved running the entire circumference of the field as quickly as possible – and not only did I come second to last (no shame in that), but I once again collapsed in an exhausted heap after stumbling past the finish line, having foolishly gone all-out from the word go instead pacing myself first and gradually building up speed like the others did.
Ahhh muscle cramps and laboured breathing, how I’ve missed you both!
The euphoria of not having come in last place did not dull the agony of total exhaustion.
But on the bright side, I finished that year slimmer than I had been in a few years. No more man-boob jokes for good ol’ me, I guess the bullies had to find something new to pick on me about – which they did but we’ll save that one for another post.
And over the next three years my body continued to transform. As I got older I began assisting my father with some of the more strenuous chores around the house such as cutting grass, taking out the garbage, helping him fix things and washing the car.
So this is what being a grown-up is all about.
As a family, we traveled whenever we could and often made it a point to go out during weekends, whether it’s visiting the beach or amusement parks or special exhibits they might have near our area or the city. As the years rolled on these outings became more frequent and at times I began to wonder if my parents were deliberately trying to get me off the couch to enjoy the outdoors.
By the end of the year 2000 I started to see a hint of a jawline on my once-chubby face and my school uniform continued to loosen up on me, particularly around the waist. I guess puberty was doing its job but I do owe plenty of it to all that working around the home and more time spent outdoors.
And I wasn’t even trying to lose the weight. All I had to do was get up and start moving. However, my athletic ability remained on the loser end. It was one thing to get up and move more but it was another to enhance one’s power, strength and stamina. I just didn’t have it in me to focus on any of that. And even if I wanted to, I didn’t have the means to get started.
But not for long.
I didn’t know it then, but the first step towards real change was coming………