2002: Stepping Up

Me at 17 years old

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.

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