I’ve struggled with body issues since middle school. There, I said it. I was a chubby, short, frizzy-haired teenager who couldn’t stand to look in the mirror for more than a few seconds. Working out didn’t fix that; I fixed that. And when I did, working out became something I enjoyed, instead of something I felt obligated to do because of personal insecurities.
The internet, however, isn’t truly conducive to aiding me in my quest.
I searched, I scoured, but in the end even Pinterest wasn’t really beneficial in the long-run. I’m simply not the type of person who learns that way. I was also completely unready to truly devote myself to it. With such a shaky plan, any motivation I found would be quickly washed away when life got in the way.
Which is the first thing I learned when I decided to sit down, and really dedicate myself to this.
Make a plan.
Get fancy and put up a whiteboard chart outlining your routine. Go simple and use a notepad. Whatever works –just make a plan.
That’s where I ran into my first snag because the plans I was making were only half working. I started getting more stamina, but I attribute that more to the running I was doing. As for actually building muscle and tone? Not so much. No amount of Pinterest pictures and links were really helping me learn how either.
Diets and exercise plans were always an option, but they’re so thoroughly expensive I refused to buy into them. I took a nutrition class in high school, and even did a presentation on it to a board of teachers outlining my research. I already knew diets didn’t work long term, and I didn’t trust expensive exercise plans.
I wanted something long-term that I could dedicate myself to that could help me reach my goals.
I’m truly lucky to not only have amazing roommates that support me and push me to be better, but also to have a roommate that has his professional trainer’s license. We all call him Cap and no I’m not kidding; his nickname in the military was Captain America. I even buy him Captain America merchandise for Christmas every year.
Cap is a great friend, and an even better body builder. He’s not up to Schwarzenegger levels of muscle, and he doesn’t want to be. What Cap does have is Reed Richards levels of knowledge when it comes to fitness.
After working up the courage I finally asked him if he could bestow some of that knowledge onto me Of course he said yes, because he’s our Cap, and with his help we hashed out a workout routine for someone like me.
By “like me” I mean a novice. Sure I did the treadmill a little, and I wasn’t completely clueless as to what a bicep curl was, but I hadn’t done one since mandatory weight lifting class in my freshman year of high school.
The old anxieties that cropped up whenever I entered a gym before still spring up when I use our free apartment gym. I tend to release a silent sigh of relief at seeing it empty, but tense up whenever someone else steps through the door.
Nerves are your worst enemy — in pretty much anything. However Cap made everything really easy. Before actually entering the ring, so to speak, he went over everything with me. What my goals were — to build muscle and tone — what my experience was — next to nothing — how often would you like to workout — enough to build muscle but not kill me — and had me write it all down.
He also showed me this nice website: Bodybuilding, which offers plans and examples for workouts. We didn’t particularly like any of the plans they offered, so he built one for me himself. Cap’s good like that.
So in the end my workout routine ended up looking like this:
Cap threw a lot of information at me, so I took some notes to keep up. He explained to me that alternate your workouts so you don’t get burned out, taking rest days is extremely important, but keep active during those days too, but with light activity. On rest days I do some light yoga routines, or walk around our apartment complex.
We targeted two areas to cover full body, lower body/legs, and upper body/chest. He suggested a three or five day regime. I picked three because I wanted to learn how to crawl before I started running. I’m the running type and more often than not it’s only served to bite me in the butt.
This is my basic outline for the next few months, which I started two months ago. Cap took me to our complex’s gym, and ran through everything we worked out with me.
Here I thought to do a squat you just bend your knees and try to make your butt touch the floor. Uh, no, not even close. Cap showed me what I was doing wrong, which was something really basic, but something I would have never learned looking at pictures on Pinterest, or didn’t fully comprehend watching a Comcast fitness video.
All the weight has rest on your heels. Wow, mind blow. Is this what Billy Kaplan felt like when he learned Wanda Maximoff was his soul mom? It was life changing, because in that moment I had someone to properly walk me through what I was supposed to do, and I finally felt like I was doing it right.
Next it was on to the machines, which aren’t as intimidating as I originally thought. Sure at first they look as gigantic to me as a mecha from Gundam Wing, but this was the next thing I learned.
I’ve read through websites, and honestly I don’t remember one of them telling me about adjustments. See each machine has a series of pegs (which is what the “pegs” mean on my workout routine) with numbers. You have to adjust the machine to your specifications.
We all have different bodies. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to weightlifting. This is why the machines have pegs to begin with. So that they can fit us, not the other way around.
So we marked each adjustment for each machine I tried. This is something I would suggest any newbie do, unless you have an eidetic memory. I don’t, so I brought a pen and notepad with me and each time we figured out what worked best, I marked it down. I also marked down the amount of weight I could handle on the machine as well.
Cap explained to me that you don’t want to hurt yourself while your training. Obvious right? Not really, as he told me that lots of people try to take on too much at once and end up straining their bodies.
So start small.
When we got to the dumbbells, I wanted to pick up the ten pound ones because I felt embarrassed picking up the five pound ones. I didn’t, because I honestly knew I couldn’t pick up the ten pounds — yet.
Cap even told me that when working his shoulders, and doing dumbbell raises, that he never goes above fifteen or twenty pounds. His shoulders are huge, like grapefruit size, he has trouble finding shirts that fit, it’s ridiculous.
Yet he never lifts more than twenty pounds when working the dumbbells. It’s not a sprint to the finish line, it’s a distance run. Pacing yourself is one of the things Cap really taught me as we went through my routine.
Something else that the diets and plans advertised on TV, in between commercials featuring fast food, forgot to mention was rest. You can’t workout without proper rest.
I remember watching my brother pay almost a hundred dollars for a five DVD training program, and then blow through another hundred on the various protein powders they said he needed. The one thing I never really saw him doing was resting in between his days. He just kept working like a machine until he was too sore, burnt out, and irritated to continue.
If working out isn’t fun then you aren’t going to want to do it. Burning yourself out, or running yourself ragged because you think it’ll get you the best and fastest results — which I’m guilty of — won’t get you to where you want to be. It’ll just make working out seem like a chore.
Cap is happy after his workouts. He comes bellowing into the apartment more like Thor than Steve Rogers after a roaring battle with Doombots and a huge smile on his face. I’ve never seen him complain about working out because he genuinely enjoys it.
This isn’t how it starts out with everyone’ it certainly didn’t with me. However after two months of training my stick arms, I can feel the difference. In between the soreness, there’s a sort of weightlessness that follows as well. A bone deep satisfaction that flows through my muscles at a job well done.
In the end, Cap broke down working out to three basic things: training, nutrition, and rest. The dietary restrictions aren’t nearly as strict as what you would find on a standard monthly diet. Turns out you don’t have to eat a strict, egg-white and fruit diet 24/7, you just have to eat better and set your meals on a workable schedule.
Eat breakfast! Cap said that most people skip breakfast, go right for the coffee, and eat a huge meal at night — again guilty — when you need breakfast not only to kickstart your metabolism, but also to provide you with the needed calories for your day.
The protein powders my brother brought actually are really important. If you work out five to six times a week like Cap does, you need a two pound container like he uses. If you’re like me and just working out three times a week for thirty minutes, a smaller packet is all that’s needed. Just enough to make a single protein shake after your workout.
You need these things to help your muscles build back up. After doing a little research the cheapest place to buy them is Wal-Mart or Amazon. Cap really likes the WHEY brand of protein.
As for eating right, most of the time is all that’s needed. I still see Cap bring home a coleslaw, bacon burger from Wendy’s every now and again. But trying to clean up your diet is important. So I can’t eat junk all the time, but I can eat one of the peanut butter brownies I made without feeling guilty.
That’s a nice feeling.
So training, rest, nutrition. With these rules instilled, I’ve been officially out on my own for the last two months, with Cap’s blessing. At this point I’m like Bucky, circa golden age era, all soft and fresh faced. My goal is to be America Chavez, with thighs that fill out a pair of high waisted shorts to perfection, and arms that can punch through the laws of physics.