At the age of 22, I started to rebuild myself from scratch. I was in horrible condition — chronic smoker’s cough, terrible acne, oily hair. I was a “fat skinny” — a guy with underdeveloped muscles but covered with fat. Flabby and weak I couldn’t even do one pull-up. The quest for strength is still in progress but there are already quite many things that I learned about physical fitness.
I wrote my story for an average person i.e. a reader with ordinary ambitions for fitness, not someone who wants to become a professional athlete and set world records. What follows next is solely a collection of my personal conclusions on the matter. Tastes differ. Take what resonates with you and neglect the rest.
According to my observations and my personal experience, all men go through three stages of motivation when they start working out:
- First, a man wants to be more attractive to women.
- The second stage is entered when a man starts to want other men to fear and respect him.
- Finally, on the last stage, a man reaches the point when he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. Exercising becomes his second nature. He does it because he enjoys it.
Here, I am not talking about the motivation of professional athletes whose inherent motivation is different as their primary objectives are to win competitions and earn achievements. This motivation is too specific for our discussion.
Building the body — this is how I started. I cared a lot about my looks and to be honest, was completely clueless about what I was doing. I knew nothing about what to train and how to train. I wanted to stop being a fat skinny.
Bench press was the exercise I was focusing a lot on, for no particular reason. Most likely I was just copying other guys in the gym. So, if you are just at the beginning of your journey, please do yourself a favor — educate yourself. There is an abundance of information on the variety of topics from nutrition to the anatomy of bodybuilding.
Things that I learned about bodybuilding:
- It makes you stronger.
- It makes you more cautious of what you eat.
- It makes you more mindful of the work of your muscles.
- You learn the basics of biomechanics.
- It makes you disciplined.
- In bodybuilding there is too much fixation on aesthetics. When a man wants to be strong it is natural. When a man wants to be beautiful it’s an alert. Something is wrong with the mentality. Today’s bodybuilding competitions are some perverse versions of beauty pageants.
- The objective of the bodybuilding training is to improve the shape and form which is generally associated with sacrificing the primary function of the muscular system — the movement. The muscles of the human body are designed to serve practical purposes, not aesthetic. Isolating exercises are a ‘castration’ of a working functional muscle.
- In bodybuilding you have to work in the dining room as hard as you work in the gym. Extra stress on the digestive system will inevitably have detrimental effects on health — the more you eat the faster you age.
In the beginning, I was lifting not regularly and non-systematically. I was still smoking and drinking occasionally but at least I made my first steps.
I discovered Denis Minin and Hannibal for King on YouTube and they motivated me to start body-weight exercising.
On August 31, 2011, I quit smoking and instantly felt an improvement in my performance. I was exercising almost every day alone slowly moving toward a very blurry vision of what I want to become.
One day a friend of mine told me that he found a whole bunch of people who are like myself very much into exercising on bars and that they plan a gathering the following weekend. We decided to go there. I showed up and my friend didn’t. That meeting changed my life forever.
When I arrived, I saw a group of teenagers much younger than me exercising outside. The atmosphere was very positive and the workout intense. After that day we started to meet and exercise together. We became friends. We progressed. We were challenging each other and the transformation followed. We became a team — “Mixteam”.
My team became my second family. I couldn’t wait to finish my work and head to the workout field and slay the workout with my team. As days went by, I started to get more and more involved — I started to organize events, I spend a lot of time with my team, we made a uniform and a logo and unnoticeably for myself I became a team leader. My team became something more than an instrument for strengthening my body. It became a tool of honing my leadership skills.
Things that I learned from Street Workout:
- SW is a complex and functional workout — a perfect set of movements for which your upper body is naturally designed for.
- SW increases your endurance and agility.
- SW increases your body awareness. It makes you more mindful of the movements your body is capable of performing.
- SW is extremely effective for fat loss. It makes you lean. The muscle tissue you build is not big in volume but super dense.
- Only one — the lack of focus on the lower body. Many SW athletes neglect legs in their routines. Some of them do it deliberately to keep the lower part of the body light which makes it easier to perform various static (isometric) holds.
I and my team spent many great days and hundreds of amazing workouts together, but I had to move to another country. In August 2013 I departed to South Korea. I left, however, the impetus that Mixteam gained over two years helped them not only not to fall apart after my departure but to become stronger, more dedicated, and more organized. During the past 7 years my team never stopped exercising. Check them out on the YouTube — Mixteam Workout & Calisthenics Kazakhstan. They are beasts.
And so I left. I was 25 years old, 187 cm, 73 kg, and I could do 10+ muscle-ups. I was lean and light and felt great but I wanted to get stronger. This is how I got into lifting.
When I arrived in Korea I was still doing street workout but a sudden access to a free gym on campus allowed me to try new things. I decided to become bigger and stronger. I started to eat a lot and lift heavy. The hardest part for me was squats as my underdeveloped legs were not even used to bodyweight squats. I remember myself struggling while squatting with 60 kg bar. I persisted. After 1.5 years I was 87 kg having personal records of 125 kg in squat, 200 kg deadlift, and 120 kg in bench-press. Of course, these are mediocre numbers for someone who is serious about powerlifting, but I am not a professional athlete so I was satisfied with my progress. I reached my goal, I wasn’t skinny anymore.
Things that I learned about Powerlifting:
- Building your body is like carving a statue out from a single rock. In that sense, 3 main powerlifting exercises, namely deadlift, bench-press and squat represent first rough strong hits with a chisel that give your body its primal fundamental shape. You can follow a classic split (Monday — back, Wednesday — chest, Friday — legs). Regardless of your level, warm up with an empty bar, and then proceed with the weight progression up to one rep max. Then go down to your “working” weight and do a couple of sets more. The progress will be visible after 3 weeks.
- A successful lift is as much a product of a strong “Inner Game” as it is a product of a technique or body readiness. Powerlifting will require you to learn how to visualize your maximum-weight lift and channel all of your psychic energy into the completion of a single powerful movement.
- Lifting heavy works best for gaining muscle mass for hardgainers such as myself.
- Powerlifting makes you strong. Among other components of physical fitness, strength is the hardest component to develop. It may take 2–3 years to build up strength, whereas components such as endurance, flexibility, balance or agility can be significantly improved within 6 months.
- Powerlifting has an amazing transformative effect on your body, however, it all comes at a price. You have to sacrifice your endurance, stamina, speed, and agility for strength.
- You have to sacrifice your 6-pack. The surplus of carbohydrates and overall caloric excess in your diet required to provide you with energy to lift heavy comes with side-effects — gaining fat. That is the reason why normally you do not see shredded powerlifters and strongmen.
- Single repetitions with maximum weight (one rep max or 1RM) are dangerous. While lifting 1RM your technique is far from perfect. You have a high risk to damage your spine doing deadlifts and heavy squats are bad for your knees in the long-term.
- There are not many practical applications of powerlifting in real life. It is highly unlikely that you will face a lot of life situations where you will have to generate a maximum amount of force in one maximal contraction. On the other hand, being able to lift or squat with average weights but multiple times seems to be much more practical. And that is what I discovered through my next endeavor.
In June 2013 I became a part of the Sparta community. In a nutshell, Sparta is a life-coaching program for men and a resulted movement that includes its graduates. I will share with you my story about Sparta in a separate section in the Self-Development chapter.
I was constantly following the Spartans’ activities and events on SNS. In 2015 CrossFit became popular and Sparta community launched a flash mob called “Wild100”. The goal of the flash mob was to complete a hundred intense CrossFit workouts posting progress reports on Instagram along the way.
CrossFit became a new level up for me. I stopped lifting one rep max, instead, I was lifting lighter weights, but doing higher reps in a fast-paced manner. Workouts of the day so-called WODs were always creative and intense. I remember one WOD that had an objective to hit maximum tonnage in deadlifts using 100 kg bar in 30 minutes. Going 10 reps at a time, I lifted 24 tons. Two days after that WOD I was walking as if I was pierced by a steel rod. CrossFit was so much fun.
I finished my Wild100. And then I did another one. And then another one. And then one day I did a hang clean with a 95kg bar and it slipped through my thumbs. Luckily, I got off without serious injuries. I left the gym with my wrist tendons strained and the idea that it was enough CrossFit for me. It took me 4 months to completely recover.
Things that I learned through CrossFit (CF):
- CF pushes you to your maximum. It’s not only a workout for your body but also a challenge for your willpower. Every WOD will expose you to new sorts of pain that demand a serious work of the spirit. CF forges resilience.
- Cardio component is huge. Your heart is forced to work to its maximum capacity which over time makes it really strong.
- CF is a universal development. You will not be able to set records in a specific movement but eventually, CF training will make you a more well-rounded athlete.
- Complex movements and skills play a huge part in CF.
- CF sacrifices quality for quantity. The technique of many movements suffers because you work against the clock.
- As a result of bad technique, the risk of traumatizing yourself is at its highest. With a poorly-thought-out approach, CF can bring more harm than good.
The biggest con of CF is the one that I experienced personally — a trauma. I never had the intention of becoming a competing athlete. My objective was to stay healthy, and the risk of breaking myself in the gym didn’t really align with the image of healthy me. It was time to try something new. I started my own flashmob — WildYoga.
I found a yoga workout for beginners on YouTube and started practicing. Yoga was seriously good and unexpectedly hard.
What I learned:
- Static exercises are extremely effective for blood circulation. When you perform a yoga pose and hold it for 30+ seconds blood rushes into every single capillary. Blood flow improvement has a therapeutic and revitalizing effect.
- Yoga brings mindfulness to a whole different level. As opposed to dynamic exercises, the slow-pace of yoga training allows you to learn how to observe your body and control the tension in it.
- Yoga develops flexibility.
- Yoga sacrifices strength, endurance, and agility for flexibility. A body that is used to work under high-load resistance, will have to readjust to the new type of stress which is insufficient for both muscle growth and cardio functionality.
- If you do some poses carelessly, especially those that are focused on spine flexibility and involve a lot of bending of the back and neck, you risk getting a pinched nerve. Yoga comes with its own traumas.
Normally, the type of physical exercise that you choose will correspond to your inner speed, your mentality, and your psychotype. Naturally, my inner speed is high and that didn’t resonate well with the slow-paced yoga. I am used to dynamic workouts so oftentimes yoga felt boring. It wasn’t my thing. After 7+ years of experimenting, I found what is working for me.
Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.
If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.