It was time for summer break. I left Auburn’s campus and started the 2-hour drive back home to Birmingham. I only had one thing on my mind that entire trip: To make sure that I gained at least 30 pounds which would ensure that I stepped foot back on campus at 180 pounds.
I sat down with my journal where I was going to write down every workout and every meal for the next two and a half months. On the first page I set some short term goals and some longer term goals. I still have this journal today and always break it out when I’m teaching goal setting.
Short Term Goal:
To weight 180 pounds by first fall practice
To be the most “bulked up” Male cheerleader over the summer
Bench press 275 pounds
Long Term Goal:
185 lbs of ripped muscle by the first basketball game (December)
Very basic goal setting. If I were able to counsel my 19 year-old self I would have demonstrated how to flesh out these goals even further. (Honestly, for my first attempt, it was a pretty good start). I hit most of the SMART goal setting principles meaning they were specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound, with the exception of “big calves”.
Once arriving home for the summer I knew I needed to set up a plan to ensure I could be successful. I immediately reinstated my gym membership at SportPlex. I announced my intentions to my parents and enlisted my Mom’s help with the nutrition side. She says that her food bill immediately doubled when I returned home!
I took it even further… and I pleaded the case that I couldn’t possibly reach my goal on food alone and that I had to have this brand new meal replacement supplement called Met-Rx. Somehow I finagled the credit card and placed a two-month order of the high protein shakes.
I researched different workout programs that I could use for the summer and debated with myself if I should just go back to my high school workouts or go on a true plan. I ultimately settled on a program from Tom Platz called Big Beyond Belief. It was based on the Bulgarian system of lifting and varied every single element of your program from sets and reps to rest periods and movements. It was a three-month program and it came with some pretty big promises of results.
If I knew anything it was that I couldn’t possibly make these changes without a workout partner. A good workout partner is worth it’s weight in gold. They become your coach, accountability partner and cheerleader.
I knew that not only would I need someone to do the basic actions like spotting me but more importantly I would need the motivation on the days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. Having someone waiting on you at the gym is the very extrinsic motivation and accountability that it was going to take.
Stephen was a year younger than me. This was his last summer home before also going to Auburn. He was totally on board to re-start our daily workouts that were a regular part of our high school friendship. It didn’t take much selling for him to realize he too could be in the best shape of his life as he set out for college life.
The goal was set. The plan was laid out. My accountability team was in place. It was time to begin!
We dove head first into the program and hit the gym with a vengeance. We pushed ourselves extremely hard and focused on every set and rep with absolute intensity. We encouraged each other to go way past the point of failure and used whatever motivation tactics and techniques that we had cobbled together over the last few years of study.
I started eating five or six meals a day using the Met-RX shakes for at least two of those meals.
I didn’t know near as much as I do today on clean nutrition, balancing blood sugar levels and how to properly balance macronutrients at each meal. I was just eating to put on mass and as I thumb through my journal now I laugh at some of the meal combinations that I came up with. Macaroni and Cheese with a Met-RX shake stands out as one of the prime examples of my meal planning that summer. I’m also a little jealous that I could eat that much food and not get fat in the process! It’s amazing what a 19 year-old metabolism can withstand!
The numbers on each of my lifts were increasing. The movements got easier and it began to get more and more difficult to get sore from a workout. I was forcing my body to adapt to the demand and stresses that I was throwing at it and my young body was recovering well.
After a few weeks I started to see the scale move. I would only allow myself to weigh one time a week and it was the climax of each week of hard work.
I was setting up mini-victories each week so that I wouldn’t get discouraged. If I only measured my progress against the big goal of 30 pounds then little two and three pound weekly gains didn’t seem significant. But by breaking my goal down into weekly milestones it made those two and three pound gains extremely thrilling.
Knowing I had ten weeks to reach my goal meant that I had to at least put on three pounds every week and I was hitting it like clockwork.
As August crept closer I blew past 170 pounds. Every week it was becoming more and more of a reality that I was going to realize my goal. As my body continued to respond my clothes were getting tight and my confidence was soaring. A new and empowering thought began to subconsciously creep into my mind.
If I could put on 30 pounds in less than three months and literally change my entire physique in the process then what else might be possible if applied the same discipline and focus to it?
The more I thought about it and the more momentum I got from my daily and weekly wins the more I started to feel like anything in my life was possible. I had no way of knowing at the time that this three-month incubator of myopic focus would lay the groundwork for the rest of my life. The principles that I had applied to this goal would become the backbone of everything else I set out to accomplish.
Improving my grades and actually becoming a good student? Check. Overcoming my very shy nature and getting the position of mic man in front of 85,000 fans? Check. Taking my physique to the next level and competing and winning natural bodybuilding contests? Check.
All soon to come…
But first, I had an extremely valuable lesson to learn upon returning to campus. It was August 10th and I had to be back on campus in two days. I nervously stepped onto the scale at SportPlex for the last time. I slowly slid the scale to the right praying that it would not tip over until it slid smoothly past the 179 mark. Once I got there I found myself holding my breath as if that was going to have any effect on the result. The scale did not tip and I kept sliding it further and further to the right until it settled at 182 pounds! I had surpassed my goal by 2 pounds with 2 days left to go! I was ecstatic and felt unstoppable. Adrenaline surged through my body as I proudly stepped off the scale and left the gym to head back to Auburn.
I couldn’t wait to get back and show off my new physique to the rest of the team. There would be no denying the amount of work that I had put on over the summer. I carefully picked out my tightest T shirt that would be sure to showcase the new layers of muscle mass I had so painstakingly built over the last 90 days.
As I walked into practice that humid August afternoon I was greeted with some of the most encouraging words I had ever heard. Chip, a senior and one of the biggest guys on the team, articulated what was written on the faces of everyone else;
“What in the world happened to you? Did you get on the juice?”
I never thought being accused of being on steroids would be so satisfying. However, after what I had been through that summer I don’t think there could have been a better compliment given. “Nope” I said calmly, “just a lot of really hard work.”
My life would never be the same. I had found what I wanted to do with my life because I knew there were so many others who needed to experience what I had just been through. I just didn’t know how I was going to do that. Yet…