I was the strongest guy in my high school.
Now, my graduating class was about 40 people, so that isn’t saying much, but it was still a point of pride. I was also the captain of my track team, which was an even bigger point of pride. I’m not a natural athlete, but I worked my ass off. My coach told me that he didn’t pick me to lead because I was good, but because he knew I put everything I had into it.
I didn’t compete in college athletics, but I did get into the martial arts. In my karate classes, my teacher called me a holy terror, and used me as a sparring dummy to show the other students what it was like to try and out-punch, or get grabbed by, a guy the size of a small oak tree. I got into Judo later, and the grappling skills I picked up there saved my ass a couple of times. PCP is a motherfucker, but even a motherfucker goes down when there’s no blood going to his brain.
After college, I got into powerlifting and something that you’d probably call Crossfit if you squinted at it sideways. I bench pressed 315lbs for reps, squatted 425lbs, and deadlifted 500lbs. These aren’t world-shaking numbers, but again, they were the best amongst the group of people I knew.
My adventures in circuit-for-time workouts and protein-shakes-and-more-protein-shakes dieting allowed me to drop about 70 pounds of post-college weight, and get into the best shape of my life. People came to me for advice on how to get fit, and a couple of people even asked me to get them in shape for Basic Training.
I’d always suffered from a collection of minor ailments. My knees have never been great; squatting with shitty form and running on hard roads when you tip the scales at somewhere around two hundred and fifty pounds do bad things to already temperamental joints. I got tossed on my head–literally–by a brown belt Judoka, and separated my shoulder. Then, a month later, I got tossed by my sensei, and popped it out again. That was the end of my martial arts career.
After I turned thirty, though, all of the aches and pains, bumps and bruises, started to add up, and new injuries didn’t heal the way they used to. I also went through an emotional crisis that left me an empty, bitter shell for a couple of years.
I’ve tried to get back into fighting shape a few times since then, but never with any kind of consistency or results. When all was said and done, I was walking around at three hundred and fifteen pounds, weak, stressed, stiff, hurt, and generally unhealthy.
I hurt myself again a while ago, dropping off the chin-up bar. Yeah, I blew my knee out doing chin-ups, because that’s how my life works. I’d been injured before, but never this bad. I was in pain all of the time, and as depressed as I had ever been. I was always the biggest, always the strongest, and now I couldn’t even take my dogs for a walk.
For the first time in my life, I went to a physical therapist. I had always assumed that these people were glorified personal trainers, and that they didn’t know anything I couldn’t teach myself. My PT, though, was a magician, and in a couple of months she had me back in the rack and squatting again. It was amazing.
I decided that it was time to rebuild myself, from the ground up. To start with the basics, relearn how my body worked, unlearn some bad habits, and get myself strong and healthy again. I started Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program, focusing on the fundamentals of safe movement under load. After a few months of that, I transitioned into Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program.
I’ve been doing 5-3-1 religiously, two days a week, for a couple of months now, and I’m pressing 175lbs, benching 280lbs, squatting 305pounds, and pulling 390lbs. Again, not world-shattering weights, but they’re better than I’ve been able to do in a long, long time.
In hopes of dropping a little weight, and just maybe staving off an early heart attack, I’ve started adding bike sprints into my life, too. Once a week, usually on Saturday, I’ll hop on the bike, sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 90, and repeat the whole thing for a total of five circuits.
My diet is falling back into place, too. I dropped soda, even diet, and drink about three liters of water a day. I’m eating mostly a ketogenic diet: breakfast is Bulletproof Coffee, which I absolutely hate but know is good for me; lunch is a Quest bar and two scoops of Muscle Milk, the only protein shake on the planet that I don’t hate, and dinner is a Big Ass Omelet; six eggs, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, and usually either bacon or sausage on the side. Yeah, I eat breakfast for dinner. It’s amazing, and everyone should do it.
I’ve been eating like this for a week now, and I’m down five pounds. I still weigh three hundred and eight pounds, but it’s a start.
There’s only one problem: while I’m getting stronger at all of the power lifts, and my weight is starting to come down, my body just can’t handle things like it could in college. My knees ache, my shoulders grind, and I generally have a surly disposition.
I’ve been reading a lot about gymnastic training lately. These guys are, pound for pound, some of the strongest athletes in the world. They are also some of the strongest athletes in the world, period. A lot of these guys can move weights that would make dedicated lifters blink. They also have a remarkable resilience to injury, because their progressions are so slow.
Because I had so much luck with the bodyweight exercises prescribed by my PT, I considered starting my own gymnastics training. I looked into Gymnastic Bodies (warning: that site has an auto-playing video that is loud as all fuck), Gold Medal Bodies, and Ido Portal’s work.
Gymnastics, though, seemed a bit out of my reach. For one, I’m thirty-four years old, and most accomplished gymnasts started when they were five. For another, I’m six foot four, and most passable gymnasts are about three foot seven. I needed something that would provide the same benefits–strength in the muscles and joints, developed through isometric tension–as gymnastics, but catered to a guy of my somewhat sullied athletic history.
Like any red-blooded American male, I was a pro wrestling fan in my teens. Diamond Dallas Page was one of my favorite stars, because his ethic–no matter how many times you knock me down, I’m gonna get back up and come back at you–was so powerful. When I heard he was teaching Yoga, though, I thought it was a joke.
Then I saw the video.
If you haven’t seen this video, go and watch it now. It’s one of the most powerful four minutes I’ve ever seen. Arthur Boorman is one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever read about. He’s a Persian Gulf veteran, and when he came home, he was pretty much crippled. He weighed two hundred and ninety seven pounds. He couldn’t walk without the assistance of two crutches, which were always attached to his wrists. He lived his life strapped into a back brace and a pair of metal knee braces. His doctors told him he would never walk unassisted again.
Then he started doing Yoga.
It wasn’t an overnight transformation. The workouts were painful for him. He fell a lot. You can tell that a lot of the time, he would rather just give up, sit on the couch, and eat a pizza. But he didn’t give up. He kept going, kept fighting. “Just because I can’t do it today,” he said, “doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do it someday.”
In six months, he lost one hundred pounds. He can walk without his canes. He can run. And do handstands, and headstands, and a whole bunch of other gymnastic-type movements that I couldn’t hope to pull off.
Diamond Dallas Page has made something of a career out of taking burned out, washed up men and putting them back together again. He got Scott Hall off drugs. He saved Jake the Snake Roberts’ life. He put Chris Jericho back together again.
I’m going to see what he can do for me.
I’ve known about DDP Yoga, and Arthur’s transformation, for a while now. It wasn’t until I heard DDP on the Onnit podcast that I really thought about giving it a try. Listening to DDP explain how he put himself back together, and how many benefits Yoga can confer–not just flexibility, but also strength and conditioning–finally convinced me.
I ordered the six-disk “max pack”, and bought a Yoga mat. I’ve been doing the workouts for a week now, twice a day, once if I have another workout planned. I’m not doing handstands yet, and I can’t even get my heels to touch the ground when I do Down Dog, but just because I can’t do it today doesn’t mean I won’t be able to do it someday.
Namaste, mother fucker.