Back to the iron (again)

As a se­nior ci­ti­zen, I have more mod­est goals. No more ex­plo­sive move­ments for these old joints of mine

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - LIFESTYLE - By Eric S. Carun­cho @In­q_Lifestyle

Is­tarted lift­ing weights when I was a col­lege sopho­more.

I was 18. A clas­sic ec­to­morph, I weighed a scrawny 115 pounds. My pack-aday cig­a­rette habit didn’t help.

I had zero in­ter­est in team sports, and tak­ing weightlift­ing for Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion seemed like a good idea.

The weight room at the old Univer­sity of the Philip­pines gym was small and ba­sic: racks of bar­bells and dumb­bells, a cou­ple of wooden benches, and a full-length mir­ror. Dr. Me­qui would show up at the start of the class, show us the ba­sic lifts—bench press, dead­lift, squat, up­right rows, curls— then dis­ap­pear un­til the last five min­utes.

This went on for a cou­ple of months, and then it started to hap­pen: I be­gan to fill out—not dra­mat­i­cally, but enough that peo­ple started to no­tice. I also be­gan to feel good, and not just about my­self. I had dis­cov­ered the “pump”—the surge of en­dor­phins that fol­lows reg­u­lar and sys­tem­atic phys­i­cal ex­er­tion.

By the end of the se­mes­ter, I weighed nearly 130 pounds, but with no more ac­cess to a gym, I slipped back into a seden­tary life­style.


I had learned an im­por­tant les­son, how­ever. With the ap­pli­ca­tion of will and a lit­tle knowhow, self-trans­for­ma­tion was pos­si­ble.

I started lift­ing weights again when I was 25. I was mar­ried, a fa­ther of two, and work­ing a more-or-less 9-to-5 job. I had en­tered the cy­cle of birth-school-work-death, and I needed to break out of the rut.

The clos­est gym to my of­fice was in the nearby air force base. It was con­sid­er­ably larger and bet­ter-equipped than the old UP gym, not sur­pris­ing since the RP Olympic weightlift­ing team worked out there.

Car­ried away by the sight of South­east Asian Games gold medal­ist Jaime Se­bas­tian snatch­ing mind-bog­gling amounts of iron in train­ing, I slapped on prob­a­bly more plates on the bar than I should have. Af­ter sev­eral months, I was bench press­ing twice my body­weight and squat­ting nearly as much with­out pass­ing out. My work­mates started call­ing me Co­nan.

In­evitably, I slipped back, but I knew that, if and when I needed it, the iron would al­ways be there for me. That was Les­son No. 2: weightlift­ing is as much men­tal as it is phys­i­cal— maybe even more.

Just be­fore I turned 30, I was work­ing a thank­less PR gig for a sur­re­al­is­tic gov­ern­ment cor­po­ra­tion out of Terry Gil­liam’s “Brazil.” I sought out the near­est gym and started spend­ing my lunch hour there, ba­si­cally to keep my san­ity. The sooth­ing rou­tine of the work­out and its pre­dictable ef­fect on my physique balanced out the mean­ing­less­ness of the rest of my work­day.

More se­ri­ous stres­sor

I was 36 when I needed the iron again. This time the stres­sor was more se­ri­ous. My wife was di­ag­nosed with a brain tu­mor, and for the next five years we bat­tled it: surgery, ra­di­a­tion, chemo­ther­apy, more surgery. De­spite the hec­tic sched­ule, I kept a half-hour sa­cred: my time in the weight room. I needed in­or­di­nate amounts of stamina to keep up, and the iron did not dis­ap­point. I don’t think I could have got­ten through with­out it.

The iron also helped me through re­build­ing my life as a sin­gle par­ent af­ter I turned 40. I found a gym at a hos­tel in UP, not far from where I first learned to lift weights and not much big­ger, but it suited me. They had a sound sys­tem on which I could blast my mix tapes while work­ing out.

Since then, I’ve gone back to the gym on and off—more off, to be truth­ful.

The pro­gram is stored in my mus­cle mem­ory, to ac­cess when I need it. Fancy health clubs with gleam­ing equip­ment and mus­cle­bound train­ers are not for me. Dr. Me­qui taught me all I needed to start, the rest I learned for my­self. I’m strictly old-school in my ap­proach: free weights, three sets of medium reps for each move­ment.

Re­cently, I started lift­ing again when I switched from a 200pound scooter to a 500-pound mo­tor­cy­cle, and found I lacked the up­per-body strength to ma­neu­ver it with ease.

Go­ing back to the rou­tine of work­ing out is like slip­ping into an old and well-worn pair of shoes: a fa­mil­iar and com­fort­ing feel­ing. I don’t ex­actly wel­come the sore­ness that in­evitably fol­lows that first work­out af­ter a long lay­off, but it’s a fa­mil­iar pain that tells meI’m on the path again.

As a se­nior ci­ti­zen, I have more mod­est goals. No more ex­plo­sive move­ments for these old joints of mine. These days, it’s all about main­tain­ing mus­cle mass and bone den­sity and the car­dio ben­e­fits of strength train­ing.

It’s also about con­fronting your own­mor­tal­ity.

In a me­di­ated, post-truth world, try­ing to lift 200 pounds over your head is about as real as it gets.

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