Today I walked into a store and someone said “man you look like you workout” – he later called me “huge”. It’s a badge of honor I wear proudly now, because it’s a the culmination of a decade-long pursuit to not be the tiny, scrawny, awkward, lanky kid I was growing up. Puberty was weird for me. I was cut from the high school basketball team because I couldn’t rebound…which I later came to view as a nice way of telling me I was short (also that I lacked toughness and work ethic…maybe my 110lb frame wasn’t bolstering that position much for me at the time). I moved on from most of the sports I played early, mainly due to the fact that most kids were growing and I simply wasn’t. Looking back, it was devstating to me at the time, I’d dedicated so much of my youth to basketball specifically, but also swimming, football, baseball and lacrosse. I felt like I was being slighted due to my size and that I didn’t have a chance and I couldn’t change it.
That was all a load of crap. I was ignorant, apathetic and I lacked the work ethic required to put on size. You see, some people get it naturally…they’re thicker, they grow tall early and sports are simpler for them due to this growth. Others have to work for it. Seeing what “working for it” has done for me now, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way, but hindsight is always 20/20. I wish I had someone to tell me that you CAN put on size, you CAN get bigger and you CAN develop your own growth stage. You don’t have to be small, you don’t have to be weak, and in my experience, a lot of times the kids who are those things have a nice healthy chip on their shoulder that gifts them a tenacity that will make them far more successful in life both in and out of the gym.
Today I walk around at 6’3″ and ~225lbs most days. I can also control my weight easily, and it’s nice to have that degree of control over my situation after the beginning half of my life this was seen as out of my control. In a world where every advertiser and gym is centered around Americans losing weight, I feel that this group…the scrawny kids….needs to have a voice. We need to have a place and a goal and a desire to beat back that feeling of being out of control of the situation just the same as people struggling with being overweight.
So let’s talk about it. It took me around 6 years to go from 148lbs to 220lbs – what did that time look like? First, I found the two biggest guys I could find…not like, big high school kids, I mean like NFL big (like Myles over there). There were two guys in my platoon who were way bigger and way stronger than everyone else. I told them I wanted to come lift with them. They taught me to deadlift, squat and I had already been bench pressing. I started working out 3-4 days per week with them, and took one of them on as my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training partner (even though I was 185 at the time, and he was 245lbs).
Second, I asked them what I should eat? Sgt. Dervali took me to the grocery store and took me to the frozen meat section. He pulled out a bag of 8 frozen chicken breasts. Said “get lots of these”…we bought 5 packages…for the week. I didn’t have a kitchen in the barracks, things are a bit weird there for a young guy trying to put on size while making ~$19,000/year in Washington D.C. So I learned about microwaving egg beaters (makes me sick to think about eating that now honestly, don’t try this), and we got 5 boxes of those. Then we bought plenty of peanut butter, whey protein, whole milk, rice and bread. I had a George Foreman grill for the meat, and home I went to begin my new nutrition regimen. Looking back now, counting grams wasn’t really too much of a thing back then but my back of the napkin daily macros would have been around 400-450g protein, 500g carbs and who knows how much fat (lots of whole milk). It wasn’t optimal to say the least, but it got the job done. In just a year I went from 185lbs to a solid 215lbs. All my strength numbers had gone up and I’d finally started to see some real muscles…something I’d longed for since I was 12.
Now, don’t follow that advice above, it makes you big, yes, but also makes you fatter and not quite as healthy. There are very precise ways of putting on size that allow it to not be with additional fat and allow you stay very heart healthy and fit in the process. A few bullet points to help guide you if you’re scrawny (don’t take this advice if you’re not):
- Eat at least 1.5x your bodyweight in grams of protein each day
- Drink a high quality protein shake with whole chocolate milk after you workout
- Lift heavy weights 5-6 days per week (Please ensure you’re taught how to)
- Do compound lifts first, then accessory lifts with dumbbells and kettlebells or your own bodyweight
- Compound lifts you must do: Deadlifts, Front and/or Back Squats, Bench Press, Push Press, Power Cleans
- Accessory lifts you must do: Strict Pull-ups or rope climbs, push-ups (lots of them, all the time), dips, Kroc Rows (heavy), Lunges (heavy), Farmer’s Carry & Sandbag work.
- Your accessory work should be done at a pace that is slightly challenging to breathe hard
- Ensure you’re progressing your loads, linear progression is the best way (increasing weights on the barbell/dumbbell) every week when starting
- Wrestle, grapple, or do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu — Few things build real strength more than trying to move another human, and it builds discipline, respect for the process and teaches you about leverage – which is what strength, size and muscle development is all about.
- Find people bigger or stronger than you because they train that way and be around them more, adopt their habits and training routines when/where necessary.
Some of us are more predisposed to being obese, some to be strong and muscular, some to be small and scrawny. All that means is that we have different things to work for. So many articles get written on how to lose weight, but very few good ones are out there about how to get big and strong! It was a journey for me with very little guidance, almost no support, even less understanding and mostly internalized work ethic. To have strangers view me as a “guy who must workout” or a bigger person is still strange to me…I’m still that tiny point guard who couldn’t rebound and got cut in my head.
Today I’ve created training programs, seminars and classes that can help people like me put on strength, size and the much needed functional muscle-mass. The great part about this, is if it is done properly, with just a few tweaks it can also help anyone lose weight and be more fit as well. At Friendship we have a Functional Bodybuilding Class on Sundays, as well as an upcoming Squat Cycle in January that are programmed and developed to help build muscle, be stronger and more functional for your life to come. For almost every American, strength is needed no matter where you are in life. Please share with any scrawny kids out there and they can reach out to me to ask any questions they have. I wish someone would’ve done the same for me much earlier in life.