200 lbs

I started lifting weights in February 2022. A couple of friends were doing it so I decided to join in. I never saw myself as the weightlifting type, and I didn’t expect much to come of it.

It soon became a weekly routine and we found ourselves doing a lot of bench press. We weren’t taking it too seriously but after a couple of months I passed my high-school max (140 lbs) and a few weeks later I was able to bench my own weight (150 lbs). It was fun seeing progress. We kept up the routine and after 6-8 months I was seeing physical changes in my body (noticeably, less fat and more muscle).

I don’t have words to describe how bizarre this was to me. For whatever reason, I’ve been basically the same size and weight since 2008. Even when I trained for marathons or biked daily to work, I looked basically the same. That’s just how it was.

But apparently not anymore! I started to wonder what kind of changes I could see if I took this seriously. Could I get totally ripped? Is a six-pack possible? How much could I bench if I kept going?

These were foreign thoughts to me. In the past, I’ve considered weightlifting to be something of a vanity sport. Good for people who enjoy it but a waste of time for me. But after some lengthy internal debate*, I decided to go for it. I set a goal to bench 200 lbs by the end of 2023.

And just two weeks ago, I did it. One good rep at 200 lbs. It felt amazing!

So now what? Do I keep going?

At this point, I’ve decided “no.” Getting to 200 took a lot of effort and attention that I want to direct elsewhere.

But before I move on entirely, I wanted to capture a few lessons from the experience (mostly for my future self, should he want to try something like this again):

  1. Be patient. This is the most important one. You can’t go into each workout expecting to lift more than the last one. Things take time, and if you aren’t patient, you make stupid mistakes (like going too hard without a spotter). I backslid a lot because of vacations, donating blood, and unrelated health issues; instead of getting frustrated, I learned to say “it’s ok, I’m not in a hurry.” Patience is so important that I don’t recommend setting weightlifting goals with a deadline. Make goals like “lift twice a week and work towards benching 200 lbs” instead of “bench 200 lbs by December 31st.”
  2. When you get stuck, try something new. It’s common to hit a plateau. My max sat at 185 lbs for over four months before I was able to get past it. When that happens, try something new. Try variations on your exercises, session length, and frequency. Change how you eat, breathe, rest, and recover. And if you don’t know what to do, learn techniques from books, websites, and podcasts.
  3. Get plenty of sleep. I never got a new max on a day that I slept poorly. Sleep seemed to correlate to “a good day” more than anything else I could do (drinking water, eating protein, visualization, etc).

I still plan to go to the weight room, but more for fun and general fitness. Maybe I’ll get into squats or pull-ups or something else. There’s a lot of interesting ways to stay active.

* I ended up journaling my internal debate, so I might as well include it here for the curious. Maybe it will resonate with someone (unlikely—my wife says “nobody thinks like this”).

Click to read the debate

Past Me:
What a pointless goal. You're already young and healthy—you don't need to be healthier. Your life isn't physically demanding, so you don't need to be stronger. Are you just trying to look jacked? Because if so, we're talking about very slight physical changes that are hidden 99% of the time, fairly unnoticeable when not hidden, and not even that attractive to women (which doesn't matter much anyways, because you're married). There's really no reason for you to do this.

Gym Me:
Sure, but I'm curious. I've never really tried this before. How far could I get if I really tried? I think it's good to follow your curiosity and see where it takes you.

Past Me:
Yeah, I'm curious about a lot of things too, but that doesn't make them worth my time. Do you know how long it takes to see a noticeable physical difference from weightlifting? You could be writing a book, building a house, or starting a business. So many people with bulging biceps and six pack abs have lived, grown old, and died, leaving nothing of value behind. What a waste. Why would you spend so much time and energy optimizing something that doesn't last?

Gym Me:
Even if I could build a house or a business, they wouldn't last very long either. Everything decays. That's just a fact of life. In a world where nothing is permanent, building your strength is just as worthwhile as building any other thing.

Past Me:
But is it? Other things could make an impact. An inspiring book could create a ripple effect, changing peoples lives as it propagates through their relationships. Your online work can be seen by anybody in the world! But this weightlifting stuff? It's limited to your physical environment. It can't scale. You're pouring energy into something that doesn't compound.

Gym Me:
But what if it does compound? Weightlifting is an investment because being physically strong improves my energy levels, stamina, and immune system... all things that make me more effective in my other pursuits. It's a force multiplier.

Past Me:
Ok maybe, but be honest with yourself... most of your gains have probably already happened. Continuing to push towards 200 lbs means you're spending all this time chasing diminishing returns. And for what? It's not like benching those last 10 pounds will improve your general health at this point.

Gym Me:
Sure, but it's not just about physical health. Weightlifting also improves your mood, attitude, confidence, and discipline. Exercising my discipline will have consequences in all areas of my life, both now and in the future. It's important for me to have experiences setting ambitious goals and seeing them through to completion. If I can bench 200 lbs, then what else could I do? As Nat Eliason said, "The proof you can do hard things is one of the most powerful gifts you can give yourself."