Friday, July 22, 2011

Power Animator

(ed. note: If you’ve made your way here from, welcome!)

“There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” – Booker T. Washington

If there was ever a quote that equally embodies my life as an animator and as a powerlifter, this is it. Aside from the literal translation regarding weightlifting, I feel that this quote also demonstrates how we can excel in our areas of interest by seeking out and nurturing an encouraging an environment of constructive feedback.

For today’s post, I’m going to tell parallel stories based on my experiences as an animator and a powerlifter, and show how opening myself up to external feedback has helped me grow throughout my careers in both.

2005, Champaign, Illinois. My then girlfriend (now wife) Jessica and I were working out at the local Gold's Gym together for the first time. We had been dating for 6 months or so, but until this point, we had different gym memberships. We talked about weightlifting quite a lot (she was an amateur bodybuilder at the time), but we rarely lifted together, and that was about to change.

On that day at Gold's Gym, I was benching and curling, because THAT'S WHAT MEN DO (that's how my mind worked back then). I saw Jessica go over to the Olympic lifting platform and start warming up for squats. I told her, in my all-knowing way, that those would hurt her knees and to be careful. She looked at me with the look that I now know is reserved for idiocy and when the dog poops on the carpet. At the time, I took it for confusion, as though I had just unleashed upon her this knowledge that she was sorely lacking.

She continued on with her squats while I performed my "superior" bench sets. After I was done, I went over to the squat rack to load up a bar. Jessica comes over and asks what I am doing, since "clearly squats are supposed to be bad for your knees!" I reply "I’m gonna do some curls!" I get the same look as before. She stays over on the platform and starts loading up a bar on the ground, and then starts lifting it! I have no idea what she is doing but it MUST be bad for her back, and I tell her as much.

She ignored me. She was deadlifting, and that was serious business for her.

Later on that night Jessica turned to me and asked "So, what are your fitness goals?" I replied "To get bigger and stronger, of course." She proceeded to ask me how I was planning on getting stronger if all I ever did was bench, curl, and use the nautilus machines for my legs. I made some excuse about how I used to squat in college and my knees were all messed up from it.

Then she said it:

This is apparently what I looked like, hair and all.
"You know you have chicken legs, right? You're shaped like a light bulb ready to tip over. And what the hell is with curling in the squat rack? Frat boys do that."

I was disheartened, totally bummed out, but more importantly, I was confused. How could this happen? I spent YEARS in the gym, doing everything anyone ever told me was the right thing to do. I read websites and Men's Health! They HAD to be right!


Jessica and I didn't go to the gym together for a few days after that. My ego was a bit... shattered. I wish I could say that I had resources to turn to, but as I looked around, I realized I had none. No books, no expertise to draw on. That's when it hit me- Jessica was my doorway to proper strength training. She knew more about it than anyone I knew, and she could prove her knowledge worked.

Training in a vacuum that way had stunted my growth in a literal sense- I wasn't getting any bigger, faster or stronger. I was living in a viscous cycle of train -> get frustrated -> try something above my strength -> get hurt -> recover -> repeat, and I needed it to end.

That summer, I asked Jessica to design me a program that would improve my strength and help me shed my chicken legs. She did one better and show me how to design that program, reading through books and teaching me different training techniques and calorie intakes. Over that summer I gained 20 pounds, most if not all of which was muscle in my legs. Since then I've gone on to compete in both powerlifting and strongman competitions, and will continue to do so till they have to scrape me off of the platform.

So I guess getting strength training advice from a girl isn’t so bad after all. J

I invite you to read my parallel story about animation on AltDevBlogADay (