Being short, broad and rather round faced with an unfortunate centre parting and glasses I looked like a cross between Harry Potter and Penfold from Danger Mouse. I enjoyed swimming (being a little chubby and therefore buoyant) and judo (low centre of gravity) but was never particularly good at either. I was quiet, timid and mostly solitary. I remember how I used to dread PE lessons, team sports, cross country running and all the other torturous and really quite embarrassing physical challenges little boys face.
I spent a great deal of time inside my own head
Being painfully shy and socially awkward, I never connected with team sports. I never felt any particular desire to compete with others and generally struggled with anything more strenuous than a brisk walk. In my early teens I was diagnosed with depression.
In my early twenties I dabbled with parkour. I was much lighter now (having thankfully grown out of my puppy fat as a teenager) and although my freerunning ability was never more than average at best, my training led me to the conclusion that I really needed to be stronger. I began (painfully at first) to practice pull ups, dips and bodyweight squats. So many bodyweight squats.
I stopped practicing my semi legal urban acrobatics, joined a gym and hungrily devoured any and all knowledge about strength I could find. A steady diet of barbell training, excessive calorie intake and general aggression allowed me to progress quickly and I began competing in powerlifting in 2014.
Apart from all the obvious benefits such as better posture and energy levels, improved coordination, greater confidence and generally looking and feeling better I found that being stronger came with more subtle side effects as well. My mood seemed a lot more stable and I found myself better able to concentrate. Day to day tasks began to feel easier and less stressful. Perhaps the greatest benefit was the laser like focus that comes from any truly taxing, heavy, technical movement. I believe strength training can be a transformative, almost meditative experience. You either focus intently on the present moment or you miss the lift. For that fleeting breath of time all the day to day frustrations and general bullshit fall away and there is nothing but you, your body and your will to succeed.
Strength training is ruthlessly empirical and utterly humbling
Depending on my mood the world can seem like a sun drenched meadow filled with frolicking unicorns (don’t judge me) or a dark, nightmarish wasteland full of shambling reanimated corpses. Wait, I might be thinking of the Northern Line at rush hour. The point is, no matter how great or how awful you feel, 150kg is always 150kg. That immediate objective feedback is a powerful tool for grounding you firmly in the reality of right now.