in ,

Lifting and Building Muscle: How Much is Too Much?

When I was 12 years old, I was EXTREMELY skinny. I wolfed down heaps and heaps of food, yet I stood at a lean 105 lbs at 5’7″. It was frustrating, but I was at least just heavy and strong enough to keep up with my hockey and basketball playing peers on the ice and on the court.

One day, while changing in the locker room for a PE class, a classmate of mine asked if I was anorexic . This question shocked me. But more than anything it pissed me off. NO I wasn’t anorexic. If anything, I was quite the opposite. My frame just didn’t show it. I asked myself: why had I been endowed with these seemingly terrible genetics which predisposed me to be a skinny little twerp??

Fortunately, I soon found a solution to my problems. And that solution lay within the Iron Palace (aka the Weight Buffet (aka El Gimnasio)).

It was then that I committed to adding two crucial elements to my life:

  1. Weightlifting
  2. Weight Gaining Shakes

With the haphazard guidance of my football playing friends, I began pumping iron consistently. Ironically, I was essentially clueless about how to reach my goals of gaining overall strength and muscle mass. Improper form and ineffective exercises made up the majority of my routines (read: curls and bench press). However, doing something is better than doing nothing, and despite my lackluster training, I slowly began to see results.

14 years old, 120 lbs, 5’8″

17 years old, 180 lbs, 6’2″

The progression above is from my freshman year of high school to my senior year. I gained an impressive 60 lbs of weight. Along the way, the following two activities became an integral part of my daily routine:

  1. Working out (mainly lifting)
  2. Eating 6-8 meals (per traditional bodybuilding recommendations).

I began to feel some slight anxiety if I missed a workout or meal, but, at the time, I equated this slight obsession to just being an “overly healthy” person.

Armed with ~8 newborn babies worth of of muscle, I went off to Rice University in August, 2007, to learn the ways of Electrical Engineering. (among other things).

At this point, having seen the results of my hard work during high school, I was hellbent on getting as huge as humanly possible.

Lifting weights no longer centered on gaining muscle mass in order to have a normal frame. I wanted to gain so much mass that I looked like a superhuman. When I’d return from summers off, having completed three month bulk cycles, and people commented on how much muscle I gained, I LOVED IT. I was getting all jacked up about getting jacked up. JACKCEPTION.

This obsession with becoming huge and standing out from my peers became an innate part of me. No longer was I Konrad, the skinny little twerp; I was Konrad, the Swole Bro King, who had his own gravitational field. Life was GOOD.

19 years old, 190 lbs, 6’2″

21 years old, 210 lbs, 6’2″

Four years later, when I graduated in May 2011, I capped out at 210 lbs at 6’2″. I could Squat 365 lbs, Deadlift 435 lbs, and Clean and Jerk 235 lbs.

However, beneath all these gains was a silent demon perpetrating my inner psyche.

Over the course of my college career, my weightlifting hobby had evolved into an obsession. If I wasn’t continuing to gain weight and strength, I wasn’t living. Lifting and eating came first, classes came second. If my weight was stagnating or my strength was starting to decrease, I felt anxiety, dissatisfaction, and restlessness.

And worse than that, I FELT SMALL.

And let me tell you, there is no worse feeling in the world than feeling small.

At my peaks, I’d feel that sweet, sweet pump in the weight room and feel as giant as Arnold himself. The tension of my shirt sleeves against my engorged biceps made me feel UNSTOPPABLE. But other times, I’d feel like I had before I even started lifting: tiny, puny, and insignificant. It felt like my muscle was wasting away, just dissolving at the edges. If you took a step back from the situation, it seemed like an utterly ridiculous and absurd thought, but it was present nonetheless.

I graduated from college, began working as an engineer for a medical device company, and time began to pass. Life slowed down a bit, as did my drive for lifting and gaining mass. As I transitioned into this next phase, I was able to take a few steps back and reflect on my previous mental state.

Ruminating over my past few years, I began to realize that my “healthy” obsession may have not been so healthy.

In fact, while stumbling around on some internet fitness threads, I discovered the term Muscle Dysmorphia.

From Wikipedia:

Muscle dysmorphia (or more informally bigorexia) is a disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with the idea that they are not muscular enough. Those who suffer from muscle dysmorphia tend to hold delusions that they are “skinny” or “too small” but are often above average in musculature.

My delusions weren’t overpowering but they were definitely present. I acknowledged that this was something that needed to change. However, it was definitely a huge challenge to actually begin taking the first steps to completely eradicate my muscle obsessed outlook.

The healing process certainly wasn’t immediate— it’s taken me a couple years, and I still continue to mindfully push any irrational thoughts related to muscle mass and body appearance out of my head. Like any type of body dysmorphia, it requires constant vigilance to overcome.

For me, the first step was committing to lose some of that extra bulked up weight. I dropped from 215 lbs back down to 200 lbs. I also began focusing on developing all aspects of fitness-strength, cardiovascular fitness, speed, balance, coordination, flexibility, and mental soundness.

If you are reading this, and my story is resonating with your own, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I feel a high level of anxiety if I miss a work out?
  • Does my social schedule revolve around exercising/eating?
  • Do I ever have feelings of being “small” and inadequate even though I’m fairly musclebound?
  • Do I compare myself to other peers and evaluate myself based on how my physique looks compared to theirs?

If the answer to those is yes, then I’d encourage you to step back and evaluate whether or not your psychological health is on par with your physical health. You may very well fall into the category of those with “Muscle Dysmorphia.”

Obviously, extremes of any kind are bad. What we need to seek is a balance. 

You don’t have to completely abandon your routine; rather focus on gradually relinquishing your obsessive grip on working out and gaining muscle mass.

Two years into the healing process, I am a much healthier and happier individual, both physically and psychologically. I’ve added yoga to my routine, focused on using proper form, and abandoned the super heavy weights. And ironically, I’ve maintained most of my muscle mass, and I look and feel much healthier and balanced than ever before.

To all you bros out there who can relate to my story, I’m telling you THERE IS ANOTHER WAY. You can make it. We can make it. We’re all gonna make it, brah. 

Matthew McConaughey is there for you, brah
 Title Photo Credit: flickr

Written by Konrad Stoick

Konrad is a fitness enthusiast, occasional comedian, and perpetual people watcher. Connect with me at editor@prsuit.com.

Better Distractions – How to Convert downtime to Uptime.

How I transformed my life in 6 months