I can remember when I first started lifting weights about three years ago. Although I was dead serious about bodybuilding, when I first began building strength, I felt like an imposter. I was studying well-known females who were already successful in this sport and I didn’t feel like I was “one of them”. The same thing happened many years ago when I went from casual water activity to lap swimming. Little by little, I centered my life around the sport. Before long, I became an athlete, the most unlikely thing in the world for me to ever be.
My first squat was only 35 pounds and was little more than a 3/4 depth. I was so embarrassed. How on Earth could I possibly continue in this King of Exercises with this beginning? Little did I know that the difficulty of this endeavor would change me into an athlete. It seemed like an absurdity that I would ever even pick that bar up again. But I did, over and over.
As my hunger for progress drove me deeper into the Iron, I researched nutrition and committed to my workouts above everything. If anything hindered my progress, it fell to the wayside. I cut out people, habits and ideas that might slow me down. I entered into a state of mind that was new to me. I was willing to do anything to learn to lift. Still, I felt like an outsider, a “Wannabe”, anything except a Bodybuilder. It seemed that I was taking on a Herculean task and I didn’t have the qualifications.
Before long, I had a new swagger. My squat had grown from 35 to 80 pounds and I was full of myself. The weight that I was able to add pretty quickly was working. I was getting stronger every day. Mind you, I started this at the age of 61.
At about 80 pounds on the squat, I started sitting on the stairs to my “Dungeon” in the garage where I had built my weight pit, staring at the bar for long periods of time before I lifted. I was also approaching a 100 pound deadlift and I was anxious about that. Although David was skillfully coaching me, I could barely comprehend being able to deadlift 100 pounds. It was in these days that I had to decide if I was serious. The answer was always “Yes!” In the midst of Newbie Gains, the early increases in weight, you will begin to feel like you know something. Before long, you will begin to wonder if you can spell bodybuilding much less do it.
Going All In to Become an Athlete
After setting up my weight pit in my garage, I began to train harder. I had previously set up in my living room of a house where I lodged temporarily after relocating from being hit by a tornado. (Before that I trained in a motel room after the hit, using totes as a weight rack.) I thought that I had a luxurious set-up. It was the entire living room of a really nice house with plush carpet and a big picture window. I was so proud of my gym. That’s where David taught me how to “ditch”. He told me to build some safety horses, like saw horses, and squat and deliberately throw off that weight and get out from under it.
Although my carpentry skills are pretty sad, I did my best. I squatted about 90 pounds and threw it off my back and lunged forward. The bar cleared me just fine. He had me do it again. This was necessary early on. Safety is EVERYTHING and I had to know how to get out from under that bar just in case I ever got down with more than I could raise. After that, my confidence became almost obnoxious, but I was falling deeper and deeper in love with the Iron. You know, “The Iron Never Lies” . What’s not to love? It does you up just right and leaves you better than it found you. Yes, just yes…
I was so proud of my gym that David didn’t tell me immediately that I had to work on a hard floor. When my squat began to fail. He told me I had to move onto a hard surface so that’s when I moved to the “Dungeon”, my garage that looked like the back room of the Salvation Army. It had a concrete floor though and that is exactly what I needed.
When I first committed to lift, I was living in a terrible situation. I had to explain why I bought socks in a household with a good income. Something came over me as my heart was drawn to the bar. I had finagled around and managed to buy a kettle bell with interchangeable weights, but very quickly, I knew that I had to have a bar and the weights to go with it. I simply stated that I was going to buy them…and I did.
After the tornado, as we climbed out of the wreckage that was our home, I saw that my weights were unscathed. I quickly gathered them up and lugged them around the house debris to my car. Someone asked if I wanted them to take the weight set about 10 miles away for “safe-keeping”. I said “NO!” Although I was ridiculed for the very idea that I would lift in a motel room, that’s exactly what I did, alone, for weeks. The Iron had taken hold. It was the air that I breathed. It was making me into a new person that would not be denied or mistreated. Major life changes occurred that night. I never had to explain anything to anyone again unless I chose to do that. I had become someone unique. I had become myself.
New Day to Be an Athlete
After lifting in the temporary home for 10 months and steadily gaining strength, my son and I moved back into the home that was destroyed that fateful night. It was rebuilt like brand new and so was our life. My weights were getting heavier and I knew that it was time for an Olympic bar and a Power Rack. I had one very close call in the temporary home when I dropped one end of the bar across my throat in a Bench Press. With heavier weights, safety was even more important so I bought a Power Rack much like the one pictured above. I never thought that I would want an Olympic Bar but that time had come. When it does, you will never look back.
By now, I had struggled and clawed my way through Starting Strength and Mad Cow 5×5. I thought that I was tough. Little did I know what was looming in the not so distant future.
I well remember the day that David showed me The Hepburn Powerlifting Program the second time. He had familiarized me with it during the third program that I did called 531. I was getting in deeper and deeper and would not turn back if my life depended on it. One day when we were discussing my progress he told me that we were going to do Hepburn. The next day, I had it in Google Sheets and my life changed again.
The Agony and The Ecstasy
Although that picture is not me, the expression on the face of this athlete says it all. Just before I began Hepburn, a woman who was just not serious about her fitness looked at me and said, “Why do you do that to yourself?” She had no idea, and neither did I, of what was to come.
The Doug Hepburn Program is intended to build explosive strength for the athlete, and it does. It’s a commitment that few people can understand. It will test your limits of strength, commitment and endurance in every way. Although there are a few programs that are more difficult, it’s not for the weak of heart.
As I fought my way through each day, week and month of this program, I established my identity for myself. If this athlete had ever felt like an “imposter”, those days were far behind me now. I went down those steps to my gym like clockwork, like I was going to the gallows. Just before beginning Hepburn I had failed to set my safety pins one time on the Bench Press and almost died. There was no room for mistakes anymore. Hepburn became my proving ground. I progressed and struggled and cried but did not turn away from it until David said that it was time to move on.
From the beginning of weight lifting, I had wanted to be a Bodybuilder. I am vain and I want the look. Little did I know that I would have to walk through Hell to even be able to begin true Bodybuilding. Although it seems like pure vanity, if you are natural (no performance enhancing drugs or steroids), the skill, dedication, brute strength and endurance required for this sport is unimaginable for most people. Hepburn was necessary to get me strong enough to even begin what I bought that first Standard Bar to do. Even athletes who are using steroids are pushed to their limits in this demanding practice.
I am, and always will be, a Natty, a natural athlete. I understand the competitive nature of the business that pushes some people to do otherwise but Performance Enhancing Drugs are not for me. Notice what I just said. I AM a natural ATHLETE.
In the beginning, you won’t believe it. Along the way, you will think you’re faking it. Then one day, when you’ve walked through Hell and survived, you will know that you have become exactly what you set out to do. You are an athlete. You have paid your dues, now continue. As David says, “We don’t own our level of fitness. We’re only paying rent.” Many athletes contributed to the programs that benefited me and I will always be grateful. My greatest appreciation is for David, who sees me through my most difficult days with exactly what I need, when I need it. He does not go easy on me. His standards are high and I am forever grateful.
Choose your sport and do it over and over until it’s life to you.
That’s how you become an athlete.