How weightlifting worked its way into my life

October 12, 2021 — by Benjamin Li
Senior Benjamin Li aiming for a personal record in the back squat exercise at 49ers Fit.

Walking through the gym doors for the first time at 49ers Fitness Club in Westgate early last summer, I looked around at the collection of machines, each with dozens of different settings seemingly designed to confuse me. 

Looking back now, I realize that my discomfort was natural; however, most people at the gym are encouraging and love seeing new faces. Even now, I still receive advice from more experienced gym-goers.

Despite weightlifting being extremely rewarding and easy to start, it is a beauty not understood by many.

While I began weightlifting to develop strength and increase muscle mass, there are many other reasons people start lifting. Whether it is for losing weight, powerlifting for strength gains or training for a sport, each person will have a unique training experience.

I’m often asked what motivated my sudden urge to hit the gym, and what pushes me to continue. The answer is simple: I wasn’t satisfied with the way my body looked. Compared to my friends, seniors Christopher Liu and Ishann Bhandari, who had started working out six months to a year before me, my body felt massively underdeveloped. To change this, I took advantage of the 50 percent discount for a 49er Fit gym membership my basketball coach gave and began my fitness journey.

At first glance, my reasons for working out seem to stem from underconfidence; however, this is not the case. While I was dissatisfied with my body’s appearance, this didn’t mean I was ashamed of myself. Instead, I saw the potential for improvement and urged myself to grasp it. When I saw how quickly my friends were improving their strength and physiques, I felt the urge to follow suit. Since then, building my body has become something much more than a desire for aesthetics; I must continuously break through my limits in order to continue growing.

One of the best ways to learn and have fun in the gym is to make it a social occasion with a friend. One of the biggest benefits to working out with friends is the ability to go for riskier sets with the assistance of a spotter (someone who helps if you fail a rep). 

My friend group often makes plans to work out together multiple times a week at the gym. Not only does this push us to compete more fiercely, but it also gives a sense of pride that our friends are getting stronger. While all of us still enjoy working out alone, having friends who share the same passion makes it much easier and more fun.

This motivation from my friends has pushed me to improve my lifts for months; when I started weightlifting, my max weight for the three main lifts was as follows (in pounds): 135 bench, 225 squat and 205 deadlift. After constant, arduous work, they have improved to 180, 335 and 300, respectively.

Over time, I built a routine based on research and experience. I borrowed exercises from my coaches, online experts and trainers at the gym to ensure I was working as efficiently as possible. I decided on the push-pull-legs split routine, in which the full body workout is split into three days, with each day corresponding to all the muscles that contribute to the motion in its name. 

On push day, I work my chest, triceps and shoulders, and on pull days, my back and biceps. While leg days are the hardest, their difficulty makes them the most rewarding. Usually, I’ll use heavy weights for low reps, which causes more tears in my muscle tissue, leading to more regrowth and the most muscle buildup. These workouts take 90, 60, and 75 minutes for push, pull and leg days respectively.

I’ve also learned that my diet is just as important for building muscle as my workouts themselves. In order to build muscle, I eat around 5,000 calories a day. Generally, I try to eat healthy foods high in protein while fulfilling my vegetable servings and fulfilling my other nutrient goals. However, every night I also eat two double quarter pounders from McDonald’s, which add around 650 calories each. While this isn’t the healthiest of all options I take out the cheese, the biggest source of empty calories, and focus on eating the meat.

Another helpful routine I’ve integrated into my daily life is the use of protein powder and creatine. Both come in powdered forms, making it easy to add and mix in my water bottle. 

Creatine, the substance that is said to be the most effective at increasing muscle mass, has worked extremely well for me. Before I began using creatine, however, protein powder alone was also very useful in bulking up. In the future, I might look deeper into the world of supplements to see if there is anything else that can benefit my muscle growth.

With these lengthy workouts, some may find it surprising that I have time for these workouts and commute times during my day. With college application deadlines nearing, I was hard pressed to find a schedule that worked, so I developed a consistent and efficient routine. 

Ultimately, I decided on a plan where I went to the gym before school started. I wake up at 6 a.m. and work out until 8 a.m. to get ahead of the heavy traffic on Saratoga Ave on my way to school. On push days, which are my longest workouts, I sometimes might even head to the gym quickly after school to finish my workout, which generally ends around 8 p.m.

As a basketball player, I’ve definitely seen improvements in my performance. Not only am I jumping higher, but I feel stronger and sturdier in all aspects of the game, such as rebounding and defense. Among my friends I no longer feel like a weakling — my muscle gain has given me newfound confidence.

My verdict on weightlifting so far: I would have started much earlier if I had known the benefits it would bring. Working out is an activity I would recommend to almost anyone at almost any age.

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