Growing up, baseball and basketball were my passion. Throwing hard, running fast, and dunking a basketball were all I had for life goals. In elementary and middle school I was decent. Well above average for that level.

As my teammates and competition matured, I was late to the party. I suddenly found myself a boy playing among young men who were bigger, faster, and stronger. At the age of 17, I took to resistance training. I saw some improvement that nearly every beginner observes.

But this essay is not about all the lessons that I learned from running myself into the ground through my high school senior and undergraduate college years. This story takes place before I trained too often, with the wrong focus, for too long, with too much intensity.

It’s good to remember what it was like to be a child and adolescent whose world revolved around fun and sports, mostly ignoring the ones who knew what I needed. At around the age of fifteen, my father, uncles, and coaches encouraged me to hit the weights. I wanted nothing to do with the discomfort and discipline and effort.

“Nah. I’m good.”

It took over a year to get me into a weight room. I stood near the entrance of the Mount Pleasant High School Field House, watching various athletes mill about the room. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. They sat on various metal gadgetry and knew how it worked. A handful of senior football linemen were set up around the bench press like a camp fire in Alaska. It did not appear that they were going anywhere soon.

At the near side of the weight room was a less robust, more rusty bench press. Of course, my first resistance exercise of all time would be “bench!” I walked over to inspect the barbell, one large plate perched with great heft on each side. Forty-five was forged into the side of it. I recognized that I should start with something smaller. I picked up a plated that said “Ten.” But the medium plate, the twenty five, seemed juuuuuust right. Besides, what if the group of lineman saw me bench pressing only twenty pounds?
First I had to remove the 45s from the barbell. Being large and metally, I tugged one of them aggressively. It slid across the barbell, much easier than anticipated, arriving at the end before I had the chance to establish adequate grip. Forty five pounds of metal free-fell from waist height directly on to my right big toe.

I limped a small circle, pretending that did not just happen and my right big toe was not screaming. The slight dizziness that I experienced called for a trip to the water fountain. I eventually came back to the 45-lb plate laying flat on the floor, smooth side up. I slid it across the ground, unable to get my fingertips beneath it’s square edge.

And with that, my first work out was complete. There would be no gains, not functional training, not even a single set or rep. I did discover that the coefficient of friction between smooth metal surfaces is minimal. My toe had a (rather mild) fracture. The crack it made with every step for the next few years would be reminder of that day, and why it took another 6 months before I would give resistance training a go.

The 45 lb plate lay on the ground, taunting me as I limped past it and out the field house door. I plopped down in the grass with my back leaning against the brick wall, and waited for my my mom to come pick me up.

– – – – –

2 thoughts on “Newbie

  1. My first day of lifting weights was with the basements weights, as I wouldn’t dare step into the field house until I could bench 135. The bar I was using was the typical cheap, unweighted bar that you got with a weight set in the ’80’s. I too saw the big 45 pound plates on the sides. Knowing that I couldn’t lift that much, I decided to take them off. I quickly found out that a bar that isn’t weighted and having a 45 pound deficit on one side causes the other side to rapidly drop to the floor while the ipsilateral side becomes a violent weapon that rockets upward with uncanny accuracy towards your face.


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