Note from Molly:
I first met Lou in person 2012 at a Fitness Business Conference where he was a presenter, but it was not my first introduction to him as a fitness professional. The New Rules of Lifting series (and specifically, The New Rules of Lifting For Women) contained important principles that helped lay the foundation and framework for my personal training philosophy.
While my methods have evolved over time, the principles have stayed the same, and are rooted in the same concepts Lou and Alwyn discuss in their new book, Strong.
I am grateful to these guys and Dr. Cassandra Forsythe, for their wisdom and commitment to sharing good information with the world.
Guest post by Lou Schuler
A couple of weeks ago an editor asked me to write an article about why skinny guys hate being called skinny.
To a woman, this probably sounds like the world’s worst humblebrag: “I hate it when people tell me I’m totally not at all fat!” But to a genuinely scrawny guy, which I was in my childhood and adolescence, “skinny” is as much an insult as “fat” is to someone who’s extremely overweight.
The first thing I did when I got the assignment was to scan through my work to see what I’ve already written. (That’s the downside of specializing in one topic for almost a quarter-century. The upside, obviously, is that editors still ask me to write about it.)
To my surprise—to my shock, actually—I saw I’d mentioned it in almost every book.
In NROL for Women, on page 5, I described myself as “a ridiculously weak and scrawny 13-year-old boy who dreaded the humiliation of removing my shirt at the pool.”
And in my new book, Strong, I wrote this on page xii: “I started working out when I was 13, when I was usually the skinniest, weakest, and slowest kid who was actually interested in playing sports and chasing girls (most of whom could outrun me).”
Every word is true. And believe me, I remember the pain of being that adolescent weakling like it was yesterday.
But why do I bring it up so often now? What follows is my best guess.
“Skinny, weak, and smart is no way to go through life, son”
My father was a very big and very fat guy. Back in the 1960s, when nobody’s dad worked out, and most of them were soft and pot-bellied, he was usually the fattest in the neighborhood. He was also a former Marine drill sergeant with a violent temper, which he turned on me from time to time.
As an adult I can look back at those incidents and realize how much they affected me. But as a kid, I was much more concerned with what happened outside my home. Adolescent boys have a pecking order based on physical presence and sports skill, and I was at the bottom of it.
Most of the kids like me – the skinny, four-eyed nerds – didn’t play anything at all. I remember one boy in my eighth grade class who wore a sweater to school every day, no matter how hot it was. (This was before schools were air-conditioned.) He was the closest to me in size and shape, and he couldn’t bring himself to be seen in a short-sleeve shirt.
But I loved sports too much to let my obvious inability to play them well hold me back. So I showed up for any sport I had access to, on organized teams or in pick-up games. I put up with comments about my skinny arms and legs and open mocking of my skills.
I also started working out, with the goal of building bigger muscles, which would make me stronger and faster, which would make me better at sports.
I’m sure I had fantasies of a dramatic transformation, like the guy in the Charles Atlas ads. I’m sure I looked in the mirror and imagined that the new bumps and ripples were much more impressive than they actually were.
But it didn’t matter, because the real transformation took place between my ears. Skinny and weak no longer described what I was, and what I was destined to remain. They were merely my starting point. I was now getting bigger and stronger. Granted, my body was taking its sweet f-cking time, but the fact it wasn’t easy made each small improvement that much more satisfying.
The road to somewhere
As I write this I’m 58 years old. I never got especially big or strong, but I never lost interest in the process. Which makes sense, considering I now write about fitness for a living.
I can cite a long list of reasons why physical strength is important to your health and well being. The stronger you are, the lower your risk of dying from any cause. But I can’t say that’s why I still work out, 45 years after I started.
It’s the process itself that keeps me going.
I had no control over what my parents’ genes gave me to start with. I had no control over my father’s temper, or the adolescent hierarchy that assigned so much importance to qualities I didn’t have.
But I could hit the weights. I could do push-ups and pull-ups and run sprints. I could do all those things with no guarantee they’d work because doing something to get better (and now, at my age, to keep from getting worse) changed the way I thought about myself.
And that, I hope, explains why I still talk about that skinny 13-year-old I used to be. Even if few female readers can relate to the trauma of being too damn thin, I think all of us know what it’s like to feel we’re less than we could be.
In that sense, all of us who work out are on the same path. It doesn’t matter if we’re thick or thin, or whether we’re trying to get smaller or bigger. We’re all better than we were at the beginning, but not yet where we want to go.
Note from Molly: “I was lucky enough to receive a review copy, and this book is awesome!”
Lou Schuler is an award-winning journalist and the author, with Alwyn Cosgrove, of Strong: Nine Workout Programs for Women to Burn Fat, Boost Metabolism, and Build Strength for Life.