Escaping the “Skinny-Lifting” Conundrum

“I don’t want to work out lift weights because I’m skinny.”

“I’ll look ridiculous in the gym, struggling to lift weights that most people use as a warm-up.”

“I like staying lean. It’ll help me be faster and jump higher.”

“I don’t want to stunt my growth.”

“Lifting will make me look like a douchebag.”

To my fellow skinny people out there, does any of this sounds familiar? If so, you may be stuck in what I call, the “Skinny-Lifting” Conundrum, as I once was. I’ll admit, being skinny used to make me feel embarrassed to lift, in fear of looking inexperienced and weak, which in turn kept me from getting bigger, which made me more apprehensive, which churned a continuing storm of negativity.

These were all thoughts that I had before I even TRIED lifting. Excuses. Bullshit. Falsehoods. Apprehension. Insecurity. I don’t care who you are, every guy wants to get bigger/stronger. Some just don’t know where, or how, to start.

It’s simple. Start small.

Over time, I transitioned from hating working out, to actually enjoying it. Just to be clear, this isn’t a miracle transformation story like some workout anecdotes. I’m still skinny as hell right now. Most people can’t even tell that I lifted at all (damn). The story that I’m going to share is how I changed my MINDSET on lifting. Mindset is everything. Once you improve that, physical results will follow.

A Skinny Life

As they say, genetics is half the battle in regards to physique……and I lost that battle. I’ve been skinny my entire life, though it’s never bothered me much. The idea of working out first entered my life when I entered college. Living in a dorm hall filled with a ton of newly-independent guys jacked up on adrenaline, alcohol, and bro-ness, it’s impossible to not hear someone mention lifting. Usually, it was in a very loud, bragging manner, hence the “lifting will make me a douchebag” opinion that I formed. Judgemental, I know. But that’s what lifting was to me at the time, nothing more than an idea to scoff at.

I was aware that we were given free gym access while in college, but my roommate and I mostly just went there to play basketball. To be quite honest, I had only been to the workout gym once at my first college……and that was 2 years after I transferred away.

I just didn’t have any interest in lifting. And, thanks to the “skinny guy metabolism”, I never had to worry about going to the gym to lose weight. I was content with the “I don’t contact you, you don’t contact me” relationship that I had with the gym. But that would soon change.

If He Can Do It, So Can I

Everyone has someone that inspires them to change, whether you acknowledge it or not. Some find it from wholesome places…..but let’s be real. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from a need to “1-up” someone else in your life, or seeing someone else attain something that you want. That was the case in my life.

Sure, I saw super jacked people all around campus and on TV, and read all the inspirational skinny-to- jacked miracle workout stories. But it seemed like it went in one ear and out the other. The subjects of these stories were so distant. I had trouble relating it to myself.

It’s the same phenomenon that occurs with celebrities. When we see celebrities’ lavish lifestyles, we only experience a small, fleeting feeling of envy. Yet when a coworker, friend, or rival experiences success that we desire, however small, the feeling of envy can sometimes be intense and enduring.

This is what happened to me. A friend and fellow skinny-man began lifting at the time. Over time, he was noticeably getting bigger and stronger. And I thought, “If he can do it, why can’t I?” And thus, the seed was planted in my mind. However, it still lacked the strength to blossom beyond the shadow of my laziness and reluctance. But, like any plant, it just takes a little time and patience.

Lifting Buddies

It was my fourth year in school before any serious attempts to lift began. By this time, my skinny friend had been lifting for a while, and I had decided, enough is enough. Time to start working out, NOW! The problem was, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what to bring to the gym. I didn’t know what workouts to do. I didn’t know gym etiquette (which will annoy the HELL out of regulars). I was lost.

But, as they say, that’s what friends are for. Luckily, I began going with a few friends, a mix of beginner and experienced lifters. Having someone there who knew what they were doing made for a much easier learning time. There are also a few more benefits of working out with a friend:

- Being able to switch out and keep the machines ( sorry guy asking for the machine, we have more sets left, so get your ass outta here).

- Having a spotter, so you push your muscles to the limit without fear of being crushed

- Keeping each other accountable (No more 10 min rest breaks between sets? damn.)

- Someone to talk with about the fine ladies in the gym (aka “bird-watching”)

When I first started, I was still self-conscious about looking weak in front of everyone. Thus, my concentration was not into my lift, which in turn, made my lifts weaker, which made me more self-conscious etc. etc. It was a vicious cycle. But as I said before, getting the mental part down is the Step 1 of improvement.

After a while, I was able to focus, and mentally shift to lifting mode, which increased my ability. After a few weeks of going with friends 3–4 times a week, and learning the ins and outs of the gym, I found that I began to feel more comfortable in the gym atmosphere. I no longer felt like the skinny guy that stuck out.

I also discovered that my previous concerns about being the weakest guy in the gym were not true. I found that everyone was there because they want to improve something about themselves. Everyone is in the same boat, and there is always a person stronger, and a person weaker than you. I was also able to learn more about exercises, workout routines, nutrition, and more, which I found very interesting.

Gains? We Talkin’ about Gains!

People can only stick to something new for so long, after which point they will quit if they don’t see improvements. So the question is, did I see gains after lifting? The answer is, yes, and no. I didn’t suddenly become jacked, and pull all the ladies (I wish). I’m sure that nobody could even tell that I looked different physically. However, the important thing was that I could tell. I found that my strength was increasing, slowly every week. It was encouraging for me, even if my physical appearance wasn’t drastically changing.

I found it helpful to rationalize it my brain in some manner that would keep me interested. I thought of getting stronger as “leveling up”, or “gaining exp”, for my gamers out there (fine, laugh, but it helped keep me motivated). Quantifying my progress made going to the gym something I looked forward to, instead of something that interfered with sleeping. Every day was a challenge to overcome, and it was fun.

Eventually, I became comfortable enough to go to the gym by myself. I also started to feel guilty when I skipped the gym, which I never thought would happen. The benefits of lifting also began to show in other aspects of life. I was able to jump higher and run faster in basketball. I also made more gym buddies and started to learn about nutrition, tracking macros, etc.

And I’ll tell you what, I’ve never felt healthier or stronger in my life, mentally or physically. My freshman self, with all of his flawed judgement and opinions, could have never imagined that in a few short years, he would learn to enjoy the gym. It just goes to show how much can be accomplished with an open mind and some friends.

The gym became much more than a place to lift large pieces of heavy metal. It became a place to overcome goals for myself, build camaraderie with friends, improve mental toughness, meet new people, improve my health……..and yes………admire the beautiful ladies doing squats. Thank God for leg day!

I hope that this story gives insight into my process for beginning something new and challenging, and what motivated me. It can be applied to any activity, not just lifting. So I encourage all of you to try something new, and share your story!

Originally published at on October 27, 2015.