When I was beginning the process of transitioning, I knew that I wanted to build a masculine physique, so I looked to social media and started following men with physiques I aspired to have. These men helped me see what was possible and gave me the motivation to work on my body. I began visiting the very limited gym in my apartment complex to get a feel for the equipment but didn’t commit to a plan.
I started taking testosterone in March 2017 and decided my focus would be on building a big chest. I was scheduled for top surgery in November 2017, so my plan was to do push-ups every day to start developing pecs. My surgeon commended my effort when he was marking my chest right before surgery; he said the work I had done on my chest would make it easy for him to know precisely where to make his incisions.
After my surgery, I waited about 8 weeks and resumed my push-up regimen. In addition to continuing the push-ups, I started doing chin-ups every day on a pull-up bar in my apartment. I was able to commit doing a chin-up every time I walked through the doorframe.
Developing the discipline to go to the gym regularly was difficult, though, especially since I was a beginner, and my apartment gym had limited equipment. At first, I used an app to find a program and track my workouts, but with constantly having to find alternative exercises to the ones listed in the program because of my gym’s limitations, I found myself overthinking. Was I doing the right workouts? Was I lifting heavy enough? Overthinking led to under-doing, so I started skipping days until I was eventually back to square one, doing only push-ups and chin-ups again.
Something else I feel is important to mention is the collaborations with my general physician. My physician and I keep a close eye on my blood work to ensure I maintain average levels of testosterone. Eventually, I decided it was time to give the gym another shot and signed up for my first real gym membership in August 2019. I figured the monthly fee and access to a variety of equipment would be the necessary components to push me into working out regularly, and I was right.
This time, I didn’t turn to an app to follow a routine that was not tailored for me. Instead, I took to Instagram to see what other fit guys were doing and took notes. Since the men I followed were posting videos of their workouts, it was easy to watch their form, see the muscles they were working, and try the movements out for myself. Some of the workouts I liked, while others didn’t work for me.
I’ve always been an “everything in moderation” kind of guy, and there was no exception when it came to food. However, once I started getting serious in the gym, I knew that my diet would need some revisions so that my body could reap the most benefits from all the work I was putting in. One of the primary changes I made was to substantially increase the amount of protein I ingested daily compared to what I was typically ingesting years before.
I loosely follow the macro diet, and I say loosely because I do not weigh my portions and calculate the nutrients to an exact science. I am much more conscientious of the protein, carb, and fat content of the foods I eat now. I’m also a firm believer in moderation—if I want to enjoy a burger or dessert, I allow myself to do just that without guilt or shame.
I’ve found the key to staying motivated is finding workouts that I enjoy doing—the ones that really engage the mind-muscle connection. It’s all about trial and error. It took me around two and a half years to put on significant weight. I went from 140 to 160 pounds. I felt great as a result, knowing that I put in the work to gain 20 pounds of muscle. Honestly, some of the changes took me by surprise: I knew I was putting in the work, and I was seeing gradual results over time. In the last year, though, I’ve seen a sudden jump in making big gains.
I think it was a matter of having a foundation of muscle built during the previous years, an increase in protein ingestion, and focusing on functional, complex movements during my workouts, responsibly challenging myself with increments of increasing the weights I use in my workouts. One thing that has remained the same in the last year or two is the amount of time I work out. I only work out up to six days a week and up to one hour each of those days. I think it’s worth mentioning, too, that sometimes I skip workouts to instead engage in other self-care activities. Again, everything in moderation.
Now I constantly get praise and encouragement from my friends and family on my transformation, and I’ll even get asked to provide my workout routine. In fact, I’m just starting to believe them and internalize the feedback that I am muscular, buff, and strong looking. My entire frame has gotten significantly wider, but I really noticed the biggest difference in my arms, shoulders, and pecs. Those are the areas in which I have devoted relatively more time and energy over the years.
I’m feeling more confident, too—not only in my outward appearance, but internally as well. I proved to myself that I could build the body of my dreams. Bodybuilding is just as much, if not more, about mental strength, than physical strength. Believing you can do it is the most important aspect in building a strong physique. I’ve always been a hard worker—I’m an architect—and the kind of commitment it takes to earn an architectural degree is parallel with building muscle. Neither of those things happen overnight, but they both exemplify that commitment to hard work paying off.
I’ve also noticed a big difference and significant drop in my daily anxiety symptoms. I believe working out and seeing the progress I’m making has been a major part of coping with the increased anxieties and stressors as a result of a COVID-19 social distancing lifestyle.
My next goal is to continually gain lean mass in a sustainable way. This is only the beginning for me, and I intend to be a lifelong bodybuilder. I’ve even considered competing one day, but for now I am focusing on getting bigger and stronger. I enjoy the balance I currently have in my lifestyle, and don’t think I would enjoy or would want to sustain a lifestyle of weighing foods, having very little body fat percentage, or worrying about how much water my body is retaining. Instead, I’ll continue to develop the system I have going—it’s working for me.
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