When I joined Men’s Health towards the end of last year, I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. I’d been retrenched, and spent a lot of time after that at home, getting under my wife’s feet, eating biscuits. So the chance to work at South Africa’s biggest men’s mag was a godsend, for a few reasons – it got me off my ass, out of the house, away from the comfort food.
And into the midst of some serious fitness freaks. As a fairly skinny dude who prefers reading to lifting, I knew, going in, that at some point I’d get shown the door… to the gym. I was cool with that. It’s not like I’d never set foot in there; it’s just that I’d forgotten the way, you know? Confidence, motivation, willpower – they were still friends, we just didn’t hang out out so much anymore. This job, I thought, would change all that. It would change my bad habits; change my life.
Starting this week, all of that will indeed change. And more. The 2015 MH Staff Fitness Challenge is brutally definitive. Our editors want total body transformation. That is all. Leeway is for losers. Chickening out is for other magazines. As the big boss likes to say, “We’re the guys who do sh*t properly.” It’s a lot of pressure, but no more than I need.
It’s one thing to land feet-first in the job you’ve longed for – you’re stoked, chest all puffed out, full of yourself. When you’re good, you think, you’re good. Walking around like you own the place. Chill guys, I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing. Acting the part. It’s easy. Arrogant. Nothing to lose, even less to learn. That’s why I’ve chosen not just to get fit, but to take on something new. I don’t want to get fit for a feature; I want to bust a few expectations. Break through a few of my own fears, bring down a few perceptions. To treat this challenge like the opportunity it is. To prove something about myself. To me.
Step one: get hit in the face. Boxing is a life skill; its lessons are psychological. When I meet Steve Burke, the owner of The Armoury Boxing Studio, he tells me that learning to fight will be, more than anything else, an emotional journey. I’ll have to face my fear of being hit. And get over it. I’ll have to face my reservations about hitting another man. And get over that, too. It’ll be fun, they say. I’ll grow as a person. I hear in my head the words, total body transformation, and I think, this is great. I don’t want to just be bigger, stronger, faster, you see. I want to be all that and more. I want to be better.
Step two: bend over backwards. Yoga is for girls, right? Wrong. One visit to a studio in Woodstock, Cape Town, sets me straight. This is for real. Jivamukti bills itself as a practice that will connect me with my surroundings – a holistic experience that brings together body, mind and spirit. The guy who runs the place tells me it’ll open up my body; help me face the world head on. Above all, it’s serious cardio. This is no mere meditation; it’s a means of getting air into every cell in every muscle, helping them stretch, recover and heal. It’s also a chance to work out together with my wife. She loves it. I love her. So now I love yoga.
Step three: eat like an animal. A big animal. A predator. Eat meat, basically. And nothing but. For almost a year, I’ve skipped the carbs and gone straight for the main course: fatty, grass-fed meat, butter, yoghurt, you know the deal. Tim Noakes would be proud; that Asprey guy with his insane Bulletproof ideas, maybe less so. I mean, I squeeze in the odd sweet potato. I know what quinoa looks like, and life’s not worth living without fruit. So maybe I stretch the rules now and then, but I kicked the really bad refined carbs to the curb a long time ago, and I don’t even drunk dial them anymore. I’ve moved on. This week, I push my meat habit into Banting hyperdrive.
When I volunteered for the 2015 MH Staff Fitness Challenge late last year, I didn’t know all the way what I was getting myself into. But I had a vague picture: of myself in three months’ time, as a stronger, more stable, more effective, healthier and ultimately happier guy. A guy who’s learnt something. A guy who isn’t scared of getting punched in the head. Who can throw a punch right back. While standing on his head, chanting something ancient. Chewing on a piece of pasture-reared animal. While his wife swoons.
This isn’t about reaching for any one of those things on their own. This is about hitting all of them, all in one; the whole picture, the biggest picture. This is about change, discovery, growth. About realising who I am, who I’d like to be, who I can become. What I’m capable of, from the inside out. It’s about the journey, not the finish line. Committing to what’s good for me, for my life, and chucking anything that holds me back. It’s about all of those cliches, and a few more, just for the hell of it.
Everyone I know, even my mom, calls me a hipster. So I like good coffee, who doesn’t? So I download the odd New Yorker, it’s no big deal. Fitness doesn’t fit into that picture so well. You can’t find whey protein at organic farm markets. There’s no app for pain. Do gyms even have Wi-Fi? I have a tiger tattoo on my arm, so guys in the office have been sending me Youtube clips from Rocky III. Playing Katy Perry’s “Roar” really loudly. But we all wear our determination differently. There’s more to me than what you’ll find on the surface.
Total body transformation. It’s all new to me. All kinds of hard. I’ll be sore. Face down on the floor, most of the time. Miserable, emotional. But I’ll do it. I’ll kill it. Because I can. Because who I am is up to me.
Photo: Arctic Warrior, Flickr.