The Scrawny Male: The Journey of an Ectomorph
Don’t you dare call me petite, or skinny for that matter. It’s kind of like calling a woman big, which tends to be a bad idea, even if you mean it as a compliment, as in “Hey, I like those big, muscular arms of yours.” My experience is that women don’t appreciate hearing that they are big or tall, and for me, I never liked hearing I was (or am) skinny. Skinny is for girls and lattes, not manly men.
Growing up, I was an actor and not an athlete. In high school, I would do my theatrical productions and my best friends - Brandon, an all-state basketball player, and Brent, a stand out wide receiver - would come to my shows to cheer me on. While I was happy for the support of my friends, I couldn’t help but be a little envious of their athleticism and the bodies that went along with it. I enjoyed working on my craft as an actor and my slight frame wasn’t a hindrance, still I couldn’t help notice all the attention those athletes seemed to garner.
As for me, the peak of my athletic prowess probably came in sixth grade when I was a decent little league baseball player. Not decent enough to make Babe Ruth Baseball in seventh grade, mind you, but I was a serviceable second baseman. My talents were in entertaining and artistry. Rather than having a tall or muscular body the way athletes tended to have, I was the skinny guy. Skinny is defined as follows by Mirriam-Webster: lacking sufficient flesh: very thin: emaciated. I was so thin that you could see my ribs with my shirt off. It seemed I was destined to be skinny, until I met one of my first loves - fitness.
During my sophomore year in college I had a roommate who was a weight room junkie. I looked upon this guy not so with much envy as curiosity. He was a surfer, not necessarily an athlete, but he was built like a brick and he sure had the body of a Joe athlete. Still, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why he would spend so much time in the weight room when there was all of that college fun to be had. That was until he challenged me to try it before judging it. Now, one thing I love is a challenge, so I went along with him to check it out. That decision to go along with him to the weight room changed my life.
I absolutely loved it in the weight room and everything that went along with it, pure and simple. I fell in love with many aspects of fitness but one aspect stood out above all of the others - a sense of control. That is, I felt I had the control to get the body I had always wanted. I wasn’t stuck with being a skinny guy after all. I might not have been born an all-state basketball player or with the speed of a sprinter and hands of a wide receiver, but one thing I was born with was stubborn willpower, and plenty of it. I realized that if I wanted to be strong and get big muscles, no one could stop me but me.
So my life-long relationship and sometimes obsession with fitness began in college, and to me, I felt like I had rounded a corner forever. By the time I turned 25, I went from being a scrawny 135-pound weakling to a bulky 172-pounder who could bench 275lbs. I filled out my shirts like a linebacker (or maybe at least a cornerback) and I never saw a protein shake I didn’t like. It was all good, and it seemed I was to be one of those athletes after all - or at least I would look like one.
Then, I tore my rotator cuff. Turns out all that bulk on my frame didn’t allow for my shoulder to move in its natural range of motion. The problem with me getting beefy and bulking up is that I am not naturally a beefy or bulky guy. I am just not made that way and my body gave me the message the hard way. After my injury, I was out for the better part of a year and my bulk diminished back down to my more natural state.
I have a theory that we are all naturally a certain type of dog breed. Our job is to be true to our breed and be our best version of that breed - to have our best body rather than coveting someone else’s or a body that isn’t made like ours. There are a lot of great dog breeds out there. Some are big and strong, while others are tenacious, fast, and small. In my experience, both personally and as a trainer, aspiring and trying to be a different breed than we are is a recipe for disaster. It’s also a good way to tear your rotator cuff! Furthermore, it puts our mental focus on the wrong things - like wishing and wanting to be something we’re not (like being a star athlete when we aren’t one or coveting a body - we cannot naturally sustain). Longing and wishing for such things makes for an unhappy disposition, whereas acceptance and being our best within that accepted place provides a sense of peace and contentment.
So, it turns out I am a Jack Russell terrier and a pretty scrappy one. I am stubborn, feisty, lean, and wiry. I am a welterweight boxer, and for me that’s a good thing. In the novel The Power Of One, the lead character is especially proud that he is a welterweight boxer, exclaiming it to be the best weight class, having the perfect blend of speed and power. I kind of feel that way for me. I’m not as fast as the lightweight guys and I don’t pack as much power in my punch as the heavyweight guys. However, I too am proud to be a welter, because that is the way I was made.
I’ve come to relish and accept my slight frame and yet I never stop trying to be the best with what I’ve got. As a trainer and coach, I try to help others see the same joy in the process of self-discovery and growth. Like many things in life, the key in how we see ourselves (and our bodies) is found in a sense of balance - accepting the hand we were dealt and yet never stopping from striving to be the best with what we’ve got.