Intangible Benefits (Why Success Isn’t Always Obvious)

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Last November, I decided to sign-up for Scrawny to Brawny, a year-long coaching program for anyone wanting to gain weight and change their physique.

Fast forward ten months later, I’ve gained a total of three to five pounds.

While that might not be the case study they’re going to plaster on the advertisement for the program, I still consider this past year a huge success. Let me explain why.

I think of myself as a thin guy. I don’t use the word skinny because it connotes weakness. Skinny exists in the same realm as scrawny, a weakling that everyone passes up when it’s time for sports in high school. Still, while they might boast some muscle, thin people aren’t who you’re putting your money on in an arm wrestling contest.

I’ve been thin my entire life thanks in large part to my choice of activities in high school (cross country runners aren’t the biggest weight lifters normally) and a short-lived bout of an eating disorder I developed in an attempt to become Kenyan.

At the same time, I’ve been pretty involved with weightlifting for the past eight years. At first, this took the form of personal training and attending fitness conferences. Now, it’s more of a hobby that consumes the majority of my free time. Still, eight years in the bank, and I’m not gracing the cover of any Men’s Health magazines.

Enter Scrawny to Brawny.

I originally heard of the program through the likes of Nate Green, a fitness writer I read regularly, and his adventures with Precision Nutrition like the time that Nate gained 20 lbs in 28 days, lost 20 lbs in 5 days, then gained everything back overnight. That kind of stuff is hard to overlook.

I’ve half-heartedly tried to gain weight in the past, but I always did it the wrong way. On one particular occasion, my roommate and I decided to adopt a gain-weight-at-all-costs attitude and resorted to devouring as many donuts and as much ice cream as possible every night before bed. The only result was blurred vision (which is a diabetic symptom) and some nasty headaches.

Most notably (as you would imagine from the title), the year-long coaching program is intended to help guys that have been skinny their whole lives gain weight, quite a bit of weight in fact. Throughout the year, I would have habits to work on that would help me to pack on pounds and workouts that were sure to leave me sore as hell and make sure those extra calories were turned into muscle not a hefty spare tire around my midsection. Seems fool-proof.

So, what the hell happened in my case?

The simple explanation is that I didn’t apply myself as much as I could have. I faltered on a handful of the habits (like drinking three Super Shakes a day) that were pretty important to my overall success. I also got distracted by other things like crazy adventure races that I felt like signing up for, which clearly contradicted my goal of getting as muscular as possible.

Still, even with my mediocre results so far (hey, we aren’t done yet!), I’m not disappointed that I signed up for the program, and I certainly don’t consider the past 10 months a failure by any stretch of the imagination. While I’ve failed to gain weight, I have accomplished a number of important things.

I’m pain-free for the first time in a long time.

Had I not signed up for the Scrawny to Brawny program, I never would have realized how immensely debilitating my left knee had become. I also wouldn’t have been willing to spit out $600 for weekly massage therapy sessions to get fixed up. In fact, I likely would still be beating my head against a wall in frustration.

The 10 months leading up to now reinforced just how important my health is to me and prompted me to do something about an injury I had been dealing with for years.

P.S. Now I consider monthly massages part of my fitness routine, and you should too.

I learned how to build a habit.

I thought I knew all about habit building before. I was using apps like Lift to track my progress, but tracking alone wasn’t giving me lasting results (otherwise I would still be flossing regularly).

Scrawny to Brawny featured a new habit every two weeks. More importantly, the program explained why the habit was important and provided all of the tools necessary for me to be successful (although I obviously wasn’t 100%). The program took a very detailed approach that helped me to become successful.

Nate had a great post on building habits that outlines much of their approach here.

I revisited my view of fitness.

When I was younger, my mindset towards fitness was completely different.

For one, fitness could only happen in a gym. When I was in eighth grade, I would get dropped off at the gym after school instead of going to play with my friends. I couldn’t just be normal and play organized sports. No! I would spend an hour lifting weights doing every possible free weight exercise I knew how to do (and some I didn’t). Then, I’d top it off with an hour of cardio on the elliptical machine.

I was a really interesting kid wasn’t I?

Through the Scrawny to Brawny program, I focused on what “fitness” meant to me for the first time in a long time.

Spoiler alert: It didn’t look anything like my middle school years.

Now, “fitness” to me has a few different guidelines:

  1. Being physically able to do what I want when I want to do it
  2. Being able to lift heavy stuff if I need to (I don’t want to have to call someone to move my furniture if I don’t have to.)
  3. Constantly having something that challenges me physically whether that’s a new sport or perfecting a new lift

I focused on other things.

Our current habit as I write this is to “Be Your Own Hero”, encouraging us to make one small choice during the day to be a better person.

Over the past year, I’ve seen just how hard it is to sit silently while meditating. I’ve gone on hundreds of 30 minute walks with my dogs, which taught me how to de-stress and be comfortable in my own head without any other distractions. I’ve learned how to appreciate the things I do have versus want the things I don’t. I’ve learned how to establish a set of personal morals and stick to them.

These improvements are much more important than benching 10 more pounds.


All of these things might not be evident on the scale, but they’re large successes to me. Before I signed up, I was skeptical that this was all going to be worth it. $99 a month isn’t much for personal training, but it’s enough to make a small dent in our monthly budget.

I wouldn’t trade the past year for anything. It’s been a growth experience mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Hell, we still have three months left before it’s all said and done. Let’s see how much I can accomplish.

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