Scrawny to Huge - Chapter 1: A big mouth in a small body

“You are lucky man”, “if I trained like you, I would be so lean”, “if only I had your genetics”, “I wish I could eat anything like you and look like you”. Sound familiar? Most people only see the final result and assume if they do the same thing and they are given the same opportunities they could attain similar results. Let me break it to you, that’s not how it works. Take the ‘if’ out of your life, you’ve already lost before you even think about to start playing the game of life. The truth is that everybody reacts to different experiences differently and one small change in your journey can lead to a different destination. This is my journey and I’m yet to reach my destination. 

My family and I come from a small town in Jaffna, Sri Lanka at a time where the civil war was still present. All my family knew was survival and the only way to survive during those times is to keep moving. So that’s what we did, we moved places, cities, states and eventually to another country. Not to explore, not to sight-see but to survive. I was young, however I remember more and more as we recap the stories at our occasional ‘back in the day’ family chats. My father risked and sacrificed his life to find us a better life, my mother continued to shower us with love while enduring without her husband and knowing that the father of her children may never return. I am my parents legacy, they are my heroes and I dedicate this series to them. 

This is not a sorrow story, this is not a struggle story and I’m not looking for sympathy. Believe me, I’m living a luxury life compared to many of my brothers and sisters who weren’t able to survive let alone migrate. What I would like to do through my story is to inspire others to become the best version of themselves in every way, shape and form. 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane to my high school years. Oh boy! Did I have a big mouth! Listen, I had to show my presence somehow. I was 4 foot 7 inches tall and weighing at 30 odd kg in grade 7 and finished off grade 12 at 5 foot 5 inches weighing in at 49 kg. Yes, let that sink in, I was the definition of scrawny but my personality was HUGE. First day in high school, I had finished class and was heading out for recess break with my friend. He wasn’t scrawny, the opposite of me actually, he was ‘tall, dark and handsome’ and a good person. He didn’t have a big mouth, people liked him and he got along with everybody. Anyway, guess what? A senior stops us and attempts to bully me, asking for my wallet and pocket money. How foolish of this senior, my wallet was empty and what is pocket money? We didn’t do pocket money in our household. I could have told him I have nothing but I remember jawing off ‘no, you are not getting my wallet, just get out of our way’. I was lucky, he ended up being one of my brother's friends and he was just joking otherwise maybe I wouldn’t be writing this right now. 

But man was I feeling liberated, I stood up for myself to a senior and yes he was a friend of my brother but I didn’t know that. My friend was impressed, but he gets impressed easily. I once told him ‘girls love shiny things man, keep wearing the butterfly pocket jeans with diamonds on them’ and he did just that. I will need to write a separate piece to cover that story. 

Anyway, I guess what I am trying to say is I haven’t always been in a phenomenal shape but I was a hyperactive kid with aspirations. That bullying moment did not motivate me to train and become physically bigger. I didn’t know whether that would be possible and it was definitely not within my radar. I was always brought up with the importance of education and performing well at school to maximise opportunities. My mother definitely nudged me towards becoming a doctor but that was never within my interests, neither was Physiotherapy. Surprise, surprise I wanted to become an accountant. Typical right, another brown crunching number. My love for excel is something I cannot explain to anyone. It is unique and it is very special.

My motivation for fitness was simple, it was my brother. I was in grade 11 and my brother was in first year university. He had started going to the gym and started to pack on some serious muscle. He was as scrawny as me if not more in high school. So I thought to myself, there is definitely a possibility I can become huge too. I was growing taller and I could see golf ball biceps taking a sneak peek when I strike the ‘double biceps’ pose. 

However, I wasn’t allowed to train. My mother told me to focus on my studies for the next 2 years so I can become a doctor. I remember my aunty telling me ‘just bite your tongue and study hard for the next 24 months and then you can do anything you like’. Do you know what comes after those 24 months? Another aunty telling you ‘just bite your tongue and finish off your university degree and then you’re free to do whatever you like’. And guess what, when you get that piece of paper, your mum is going to say ‘get married and when you leave the house you can do whatever you want, it will be your wife’s problem’. It’s an ongoing struggle we face as browns and I’m sure many other ethnic families face this too. 

There were also false beliefs within our ‘old school’ parents' minds regarding resistance training and its effects on adolescent growth development. This is still heavily discussed amongst many parents however I can see there is a change and the trend is shifting towards allowing their children to participate in resistance training with supervision and sports specific training. I will never blame my parents for thinking the way they did, all they knew was survival. 

What is the best way to survive? A good education will secure a good job which can provide security for you and your family. Only one in a million make it as an athletic superstar and you need to know people, you need that specific network. There were too many uncertainties, they have already taken enough risks, why would they keep taking more and more risks? It just doesn’t make sense for them and I will always understand their perspective. 

However, that doesn’t mean you have to follow it blindly. They are from a different generation and the world was very different then to now. Survival of the fittest means that you have to learn to adapt to your current environment. Take what has been working and modify what is now no longer working. Grow with the world while maintaining your core personality and values, in my case what my parents have instilled within me. It’s time to become the best version of yourself.

I was itching to go to the gym and lift some weights. I could see my brother grow bigger and stronger day after day. I saw him grow from a scrawny 18 year old to a less scrawny 20 year old by the time I had finished high school. I thought he was huge, in my eyes he was MASSIVE. Well he was, in comparison to how he started, that’s just how I saw it. 

I want everyone to remember this, everything in life is relative. Relative to what you see, what you have and what you were. Your new car is only as new as your old car and eventually that new car will become an old car too. If you don’t learn to enjoy the journey to get that new car then you won’t enjoy it when you finally have it. This is no different to your physique, enjoy the journey, embrace the struggle, and endure the daily grind to become the best version of yourself. I can assure you that is the best part, the journey and not the destination. 

If you take shortcuts, then you may lose what you have acquired just as fast. It is just not simply sustainable. Bad habits can grow fast, you will start to take shortcuts in other aspects of your life and it can spiral out of control. So take control with whatever you do, don’t look for shortcuts, don’t take the easy way out. 

We are what you call a narrow bone structured family. We weren’t built to pull a car or lift an atlas ball. However, we were physically built to code programs, crunch numbers, use our intellect to lift heavy things or what you may call become civil engineers. Or so that’s what we were brought up to believe. Yes, you can make an argument that different people from different parts of the world have different strengths and weaknesses. We know of all stereotypes – Asians are intellectually gifted, islanders are big and strong, Caucasians are very ‘street’ smart.  

There’s being aspirational and then there’s just plain stupidity. I’m not going to put myself as a front rower on the NRL team and take on a 150 kg superhuman running at me. What I will do is put on my bright pink boots and park myself on the wing on a touch football or an OZ tag team. We don’t just come out of an experiment and look like Captain America. I’m just like you, just another person giving my best to live the life I was blessed with. This is not a series of motivational stories and quotes from my experience that defies all levels of physics, it is the truth and a realistic journey of my life. Something we can all relate to.

Despite being a narrow bone structured family, I set out on a journey to put on some serious mass and be ‘different’, defy my genetic composition. Show the world that anything can be attainable with commitment and hard work. ‘Pump Fitness’ was the name of my first gym. For the regular gym goers, we all know how good the pump feels like. Am I right, my fellow gym rats? 

Without even realising, I was known as the guy who went to the gym and I would love to spend time at the gym and talk about it, etc. Yes you’ve guessed it, any small talk would entail the topic gym. The most famous question ‘how do you stay so lean? We should work out together’. Did I tell you how much I hate small talk? Let alone gym small talk. Because I know for a fact that once this conversation ends, in about 5 seconds, you will completely forget about the topic of gym and working out.

I’m what you call an introvert and introverts despise small talk, well talking in general. We prefer to engage in much more deep and meaningful conversation. The sooner we can transition from small talk to ‘DnM’ the better. If that doesn’t happen, we would respectfully exit the conversation by using this simple phrase ‘Alright, you seem busy, I’ll let you go yea’. It works every time. Trust me.  

My ‘gains’ didn’t happen overnight. I was blessed with good genetics, I have always been skinny all my life, an ‘ectomorph’. An ectomorph is a body type that is used to describe someone with narrow shoulders, struggles to put weight on no matter what they eat but easy to put on the ‘beer’ gut. I didn’t always think that this was a blessing, I didn’t enjoy being skinny, naturally weaker than my cohort. However it was a blessing in disguise, it came through when I started training at the gym. I started to slowly put on weight but most importantly lean muscle mass. My friends and family started to see a change, 6 months into training and I had reached my first major milestone of attaining 55kg. I was able to add 5-6 kilos in the first 6 months, which means in about 2 years I’ll be weighing in at 70kg. I couldn’t be more wrong. 

No progress in life is a linear growth, especially if the goal is to gain lean muscle mass. That is just not simply possible and most importantly not sustainable. You will see a sudden growth during the initial phase of your training, then it will plateau out until you make some changes and then you will have another increase but it won’t be at the same rate as your initial phase. It will plateau out quicker as your body becomes used to it and the pattern will follow, and the rate at which you will grow bigger and stronger will start to decline. 

Most people will give up in the first few weeks because they don’t see an instant change or they will give up at the first point of plateau. It will be demotivating as you put in the hard work and commitment and the results are not nearly as fast as you were used to. This is the most common pattern, up and down results with people who train and try to become fit as they work hard, then slack off, work hard again, slack off and this cycle is ongoing until you become aware of this or someone helps you to see what you had failed to see. I hope to show you that, that is my aim. Isn’t that the reason why you are reading this?

My blessed ‘genetics’ is what gets thrown at me all the time. I will not deny that I am an ectomorph and yes, I will gain lean muscle mass more easily than every other body type. However, it doesn’t make it easy because putting on weight is the most difficult part. I didn’t have a big appetite, I didn’t need a lot of food to sustain my scrawny physique. If I force myself, I will no longer enjoy what I’m eating. I think that’s a silly sacrifice to just put on weight.

I’m a firm believer in doing what you enjoy and love to attain results in the most sustainable method. Something I can follow throughout my life, not just for the next few weeks. I did warn you before, this is not a scrawny to huge shortcut. This is the realistic approach about changing your mindset and tuning in with your body and mind to reach your goal.

‘If I had your genetics, I’d be huge eh!’ Listen here, you don’t. So tough. Play with the cards you are dealt with and you definitely don’t have sleight of hands to deal yourself ‘snake eyes’. My mindset and work ethic has brought me here, I firmly believe in myself that it wouldn’t have mattered if I was an ectomorph, mesomorph and or an endomorph.

My mindset and core values don’t change. I will play the hand I’m dealt with and make the most of it. I want you to do the same. Throw away the ‘ifs’, stop living in the past and start taking actions now. My cousin told me ‘a good plan today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow’. Don’t wait around for the things you don’t have, start actioning with what you do have right now. 

What is your next plan of action?

Mithunan Jayamohan

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