It was The Mountain meets The Toothpick. He tossed me onto his shoulder like I was a bag of bark chips, almost ramming my pencil neck through the ceiling.
That was a turning point. Having the build of a pipe-cleaner had started to wear, well, thin. I wanted what you’d call a commanding physical presence, which is a hard thing to fake when you’re at risk of blowing away on a stiff breeze. I wanted to look like someone a woman would turn to for protection, rather than something she might absentmindedly hang her coat on.
Giving myself 12 weeks to reach 70kg, I knew I needed help. This wasn’t the first time I’d resolved to put some meat on my bones, with previous efforts invariably conking out due to laziness. Enter Cato Rutherford, the owner of Lift Performance Centre on the southern fringe of Sydney’s CBD. A disciple of Canadian strength authority Charles Poliquin, Rutherford is a serious unit with training qualifications as long as the phone book. He has added beef to all manner of top-flight athletes, including rugby league champion Jarryd Hayne, and is renowned for ignoring excuses for inaction, such as a predisposition for weediness.
At our first meeting, Rutherford looked over my frame – yeah, it only took a second – and struck a note of optimism. My goal weight was within reach, he predicted, though it would take a lot of hard training and disciplined eating to get there.
“You’re an ectomorph, which means we’re going to have to work a bit harder than usual,” Rutherford said. “It’ll come down to how badly you want it.”
It’s Day One, 9.30am, and I’ve fronted at Rutherford’s state of the art gym fuelled up on a breakfast burrito, ready to rip and tear. Then comes the reality check: there’s no dodging the fact I’m easily the scrawniest guy in the room.
Rutherford has determined that, for the first six weeks of my program, I’ll be doing two short, daily sessions – morning and late afternoon – each lasting about 30 minutes and targeting the same palpably underdeveloped body parts. While in my case I can squeeze in two sessions a day, if your only option is one longer workout, that’s fine, Rutherford says.
For two weeks I stretch more than I lift – and the lifting isn’t threatening any powerlifting records – but still my body feels wrecked by the time it hits the mattress. Inevitably, sickness strikes (twice in a month) and vital time is lost.
Rutherford tells me muscle mass and immunity are all but one and the same, and I’ll be a more resistant organism once I start stacking on some brawn.
He doesn’t want to hear about overtraining. “The body is meant to work hard. It’s meant to work really hard,” he says. “We sit or lie for 16 hours a day, and then we exercise for 45 minutes and worry we’re doing too much.”
He also lectures me on the importance of attitude: “Cultivating a positive mindset even when you’re really sore is the first step to improving your recovery.”
I listen. And soon change happens. And I’m furious I didn’t see this earlier. When I begin to enjoy the pain that working out brings, only then do I start to see substantial growth.
Moving a lot of iron is but half the battle. The rest is putting away more food in a day than I used to eat in two or three.
I’d been a nibbler, a grazer – lunch was sometimes a pack of potato chips. I’d been having maybe 4,000 to 5,000 kilojoules a day. I upped that to close to 11,000kJ, with a daily protein goal of 100 grams – up from about 20g.
“To gain a lot of weight in a short space of time you need to eat a surplus of kilojoules, and for these to count, you have to ensure you’ve got an amino-acid pool there at all times,” says Rutherford.
Many times during the 12 weeks I can’t bear the thought of consuming another meal of meat and root veg. But up to four times a day, another one goes down the hatch.
Rutherford has me eating clean – so cravings set in. To cope, I allow myself one or two cheat meals per week, usually a double burger with extra bacon. Each time after I’ve finished it feels like I’ve committed a cardinal sin. But in hindsight, those cheat meals were what gave me the motivation to eat clean 90 per cent of the time.
"When I begin to enjoy the pain that working out brings, only then do I start to see substantial growth."
Twelve of the hardest weeks of my life have elapsed and I’ve never felt more proud (or relieved). In that time, I’ve upsized from 63kg to 70.4kg. And testing reveals that every single gram of that gain is lean muscle. Those burgers went to my chest and quads, not to my belly and bum.
I wish I could rattle off a dozen ways that this transformation has changed my life. But I honestly can’t. I’m not any more successful with women or more popular with the guys. And I didn’t get a crazy pay rise. But there’s been one big change, and that’s in how I feel about myself.
That goes deeper than just the larger image in the mirror. While it’s great to have a decent-sized chest and visible abs, and to have arms and legs that look more like human limbs than spaghetti, the point is I’ve done something that just about no one thought I could pull off.
It’s easy to think that size is what gives you power and makes you feel good. But it’s not. It’s the fact you’re trying to be the best version of yourself.
Rutherford wants me to keep going: “You can see what’s achievable in 12 weeks – imagine what you could do in a year,” he says. “You really should be committing to getting above the 80kg mark.”
That’s something I’ll have to think about. But this much I do know: if I want it, I can get it.
Bray would like to thank:
His trainer Cato Rutherford (www.liftperformancecentre.com)
His meal supplier Real Food Connection (www.realfoodconnection.com)