How I Got Started In Fitness and Working Out

Jacob Phifer

Photo by Danielle Cerullo on Unsplash

It seems that health and fitness is a lifestyle that everyone in our society dreams about. Many of us actually set out to work towards it and have adapted our lifestyles into its culture. But plenty of us look at it as an unaffordable luxury, a dream that’s just too far out of our reach with everything else that is going on. However, as quite a few of us have already figured out, a life of fitness and getting into shape is achievable and right around the corner at any time. I consider myself to be a testament of this.

My introduction to the world of fitness and working out was a long, dragged-out process but nonetheless, I still made it. An important thing to remember is that not everyone’s journey is going to be the same. Mines started in high school, my tenth-grade year to be specific.

I’m the son of a past D1 athlete. My dad was a track star in high school who held the record for the fastest 100m sprint locally in Youngstown, OH. I know this much because he used to never let me live it down, always reminiscing about the glory days. I share that information to support me stating that he attempted to raise me in stressing the importance of being physically fit. As a younger child, I wasn’t too receptive to what he tried to teach me. I remember that he used to always make me do push-ups. So many push-ups. You’d think that push-ups were the most important exercise in the world if you went by him.

Anyway, that is pretty much all I did growing up when it came to working out: push-ups. He made me do push-ups every night. I remember eventually developing a weird structure for them around my middle school days, one where I would max normal push-ups on Monday nights, decline push-ups on Tuesdays, T-push-ups on Wednesdays, dragon push-ups on Thursdays, and diamond push-ups on Fridays. I would take the weekends off. Thinking about it now, I realize that was my first workout routine in a technical sense, just one set of as many push-ups I could handle every night before bed. I’m now experienced enough to know that this isn’t a well-rounded routine.

It wasn’t until I took a Weight Lifting class in the tenth grade that I learned the push-up (while being a great) wasn’t an all-encompassing exercise that could build overall fitness alone. That class taught me how to build strength in the weight room. It taught all the basic lifts: the bench press, the deadlift, the barbell squat, the bicep curls; exercises that you’d see every muscled-up gym rat doing. And I loved it because of how buffed I would look for a little while after performing these exercises. Every fitness freak is familiar with the phenomenon that I’m talking about, the pump. And like the normal teenage boy that I was, I adored it. I thought that this was true fitness. But, as I learned later, I was wrong again in thinking that I saw the whole picture. I was still only a skinny kid who barely had a clue about what all true health and fitness encompassed. I’ve included an (embarrassing) picture of myself that illustrates how little I knew about being fit compared to what I thought that I knew.

Tenth Grade, Age 16 (2013)

I associate the first major step of my fitness journey to my college years. During the first half of being a freshman living on campus, I hadn’t really touched the gym that much and when I did, it was to run on the treadmills. Rarely anything more. I had picked back up the habit of doing push-ups nightly in my dorm room as a form of resistance training. However, I also incorporated wall sit holds and elbow planks in order to work my legs and abs. Looking back, I still didn’t have that much of an idea as to what overall fitness entailed but my knowledge had expanded since my days as a high school-er. I wasn’t effectively working towards any real goals which is strange because I knew exactly what I wanted back then. I didn’t have a clue on how to go about it though.

Through the images that I have attached in this article, it is probably evident that I grew up as a skinny kid with a high metabolism. This dilemma I had is one that is shared with many: despite how much I ate, I could never gain any weight. And the fact that I loved to run didn’t help at all. It wasn’t until my second semester I came back on campus with a new acknowledgment of my one fitness goal: to get bigger. During the break, I had actually fell for and bought a workout program by a popular fitness influencer (back then, I wasn’t aware that everyone had fitness programs to sell) and it had me in the gym with a purpose for the first time.

Freshman Year of College, Age 19 (2016)

This program was my first ever real workout routine as far as I’m concerned. It had me performing lift, bodyweight, and machine exercises that targeted every muscle that I could think of, including ones I wasn’t even aware of. That program did for me what I started to think was impossible. I had placed on a little weight throughout its duration. Emphasis on “a little”, as it was only about seven pounds but even still. I went from weighing 145lbs to averaging 150lbs: a huge leap forward for me at the time. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the program or the influencer which I bought it from but it has my gratitude for giving a stick-thin, clueless college freshman a bit of direction towards his goal.

The real change happened around my junior year of college, in the year of 2018. I had long finished that one fitness influencer’s program nearly twice over and had moved on to a different one that I’d snagged off of Around this time, I remember speaking to another student at my school, and we were in the same boat around freshmen year in terms of fitness and gaining weight. His name was Jabril, and he was slim like me when we had met. But at the start of our junior year, he returned to school looking much bigger. The guy had placed one serious muscle mass and looked like a running back or starting gymnast. He had made the exact transformation that I wanted to make. When I had asked for his secret, what he told me was near unbelievable. The way he had placed on major weight was by drinking one gallon of milk every day for thirty days. It probably sounds crazy, but he swore that was his method and after researching, I found that it was a weight-gaining strategy that wasn’t all that rare. It’s called GOMAD, or Gallon of Milk a Day, and is also how I made my breakthrough of gaining weight.

So that is what I dedicated myself to for a portion of my junior year in college: drinking an entire gallon of milk every day for a total of thirty days. It was extremely tough starting out. The very first day, I had found out (the hard way) how badly lactose intolerant I was. So I started buying lactose-free milk but switched back to regular, whole, vitamin D milk because the alternative was considerably more expensive. I had to take special dairy digesting pills in order to help me withstand the consumption of so much dairy. However, the improvements became noticeable rather quickly. By the end of the first week, I had already picked up a few pounds. And during this special diet, I kept to my generic gym program and frequent 3-mile runs. Between the gym routine, runs, and gallons of milk, I was actually sculpting the body and conditioning that I had always dreamed of. By the time I had finished the 30th day of drinking a gallon of milk, I had placed on 15 pounds, weighed 175lbs, drastically increased my appetite, and looked like a beast in the mirror. That diet, my first ever diet, was another huge stepping stone in my fitness journey.

Junior Year, Age 21 (2018)

Fast forward to recent times, my journey had prevailed much more after graduating college. I became a lot more knowledgeable about fitness and working out due to a bunch of books I’ve read, I actually worked at an LA Fitness facility for about a year and surrounded myself with gym culture, I established more founded goals, and I learned how to diet and track my eating habits. The GOMAD regimen that I had put myself through while in school made me aware of an important part of fitness that I was negligence towards: dieting and nutrition. By all means, I am no nutrition specialist or meal-planning master, but I do now have a base understanding of what to eat and how much in accordance to my current goals.

Allow me to take a moment to brag about how efficient I am at programming and building the workouts that I perform. I currently weigh 180lbs and see a superhuman athlete when I look in the mirror. I move and feel like one too. Placing all the gloating aside, I am ultimately satisfied with how my journey is going so far and all that I have learned. Sure, there are plenty of others who have had more figured out in less time and has more accomplished than me now at a relative (or even younger) age. But the progress of others isn’t significant to my journey. That would be one of the first advice I would give to someone who is struggling on their journey. Focus on your improvement and don’t allow yourself to get discourage from the progress of others.

Age 24 (2021)

Another top word of advice that I’d give would be that consistency is more important than anything else. If I were to get technical enough, I could say that I started my fitness journey in middle school by doing one push-up every night for about a week before increasing the number to two for another. It doesn’t matter how little you do sometimes, especially starting out. Showing up is half of the battle.

The last advice that I can provide is to learn how to diet and count calories as soon as you can. Watch some YouTube videos, read a book, download a food log app, do something to start watching what you eat. I’ll be the first to warn that it is an adjustment. However, observing and adapting your eating habits in accordance with your intentions will make your goals that much more achievable.

Most of us all have fitness goals or ideal bodies that we dream of achieving. Some of us don’t work towards them, while some others simply don’t know how to. But ultimately, it’s important to just get up and start. And any step is enough to put you in a direction, which is all that is needed.

So whether it’s doing one push-up a night, pulling a beginner’s workout program from offline, or drinking a bunch of milk every day (I don’t recommend doing that without researching and consulting a nutrition specialist) you’ll be placed on a spot, a starting spot on this board game of working out and fitness. And this is a game that realistically never ends. There will always be more to learn, more goals to reach for, more to improvements to make, and more ways to achieve them. This is something that I am recently finding out. Yeah, I think that I have come a long way, but I have an infinitely longer way to go. And I look forward to every step of the way.




Fitness enthusiast with a passion for everything self-improvement and personal growth. Also loves writing and other forms of entertainment.

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Jacob Phifer

Jacob Phifer

Fitness enthusiast with a passion for everything self-improvement and personal growth. Also loves writing and other forms of entertainment.

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