Above: September 18, 2017 – at 3% body fat.
The endless blaring of my cellphone alarm jolts me out of my peaceful dream. It’s not one of those random alarms that blurt out annoying noises of varying pitch and volume. The song is Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead,” an outrageous track that is powerful enough to infuriate the mind and grate the nerves at such an ungodly hour with its bouncy beat. There’s Tarzan screams and heavy breathing, and though it’s a song that I’ve heard a thousand times before, I immediately feel the resurrection of my synapses. With sleep still pooling in my eyelids, I regard the clock by my bedside. It’s 5:00 AM. The first thing I feel is the bitter cold of the room breathing on my skin. Though my blood runs warm underneath, the cold is powerful enough to penetrate into my body with absurd ease. I redirect my glance towards the window – outside, the eerie darkness of the night sky is softening to a bluish hue and the stars are slowly starting to hide behind the haze of the dawn. Though there is a bit of sunlight hesitantly streaming through the blinds, the room is flooded with an overwhelming blackness.
Instantly, an acute and unpleasant realization hits me: I have to hop out of my sweet bed right now if I want to get a workout in before work.
The room is filled with a brittle silence that is broken only by the howling of the air conditioner, but my head is filled with voices, all of them coming from all directions and striking all at once. The voices are talking to me in a commanding tone, as if trying to draw me towards a place where there is no escape. I immediately acknowledge that it is laziness, trying to shoot through me. At 3% body fat, it’s no longer as easy to test the limits of the body.
“Your muscles are too sore. You can use an extra hour or two of sleep and feel so much better.”
“It’s a little bit too early. Even the taho vendor in the village, a vigilant early-riser himself, is still probably asleep.”
“It’s too dark. It’s too cold. Nothing can possibly be better right now than the comfort of bed.”
“Why not just lie in? Just press the damn snooze button already.”
The feeling of hitting the snooze button and snuggling back under the covers is a pretty tempting choice. Nothing is going to bring me more comfort than shutting my eyes and whisking myself back to dreamland. After all, why am I even answering Kanye’s Tarzan screams at 5:00 in the morning?
It is hard to shove aside the army of voices corrupting my mind, but eventually, I stop listening to the battalion of temptations and… stop thinking. Instead, an inner voice takes over, one that happens to be louder than the rest of them; the voice that my head has naturally been wired to ignore during the first wakeful minutes from a long slumber; the voice that I sometimes love to run away and hide from when times get hard; the voice that is always two steps ahead of me regardless of how far I’ve come; the voice that I am afraid of and dread whenever I am not willing to face the prospect of failing; the voice that does not know how to give up; the voice that chases dreams even while I am awake.
“You did not ask Kanye to sing ‘Black Skinhead’ for you at 5:00 in the morning for no reason. Your desire to stay in this comfortable place is nothing but a weird quirk in human evolution. Working really hard is what great people do. The very fundamental purpose of your life is to put yourself in service of things that are greater than yourself and your comforts. So do not listen to laziness. Laziness gives you undeserved content. Laziness belittles your ambitions. Laziness loves the easy way. Laziness does not have courage nor fulfillment. Laziness hates the idea of greatness. Listen to me. Listen to hard work. Hard work teaches you that you’ve got to have heart. Hard work tells you that you’ve got people counting on you. Hard work forces you to stop being afraid. Hard work commands you to stop quitting on everything and to go after your goals like the world is burning. Hard work reminds you that you love success more than you love sleep. You’re not the smartest person. You’re not the strongest person. But you have heart. The truth is, at any moment, you can choose to listen to hard work. It is your best friend and it will take care of you like nothing else can. Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent having long slumbers or lounging around. You want to have the best workout of your life this morning? You want the best version of yourself to face the world that is waiting for you outside today? Get out of that bed and put your feet on the damn floor.”
And so the inner voice guides me through the rebellious temptations that are unanimously telling me to stay asleep. I make my choice to betray everything that’s easy and comfortable, to turn my back on instant gratification, to put off rest and sleep until I earn the right to do so once again. Suddenly, I am alive. Awake. Nothing can keep me from getting up. Not a single thing can stop me from seizing the morning with my bare hands. I stare at the window once more and study the golden glow of the rising sun. The outline of the city towering above my village is becoming clearer, and from my bed I can see the huge clock engraved on top of one of the high-rise buildings outside, shimmering over the placid city. The hands of the giant clock are pointing towards 5:05 AM. It glistened, mirroring the dazzling Batman emblem that is constantly projected on the skies above Gotham City. Like the Bat-Signal’s light, the clock is a watchful guardian, staring down at me with a look so intense that it instantly infuses energy into my soul like a can of Red Bull on a hot summer afternoon. Like my little Maltese who sleeps beside my every night, my primal body suddenly feels as if it is wired to wake up to the light of dawn. For a moment or two, I say thank you to the Lord: for all the blessings, for the gift of hard work that is so ever-present and ingrained into the fabric of who I am, and then I also say thank you in advance for the workout that I will dedicate to Him for the next two hours. The voices of laziness gradually ebb away, and my walk towards the door ruffles the stillness of the room.
It gets tougher as I make my way downstairs. Half-drunk with sleep, I barely feel my feet skimming the tiles along the living room. My aching muscles make it feel as if I am trying to fight through gravity. The air is thick with the scent of coffee the moment I walk into the kitchen. I take my coffee black, so there is no need to worry about milk or sugar. There is more superpower in a tall mug of coffee than meets the eye. My mug, designed and shaped like the corner tower of a castle, was originally nothing but a funny souvenir I bought from a gift shop during my brief visit to the Tower of London. Since getting home from that trip, there hasn’t been a morning at home that I did not spend with that mug. There’s nothing beautiful or elegant about it, but it is my giant caffeine delivery system. It’s venti-sized, and therefore I am privileged enough to drink big gulps of coffee in one go. I’ve heard too many bodybuilders claim that pre-workout supplements are an irreplaceable part of the muscle building blueprint, but then I’ve been working out long enough to know that most supplements are a waste of money. It’s simple – nothing is stronger than a large cup of Colombian coffee, black as night and fresh from a coffeemaker. It’s better than pre-workout powder or fat-burning pills. The first bitter sip creeps over my taste-buds and down my throat. Coffee in the privacy of my house in the early hours of the day tastes like morning and all the things that come along with it like: sunshine, eggs, and chocolate milk after a long grueling workout. But then I know that breakfast has to wait; I’ve always found it better to work out on an empty stomach because exercising in a fasted state creates an optimal environment for building muscle and torching fat. When the body learns to work like a horse without any food, it gets even more phenomenal at working hard when it has fuel in the tank. After only a minute or two, I am in front of a desktop, bathing in the powerful kick of the caffeine. The only things alive in the room are myself and the ticking clock. 5:10 AM. My mind is fully wired. The reality I am residing in is suddenly extenuated. Feeling a bit fidgety and restless, I load two YouTube videos and watch them as I sipped on my piping hot mug of black joe. Motivation can come in many forms: a drink, a favorite song, or even a depressing experience. In my opinion, the most accessible medium is video.
The first one is a bodybuilding motivation video that is accompanied by instrumental music and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice. Scene after scene, bodybuilding’s greats are featured hard at work in dungeons and luxury gyms alike. At times, there are biblical-sounding speeches in the background. Though Arnold’s accent is as broad as his shoulders, I carefully listen to every word because he is a symbol of persistence and unprecedented success. His hard work inside of the gym of was the key to his greatness in both film and politics, so there’s no ambitious egomaniac I’d rather be listening to at 5:15 AM. Sure, the workouts I do are hard and grueling, but the energy and the willpower that drove Arnold during the peak of his competitive years is something that is out of this world. I still remember the first time I watched Pumping Iron as a skinny 16 year old kid. My life has never been the same since then. Ever since I was 17, I have always used bodybuilding motivation videos to light some extra fire in my insides. Nothing amps me up more before a workout than seeing larger-than-life bodybuilders killing it and competing against each other in the thick of loud music and motivational words. I’ve gone through cold December mornings wherein I didn’t want to get out of my cozy room. I’ve gone through nights wherein I was tempted to miss a workout to free up some precious hours so that I can head out. Nothing pushes me to pump iron more than a hardcore bodybuilding motivation video.
The second video I watch is a spine-chilling Beats by Dre commercial featuring Conor McGregor. Released a few days before his matchup with Floyd Mayweather, the video shows Conor jamming to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” before a fight. The video depicts his humble beginnings through a boy named Liam, a talented kid in Crumlin, Ireland. Hanging around a block of flats somewhere in Dublin, the friends of Liam talk of his inevitable fame all throughout with their sharp Irish accents. In a way, the video is a rags to riches story of Conor’s rise from a modest life toiling day in and day out as a plumber. One cannot help but feel a sense of pride after finishing the commercial. The world is full of noise and distractions. The video reminded me that whether you’re striving to be the best version of yourself today or chasing the thing that matters most to you, what matters most, above everything, is to be grateful and to never forget how you were able to get to where you are. When I think of what Conor McGregor was and what he is now, I am motivated to bust my ass in the gym. The video is not related to bodybuilding at all, but it instills the same principle that one needs most at 5:25 AM – that the price of success is hard work.
The video ends. Somewhere in between the two videos, I unconsciously emptied the tall mug I had in hand. Out of the blue, there is inspiration, a vast amount of energy, an intense focus, a beautiful awakening of the senses. My slight spell of dizziness is replaced by a tingling invincible sensation that starts to creep out of my veins. No longer am I sleepy or drowsy; my mind is filled only with boundless drive and an unbroken commitment to dominate my workout. Then my body begins to move into autopilot mode. I hurriedly make my way upstairs to groom myself and put my workout clothes on. There is no trouble picking out my clothes, finding my socks, and lacing up my shoes. I know it may seem silly, but at 5:30 AM, I feel like Achilles putting on his immortal gear before battle, one by one. Because of the coffee and the video, the simple act of getting dressed already feels exciting, as if it is already part of the war. When my body feels that I am already wearing my battle gear, it gets moving like a lion waking up in the morning. When you’ve got your workout clothes on, you’d better be sprinting off.
So I walk out and peer around the village. The village streets are bathed in the gentle glow of the street-lamps. Hardly anyone is awake; there is literally no one in sight. The endless rows of various houses are still wallowing under a blanket of blackness. Day and night are still trying to blend together, but far beyond the village the initial roar of incoming traffic is already audible. The early morning cold licks at my face and creeps under my black tank top. A breeze cuts through my skin, breathing down my neck and hissing at the warmth of my caffeinated body. It is a calm and placid night; the wind comes in breezes, except at occasional intervals, when it is pushed by cold gusts brought about by the trees. It turns out that I underestimated the cold by opting to wear a tank top, but that is no excuse. I can’t look back anymore. The easy way is to head back inside, but my brain well knows that the right way is to head upstream and move on. Just like that, laziness breathes its last breath.
It’s 5:35 AM. It’s still dark. It’s still cold. Kanye’s voice is still ringing in my head. Just like the way it was 35 minutes ago. The gym is opening in 25 minutes. This leaves me enough time to sprint 5 kilometers around the village before a mind-numbing workout.
Yes, I think, smiling in extreme elation and listening to the soft wind breathing through the quiet houses, I have had quite a morning. The streets are dark and lovely, but I have a long way to go before I can have my chocolate milk.
So I go forth and take off. My day has just begun.