The philosophy of mastering your body

Why I workout and what it means to me

Gautham Dinesh
6 min readJan 28, 2024
Photo by Sven Mieke on Unsplash

For as long as I can remember, working out has been a part of my life. I was always a very active kid: running around the house and fields; climbing the gates, walls and trees. Oftentimes, I would run into doors, and walls, or fall on the floor bleeding from my head, elbows, knees and God knows where else. Yet, I don’t remember ever crying. Most kids would fall, get hurt (or not) and bawl their eyes out. I just got up and tried to prepare myself for the shock my parents would get when they saw the blood rolling down my face.

And I did it all over again the next day. Maybe I was just a dumb kid but I believe that some part of this is what has allowed me to endure and push through many different hurdles in my life. Being able to get up when I’m pushed down, suffer through the pain of my bleeding wounds and move forward when everything and everyone around me looked at me like “What the fuck happened to this kid?”.

As I grew up, I started jumping from places that were more than three times my height, riding my bicycle as fast as I could, drifting through the dirt, hanging from trees and so many more reckless endeavours. I didn’t know when to stop, I found it exhilarating to push the boundaries. To do the impossible. Part of me wanted to impress others with my daredevil feats but for the most part, I simply wanted to be able to accomplish those things.

Then came a life-changing moment in seventh grade, just as I had hit puberty. I developed gynecomastia (gyno/man-boobs) and it was the most embarrassing time of my life. I was skinny-fat and would always walk hunched over to hide my shameful features from the world. I noticed it more than anyone else and the anxiousness and insecurity it brought was overwhelming. My posture became terrible and for many years after I struggled to return to normal. As all teens would do, I decided to find a way to fix my gyno. I read countless articles and blog posts on how it would go away in a few years after puberty. But for some unfortunate ones, it would remain for life. It ended up that I was one of the latter.

Regardless, I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for 4 to 6 years and hope for it to naturally disappear. I very vividly remember the first day that I got back home from school after someone pointed out my man boobs and made fun of me. That was the day I did my first pushup. Most people can’t even do one pushup when they start but that fire in me was burning. It was a mixture of embarrassment, self-pity and anger. I kept going every single day. I did more and more pushups every day. Building up my chest and progressing in difficulty with variations like pike pushups. Did it help? Yes and no. I never completely got rid of my gyno, I still have it. But what I gained from that was the desire to elevate my physical capabilities beyond what I was born with. I was no longer taking myself for granted. My body is one of the things that I can shape and morph to a great extent. So why would I waste it?

Growing up in an Indian household, my diet was not geared towards optimizing the gains. But I worked with what I had (Your food is still the best, Amma). I explored callisthenics for the next couple of years, figuring out how to utilize my body weight to achieve a strong physique. I would do pushups, pull-ups, squats. Then I would do pike pushups, pistol squats, and archer pullups. At the time, I didn’t know too much about what I was doing. I just kept trying to increase the number of reps as a challenge to myself. But it paid off. Although I never had the best physique, I had just enough to build my self-esteem back up. I was not being afraid to take off my shirt in the locker room or at the pool. People did not even notice that I had gyno, if anything I was the most aware of it. But by then it was too late, my roots had been dug deep into the pain and pleasure of physical exertion.

I played all the sports I could: football, tennis, badminton, volleyball, cricket. Everything and anything I could get my hands on. I practised martial arts after school for nearly 2 years. It was the best and worst times of my life. I hurt so much but every day I woke up a little bit stronger, knowing that if I could do that then I could do anything else. I kept pushing myself to the limits of what I could achieve physically. I first stepped foot in a gym when I went to university. I was nearly 19 and I had no clue what I was doing. For the first three years, between COVID and the lockdown, I began to explore the limits of my strength. Just pushing enough to test the waters and backing off when things got murky. I was only using machines and I found it hard to stay consistent because mindlessly moving around weights was not something I enjoyed compared to martial arts and calisthenics. I would fall off and come back. Then fall off again and come back. I was in a rut. I ate a lot more than I needed to, didn’t exercise hard enough and stopped playing sports. I wasn’t achieving my potential.

But in my last year, I saw one dude in my gym lifting impressive weights. I had not seen that yet at my point in university. I found what I was looking for. Before then, I did not know powerlifting was a thing. I only thought there was bodybuilding to get bigger. And for the past year now, I have aimed to get as strong as I physically can. I have not taken more than a week off without going to the gym. I worked out through injury and soreness. I started taking more control of my diet, cooking my meals and tracking my macros. I graduated and started a job but I made going to the gym a non-negotiable. No matter if I have to wake up every single day at 6 AM to get my workout in, I’m going to do it. When the voices in my head tell me “It’s okay to go back to sleep”, or “You can skip a day”, I fight back. I get the fuck out of my bed and I go to the gym.

I have realized that my body is a gift. It is one aspect of my entire existence that I have the most control over and there are very few things that fall into this category. I strive to make myself better every day by just pushing a little harder and a little further just like when I was a kid. So why do I work out? The truth is I don’t know why. It is a part of me now just like waking up every day, brushing my teeth or eating food when I’m hungry. There is a drive in me to keep pushing and it’ll only end when I break because there is nothing I am pushing towards. The horizon keeps forever moving, and so do I.