Written by Blake Atwood
On a Friday at the LAB, I got a photo sent to me in the staff group chat of Lee and a small scrawny kid with big teeth and transition lens glasses (because I was cool). When I show members this picture, they can hardly believe it's me, in fact, I will have members that were around at that time guess and when I tell them it's me, they remember that kid but hadn’t put together that I in fact was that kid. See this is exactly the opposite reaction I get when I go back home. They say I look like the guy that ate Blake Atwood. I would bet you a nickel that nobody back home saw this transition coming at all. I have learned a lot about gaining weight during this time, and I want to share with you how I went from a 145 lb senior in high school, to a 255 lb junior state record holder.
The very beginning of my strength journey started here at enduraLAB, I looked up to Lee a great deal and loved visiting Texas mostly for gym time. I was fairly insecure about my weight, and because of this I really leaned on Lee and felt fine with working out as long as he was there directing me. A little tangent here. Now that I pretty much live at the gym I understand that everybody in the gym wants to see you improve. In my experience, the gym is the most positive place to build friendships and confidence because we are all there to reach the same goal. So if you are young and just starting to work out, I'd hate for you to feel like you aren't big enough or not strong enough to work out at a gym, because I want you to get better, and everybody at your gym feels that way too I promise. Anyways I spent two weeks in my senior summer leading up to college here in Fort Worth to put some weight on. At the time I had finally reached 175 bodyweight which was huge for me, I was looking to eclipse two bills before the summer was over. Lee gave me maybe the most simple program of all time to follow, and I followed it all summer. But that wasn't the hard part, see a lot of times I'll have younger athletes or even guys my age come to me and ask how to gain weight. “No matter what I do I can't gain weight”, If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that I'd have enough money to buy them all their first big weightlifting meal. It is ALL ABOUT THE DIET! Think about it this way, every time you leave the gym you have burned a good amount of calories whether that is from cardio, a metcon or a heavy weightlifting session. As well as that you have broken down your muscles to the point of soreness, and you leave the gym weaker than How you came in. So how do we repair that damage? By food and sleep alone. My younger self understood this key aspect of weight gain very clearly. So what time I spent outside of the gym I was always eating. By the time I had moved into college the first time I stepped on the scale, I weighed 199.9 lbs.
It wasn't until I moved to college did I realize that I had the potential to be exceptionally strong. Fortunately for me, I had a friend from my tiny high school named Scoob that had always been a weightlifter, he was a couple of years older than me and he took me under his wing (probably because he needed someone to film his deadlifts). This program Lee had given me was 3 days, two of them bench and deadlift once which I would skip on occasion because I didn't find that to be much fun. Scoob was a powerlifter and so when I trained with Scoob….. We power lifted, meaning I would have to squat and deadlift. The first or second time I squatted with him I squatted 405 in wraps at about 200lbs bodyweight, Which was impressive due to the fact I had squatted maybe 5 times in my life, none of these times being close to 400. This one experience just kind of lit the match for me to get into powerlifting. I quickly became obsessed, looking up the best diets I could follow and buying my first belt. At about this time, I get my first job in a small southern Illinois community by the Ohio River. When I say there was nothing to do out there there was absolutely NOTHING to do, but in the middle of nowhere was this awesome gym that I had found that had all the equipment I could ask for. So I asked Lee for a harder, more powerlifting specific program. Following this program, I finally got up to 225 lbs body weight.
From 2020 through most of 2021, I moved to a new job near Indianapolis, even farther removed from home than I was before, meaning fewer weekend visits and fewer bad habits. It was around this time I finally came to realize how diet and sleep play such a big role in my development. As well as this I cut out a lot of my drinking, I would allow one weekend a week to have a couple of beers with my friends but the rest of the way I was straight edge. As well as this I had found my first actual powerlifting coach, who programmed for me and helped me with the finer details of my lifting form. At this time in my life, I experimented with a couple of diets (mostly bad) and did my best to learn more about the best avenue for me to get bigger and stronger.
Finally, we get to the part it all comes together - moving to Fort Worth, and starting my coaching career at enduraLAB. During my first year working at the LAB, I learned more about my diet and programming than I ever could have on my own. With this knowledge, I decided to take a shot at the Texas junior 242 squat record. Although a lofty goal at the time, with me being underweight for the weight category, as well as my previous max being 55 lbs off the goal with about 5 months to train. But nevertheless, I was determined to reach that goal. I trained hard, ate cleaner and slept the best I could the whole summer, cutting zero corners. Truth be told I was super proud of myself for sticking to something that I set out to do, and it was starting to look like I was going to achieve it! On July 14th I competed in San Antonio looking to break the record, which I did and held for around 5 minutes until a guy right behind me edged my squat by 5 lbs. I didn't even know until after the meet. Although I had technically achieved my goal, it didn't feel complete because I never actually held the record. This led to the most motivated 6 months of my life.
During this meet prep, I felt like it was important to add in new disciplines that would help me PR my lifts and break records. The first thing I did was track my sleep. Sleep is the most important thing for your recovery, no ifs or buts. Without quality sleep you can't expect your muscles to recover or grow, It is a must have. Along with sleep I changed up my diet and developed better eating habits. Before this meet I only tracked macros and ate out daily, sometimes for two meals. During this meet prep, I tracked macros but also micronutrients and the quality of the foods I was eating. I only ate out probably 30 times, which was staggeringly different from the almost twice daily habit I had before. This, paired with my tunnel vision dedication to the lifting, I went into the meet in January completely sure I was beating the record. And sure enough, I beat it again, but not only the squat. Between my squat bench and deadlift, I totaled 1603 lbs, beating the total record by more than 50 lbs. I was number 9 in the world for my age and weight. I made it to the top of the hill.
And that my friends is how I went from a skinny high schooler that couldn't do 10 push ups in a row to the Texas 242 Junior Record Holder.