My baby brother is five years younger than me. His biceps also exceed mine in circumference by several inches (I’m hoping that’s the only part of his body that exceeds mine by “inches”). I had the privilege of introducing him to the limitless world of fitness back when he was barely pubescent – at the tender age of 12. At the time, I was in the throes of high school iron pumping, idolizing Arnold and convinced that I was packing on size and gaining weight. Unfortunately for my future self (and to the comedic joy of my friends) I was validating my results by wearing smaller shirts and experimenting with shaving my chest to show off my “definition.” There are some classic self-photos (ones I hope never surface) that will attest to my delusions that a 155 lb high schooler was “bulking up.” To this day, my friends poke fun at this never-attained, but highly sought after goal of “getting huge.”
While I never swelled to shirt stretching sizes, my brother embraced the early instruction and from the start committed himself to packing on muscle. At one point in high school, he was so addicted to the gym that my parents realized that taking it away from him would be the single worst punishment he could suffer. They said “no gym for a month” – his heart broke and his pecs disappeared. It had the intended effect, but it also set off a chain reaction of nightly push-up and crunch sets that would make the baddest Marine proud.
By 19, he was a monster, but nevertheless afflicted with the genetic bird legs that he shares with me. His figure became an inverted bowling pin – a Jonny Bravo type physique that earned the scorn of my parents, and the affections of any bicep-loving teenage girl. My parents would petition me to reason with him: “Tell your brother that no one will respect him if he gets too big. Tell him that everyone will think he has sawdust in his head. Tell him those stretch marks are never going to go away and that he is ruining his beautiful body.” Could these entreaties sound any more parental? Regardless, I obliged their request partially out of a sense of responsibility for starting his obsession but also partly out of jealousy for my own failures as a teen to burst open my golf shirts with giant pipes for arms.
I recanted a few weeks later, realizing that it’s always great to be associated with a giant man, especially when that giant man is your younger brother who often accompanies you to bars and other sordid havens of drunken violence. He immediately got bigger than ever and arrived for a visit in Ocean City, MD for a beach vacation wearing armor made of muscles – the now famous “muscle suit” of 2011, dwarfing me and all my friends. He was our personal cooler courier, casually flipping our stash of 50 beers onto his shoulder to ensure he had a solid pump before strutting the sand.
Later, an unfortunate bout with mono and a heavy course load in school demanded that he stay out of the gym for several months that carried into early 2012. This furlough caused his former self to deflate back to mortal proportions, appropriately sized for his skeleton. It was during this time that I had made a full transition to CrossFit and I began extolling the benefits of a more holistic approach to working out. Instead of the heavy isolation and linear movements popular in bodybuilding, I told him how CrossFit required the body to work as a complete system, invariably requiring multiple muscle groups for each WOD (Workout of the Day) that created a more efficient and athletic individual.
Dan bristled. Without the familiar discomfort of skin-stretching pumps and the calculated splits of specific body parts on certain days, Dan felt lost, as I had several years prior. As a former rower, Dan knew intimately the unique pain and misery of maximum cardiovascular output. Having retired from the sport, he was content to forego the demonic erg in favor of the more friendly dumbbell rack. “As long as my abs keep popping, I have no reason to change” he would reason. Spoken like a true bodybuilder. I could never argue with a physique that spoke for itself.
It wasn’t until I challenged Dan to join me in a Warrior Dash in July of this summer that things began to shift. “I look forward to kicking your ass in this race. I’m gonna relish the sight of you struggling to keep up with me” was my sales pitch. He bit. I signed him up the next day. His interest in cardio workouts returned immediately, as he acknowledged the real possibility of struggling through a 3.5 mile obstacle course without the stamina that at one time made him a superior athlete.
Soon after, he worked out with Hozz. Hozz offered him an hour and a half tutorial on proper form and technique for the deadlift and the squat – two things that Dan had become very familiar with during his long career in the gym. There were some necessary corrections to his form, but nothing catastrophic with his status quo. What was deeply alarming was his lack of flexibility, which he chalked up to “being taller and lankier than Hozz” – an obviously nonsensical response and an admission of guilt over years of neglecting flexibility in favor of those last few burning reps at the preacher bench.
Luckily, he got the message. A week and a half later I received a text, saying among other things that he “was okay with returning to 165lbs where his body is naturally content” and that he “doesn’t have to be a 185lb disproportionate top heavy meat stick.” In preparation for our race, he’s committed to ensuring proper form and technique in foundational movements, resolute about improving his flexibility, and eager for a healthy heart. I’m sure there will be pangs of regret amidst agonizing, lung-retching WODs, as I have no doubt felt at various moments. I’m also sure that the metrics of improvement – a quicker time, a better squat, and the comfort of flexible muscles – will keep him devoted to this intoxicating craft. I’m proud to have my first disciple.
 Dan’s Robocop body demanded law enforcement’s respect. The joke went that police would have to “pull Dan over” while he walked down the sidewalk to disarm him of his weaponized muscular shell. The voice over their car loudspeaker would bellow “SIR, PLEASE STEP OUT OF YOUR MUSCLE SUIT AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD.”