My first contact with psychical exercise started sometime back in my early high school days, when I discovered at school the magic of the chin-up bar, trying with a close friend for months to break the school record for most pullups.
Twenty classic front pullups.
The record, at the time, was held by a scrawny albino guy in the third year of high school, with extremely long, bony arms, who, in order to please his two fans, dragged his feet casuallyover to the wooden chin-up bar every day after school and started doing pullup after pullup, until he would hear us whisper and chuckle ecstatically.
I don’t remember if we ever did manage to break the record, but I remember the same scenario continuing even up until the next term year, when the routine was enriched with various spectacular exercises of his own improvisation and design, which he named with equally epic titles.
The Death Stance, The Hydra, Hercules’ Shield, The Impossible One (which I recently learnt was the “CTI”, the close-to-impossible exercise from Jasper Benincasa) among others.
A few years later, particularly in my final year of high school, infatuated by the many stories of superhuman strength that my grandfather, «Koutalianos»*, would tell me (he used to lift an entire armchair from its tiny wooden leg with one arm in his youth), I put aside the chin-up bar for a while, and started lifting weights, incredibly heavy rocks, sledgehammers and other such objects that challenged, in those times, the various travelling strongmen.
However, even though this fiery passion of mine kept me on my toes for several years, when, later, I came across athletics as a ripe university student (for some reason, the typical sports I used to do back at school never really did it for me – I will be writing a different article regarding this), my thirst for Herculean strength was partly moderated with regular doses of mountaineering, mountain running and cycling.
Raw strength is exciting, but the sensation of gliding and soaring like a youngdeer kilometre after kilometre through unknown and untamed mountains as the invigorating pine air fills your lungs is also a wonderful feeling.
Whichever way you look at it, any type of exercise is healing, as long as it takes place outside of the confines of the city.
Sometimes, I ride my bike down a seaside avenue and come face to face with a modern gym facility, with its huge front window, publicizing for everyone to see the everyday struggle of its regulars.
Behind this shop window, you can marvel at the spectacle of young people running like a hamsters on treadmills, trying their best to fight against the unbearable boredom of immobility with music and the occasional chat.
And, for the hapless youths who happen to find themselves on that road of vanity, on a quest for bulging biceps and a sculpted stomach, this very same place has also crammed medieval torture devices of every kind, with pulleys and iron weights, so that they can torment their bodies to exhaustion.
Many times, if you have the patience and curiosity to wait outside for a bit, you can see these same regulars come out after their workouts half-naked andbarely able to walk from their overzealous effort.
An effort, of course, that does not come for free.
I’d really like to know; what is so attractive about running on a conveyor belt, in a suffocating, packed room, breathing in all the dust and polyester molecules, while, at the same time, having to smell the stink of sweat coming from the person next to you?
Or even, what is so exciting about sitting across a mirror, lifting weights and gazing at your own reflection with lust, up until the moment when your biceps have become so swollen that you can’t even curl your arms anymore?
Do all these gym rats really have a good time in there, or do they simply buy all the fairy-talepromises of endless marketing campaigns?
Although fitness had always been part of my daily routine, as a teen I was never enticed by the appearance of a great-looking body.
Even to date, it’s something that I care little for, because I appreciate it simply as a positive side-effect of an athletic way of life.
I’ve always been attracted more by power and endurance; the product of a trained body, not how the body presents itself.
In a few words, the practical value of things.
Just like the plump, elderly man** that I used to watch bend a coin with bare hands or singlehandedly pull my father and ten other grown men.
Or the slender gentleman*** from the modest streets of Tripoli, running the entire distance from Melbourne to Sidney on barely an hour’s worth of sleep.
I always watched and heard of humble, unassuming people, who were hiding inside them an inexhaustible source of inconceivable strength and endurance, without ever looking impressive to the eye.
A healthy body is evident, and it inspires in practice.
Written by me
Translated to english by C.Polydorou
*Koutalianos was the surname of the first famous Greek strongman Panais Koutalianos. His surname became a slang term for strongmen.
** His stage name was Sampson, a legendary greek strongman who used to perform incredible feats of strenth in squares around Greece.
*** Yiannis Kouros still holds the best record on famous Spartathlon race. He is one of the most respected ultramarathon runners in the world.