Image from a public domain comic book depicting a muscle bound man pulling a train by a chain!

As an avid weightlifter for many years, it was inevitable that I’d devote a section about my favourite pastime in my book, Stuttering is Cool: A Guide to Stuttering in a Fast-Talking World. In my book, I explain how growing stronger from bodybuilding also created a general improvement in my overall happiness. When I became bigger and stronger, I felt more confident, I felt more capable when helping others out through manual labour, my clothes fit me better, and my posture also improved.

Strong in body

I also liked what I saw in the mirror. However, what I feel that is most important is how being stronger also made me feel in tune with my body. By taking care of my body and keeping it fit, my body supported me. As I started feeling like a Marvel superhero, my body became my sidekick.

When I am out of the gym for long periods of time due to illness or injury, I start to feel out of touch with my body. My muscles soften, I feel weaker, and then begin to feel uncomfortable. Not myself. Definitely not the kinds of feelings someone who has to deal with stuttering on a daily basis needs more of.

So I definitely strive to keep my workouts and nutrition consistent. The feelings of strength, having better posture, etc., and making use of my body to its full potential always lead me to an overall feeling of being at ease and feeling like I can accomplish any task. As you can imagine, these can play a huge role when dealing with stuttering.

Strong in mind

Sticking with your workouts and sweating it out in the gym also develops your mind — your mental resilience (or what I like to refer to as mental toughness).

This happens to me all the time. I’m lifting a heavy weight, I’m tired and sweaty. All I want to do is give up because then I’d feel no pain. But I carry on despite my mind trying to make me give up. I came to the gym for a reason. To accomplish a goal. If I give up, I’ve wasted my time.

It’s tough and I’m the only one to answer to. I’ve walked out of the gym feeling defeated each time I gave up. And then I start to feel discouraged and unmotivated. Each time that I don’t give up, I walk away feeling better. Accomplished. I’ve made something happen of my own doing.

As you can see, the gym is a great place to achieve goals and break personal records. But only with consistency, discipline, and sacrifice. And patience and humility (building up your body and mind requires baby steps along with a few expected setbacks).

While these can be difficult to stick to, once you achieve your gym goals and discover what you are indeed capable of accomplishing when it comes to adversity, you will begin to carry that resilience in other areas of your life.

I’ve noticed this happening at my full time job, my side business, and areas in my personal life. In fact, many times I’ve even found myself using the gym as an analogy when dealing with large goals.

Strong in spirit

As a practising Catholic, I do experience a spiritual side to bodybuilding. I won’t get into the theology as its beyond this post, but even if you’re not religious, I’m sure you can appreciate the benefits of having a holistic view towards becoming the best that you can be with what nature gave you and your faculties (mind, body, spirit). And using that best version of yourself to serve others.

There’s an inner strength that we all have inside of ourselves that we have at our disposal. We need to consistently take good care of it as well as develop it further for when we need to utilise it. Be it for physical strength or mental resilience to that of a communication disorder.

Let’s hear from a few of my friends. I’ve asked a few friends of mine who also lift to share their thoughts on how lifting weights helped them.

Jazz Penney, roller derby, binge watcher, and student

I started going to the gym my third year of college; once I got past the anxiety of having people watch me work out, it was perfectly fine. Over time, I developed quite the passion for working out, but not just your typical cardio training. I wanted to sweat. I wanted to feel strong and feel in control of something because, as people who stutter know, having a stutter is something we cannot control. Having that sense of control when lifting a set of weights or doing interval training was an amazing feeling and, I have to say, I became hooked quite quickly.

I soon realized that my mood lifted every time I would go to the gym; I would go and work out for an hour, giving it everything I had (especially after a really hard day) and then I would feel so much better when I went home. I know working out helps alleviate moods, but being able to feel that first hand was an amazing feeling. I then realized that whenever I was having a tough time with my fluency I would resort back to the gym; it became a constant thing. I would go, workout for an hour by doing some cardio and strength training, and go home feeling so much lighter, mind-wise, than I did when I walked in. I noticed that I would feel better about myself when I would speak to someone and I stuttered; instead of feeling insecure and wanting to hide away, I felt okay with the fact that I stuttered and just carried on with the conversation. You can also say that I felt a sense of acceptance.

“Working out does that for you?” Some people have asked me that and it’s true – working out and lifting weights has helped me be able to feel better about myself and my confidence; not just how I feel about how I look on the outside, but how I feel on the inside and how I feel about myself as a whole. Some people don’t understand that not being able to have control over how fluent you are is one of the most frustrating feelings, so finding something that helps to alleviate some built up anxiousness or anger helps to relax.

I am grateful for the gym and the other high intensity extracurricular activities that I do; I feel that I have found myself and have found what coping strategies work the best for me. Being able to lift some of that weight of self hate and frustration is a good start to being able to accept myself for who I am, stutter or no stutter.

Zachary Sterkel, oil and gas guy, maker of cheesecakes

Maintaining a consistent work-out routine hasn’t helped my stutter in any direct way. However, it does punctuate my body language as well as bolster my confidence. I’ve always been a firm believer in expressing positive body language. The benefits of this range from being able to maintain control over a situation to putting others at ease with your stutter. Simply put, if you express negative body language, others pick up on it. If they feel you are uneasy with yourself, they will feel uneasy too. And you will ultimately begin to lose control.

The confidence boost just compounds this. I turn heads now and receive my fair share of compliments. The boost in confidence and ability to express body language is a win/win combination.

Lisa Brown, owner of a real estate brokerage, tattoo enthusiast, philanthropist

I’ve always maintained a minimal level of fitness, but last summer I started lifting heavier and daily; I was in the best shape of my life.  I had gained 7 pounds of pure muscle and dropped my body fat to 19%.  I’m what one would call a “covert stutterer”, if I spoke more, people would really notice that I stutter.

I’ve always had a poor self-image and a very low confidence level– it’s almost impossible for me  to make small talk, make new friends or ask questions. But being slightly muscle-bound really boosted my confidence level. Not only because others seemed to perceive me differently when I was noticeably physically fit, but because I had accomplished something many people dream of. Most would kill to have a tight body but just won’t get up off of their butt to work for it.

I’ve since fallen off the weight-lifting-wagon, but I am not too far gone. I’m looking forward to getting back to it.

Alexander Burday, MS, CCC-SLP

My relationship with fitness evolved over the last 8 years. I started lifting in my Freshman year in college where I was living in a suite with five other guys who regularly weight trained. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked on lifting weights so I was in the gym 4-5 days per week doing cardio, training abs, training the major muscle groups, but with no particular goals in mind other than to “look good”. The thing that kept me motivated was quickly seeing how my body was responding to the training.

The notion that I could step out of my comfort zone and try something new, even without a lot of confidence and knowledge, just having a group of people to do something with, was encouraging and motivating.

Getting through school with good grades, learning more about who I was and what I wanted out of my collegiate experience began to be a really challenging thing. I had some issues with relationships and dating, lack of confidence and social anxiety made these things really tough for me, and a lot of it was related to my stuttering.

When I look at my transformation and my growth over the last 8 years, the other people I’ve met through weight training and conversations I’ve had, I’ve realized a number of key things.

If you do something just to do it, you’ll improve and you’ll grow– but without a plan it doesn’t seem as meaningful. I find that ego can get in the way and prevent us from focusing on weak areas of the body. For me it’s always been my chest. I have very long arms and naturally at a disadvantage for building a bodybuilders physique. I can’t necessarily do all of the things that shorter limbed people do. I don’t use this as an excuse, but a lot of bodybuilders tend to be on the shorter side, so as a result, a lot of the training information that is available is going to be more applicable for those people. I’ve learned that I need to ok with taking my own path and mixing up the pot. I don’t just train with one style. I’ve incorporated classic bodybuilding techniques, high intensity interval training, German volume training, calisthenics, crossfit, yoga, and Pilates into my regiment. It’s good to get to know yourself and your body and to be open to new concepts and new ideas even if they are foreign to you, or uncomfortable and challenging at first.

This has also been a monumental game changer as a person who stutters and as a speech-language pathologist. I’m a countywide consultant for the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada and I find that many other therapists when working with people who stutter feel that they have such little control over helping their clients/students. The information available for helping individuals who stutter become more effective communicators has grown and developed over the recent decades, but the application of it seems to be very challenging for many therapists and clients alike. It feels to me that people are expecting to have to follow a certain plan of action and therefore have to achieve a certain type or quantitative type of result.

The connection between the two areas of bodybuilding and stuttering seems to me that we all need to be honest with ourselves. We need to understand that we have control of the situation. We don’t get a fantastic physique just because we want one, and we don’t just become more effective communicators just because we have good intentions. We owe it to ourselves to be as knowledgeable about what our options are and ways to attack the issue rather than following a pre-written and predetermined path. Once we’ve allowed ourselves to accept that change is constant, yet inconsistent, and happens over long periods of times the easier it was for me specifically to feel comfortable with trusting the process before giving up on something, or assuming that it’s not working.

Similarly, it’s important to have goals, goals that are achievable, and goals that will lead to bigger goals. The more in touch we are with ourselves the more opportunities we have to persevere and to succeed. Similarly, if I am OK with looking at my weak areas as a communicator then I am more easily able to experiment and problem solve ways to improve.

I’ve accomplished a variety of goals for myself with respect to my communication just by being more open and honest with myself. From reducing secondary behaviors, focusing on not having to push through moments of blocking, and realizing that even I do it, it’s okay!

There any many things that I needed to look at from different vantage points and different perspectives. Just living in the moment wasn’t always enough. Sometimes watching a recording of myself speaking, listening to a voicemail I left, talking to other people about my stuttering, voluntarily stuttering and advertising. All of these things are my different tools and strategies that I have at my disposal if and when I feel that I need them.

The most exciting thing for me is that I know that even when I have a day where I didn’t train my hardest because I felt sore, or tired, or unmotivated etc. the fact that I still went and put in the effort, means that I made a difference. It’s ideal to give 100% all the time, but for most people that’s a tough task to accomplish, and making the effort and giving yourself the opportunity to succeed shows true strength. Even on days when my speech is out of whack and I’m feeling tense, or feel like I’m having unproductive thoughts, the fact that I continue to speak and communicate, and continue to advocate for people who stutter around the world means that a difference has been made.

It’s a journey and a process.