What does Lifting look like at Caltech?
What does Lifting look like at Caltech?
Growing up, I was never very big. I have always been a skinny kid. I stopped growing in 8th grade, standing at 5’9” and 125 pounds. Those metrics didn’t change all throughout high school. My entire life, I believed that I simply could not put on muscle. I had tried lifting on multiple occasions, with almost no success. My metabolism and body type meant that even eating more calories than needed would result in almost no weight gain. While I certainly didn’t feel horrible about myself, I felt dissatisfied with a lack of results and what I felt was the bare minimum effort I was putting into my physique. In February 2022, I decided to make a major change to my lifestyle. Spurred by some recent emotional turmoil and a burning desire to improve myself, I started to take things seriously. I invested in protein powder, creatine, and pre-workout. I started going to the gym six days a week. I developed a workout plan and stuck to it, no matter what. Some older friends gave me pointers and helped me develop the best plan for me. Soon enough, I was helping other friends and going to the gym became a more social activity. I ate as much as I could, especially protein heavy foods. By the end of May, I weighed 150 pounds (still 5’9” unfortunately). The bulk was going well, and to this day I continue to work hard. Seeing all of this progress has only motivated me to keep pushing myself. I’ve grown to dread rest days as I’d often much rather be in the gym. Lifting is now an essential part of my lifestyle.
Along with the more noticeable physical changes, lifting has plenty of benefits and I would highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or just get some exercise in your life, lifting is for you. For me, lifting greatly improved my mental health. Getting stronger and feeling stronger greatly increased my confidence and bettered my self-perception. Exercise releases endorphins, which are basically happy chemicals, and few forms of exercise are better at doing this than weightlifting. The breakdown of muscle fibers combined with feelings of success and strength by completing a lift are perfect for improving your day. In my opinion, lifting is the most versatile and useful exercise. Who wouldn’t want to be stronger? It’s easy to learn and takes almost no skill. Outside of running (which works great in tandem with lifting for muscle building and weight loss), lifting is the most accessible and useful form of exercise.
While this may be great and all, being at Caltech can definitely complicate things. Time is valuable and the workload is rarely light. Fortunately, the gym hours during the weekdays are pretty forgiving. Almost all facilities are open from 8am to 10pm. Meaning, if your last class ends at 5, you have time to hit the gym for a couple of hours and then get dinner, or grab dinner, wait a bit, and then get a very solid workout in. On weekends, you’re going to have to be on top of things as everything closes at 6pm. This may mean you have to cut out some time with friends or time on your phone, but trust me when I say it’s all worth it. The athletic facilities are located in the very south of campus, meaning if you live in Avery or Bechtel it can take you a solid 10-15 minutes to get there walking. The location is probably the most annoying part, but hey at least you get some extra cardio in. The rest of the houses are much closer and have relatively convenient access. Lastly, I would say the facilities aren’t very busy at all. If you go during peak hours, which is roughly 4-6pm, it may get a little crowded, but I’ve never been unable to finish a workout due to too many people being around. If you’re really concerned about having a lot of other people around, I would recommend going earlier. The mornings are usually the best time, but after 8pm isn’t too bad either. The main indoor gym (known as Braun gym) is always going to be the busiest. It has plenty of free weights, barbells, racks, benches, cable machines, and machines. There are also loads of treadmills too. There’s a weight room by the sports teams locker rooms that has lots of dumbbells, a few racks and benches, a cable machine, and a few machines. I prefer this location when it isn’t too hot due to lower traffic. There’s no AC but there is a large fan, so it’s pretty bearable. Lastly, there’s “the barn,” a purely outdoor facility. It has lots of floor space and many racks with one or two benches. It has great structures for pullups and band exercises as well as lots of dumbbells. It also has my favorite cable machine. Unfortunately, there are no weight machines out there. I use all three locations on a regular basis. I do “pull, push, legs” (PPL) for my routine, so I pull in the barn, push in Braun, and do legs in the weight room. All three locations are pretty close together and it’s easy to move back and forth to do different exercises. Additionally, there are scales in each sports’ locker room, so you can track your progress when you go lift.
Here is a (somewhat low quality) picture of the Braun Gym weight room. About 75% of the room can be seen here. Behind the viewer is a couple racks of dumbbells, benches for barbells, and benches for free use.
While exercise and lifting is really important, the biggest factor in your bodily change is going to be your diet. Counting calories and macros (protein, carbohydrates, fat, etc) is often done by those very serious about their diet. “Cutting,” a practice done by those looking to maintain muscle mass while losing fat, often requires low fat foods with high protein. Overall, your daily caloric intake is going to be a bit less than what is needed to maintain your current weight. A daily cutting meal may look like: low-fat high protein yogurt and fruit in the morning (easily found in house kitchens and at Browne Cafe), Brown Cafe sushi for lunch, and a sandwich from Red Door Cafe for dinner. “Bulking” is done by those looking to gain mass, mostly muscle but additional fat mass is tolerated. A higher caloric intake than maintenance is needed. Protein and calorie heavy foods are of the utmost importance. A daily bulking meal may look like: high protein yogurt, peanut butter and fruit, and chocolate milk in the morning (house kitchen), Mongolian noodles with beef, chicken, or shrimp for lunch (Browne Cafe), and a cheeseburger with chicken tenders for dinner. Lastly, supplements are pretty easily obtained. There are stores like Target within relative walking distance. The shop at Red Door Cafe has things like energy drinks and protein bars. And of course, the mailing office allows for the easy shipment of things like protein powder, creatine, and pre-workout. I find the food options at Caltech to be somewhat limiting and things do get old after some time. As someone who was bulking, making the time to eat frequently enough and get the right food was a little difficult. Fortunately, Red Door Cafe is open until 2am, so grabbing a late night sandwich or protein bar before going to bed is really easy.
The outside of the exit of Red Door Cafe.
At the end of the day, you alone are in charge of your fitness journey. In my personal experience, being at Caltech has not really hindered any progress. I would even say it has even helped a little. It won’t be easy, but with consistency and perseverance you will see change. At Caltech you can find everything you need and everything you would normally encounter at home. It’s up to you to take advantage of it.