What Does it Mean to You to be a Swole.Catholic? – Nick
Nick Jobe: Cincinnati, Ohio - Outpost
When I joined the marching band in high school, everybody knew who I was. Not by name, but by stature. I was a tuba player, and even before I joined, the entire low brass section (tubas and baritones) had had a tradition of being “fat” and proud of it. So at 5 feet, 10 inches tall, barely 140 pounds, I instantly became known as “the skinny tuba.” I could fit inside my own tuba case (and I may or may not have been stuffed in there occasionally as a joke). My high metabolism and nonstop physical activity helped keep me thin, but I always envied guys on our school’s sportsball teams for their bulging biceps and pecs. I may have been strong enough to carry and play a tuba around a football field for two hours a day, but I didn’t just want to be strong – I wanted to look strong.
Unfortunately the band kids didn’t get to use the school’s weight room like all the sportsball players, and I didn’t have anywhere else I could go. So by the time I entered college I was still pretty much the shape of a toothpick. I started lifting weights at the gym, alone, wondering if I was doing it right, and convincing myself everyone was staring at me and judging me for how scrawny I was. That didn’t last long, as my own self-doubt and paranoia prevented me from developing a regular routine at the gym. Then I got frustrated that I wasn’t seeing any “gains” and so I stopped going altogether. I bought a copy of P90X so I could work out in my dorm room, and I pushed myself to total physical exhaustion trying to get bigger with hundreds of push-ups, resistance bands tied around a bedpost, and sprinting in place like a lunatic. (Do you know how crazy it is to try to use cardio and HIIT to bulk up? I didn’t.)
Finally, I found a book called Fit for Eternal Life! by Kevin Vost. It had a no-nonsense discussion of the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise; some example workout routines to get started; how to avoid bad form and over-training; and more. But most importantly for me, it talked about virtue. Until that point, I don’t think I had ever made the connection that physical fitness can and should be intimately connected with spiritual fitness. I didn’t realize that building muscle can build virtue, and vice-versa. In a way, reading that book was my “lightbulb” moment that made 1 Corinthians 6:19 real for me: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
“physical fitness can and should be intimately connected with spiritual fitness”
I began to question all my motivations for working out. Who was I trying to impress? Because that’s what I realized it had been about all along. I had been trying to impress other people. It wasn’t really about strength – it was about the appearance of strength. Isn’t that just like going to Mass on Sunday and living a sinful life the other six days a week? It’s putting up the appearance of a holy life without actually being holy.
What I was doing to my body by this point was the physical equivalent of cranking out dozens of rosaries in a single day and wondering why I couldn’t bilocate yet. Somewhere along the way, I had picked up the confused idea that perfection, which Christ tells us we should strive for (Matthew 5:48), meant doing everything as hard and gritty as possible without ever taking a break. But this isn’t virtuous – in fact, it’s vicious, actually “full of vice.” Almost every virtue can be taken to excess, and when it is, it becomes a vice. As Aristotle tells us, “Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.”
“Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.”
I wasn’t living virtuously in my approach to physical fitness. I had been taking the virtue of discipline to excess, twisting it into the vice of obsession. This had profound effects on my spiritual fitness, too. I was experiencing a lot of spiritual dryness, and I thought I could overcome it by throwing myself into daily Mass, frequent rosaries, and the Liturgy of the Hours. These things aren’t bad in themselves, like cardio and HIIT aren’t bad in themselves, but I was using them obsessively, as if just doing them enough would make me the perfect Catholic.
I realized that if virtue exists between a deficient vice on one side and an excessive vice on the other, then I wanted to be in the middle. I wasn’t doing myself any favors by taking things to the extreme. I checked my selfish motivations at the door, and I started focusing instead on being strong for the sake of others – to help my parents as they get older, to come to the aid of people in need, to protect my future wife and children. I started incorporating other activities into my routine, getting back into weightlifting, becoming more moderate with my food intake (I had been restricting myself to as little as 1400 calories a day at one point), and resting after workouts. I started to enjoy exercise, instead of dreading it like the death march it had once been for me. I started to pray during workouts. And I finally started to see gains.
“A life without virtue is an empty life.”
This is what being a “Swole.Catholic” means to me. A life without virtue is an empty life. Virtue, on the other hand – which leads us to holiness and to union with the Almighty – helps us live our life to the fullest. And a full life is a “swole” life. Whatever you choose to do to work on your physical fitness – weightlifting, running, sportsball, wrestling, dancing, swimming, cycling, OCR, TRX – don’t forget to take God along with you for the journey. Work on your spiritual fitness, too. Be virtuous. Be a Swole.Catholic.
Nick is a 2012 graduate of Wright State University and currently works as an administrator at a Catholic seminary in the Midwest. He’s also the founder and craftsman behind Our Lady’s Armory (olarmory.com), an online store selling sturdy handmade rosaries and other unique Catholic gifts for men. He’s a passionate “convert” to the mission of Swole.Catholic as a way of building virtue and growing in fitness both physically and spiritually. His top three favorite fitness activities are Spartan races, rucking, and weightlifting. When he’s not working or working out, Nick loves drinking coffee out of kettlebells and reading the Summa.