Sunday 18 February 2018

'It can be quite dangerous. You can end up not liking yourself very much'- Power-bodybuilder Mark Higgins (25)

Mark Higgins (25) began training for power-lifting competitions when he was 16 and says the sport has its positives and negatives but balance is the key. After a three-month break he is now training to compete in the autumn.

Mark Higgins is a competitive power-bodybuilder
Mark Higgins is a competitive power-bodybuilder

I began training at 16 to get me more active on the advice of my GP who said I was overweight.

I was surprised to find that training came easy to me. I began to see my body transform and it became a bit of an obsession. All my self confidence started to become wrapped up in it. Girls who would never have looked at me before began to pay attention, but they weren’t really concerned about my personality. You almost don’t have to develop one.

Social media was just kicking off at that point and strangers were liking and commenting on my photos and that built my confidence. There were also a very vocal minority that were leaving negative comments, which were at times difficult to handle. It is hard to understand the mentality of someone like that.

When I was in the gym when I was 17 I was bench pressing 70kg and a local power lifter asked me if I had ever thought about competing. My first ever competition was in Galway and I set a world record without much training.

It’s often a traumatic thing that sort of makes you look inwards at yourself and reassess. When things are going really well you don’t step back and look at yourself.

For me, I realised that two of my two failed relationships had been influenced by the sport. When you’re training it’s very easy to let the gym consume you, and just focus on one thing. You can be in a relationship but not really be there and that’s what I think happened. One girl I was seeing was also quite into the gym and it kind of happened that we were forfeiting things that you do in relationships ahead of competitions. Obviously there are other components to break-ups and it’s easy to blame the other person but you have to look inwards and try and figure out what went wrong.

Read more: ‘I want to be the best I can be and nothing will get in my way’: Meet Ireland's youngest bodybuilders

I was sponsored by an international supplement brand ahead of my first show at age 20, and that made me put unnecessary pressure on myself. I never was paid as part of the arrangement, but I did get free supplements. Once a month I had to make appearances in branded clothes and that became a bit overwhelming. Now I work with an Irish company. It’s a lot more comfortable of an arrangement as I don’t feel they would ever comment on how I was looking, although I still feel a strive to look my best.

I don’t think age goes hand-in-hand with your ability to cope with the sport but for me, a lot of my self worth became wrapped up in it. It can be quite a dangerous thing. You can end up not liking yourself very much.

To this day I don’t take my top off on the beach or anything because when I’m not in the best shape, I think people are thinking what happened there, or if I am in great shape I feel people think I’m showing off.

Bodybuilding has been the best and worse thing I have done in many different ways.

For instance, it has taught me the science of discipline. When you’re capable of sticking to such a strict eating and training regime, studying is almost easy then. Before I began bodybuilding I would have been a C student, whereas now I’m an A student.

I feel as though my attitude to the gym has changed since I first began. It would never affect a relationship again. It can be hard in that if you do meet a girl, you just have to say, look we can’t go out for dinner and in the cinema I can’t have popcorn but you certainly can. Being involved with someone else who is competing can be worse again, because you end up never doing anything normal.

I wouldn’t change a thing about what I’ve done and what I’ve gone through because it’s made me who I am. It makes me better able to lend advice to young people getting involved in the sport. Psychologists comment on the mental impact of the sport without ever having gone through it and I think I’d value the advice of someone who had been there and done it.

At 16 years of age I don’t think anyone really knows what they’re doing but I think with the right support and outlook it is healthy.

Now I just look at the gym and competition as something I do and a hobby and I think I’ve been successful in finding that life balance.

You can follow Mark on Instagram @BluntForceMark or contact him on Twitter @BluntForceMark

*In conversation with Patricia Murphy

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