Every morning, McCormick freshman Stephen Lenzini takes eight vitamins, including Resveratrol, green tea extract and vitamins B, E and D. He goes to SPAC, lifts weights and does leg presses for about an hour, after which he does situps and other abdominal workouts to finish out his routine. On days he doesn’t go to SPAC, he runs three miles around campus and Evanston. Whatever exercise he does, he always finishes it with a protein shake made from “whatever’s cheapest at the Vitamin Shoppe.”
Lenzini stands six-feet-one-inch tall, at 195 pounds, built with solid muscle from head-to-toe. He never skips his steadfast exercise routine, unless he feels sick. But he isn’t doing all this for any sports team, nor an athletic club on campus. He’s doing it for himself.
Lenzini is one of many members of the class of 2015 striving to make health and fitness a principal commitment at college.
For freshmen who are brand new to Northwestern, building confidence can be a difficult but important step in an environment that involves constantly meeting new people. For McCormick freshman Mihir Boddupalli, that’s one reason he’s made a habit out of weight training.
“I love to be able to see real improvements when I work out, and that’s what lifting does,” Boddupalli says. “From week to week you can see yourself getting stronger, and that’s a big confidence boost.” For freshmen, Boddupali said, gaining that confidence means “one less thing to worry about in a new environment.”
Lenzini agrees that one of the chief benefits of exercise is being able to show off the result of all the hard work that goes into it.
“You’re always meeting new people here, and you’re constantly struggling to maintain an image,” Lenzini says. “And people can be really judgmental.”
But working out for the sole sake of being more attractive, according to Lenzini, isn’t a strong enough reason to commit to exercise.
“People who work out just [to look good] tend not to continue very well—it’s not the best motivation,” Lenzini says. “It’s like being in a relationship just for sex—it’s all superficial, and it doesn’t last.”
No, for Lenzini, the real reason he dedicates so much of his life to fitness is simple: try as he might, he just can’t stop.
“I would compare [exercise] to an addiction, almost like a drug addiction—if you don’t do it, you’ll feel really down, and that’s a lot of what drives you,” Lenzini says. “On days I don’t work out, it’s kind of like a yearning, you feel really lazy…you feel like you should be doing something productive—it’s like guilt.” While the initial reason he decided to stick to such a steady regiment was out of pure concern for his own health, Lenzini says, “over time you forget about health and it just becomes all about filling that routine.”
That discipline, according to Jason Pullara, director of sports performance for Northwestern athletics, is a key component of staying healthy in college. But even those who have a steady routine can fall into a physical lull if they don’t constantly challenge themselves.
“The single biggest mistake I see among new freshmen is not having a plan—just doing the same thing every day,” Pullara says. “If you’re not changing up your routine and challenging your body, you won’t see any real improvement.”
But even for Boddupalli, seeing that improvement in his physique isn’t the only reason why he chooses to lift—he also uses the activity as a way to bond with new friends.
“[Lifting] is a very social activity,” Boddupalli says. “I do it with all my friends here—we’ll all meet up and go to Patten a lot—we’ve found it’s something that we all like to do together.”
One of those friends, McCormick freshman Brad Winters, felt like he wanted to feel and look better after falling behind on his exercise over the summer. But the real reason why so many new freshmen dedicate so much of their lives to fitness, Winters says, differs depending on who you ask. “The answer varies for everybody—some guys might do it because they want to get girls, or because they are really unhealthy and don’t want to get a disease later in life,” he says. “As for me, I just like knowing that I’m in good shape.”