Autism and Fitness: A Match Made in Heaven

by Daniel Antonsson

As long as I can remember, I have always liked sports and being active. In school, I got the highest grade in physical education and I was prepared to do my best in every single class. Running, basketball, gymnastics, track and field and so on, it was all fun. But it was not until I was seventeen that I discovered my big passion for fitness in the form of bodybuilding and powerlifting. At the time, I practiced martial arts and was looking for a way to be stronger. I considered doing some strength training as a complement. I was already athletic and naturally strong for my weight, but I had only trained some strength. I had used my own body as resistance, push ups, pull ups, sit ups, and exercises like that.

I remember my first visit to a real gym and it was a real hardcore gym where a lot of powerlifters trained. I went there with a friend from high school that already trained there. They only played hard rock like AC/DC on high volume and people were there to train and be strong. When I compared myself with the guys training there I felt weak, but I loved it and it started my journey of building strength and size. What was meant to only be a complement
soon took over and became my main focus, leaving martial arts in the background. I still continued with martial arts for a couple of years, but after that I left it behind and never looked back. I liked the dedication that is needed to make good progress, to be focused and create routines that make strength training more of a lifestyle than a hobby. It was a perfect match for me.

Being Autistic, I love my special interests and powerlifting/bodybuilding became just that. There was so much that I could read about, including how to put together the optimal training plan, follow up the progress, and evaluate everything. It also included how to eat for best results, nutritional timing, best macros for building muscles, and so on. I made fast progress and I discovered that I had great genetics for being strong and putting on muscle despite having a small frame to build on. When other people around me had problems staying motivated and having the discipline to go to the gym, I just continued like a robot. To deviate from the goals that I had set up for myself was never an option; I wanted to give it my all.

For me, the problem was the opposite. When my body needed a break and rest, I did not listen. Even if I was sick with high fever, I trained because in my mind not going to the gym was a failure. Of course this was wrong, but I am just telling the truth about how I acted. Always training to a 100% is not beneficial, it actually wears you down and this was something that I had to learn the hard way. It took a hard toll on my body and further down the line, I had to pay the price and it led to my downfall. I had to stop training and burned out completely, but that is another story.

To be really strong, you have to believe in your heart that it is possible to lift those high numbers on the bar. If you don’́t you will fail, simple as that. I trained naturally without taking any steroids, but I wanted to be healthy and I focused on accomplishing the absolute best that I could without going down a route that could be dangerous for my health. I became stronger than most of those who took steroids, so it is possible to achieve a high level of strength naturally. Don’t let people make you believe something else. I don’t say that it is easy; it takes a lot of time and good genetics.

After 7 years of training, I had increased my strength by around 300% in most exercises. I trained for more than strength; it was a combination of building muscle and being as strong at the same time. For those of you out there who are curious and maybe looking into lifting yourself, these numbers are made raw/unequipped: bench press 6 repetitions on 375 pounds, squats 5 repetitions on 529 pounds, and seated military press 5 repetitions on 287 pounds.

I was proud of the results that I had made, but it was a way of life and an identity. A long walk from the beginning, where I looked at the strong guys in the gym hoping that I one day could do something similar. To be honest, I did not only want to do something similar. I wanted to achieve something better. In the end, I think that the best approach is to just strive to be the best version of yourself. We are all different and our conditions vary greatly from person to person. If you know that you have done your best, no matter what aspects of life we are talking about, you should be content and satisfied.

Daniel Antonsson is a 43 year old Autistic man living in Sweden with his Venezuelan girlfriend and four year old daughter. He has always enjoyed writing about different subjects and being able to publish for the Art of Autism make him feel truly blessed.

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