In relentless pursuit of results
Torben Ponsaing is a big man. He has no need for tailor’s tricks like shoulder pads to fill out his suits. The white shirt lies smooth against a bulging chest – and not a bulging pot belly, as is often the case with men in their forties. The big paw I shook earlier is nicely calloused, but it’s also been subjected to a bit more than the usual office work, because this SDC department manager has been pumping iron for the last 26 years. And the experiences he has gained in cultivating his passion serve him well in his work.
Meditative muscle building
”I relentlessly pursue results. The fact that I am so result-oriented is clearly connected to my bodybuilding,” says Torben Ponsaing.
And you believe him. His finely sculpted frame is tangible evidence of his perseverance.
For some readers it would be almost an achievement in itself to have stuck with bodybuilding for 26 years. But for Torben Ponsaing, the thousands of hours spent with heavy free weights, the countless repetitions and the ascetic lifestyle aren’t just about building the perfect body. Over time, his training has become a form of meditation.
”When I am bodybuilding I am enclosed in my own little universe where I concentrate only on lifting this dumbbell or that free weight. I can do the same thing in my professional life, and it takes a lot to shake my focus,” he explains.
The meditative effect that Torben Ponsaing experiences in the gym also means that he can stay calm when a crisis arises in the office:
”There can be commotion all around me but I can still sit down and concentrate 110% on the task at hand. And if people come see me and start yelling, I have no problem talking them down and regaining control of the situation.”
For many years the department manager sweated it out at the gym for several hours a day, but today Torben Ponsaing works out intensively for 30 minutes in the morning three times a week. Thirty minutes of freedom and space that allows him to unwind before a hard day.
”Working out still gives me a kick. When I’m standing in the shower afterwards I feel a calm clarity that I can’t get from anything else. It’s brilliant,” he says with emphasis.
Testosterone and doping
After playing football for a few years, the teenage Torben Ponsaing had the urge to try something new – something he wasn’t just doing because all his friends were doing it. Something that was all his own. One of his colleagues was into bodybuilding, and after finding out a bit more, Torben decided to try it for himself.
”I needed to find an identity. My niche happened to be bodybuilding, and I had a talent for it. The muscle building aspect occurred relatively quickly, which provided me with more and more motivation to keep at it.”
He trained in a bodybuilding centre, a place where sweat was running down the walls, the talk was tough, and it was all about who had the biggest biceps. Torben Ponsaing enjoyed every minute, and his training was so successful that he considered entering competitions. A goal that demanded focused training several times a day and a precisely tailored diet – as well as hormone supplements. According to Torben Ponsaing, you couldn’t enter competitions back then unless you took hormones. Everyone was doing it. But he had seen the effect that hormones had had on his training buddies’ moods, and he didn’t want to subject himself to that.
”But it was also difficult to train with someone who could put on 10 kg of pure muscle in just two months – something that would normally take three-four years of solid training. So I really thought long and hard about it.”
At that point he had begun his civil engineering studies, and that was what saved him. There weren’t enough hours in the day for both his competition training and his studies.
The improvements to his physique and his self-esteem were the reasons why Torben Ponsaing continued weightlifting even after putting his competition dreams on the shelf.
”I identified with the sport and it transformed me. I might as well admit it.”
There was another significant advantage to having a well-trained body of a certain size. An advantage he still experiences. He gets respect.
”When I walk the halls people almost step aside to let me pass. When I enter a room, people look twice at me. And when I talk, people listen. Men are funny; they compare themselves to each other on the basis of size – and being the biggest man commands respect.”
Interestingly enough, Torben Ponsaing used to dislike being noticed. But he has no problem with it today. Which is why he has become less concerned with the prejudices people have about bodybuilding. As if all men with big muscles must be taking hormones. Even though he briefly considered it when he was younger, it isn’t a path he has looked at since then.
”If people are skeptical I am happy to explain things to them. This is a simple sport; I pursue it as a passion the way that other people golf or run, but it just happens to give me bigger muscles.”
In the 26 years that Torben Ponsaing has been bodybuilding, he has taken only one month off from his training. He knows that his colleagues respect his perseverance and dedication – and that they wish that they could do the same. Several of his colleagues have been inspired to pick up weights themselves, and have asked Torben for his advice.
”A lot of them ask for diet advice or want me to design a training programme for them. Looking back, it was fun, but they don’t really want to follow my advice. So I lose interest in helping.”
Because the department manager expects as much from those around him as he does from himself. In his professional life as well. If an employee isn’t doing a good job, he asks them to consider whether they can do better.
”Bodybuilding has made me a perfectionist about my body, and I have also become a perfectionist about my work.”
His perfectionism was once something of a challenge for the bodybuilder. He would keep on working on an analysis or pre-sentation in order to make it just perfect. He outgrew this bad habit after becoming a manager.
”I am always available to my employees and no longer have the option of taking an entire day to delve into details. Now projects are delivered when they are in reasonable shape.”
Training as religion
But his passion for bodybuilding isn’t a straight ’feel good’ story. At times, it has taken up a great deal of space in Torben Ponsaing’s life, and it came as a surprise that his sport could end up running his life the way it did.
”My training became my religion. It ruled my life and was critical to whether I felt balanced, and whether my mood was good or bad.”
His muscle measurements were his benchmarks. Bigger was better, and he didn’t listen when friends and family told him he was well-proportioned and did not need to grow any more.
”All I thought about was bulking out my muscles – I wasn’t even looking at my proportions. If my bicep was twice as big, that was twice as good.”
For 15 years, the seasoned bodybuilder scheduled his life to include 5-6 meals a day, fixed rest periods and fixed bedtimes. A highly organized life. But looking back, Torben Ponsaing views this time in his life as positive. He had lots of self-esteem and a feeling of having created a super-strong body and the ability to do almost anything. But when he hit his mid-thirties, Torben Ponsaing began to see that there was more to life than bodybuilding.
”Other values are more important now. I have started a family, and as a manager my job takes up more of my time. With just 24 hours in a day and a 10 hour working day, there’s a limit to how much bodybuilding I can do now.”