Monday, June 29, 2015

Better Back Then Part 3

It seems to me that it was a very short time ago when I began training with weights, but it was almost forty years ago. There have been some memories packed into all those years.

 As a little kid, I used to roll the small weight set from under my Dad's bed, do some curls and then put it back before he saw me. He thought it would stunt my growth. A lot of people thought that way in the 1970's. 

My first memory of seeing people train was when I used to roam the basement of Cole Field House at the University Of Maryland. My Father's office was down there and that's where I would hang out in the summer. I couldn't have been more than six or seven at the time. There was a gym, a dark and dank gym, down some steps at the end of a long corridor in the basement. The door would be open and I would peak in. Huge guys were in there doing squats and chin-ups and benches. They had sweatpants on or jeans and had their wrists taped with white athletic tape. They would look up, see me there, and then get back to their sets. That place scared the crap outta me. It was so strange back then to lift weights. I mean, nobody lifted weights back then, but I was drawn to it for some reason, maybe the secrecy of it all appealed to me, I don't know.

 And then a few years later, I would go to the Maryland Football weight room and watch the players lift. Intensity! And you know what? There wasn't a coach in there. They had a program to do, written on the wall. They surely did not need a coach to motivate them. They were pushing each other, exhorting each other on, heaving 120 pound dumbbells for curls, benching 315 and up for reps. Mike Mentzer trained there when he was in town. I watched him do seated behind the neck presses while straddling a flat bench. He was not using as much weight as the players, but he was working hard, seriously hard. "C'mon Mike!" the players were yelling. And then he finished his set and walked over to the water fountain. I was in his way. "Excuse me," he said, politely. I glanced at his forearms. They were so vascular that it looked like they had a hundred green snakes running up and down them. He was short, but thick as hell. Another time I was there to watch the players lift and this huge guy was doing barbell cheat curls with 225 pounds. He had a crib in there with his young son watching him also. It didn't strike me as odd. I just figured that he had to babysit and he also needed to get his lift in for the day. 


No internet to look up stuff back then so I would just go to gyms and talk to people. I went to Dynamo Barbell  in College Park, Maryland and watched the weight lifters train. Now that was weird. I had never seen a clean or  snatch performed before. I was in 9th or 10th grade. One of the guys asked me about the programs that we were doing in high school. I told him a few weeks of 8 reps, a few weeks of 6 reps, a few weeks of 4 reps.... He laughed and told his buddy what we were doing. He laughed also. You need to do a lot of doubles and triples, he said, and then went back to cleaning and snatching. I was too shy to ask any questions about his advice and he wasn't volunteering a whole bunch of information. I do know that I wasn't impressed by the way he looked. I like the Mentzer look at the time. I still do, I reckon. 

I watched the Barbarian Brothers lift at Gold's Gym in Wheaton , Maryland, and also went to one of their seminars where they extolled the virtues of milk and training as often as you can and eating what you want and taking amino acid tablets that looked like horse pills. They were cool as hell and they misspelled Barbarian on my signed picture. " Barbrian" was what he wrote. But of course, I didn't care. They were huge and strong as hell.

I saw Tom Platz in seminar. Legs were nuts. Super guy. Very Zen in his approach to training. Spiritual almost in his reverence of the rituals of the workout and of the workout itself. He spoke lovingly of performing dumbbell curls and how he lost himself in them when he was executing the movement. And then he pulled down his pants and flexed his legs. I have never seen anything like those legs. Paper thin. Cross striations. Crazy.

I used to call up some of the top lifters in the area and just bullshit with them. Ask them how they trained, how they ate, about their supplements. All of them, to a man, were giving of their time. 

I remember visiting a Gold's Gym in the area one time and I noticed this teenager on the lat pulldown machine. He was wearing a cutoff sweatshirt and you could see that he was ripped up by the definition in his forearms and the sunken look of his cheeks. He would perform a set of some high reps lat pulls to behind his head, and then when the set was over, he'd take a swig from a gallon milk jug filled with what looked like lemonade. He'd never get up from the seat, just do a set, take a swig. I asked my friend who was working there at the time what was going on with the lifter and he explained that the kid had just won a local show but that he wasn't defined enough and that the Junior Nationals was coming up in a week. So in order to get more ripped, he was living on Lemonade Crystal Light and amino's. "That's it?" I asked. "Yup, so he only has enough energy to just sit there and do his sets." Do a set, take a swig. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fortitude, A Book, Randomness

When it comes down to it, the nitty gritty , the nuts and bolts of the whole damn thing, when taking into account all of the fake training protocols out there, it all always comes back to one thing: Being true to yourself. 

Do you squat deep enough? No? You can do it. You just have to face that feeling. That head pressure, ears exploding, eyes bulging, pressure everywhere, feeling bottom of a squat.  
Because it is a test. A test of your intestinal fortitude.  Sorting out the also-rans and the champs and the "always bettering themselves" and the "exaggerated lat syndrome dudes".

All of that stuff can be learned with just pushing through it all a few times. And then you will see the growth and you can measure it by seeing more weight on the bar. 

Great book, nutty book, profane beyond belief book, laugh out loud book, 

At Night She Cries, While He Rides His Steed

By Ross Patterson 

is a must read book if you have a crazy, un PC, fun loving sense of humor. That book really
made me laugh.

Do not worry about your training if it is random.  Did the GOD'S of training declare that you must work this and this body part on this and this sacred day? And that each body part must be worked only so many times in a 7 day period? Who says? Do what you want in training. 

Follow your instincts and have a good time. Because there are no rules. People are just guessing. The Bulgarians or the Russians? Louie or Ed Coan? FMS or A coaches eye? Latest science or anecdotal? All are filled with some conjecture. Because new stuff comes along everyday in terms of research. 

But I do know that life in the old days, lets say, 1940 and before, was pretty damn random with what it would throw at you. Lots of farmers. And if you worked on a farm, you were milking cows, shoveling crap, bailing hay. And before that , you were hunting, foraging, sleeping, messing about. And before that, you were hunting, procreating, scavenging.... So since nobody really knows a damn thing, do what you want, what you feel in the weight room.. No rules. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Just thinking about something.

That YOU can do it, that no matter how bad it is with your weight or strength or whatever is holding you back, messing you up,  and wondering about yourself, questioning all of your discipline, hating yourself in the morning. 

MAN! Don't worry about it. It is all okay, all gonna work out. You can do it with just a little action.

You ever had those days where the cruelness and unkindness and the politicians and the media and the politicians and the traffic and the cell phone and the politicians and social media and all that BS feels like it's closing in? Makes you question the very existence of every damn thing? Where you look at people and everyone seems like they are from another planet? Where you can't believe that folks just don't get it, where everyone is shallow and soft and dumb and are breathing your air for no reason? Where death and life are the same and Hemingway and Bukowski and Mailer and all the damn good authors are dead and it pisses you off? That you actually think of them when you are lying in bed in the morning? And why you signed a contract with a publishing company and they lied to you? Maybe that one was just me. Anyway, ever had a day like any of the aforementioned days?

Guess what you need to do? 

Train anyway. Today was one of those days for me. The sky too gray, the  world too much.

So I got on the bike. Four Thirty AM. No, I didn't want to get on the bike. I wanted to eat cake and drink beer.  But I had done the bike many times when I didn't feel like doing it, and I had done it  for two hours a day when I was eating 300 calories a day for weeks at a time. And I thought of that time. So I just kept pedaling, and I watched TV and everything pissed me off, but I just kept pedaling. Thirty minutes done, fueled by anger.

Then I thought, well, I lifted yesterday so today is really a day off, and the knee is clicking and locks up,  and this goes on and on in my head and then! the little voice speaks...talks in the ear, whispering, the devil that calls you out...the message is clear, Harden up.  HARDEN UP! 

SO maybe instead of resisting it, and being a punk, I should squat. So I did.

 And then I broke a sweat and voila! I forgot about all the bullshit, because I was squatting, and you have to be focused and right on it when you are squatting!

 And lo and behold, the skies opened up and the world was okay again, and I did shrugs and dips, and cable rows and swiss bar curls. And kicked the bag and punched and drenched in sweat I felt damn good. I took almost no rest at all, and the heart rate was up and the goal was there just to reach for the burning and push beyond it.

What was I so worried about?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Let It Go

Park your soul and step outside.

Replenish your being with

vices of youth.

Fear not

the consequences.

Do what you want

Do what you will,

worry will not chase you,

Trouble is far, far away.

Conger the images of all the first times and go

there again.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

All That Is Meant To Be

I am just sitting here, thinking, listening to Willie and Billy Joe Shavers and maybe some old Charlie Daniel's Band and I am  thinking.

Woods and water, old dogs and favorite shotguns.

Time on the water, on the Chesapeake, the magical Bay.

Snake hunting, trout fishing, beware of the Snapping Turtles deep in the swimming hole. "That's My Job" by Conway Twitty and tears of what is inevitable.

It is a sad state when the closest neighbor is way too close, not supposed to be this way. Build it up? It will all get torn down.

Look right in front of you and see the future.

but the brilliant ones, the all knowing, see beyond the first look.

Your ego will die with you, your false self esteem means nothing because YOU mean nothing.

Leave it all in puddles on the floor.  Leave it all above it all.

Delineate freely the good and the bad, separate only the Uberman and the Superficial.

They will soon go. If the great scroll is left with us telling of the history of it all, it will be written of all of the Great Ones, the one's whose potential has been reached in intellect and physical power.

Emptiness is no literature , no art, no Hemingway.

Fulfillment is the fight , the gun, the kiss, the knowledge, the history, the great authors and scientists, the end of the nights, all of the lonely nights, with the curtains flapping , bringing in all of the Eastern Shore breeze, talking to you and your soul and talking to you about the way that all is meant to be.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


No question that beginning weight trainers must spend most of their time performing the basic lifts. You must get that total tonnage behind you. Lots of doubles and fives and back off sets of higher reps and squats and deads and presses and benches. Don't forget bent over rows and dips and chins. Performing sets after set of volume training with heavy weights simply works. Its not pumping, not sarcoplasmic hypertrophy or mitochondrial enhancement,  but true fiber size and tendon strength that lasts. Like the Franco look? That's what it produces. Or Kaz. Or Poundstone.

But! Lets say you aren't just into lifting, that you are training for sports, and most of your year is spent doing the tried and true volume training, but you are just done with the season and you want something different. Or lets say that you have been training and competing in lifting for years and you still want to train, train for LIFE, and you need something that combines lifting and conditioning and some boxing and martial arts and stuff that is short and sweet but gets that heart rate up , pushes the anaerobic threshold to to the point of nausea at times. Or maybe you are just pissed off and you wanna lift shit hard and fast but you don't have time to calculate percentages, you just wanna grab it and go. And yes, you can do it all of this type of training with the Olympic lifts, but I don't recommend it because form breaks down pretty hard when you get fatigued, but ya know, if you want to do it, just go for it and see where it takes you.

And a disclaimer here- I know that you thought of all of this, or your cousin who is bigger and stronger than everyone I know did this years ago, or your buddy the "I think he is a Navy Seal" did it when he was  eighteen, or you are an expert because you feel the muscles and you know that feeling the muscles is the key to every goddam thing in life with extra slow movements that in reality don't mimic a damn thing that life throws at you. But your buddies in the gym rule.They know everything. This stuff ain't for any of those guys any way.  Also, I am not an expert, I steal everything from everydamnbody.

Know THIS! There is nothing new out there. Just relabled and regurgitated.

I am gonna even steal the name from Wes Whitlock, owner of Rogue American Apparel. He calls it  the "Thrash of the Day" , and I like that name. So Wes, this is dedicated to you. And buy their stuff,  it is top quality. So the idea here is to pick, lets say, five exercises. Weight training exercises. Then pick a cardiovascular or hand eye quickness or skill exercise to perform immediately after the weight exercise. Also, Bas Rutten's MMA Workout, the All Around Workout and the All Around fighting is very similar to the Thrash training. It combines curls, neck training and sprawls with boxing and kickboxing.

                               Wes Whitlock "Thrashing" it up

I mean, the possibilities are endless. Bring a kettlebbell outside. Perform 10 swings and then a forty yard sprint. Or the swings and sprint up a hill. Do 10 deadlifts and follow it up with 20 yards of bear crawls. Or squats followed by 10 sprawls. Or for a defensive lineman- 10 bench presses followed by a pass rush against a bag.  A wide receiver?  10 chin-ups or 20 pushups and then a 40 yard fly pattern.  Or for anybody-10 presses and then some knees on a suitcase bag. 

Just an example of what I did today-  3x10  for all exercises. (except dips where I started out with 20 reps and finished with 10).  First exercise-swiss bar benches followed by 10 quick punches on the mitts. Then machine shoulder presses followed by 10 quick punches on the mitts. Then db kirk shrugs followed by 10 quick punches on the mitts, and then kettle bell swings and dips all followed by 10 quick punches. Remember, no rest until you are done with the three sets. Then you rest for a minute or so and go again.

Use your imagination. Don't worry about body part splits or "Oh, I squatted yesterday so I can't do it today",  or if you haven't taken your "metabolic optomizer" or not, just go and grab it and seize the hell out of it and flow with it and pretty soon the sweat will be puddling at your feet and in fifteen to thirty minutes you will be done and then take that shower and you will feel like a million bucks. Thrash on.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Natural Born Heroes and Music

A book worth reading?

Natural Born Heroes is a good one. Basically, there is a an overview story about a kidnapping of  German officer during World War ll on the island of Crete, and how the kidnappers survived and what they ate and how they bounded through the mountains with ease and how some elite British Special Forces were trained and what they did to train to be a top notch group. And that is interesting, but the real good stuff is the research that McDougall does about a  high fat diet, the primal (my term) way that we are meant to move ( he interviews knife throwers, Parkour practitioners, Steve Maxwell), and the application of all of those things to a modern lifestyle. Those chapters are what I found most interesting. And then in Outside Magazine, McDougall has a webpage with articles and videos related to the book that are worth a look.

Music? If you are into country music that has zero rap influence and zero fakeness to it, check out Whitey Morgan and the '78's.

 Morgan is Waylon Jennings reincarnate, and sings with feeling and an outlaw state of mind, as does Chris Stapleton. Here is Stapleton on Letterman:

Stapleton has a knack for great hooks and also has not sold out to the new Nashville sound of pop country crap.

For some country music that is in the vein of Hank Williams jr., check out Frank Foster. If you are going out hunting or fishing or just sitting on the bumper of a pickup on a dirt road swapping stories with friends and a cooler, Frank is your man.

As for some more upbeat, thrash, training music, check out  Kreator. Thrash to get you going.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Folks liked the Memories of Bill Starr. Marty Gallagher just posted a wonderful story about Coach Starr on  Check it out, Marty can write his ass off.

People like that stuff because it was before all the BS of today- Starr was cut and dried and did the basics and he was low carb and Willie Nelson and Miller High Life and worked for the love of it all and did what he said he would do and they just don't come around like that very often. He read ancient texts and eschewed anything modern because everything modern wasn't worth a crap anyway.  He did good mornings until you could look between your legs and dips as low as you could go. He lifted in a barn and sat back and listened when you talked and looked you in the eye and actually cared. Not concerned with money or fame and when I knew him, he didn't have much use for men who let anyone else run their lives and felt like a man should stand on his own. He put paintings outside of his front door and plants and I asked him, don't you worry that someone will steal them? And he didn't worry, just had faith in people, and nobody stole a thing from him.

When I look at my most popular articles, Kirk Karwoski's training routine always comes up. Looking for a secret? No secret. He loved lifting weights. Heavy. Squat and leave. Bench , close grip, machine laterals. Ez Curls, DB curls. Deads, shrugs. Bye. See you later. Time to drink beer. Get up and work the next day, eat tuna, potatoes, then lift. Repeat. Intensity personified. No chains, bands, phases, gurus, sled drags, prowler pushes. I love some of that stuff. But the point is, Kirk trained and trained HARD. Not to failure, never that. But hard and heavy. Ninety pound dumbbell curls, strict. Four hundred and fifty pound inclines. And he didn't care (in my opinion) if he got hurt in the gym because everyday in the gym was a competition, and he loved it . 640x8 , 800x5. Squats.  The 640x8 was without a belt, the 800x5 with just a belt. And he squatted deep. And deadlifted with a normal bar, and form was everything. Legit. And he was gonna win or die trying. He would never just compete just to compete, for a "bucket list" or some worthless modern, made up junk. Win. Win. All out to win.

It's like Arnold said one time- lots of mini champions around these days- but the Coan's and Kirk's and Estep's and Cash's were different. They were iconic and unquestionably different than anyone else. Stood apart. Charisma and sheer force of will. Because even though the totals of those guys may get overtaken, they still remain legends because folks know that they were/are legitimate, no frills, champions.


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Memories of Bill Starr

Bill Starr passed away a few weeks back. For those of you unfamiliar with him, he was an Olympic lifter, an author, and a helluva coach. He had been everywhere as a coach: The University of Maryland, University of Hawaii, Johns Hopkins, and way back when, the Baltimore Colts.  He wrote for a bunch of magazines and he was an author. He wrote the end-all-be-all book of football training, The Strongest Shall Survive, among other books.

I didn't get to know him until about seven or eight years ago. My friend and current Drexel Head Lacrosse Coach Brian Voelker had been coached by Starr at Johns Hopkins when Voelker played lacrosse there. "Starrman" was what he called him, and he loved him as a coach. 

So Voelker says that he knows him and I got all excited with a YOU KNOW BILL STARR!!?? and he said that we would go visit after Starr got back in touch with him. Starr was a minimalist to say the least and he didn't have a cell phone.  He did have a phone, a landline phone, but it was hooked up to a fax most of the day.  What one needed to do was to fax Starr with a message and he would call you later on. 

The next day, Voelker came to see me. He called, he said. We are going down tomorrow. And off we went to Aberdeen, Maryland. Starr grew up in Havre de Grace, Maryland, on the upper Chesapeake Bay and was a country boy at heart and a farm boy when he was younger. He now lived in an apartment in Aberdeen, close by to where he grew up. We arrived and Starr and Voelker did some catching up while I took a look around the place. He had tons of paintings everywhere, ones he painted himself, and they were quite good.  He had plenty of books and magazines and yellow notebook pads (He did all his writing on them) and a television set with a VCR.  No DVD player, and no cable.  Three channels. Seinfeld was his favorite show.  A few tapes of Willie Nelson in concert sat on the VCR.  He was a huge Wille fan.  A worn out copy of Tao Te Ching sat next to his favorite chair.  That was his go-to book.

After a half hour or so, we went downstairs and got into Voelker's car and Starr took us on a tour of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, complete with the spot where the British Soldiers landed during the War of 1812.  Starr actually wrote a novel with the war of 1812 as a backdrop, so he knew a whole bunch about it.  And we are driving and then he tells me that he used to work for Weider back when Arnold first came to this country.  And he told me one story where Arnold was tired of not being paid by Weider so he said screw it and went to the airport to head back to Austria.  Weider raced to the airport to intercept his biggest cash cow, and the rest is history.  And then he told us stories of Franco and some pro wrestlers that were famous back then.

We get back to his apartment and walk over to a restaurant that was in the bottom of a Ramada Inn. I swear, I have had cream of crab soup all of my life, and this soup was the best that I have ever had. Starr drank Miller High Life exclusively, three to four a day.  He had a few that night. He ate a burger and skipped the bun. I was peppering him with questions the whole time. He actually worked with the Baltimore Colt's when Unitas was there. Unitas. Unitas. Anyway, he told me that when Unitas tore his Achilles Tendon that he rehabbed himself. How did he do it? He began by walking. Then he started jogging.  Then when that felt good, he started running. Made sense to Starr. Unitas also told him, along with Earl Morrall, that if they were younger players, that they would have lifted weights. But they felt like that at their age it was too late for them to start. 

He told me a story about Mike Curtis, the All-Pro linebacker. Curtis came up to him and told him that he was going to strict press 300 pounds. His best at the time was 250. So Starr says, you sure? And he says, I'M GONNA PRESS 300 POUNDS. So he puts it on the bar and misses. And then, and Starr said he had never seen anything like it, Curtis gets stark raving crazy fired up and on the second try, gets it, presses 300 pounds. And Curtis wouldn't lift if Starr's girlfriend was in the gym, no women when he was lifting. So Starr had to ask her to leave. We also talked about Maryland and how tough those guys were in the 70's when he was there, and how he lived in the dorm and the head coach wanted him to cut his hair. Starr said that he would have cut his hair in a second, but only if he got paid a little more money. And then he told stories about the players at Hawaii and how some of them would come to the workouts under the influence of a particular herb and he had to figure out a way for them to get the most out of the workouts when they were in that particular state. 

From what I could glean from our conversations,  I don't know if he ever made any money at any of the places that he coached. He loved it and would do just about anything to coach; drive a shitty car, work crazy hours, live in the dorm. I am telling you, money and material things did not mean a damn thing to this man.  He lived for the people that he coached, he kept tabs on them, he followed them in the papers if they were coaching. If you wrote him a letter asking for training advice, he became your pen pal and personal trainer. He was a good man. One of those guys that you meet that makes you think, I can learn things from this man, I can get better by just taking him in, by being around him. 

The next time that I saw him, I brought my assistant at the time, Brett Crossland, to meet him.  I, of course, faxed him first and then he called me and Brett and I headed down. When we got there, Starr asked us if we wanted something to eat. He had some soft shell crabs that he wanted to cook us. I know those as a delicacy, a true Marylander loves these things. You eat the whole crab, guts and all, and legs and arms and lungs. They are amazing. And they also aren't cheap. So Starr starts cooking and then he brings it out and serves us. Man, they were delicious. Now Brett being from cattle country Texas had no idea about a soft shell crab and once he bit into it, and I explained that it was the whole crab, he was backing away pretty quickly in his head. And then he committed the mortal sin that is just not done: He left some of the soft shell on the plate. I was telling him to finish it, motioning to him, mouthing the word, FINISH IT! And he was shaking his head, uh-uh and I was like YES and he was like NO and then Starr came in and saw Brett's plate and asked if something was wrong with the crab and I said, Brett just doesn't know how good he has it, Coach. And we left it at that.

Then I say, Coach, Brett doesn't like the high pull as a clean assistance exercise, and Starr, who loved the high pull, says, what ?and Brett explains how it teaches bad habits like bending your arms and not bringing your hips through. So Starr says, come into the bedroom. We get in there and there are magazines and papers and articles piled up, but there is also a weight set, an olympic bar with 45's on each side. So Starr starts instructing Brett on the high pull and Brett starts to do it and he's not doing it to Starr's satisfaction and then Starr says, FASTER! and PULL IT OVER YOUR F*%KING HEAD! and Brett says, but Coach I will hit the ceiling and Starr says, I DON'T GIVE A SHIT, DO IT! And Brett does it and sure enough, he puts those plates right into the ceiling, leaving two bumper plate indentations. 

Everyday, he lifted in his bedroom and then went for a walk.  A forty five minute walk. And on his way he stopped by the Goodwill store to see if they had any good books. He woke up at two pm everyday, and stayed up all hours of the night. You knew not to stop by before two and you knew to bring some Miller's if you came by. 

The last time that I saw him, I was coming back from a rough visit with my sister. She was in Johns Hopkins at the time, suffering with cancer. I needed a boost and I decided to go see Coach.  I got off at the Aberdeen exit and went into the Seven- Eleven that is up the road a bit from his place and purchased a twelve of Miller High Life and headed to the apartment. It was great to see him and he was cordial as always and understanding. His hip was messed up pretty badly, I don't think that he was able to go for his daily walks. He was in some pain. But he didn't complain, he just listened to me. 

It's strange when your mentors start to go. It happens, and this weird feeling of being sort of alone washes over you and it is definitely a feeling of despair, and then you reach for the phone to ask them some advice or a question about training or about life and then your hand stops short and it hits you. I can't do that, you think.  

I don't know. Maybe the right way to look at it is to be grateful for the conversations that made you see things differently and the advice that rang so true and of course, the cream of crab soup, and  to be thankful to have someone that special for even a little bit of time.

All About Being a Lifer

What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a's for life. Whether its training or your family or your doesn't matter. You work at it, you build on it, you see the big picture . You don't miss workouts because it means something to you. You are like a Shakespearean actor- no matter what is going on in your life, you block it out when it's time to train. You walk into the weight room and all else disappears. Worry about it later.