Monday, January 14, 2019

Strength Coaching

I have been coaching since 1989. That is sorta a long time. Strength coaching the whole time. In college. Well, two years in high school in Florida. Actually Florida football is just like college. Any way, in all this time, I have been engulfed in strength and conditioning every day since I started. Actually even before that, but let's just say it was when I started coaching.

"Engulfed" means that most of my day is spent reading about strength and conditioning or talking about it, or going to seminars or coaching or watching videos or basically just being involved in it all day. It's a passion and it has never felt like work for a second.

Most strength coaches are the same way. They found a kinship with the Iron many years ago and their love for it knows no bounds.

The problem is, the best strength coaches that I know got so fed up with the meddling from the know nothings (most coaches and administrators) that they got out of the college coaching and went into business for themselves.

There are some issues that should addressed when it comes to the profession.

Strength and conditioning coaches are a hard working bunch. They work ridiculous hours for usually very low pay and rarely does anyone realize what goes into all the planning and organizing. And there is no off season. Just go. And summers are getting shorter. And people say that comes with the territory. No, it doesn't. Who decided that was what was needed? To work 16 hour days because they are "grinding". You mean, "not efficient?"

Not sure how any of this became okay to do. Maybe when Dick Vermeil started sleeping on his couch or some dumb thing. But it shouldn't be that way. Hell, some of these big football programs have 3-4 coaches for every position. Some strength coaches have 200-300 athletes by themselves. C'mon, man. Yeah, let me give up seeing my family to make 44,000 as a head strength coach somewhere with 10 teams to coach and the football coach bringing you ideas that he saw on the Internet or written in the sky somewhere.  And some bumbling administrator who lifted a weight back in 1982 and  feels like that gives them all the expertise to tell you how to coach your athletes.

People have no idea what goes into being a strength coach.

For some strength coaches , there are so few of them and so many teams that they have to work long hours just to "accommodate" sport coaches. Nobody else does that, except Athletic Trainers, who are also a dedicated bunch.

 Let's say that it is for a football team. You have 100 athletes or more. You have 1-3 strength coaches to help you. You have an hour to train them. You can have a basic template for the workout, the squats and cleans and benches. But you will also have 30 kids or more who need adjustments to their workout because of injuries, or they are post surgery, or their physical therapist said this or said that and that the PT said that you should NEVER squat again. I love that one. How do you sit on the toilet or a couch? Oh, you squat down? What if you drop your keys? Oh, you squat down. You mean back squat, front squat, lunges, step ups, etc? So you adjust on the fly, you do your best and you hope everything turns out okay.

I used to love it when we would have interns come in and they would have all these grandiose ideas on how athletes should train and this long, periodized program that their professor who never played a down in his life said was the end all be all of training. That would be great in a perfect world.

Here is the reality of being a college strength coach: It is a Tuesday night in late February and the lacrosse team is coming in at 7:30 after practice. You have their program typed up and you are waiting for them to arrive. At 7:27, you get a text from the athletic trainer that reads,   "FYI, the coach got mad at the team tonight for not hustling and they just did 4, 300 yard sprints." You had a heavy leg workout, including squats and dead lifts for the planned session. So you rush up to your office and make the changes, heavy on upper body, light on the legs. and you better have the knowledge and expertise to have the volume just right so  that the athletes can still recover for tomorrow's practice session. That's the reality of what goes on.

Then there is the issue of the "get back coach."

I believe that I am one of the only strength coaches in the country who wouldn't do the job of a "get back coach", the guy who is in charge of keeping players back from coming too close to the field during the game , thus risking a sideline penalty. Also included in the job is to keep the coaches from going onto the field during the game. So a grown freaking man can't control themselves and has to have a babysitter pull them back on the  sideline ? Give me a break. So when I started back coaching the football guys after a 2 year hiatus, I told the head football coach that I was not, under any circumstances, doing that job. And I didn't. Shoot, they have 20 interns and operations guys standing around, anyway.

Problem is , strength coaches love it too much. They love it when a kid goes from weak to strong or from slow to fast. Or tells you that you changed his life somehow. Most of the time it's about teaching them discipline and to push through hard stuff. And you get to know kids because you were with them nearly everyday for 4 years and saw them grow up from a scared little kid to a man or woman. It's pretty cool. And then they come back with their kids to see you in a few years and you can't believe that this little kid actually had kids.

Everywhere you go, there will always be someone who thinks that they know more than the strength coach.  Coaches and administrators now run the show at most places, actually telling the professionals what to do in the weight room when they have zero experience or knowledge. I always compare it to me walking out on the field and telling a coach that that drill is wrong and that they should do it this way or that way. Why did I never , ever do that? Because I don't know shit about your sport. And even if I did, I wouldn't say word because its not my place. I always knew to stay in my lane. The problem is that most coaches and administrators have such huge egos that they just can't help themselves. And god forbid if you are a big guy or have any muscle on your body. Then you are labeled as a meat head who trains all sports  "like football players".  Better to weigh 137 pounds, wear a visor and a collared shirt  and carry a clipboard. He doesn't know a damn thing, but he looks the part! Better to show up and espouse the horseshit known as "functional training"  Oh, you mean, "easy training." Or if you are a female strength coach with any muscle at all. Credibility ? Out the window with coaches and administrators.

 One time, I was giving an introduction to the weight program to a group of female athletes and was trying to explain to the girls that they won't look like bodybuilders if they lift weights. And the sport coach referenced my two female assistant strength coaches and actually said, " Yeah, you won't look like brutes like they do."  What I should have said was, "Yeah, and you won't be weak and small like Ms. Elliptical over there."

I have had administrators say that we need to have athletes with soft, smooth muscles, or to just train the top twenty percent of the athletes and ignore the others or that doing ab work made them win a championship or that they didn't win the championship because of the strength program one year. Funny thing is, when we got better athletes, we won the championship. Same program as the year before.  When I was designing a new weight room, I had an administrator ask me,  "Don't we need more machines for the female athletes? They don't use the power racks and barbells, do they?' No and "they" shouldn't be allowed to vote or drive either. Yes, actual questions. I don't see an end to this . As long as athletic directors are more concerned with image and "wellness"(their definition of doing yoga and feeling good about themselves. Doesn't it feel good to be strong and fast?) instead of focusing on getting stronger, faster and creating a suit of armor for the athlete, injury rates will continue to skyrocket and the coaches and administrators will continue to blame the professionals instead of looking in the mirror and blaming themselves for their meddling and lack of knowledge.

I had a mentor of mine tell me one time,  " I just agree with everything that they say and then do what the hell I want to do. They forget eventually anyway." I did that a whole bunch. I used to sit in meetings and say, "That's a great idea! Yes, attaching a baseball bat to the cable machine will definitely help their swing, good thinking!" and then my staff and I would laugh our asses of on the walk back to the weight room. After a while, it wasn't worth arguing about it, best to just agree and get a good laugh out of it.

Or the time a football coach called myself and the other strength coach into his office and said, " We need to start doing those Clings." We were like, "Okay coach, no problem. "  And then we walked out and looked at each other. "What the hell is a Cling?" we asked each other.  So we sucked it up and walked back in. "Uh, excuse me coach, we were wondering what Clings were." He said, you know, CLINGS! And he stood up and made the racking motion of a barbell on his shoulders. "OH! Cleans! Okay,  got it coach."

I had a football coach say to me, "I don't know what you did with that kid, but his mobility is so much better now, he can really bend now." I told the kid and he said. " Yeah, I couldn't bend because my back was killing me. I couldn't even tie my shoes." Then he had surgery, and voila! He could bend.

Years ago, after I got blamed for a football team having a losing season, I decided that I needed to spread the blame around a little. So I named one of my assistants as the "Speed and Agility Coordinator". I made the title up. And sure enough! We now had a specialist and that was so great for coaches who had their heads stuck in the sand. Everyone was clamoring to have the "specialist" train their team.

People think that just because they have touched a weight in their lives, that they know all about the job. You have no shot of knowing what a strength coach knows. "Engulfed" is the word that I used before and it's true. Strength coaches are passionate and dedicated and educated. But what the outsiders just can't touch is the coaching for years, the experience. And they also can't match that most of us have lifted weights for a long , long time and hell, you learn a whole bunch squatting heavy for reps and you can't learn very much just talking about it or saying that lifting heavy is bad for you or that yoga(stretching and breathing) will make you an all pro because you never played a sport in your life or squatted a full squat. An actual full squat. And no, not a goblet squat. No, no, not a squat suspended from bands and no, not the leg extension while you are texting. And that's not a smith machine half squat. A barbell. Loaded up. Blood pounding in your ears. That type of squat. If you haven't done that, you will never get it. NO, no, that's not it. Fully loaded barbell, upper thigh below parallel. NO! not p90x.

You just say that all the hard stuff is bad for you because either you can't do it or won't do it because you are scared to do it. But of course, all of them can say whatever they want to you but the minute you say something remotely blunt or really truthful, they run crying to the higher ups  that the bullies in the weight room are so mean and aren't willing to compromise.

I have seen it all! Fads come and they and wither and die somewhere while the basics stay there, making kids better. Year after year.

And how about that strength coaches, full of certifications and master's degrees and tons of experience are seen as support personnel? No, I am a professional, probably more educated than you are, and no, my job is not to pull a grown man back on the sidelines because he cannot control himself. My job is to train your athletes as I see fit, using my advanced degree , experience, and certification that I earned. Few see it that way. It should be just like the athletic trainer, the team doctor, the freaking announcer. You are qualified to do the job. You were hired to do the job. Now, let them do their job. And you? Stay in your lane.

When I get together with other strength coaches and hear their stories about what goes on at their schools with the coaches and/or administrators deciding how the strength program is supposed to be run, we all shake our head and laugh. No science involved, let's just go by feelings. Like, I feel that this would work, it looks good, I saw this on YouTube, this pro does this, this pro does that, we should do this! Well,I did this in college when I played soccer in the 70's and it worked for me so it has to work now. Nope.  Like a famous surgeon that I know always says when the opinions of the uneducated just get too much to handle, " Here is the scalpel, you do it."

Would I recommend becoming a strength coach as a profession? Sure, if you want to get paid next to nothing and deal with all the bullshit that comes with the job. The best thing about the whole profession is that the kids get it. They get that you care for them and that you are trying to make them great. That's why you do it, for the kids. Funny thing is, in all the meetings(meetings suck and are useless), I never heard one of the administrators mention the athletes or what is best for the athletes. Who are we there for anyway?

Monday, January 7, 2019

They Can Have It

I have been around the block some. In 51 years, you see some shit. You see people die in front of you. You see babies born in front of you. You see car crashes and you have close calls in all kinds of situations. You have loves that you thought were the love of your life and it turns out they came and went and the people that you think that would always be in your life are suddenly not, and the years pass and the person(s) that you thought that you would never get over, hell, you go years and don't even think of them. 

Remember that? Your heart all broken and that ache inside tearing you all up and never thinking that your life will ever be the same or that your heart would ever be mended and then time goes on and all is forgotten and you meet someone else and damn, looking back, ain't you glad that all of that ended one day?

And you move from place to place and you meet new people but then you leave them too for another job, and then there are other towns and other places and other friends and some you keep in touch with and some you don't and some you wish would keep in touch with you, but maybe they didn't like you all that much anyway.

And you move along, move and go, go day to day and it all flies by and football games come and go, hundreds of them, season after season and bus ride after bus ride and as the towns and years pass by, you marvel at the world and the way it has changed and you aren't so sure that's the way it all should be or that you even want to be part of it. 

It is a fast moving train that you just wanna hop off and go walk in the woods with dog and gun, forever apart from the masses who sit in traffic and think that having a meeting to discuss some bullshit is more important than most everything else. 

Let them have it. You go your way, more power to you. Hustle to work and spill your soy latte' and go crazy.

I will go the way of the woods and water and fine folk who hunt and fish and laugh and pat each other on the shoulder at the local bar with plywood floors where the guy with the Bud Light in his hand shares his homemade deer jerky with you and the sign outside on the door that reads no outlaw motorcycle gang colors of any kind allowed. And everyone has knives on their belts and most have open carry permits but nobody gives a shit, everyone there knows that is the way that it should be.

It's okay if nobody else gets it or thinks that you are some Neanderthal because you hunt and fish and find solace in a good workout or a dog looking up at you in the goose blind just waiting for that magic moment of the shot and the gunpowder and the command that you give to the dog to go get the bird. And seeing her little self struggle with the goose and the blood on her nose but she never will give up, never ever, and she makes it to you with the bird and she is so happy and fulfilled.  

And that is life to me, there it is; life in a moment, a snapshot of what I believe is pretty much the grandest thing that I could ever imagine. 

And seeing that retrieve or feeling the burn of your arms and shoulders while chopping wood or doing sets of twenty in squats makes you feel a certain way, and you feel sorry for those that don't ever get that feeling but you also are sorta glad because you want that feeling all to yourself and only a select few. 

Whatever makes you happy, you think. 

You are evolved because you know yourself and what satisfies you and makes you happy. You are no longer worried about what people think of you, you just move and laugh and cry and love and hate and do your thing.

Let 'em have it. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Monday Morning

It is Monday morning, and you are standing outside of the gym , waiting for it  to open. Its five am and its 22 degrees and windy and there are some light snow flurries and all of this doesn't bother you one bit .

You really don't care about how early it is or how cold it is, because you have a training session to get to, and you have been thinking about this workout all weekend.

The manager arrives, apologizes for being a few minutes late. You smile and tell him to not worry about it. It is time to train, and all else ceases to exit at this moment.

The gym music is okay, but what you really need is a little Godsmack to get you locked in and ready to go. As the music kicks in on your headphones, you feel a surge of excitement and energy.

The body part to work today is lats, and you have made your mind up to perform fifteen total sets of around twelve repetitions. Sometimes, sets take on a life of their own and the set may continue for twenty reps or stop at six, depending on when you hit failure. And every set will be to positive failure, where you cannot perform another rep without losing form. You try not to even think about how many reps that you need to do, because it really takes the fun out of the whole thing, there is no creativity when you set so many limitations on your training. Sometimes you imagine yourself as an artist, molding a sculpture one rep at a time, one set at a time. You have been doing the long enough to know when the set is over, when you achieve that magical feeling of burning and fatigue that signals to you that in a few more reps the set will be complete.

The first exercise is one arm rows with eighty pounds. In your younger days, before you saw the light about proper form, you would grab the 130's to the 150's and heave them up and not get a whole lot out of the exercise except fatigue. When you started lightening the weight and pulling the dumbbell low towards your hip, and squeezing the lats as hard as you can for a second, you could feel the contraction immediately and you noticed after a few weeks that your lats where getting more muscular . Who knew? But no matter, now you have learned and you think to yourself that you can save a bunch of people wasted time in their training by them learning from your mistakes.

Five sets are done and each set was difficult and to positive failure. Your lats are pumped up, they feel like wings on your body. But you avoid sticking your arms out and acting like they are as big as Dorian Yates lats. Even he didn't walk around like that all day long.

Cable rows are next and you pull the bar low to your belly, again squeezing for all that you are worth. No extraneous upper body movement here,  and you think about leading with your elbows, not your hands. Your upper body is still, and the weight is relatively light compared to what you used to use, but you are smarter now, and your ego regarding heavy weights has gone. But you look better training this way, so you giggle a little when you see other guys using more weight than they can handle.

 You giggle because these are the people that look the same day after day, week after week, year after year. You want to share what you know with them, but you resist. You have tried to help guys in the gym before and it has always turned out with the guys looking at you like you don't know what you are taking about, and while you were talking with them, you notice that they are checking you out to see if you have enough muscle to even be addressing them. You also notice that they are puffing their chest up and pushing their lats out as you speak to them, so now, you don't say a word. Keep floundering, you think.

Bentover rows follow, these have always been your favorite back exercise. You decide to do these with a reverse grip and with an EZ Curl bar. You are super strict here, too.  Because the lats and biceps are fatigued some from the earlier exercises, you have to go a little lighter than usual, but that is okay. It's okay because you are getting the feeling that you are searching for as the sets progress; total annihilation of the lats.  Five sets of around six reps here do the job nicely.

A sweat broke at around the second set of one arm rows, and the by the time that you got to the cable row, the sweat was dripping off of the bill of your NRA baseball cap. You try to wipe the sweat off of the machines but as you wipe, you also drip sweat back on the machine. An older man is watching you as you begin to get frustrated with all the wiping and sweating and re wiping. You look up at the man, shrug your shoulders and move on.

You walk over to the cardio equipment and get on the recumbent bike. You do an inventory of the workout in your head as you pedal. One arms were good, you should've done a few partial reps on the cable row,  and bent overs were excellent and a good finisher.

You finish a half hour on the bike and your t-shirt is heavy on your body and soaked, like you took a shower with your clothes still on. It is only six o'clock. The training session , including the bike, has taken only an hour. You look around the gym as you sweat all over the bike as you attempt to wipe it down.

The same guy that was standing at the front desk when you began your session is still there, talking to the front desk girl. You are done with your training, he has not begun. He sips slowly on his protein shake concoction or preworkout or what ever he thinks that he needs to get going. What he doesn't understand is that what he really needs to do is train and train hard and to just begin. Begin the process, and to quit fooling himself, lying to himself about how hard he works and lying to others on how long he spent in the gym. He did spend a long time in the gym. He just didn't do shit while he was there. Lying to himself.

But that is okay. You are feeling on top of the world.  As you step out of the gym, the sun is shining and the cold is still there but it feels refreshing to you. You are glad for mornings like these, they are what makes you who you are; disciplined and focused and set apart from the masses.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Earn It

I have always thought, since high school at least, that in order to eat poorly or go to an event, or a party or to go out drinking and carousing, that you had to earn the right to do any of that stuff. You had to put in the time of a training session, whatever that may be, in order to have "fun" and do things that maybe aren't so good for you.

Meaning that you must train first.  Whatever you were supposed to do that day for your training, do it first. Like today, for instance. I have to go to some relatives house and there will be tons of amazing old school Italian food and drink and who knows what else that is so delicious that it'll make your fork hand shake just thinking about it, desserts included. So, knowing this is coming, this freight train of goodies and sin, I got up and rode the exercise bike for thirty minutes, then went to the gym and did ten sets each for chest and biceps and then came back home and rode the exercise bike again for thirty minutes.

I am no great shakes. There is nothing special about me. You can do it too. Nothing special about getting up a little earlier than usual and getting your shit done before you head down the sugar laden, sometimes alcohol laden road. Just takes a little Will Over Hope and a thought that you do not want to go down the road of Weakness. You know that road, you see it all of the time. Those for whom  training is an afterthought, not that important, and just a thing of convenience. For those folks that have zero Will. And if your wife gives you shit about taking care of your health by training, leave her.

You feel superior when you get all your training done when everyone else is all slovenly and undedicated. You see them, so happy for the holidays but so excuse laden that it is weighing them down. And I get it. Well, I sort of get it. Hell, some of my best friends are like that, oh its the holidays. Oh I am on vacation, oh I can make it up. I read an interview with Danny Padilla one time in the 70's where he said that you can never make up a missed workout, and I agree. You can do it, you have time. Oh, but Coach, I really don't have time. 

Okay. I get it.  I am here to help. Here ya go. Don't text or look at Tv or at naughty stuff on the internet, put some workout gear on, drive to the gym and put 50% of your bodyweight on the squat bar. Do five reps, then put 75% of your bodyweight on the bar and do 5 reps. Then put your bodyweight on the bar and do as many as you can. Leave. You will grow from that workout. Or hell, just do one set of 20 at a light weight and then put 50% of your bodyweight on the bar, and go until you cannot even fathom doing another rep no matter how hard you try, and then leave. You will grow from that also. But you will also eliminate all excuses. Just walk out of the gym. No standing and talking to an old friend from high school, discussing how your knee prevented you from being a college football player and remember the game in '91 when you intercepted that pass and didn't Suzie look good and what ever happened to Suzie, anyway? Then, ignore the front desk guy. After all, you have NO time at all, so you cant be frivolous for one second.  Just walk out to the car, put on some Chris Knight, drive home panting and sweaty and now do all the stuff that makes you hate yourself in the morning.

You can do all that.

You earned it.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


I was thinking just yesterday how lucky I was to grow up with woods behind me. And a natural trout stream and a father who liked to fish and work outdoors.  A dad who taught me how to split wood and mow the lawn and fish and bait the hooks and shared his love for sports. He isn't a hunter, never was. He said that the one time , his Uncle Bud said that they were going to go rabbit hunting, but that his uncle ran into some friends of his on the way and then ended up shooting craps in a back alley in Trenton, New Jersey. After that, they did a little target practice and went home. But that's okay, he gave me enough. I did have neighbors that hunted, but it was sorta an unknown, mysterious thing. All of the men in the family would go for a week to Western Maryland and deer hunt, but I can't ever remember them bringing a deer home. I think that they went there as a tradition and to get away from the world a little, which I think is great.

Now, my kids suck at times like everyone's do. They are a real pain sometimes to deal with and sometimes I want to go to Mexico alone and never return. But all that stuff put aside, I knew that when I had children that I always wanted to teach them what my dad taught me and I knew that I wanted to also include hunting and fighting. I got into a lot of fights growing up, but didn't know what I was doing. I'd just go crazy with rage and fists flying. I took lessons as soon as I had the money to pay for them, and I am so happy that I did. Hunting was something that I took up right after college and it is by far, my favorite thing to do. I got a gun when I started getting interested in hunting, and I had never been around guns before. I swore that I would teach my kids how to be around guns and shoot them , clean them and to not be scared of them, to respect them.

My twelve year old is into all of that stuff more than my other two boys. One is six, so a little young. The other is seventeen and he likes to fish, but doesn't get the whole freezing to death thing while hunting. But he still goes once in a while.

The twelve year old started going hunting with me when he was four, got his hunting license when he was eight and competed in a national duck calling contest when he was eight . When we go goose hunting, he is so much better at calling than I that I don't say a word. 

I started his fighting lessons he was four or so, just the basic punches and kicks, and I taught the other boys some combinations also. I want them to have the confidence to protect themselves and others if need be. 

I guess that I view all of this stuff as a rite of passage that I believe boys should go through. Your first fish, hunting trip,  first time shooting a gun, first time that you killed a goose and the respect for the bird, and being around other men while hunting and fishing  who do hard things and have calloused hands and speak bluntly and laugh and cut up and enjoy life. Men without "messenger bags" (I had to look up what they are called) and who piss outside (definitely important ), and drink whiskey without wincing.

I think that maybe that much of this is being lost, along with the traditions that made American men, well, American. It's not enough to watch all this stuff on a PlayStation but to get out there and have the boys learn from being in difficult and sometimes  a little scary situations. And to listen to men talk and to be cold and be too hot and learn not to complain and to have your muscles ache after chopping wood.

When I think about why this is all important to me, I think that the idea is to strive to raise complete men , men who are self sufficient and well read and well mannered and can also fight. I know that this stuff is seen as barbaric and outdated to some, and that's okay. Those same folks will be hiding behind the complete men when the shit really hits the fan.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Cookie Jar

Do you ever think about milestones that you have achieved in your training? Do you look back and wonder how you got through it, and you are still proud of yourself for pushing through?

I remember being in ninth grade and training in a friend's basement and squatting and doing 225x10 250x10 275x10 for the first time ever. I was so damn happy because I reached a goal that I had set for a few years.

Fast forward a bunch of years later when I was coaching high school in Florida and training with some students of mine at the Power Pit in Cocoa, Florida. That was a great gym. I  believe that it was owned by a bunch of police officers in the area, and it usually only had a few folks in there training, and had a front desk guy in there who was quiet but super cool and friendly.

Squat day was on Sunday morning, and I was deep into powerlifting at that point and was purposely pushing my bodyweight higher and higher, topping out at 312 pounds eventually. At five foot nine, I was pretty hefty.

I was doing a Russian Squat Program that I got from Fred Hatfield and had been doing this program for weeks. I squatted once a week. One Sunday was a lighter day, at 80% for 5x2, the next Sunday was a heavier day using 85% of my one rep maximum . The heavier day went like this-

Week one    85% 5x3   580
Week two    85% 5x4   590
Week three  85% 5x5   600
Week four   85% 5x6   610
Week five    90% 3x3   650
week six      95% 3x2   690
Week seven 100% x1   720

Each week, I would go up five pounds on the light day and ten pounds on the heavy day. Hatfield said that you should get five to ten pounds stronger every week, so your max actually goes up while you are training week to week.

The most memorable day was the 610 for 5x6. I remember thinking about that workout all week, knowing that in order to get the weight successfully, I would have to give a supreme effort going off of the difficult session that 600 for 5x5 had given me.

Each set with 610 was a challenge. After the second set, I lost my lunch in the trash basket. And although I thought that I had nothing left to puke out, after every set I would lose just a little more of my guts and then dry heave a little. Or actually a lot.  I remember the front desk guy looking at me like, what the hell? Of course, my high school students loved it, they were at the beginning stages of training and were totally into all the hardcore training.  I remember that I was a sweaty mess, my "Marathon" brand squat suit was soaked right through and that there was so much sweat that the crotch ripped right out of it. The last two sets were a test of my will. The kids had covered my upper back with chalk to stop the bar from slipping  and mixed with all of the sweat became a cake like mess on my back. Even with the chalk, the bar was still slipping down my back on every rep. I remember the last set most vividly, the bar was slipping, I was grunting, the squats became more and more like a good morning exercise on each successive rep, and my legs were in a whole other burning zone that I hadn't felt before. 

Every rep was inconsistent and different, but I had to finish. And I did finish, cheered on by my students and watched by the friendly guy at the front desk. I dry heaved for a while after that last set, but even at that time, I knew that the training session would be one that I would remember for a long time.

I was so sore that when I went to squat the next weekend, I was still feeling last week's workout. But when I went to squat 650 the following week, it felt like nothing. And then when I hit the 720 a few weeks later, it was easy also. All of the volume had made me a lot stronger, my body had adapted to the huge work load and was expecting another high volume workout and I had given it a reduced one, and it compensated by making 720 easy for me.

I think back on that one workout with 610 often, and use that memory to push through difficult situations that I am faced with in life. Former Navy Seal David Goggins calls looking back on things that you have accomplished as a "cookie jar", a bunch of stuff that you are proud of that you pushed through and can look back on and say, "Hey, I did this and that and I know that I can handle what's in front of me if I did all that other stuff. " Seems simple , but it works. That workout with 610 was a "cookie jar" moment for me, a small slice of time that stands out in my mind as a demonstration  of reaching deep inside of myself when I didn't think that I had anything left to give.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Ricks's Basement 1982-1984

I was thinking about great training sessions that I have had and then I was thinking about my favorite places where I have trained and one of the best was, for sure, Rick's basement. I was in high school at the time and just getting seriously into lifting and studying it.

My buddy Rick had a cool setup in his basement back in the 80's. He had a power rack, a mess of York plates (still made in York back then), a dip stand, a bench press and some dumbbells. Actually, I can't really remember if he had dumbbells, but he probably did. A plate loaded lat pull machine sat in the corner. A big mirror in front of the squat rack and Rick's bedroom off to the side, complete with water bed. Hell yes. Also a poster of Mike Mentzer on the wall and my favorite, a poster of Mike Webster getting ready to hike the ball to Terry Bradshaw. We all would marvel at Webster's arms, his triceps in particular.

Everybody would lift two to three days a week, put some music on, have some fun.  But back then I lifted every day, I was gung ho to say the least. While everyone else was satisfied with their infrequent training sessions, I thought that if I was in the gym more, my gains would come faster. Poor Rick. I cajoled him into trying everything that I tried. I was particularly fascinated with Mentzer's Heavy Duty and his Herculean physique. So I read everything that I could about his system and had Ricky do it with me. I'd be all fired up after reading Muscle and Fitness in math class and I couldn't wait to get down into the basement. Rick just wanted to bench a little and hang out and I had him going to failure and beyond on behind the head lat pulls and bent rows and squats. He trained with me for awhile but dropped off eventually. He had enough of me , plus he was working at Adelphi Mobil gas station pumping gas and he was also cutting lawns for money.  He wasn't afraid to work hard, just couldn't give a damn what Mike Mentzer had to say.

So I would end up going to Rick's by myself. I have to admit that I liked training alone.  This was a time where I didn't have to wait on anybody, didn't have to talk to anybody, didn't have to listen to anyone complain or talk about their girlfriend's or their Hemi engine. I loved it.

I would leave high school around three o'clock  and hitchhike to Rick's. It was only a few miles and I usually got picked up by someone I knew. I hitchhiked everywhere back then, it was no big deal. Hell, even girls hitchhiked back then. Looking back it all seems nuts, but it was normal for all of us.

 Rick's Mom had remarried and basically Rick was on his own at sixteen. Needless to say, there were a few parties at Rick's house, in fact, every party was at his house until the cops would come and break it up. Anyway, I'd get to Ricks and I had a key so I would go through the backdoor and down the steps. I would always be joined by Stray, Ricky's dog. This dog ruled the neighborhood and he was my constant companion when I was downstairs lifting. I'd do a set, then sit down and pet Stray, do a set and sit down and pet Stray. What a kick ass dog. Super sweet but protective when he needed to be.

 The 70's were all about upper body lifting (Arnold had the chest and biceps), but in 1981, Tom Platz finished third in the Mr.Olympia and squats became king. I can remember reading about some of Tom Platz's squat workouts for super high reps and I would try to duplicate whatever he did. I was a Platz fanatic. I'd get my Dad to take me to Dynamo Barbell Club and get the latest Muscle and Fitness just to see if Platz was featured. His workouts were off the wall with intensity, and I would try to duplicate whatever he did. Sets of ten and twenty were the norm. Not with the same weights of course, but the rep scheme that he used. Just set after set of squats. It's funny, but all my good workouts down there were when I was squatting. I would put on some Skynyrd and Van Halen and get to squatting. I wasn't strong but I tried real hard, looking at Webster and Mentzer and wishing that I could be just like them. I really didn't know what  I was doing. I had no coaches, so I would just try to emulate what I read about and saw in the magazines. Deep squats and lots of reps and sets. The power rack was a little rusty , but functional. The York plates? The rattle of those plates were something special. At the top of each rep you'd put a little extra into it just to hear that sweet noise.

I heard John Broz talking the other day on a podcast and he was saying that the best way to learn lifting is to just do it on your own, and I sure did do it on my own. We all did. Remember, there was no internet, no Crossfit, and barely any strength coaches back then. My high school Physical Education teacher/ Football coach was a waste of life and I didn't learn a damn thing from him about lifting weights or anything else for that matter.  He really was bad, just sat on his butt for the whole day.  But, maybe it was better for us to have to just do it.  It may just have been a blessing in disguise,  because we all had to figure stuff out on our own.

We didn't analyze training to death or have to worry about phases or blocks or speed work or dynamic work or bands or chains or GPP(we all chopped wood or mowed lawns, there is your GPP!) or TRXYZ or bosu balls or battle ropes(!) or kettle bells or silly little ladders or ...and I could go on. Barbell. Plates. Rack. Squat. Drank tons of milk, too. And meatloaf and Utz chips and onion dip(makes you strong.  Adelphi, Maryland folks know this secret). All just the basics. But hell, what else is there really other than the basics? Well, gimmicks. And we didn't even know that there were gimmicks. Oh yeah, that picture of Arnold doing EZ curls with the Weider "Arm Blaster" was a gimmick, and he musta sold a million of them. But it was the picture that sold it, not the product.

After an hour or so, I would be done. My legs would be shaking as I walked up the steps, faithful Stray right behind me. Sometimes Rick would be home by then and I could catch a ride from him but more often than not, I would walk out to Powder Mill Road and hitchhike back home. It would be winter time and dark and cold and I'd be standing out there with my thumb out and I would be happy as hell. Happy because I had a great training session and happy because I found something that gave me a tremendous amount of satisfaction. I didn't know why I felt that way, but I knew that I loved that feeling and that I would be doing these workouts for a long, long, time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Living With Yourself

 "That is not the way a man does business." That quote right there is a favorite one of mine from an Inside Sports Magazine article on Randy White of the Dallas Cowboys in 1982. You can put woman in for man, or human, whatever. There is a certain way to do things and a certain way not to do things, and I have witnessed a degradation of what should be done by folks in a bunch of situations.

In 51 years, I have seen a bunch of stuff change. Like what? Well, growing up with my father, who was a professor and the best male student at his college, and had his PHD and all that (and didn't get it from the back of a Cracker Jack box like some folks out there), but he was real and so cut and dried with stuff that I always thought that men were supposed to be that way. Do it or don't do it. No meeting to discuss the strategic plan on how to do it. I'm not going on a rant about useless meetings (all of them seem to be), but my point here is that my dad grew up in an era where people didn't have time for all the BS, and folks were also hard ass workers back then , so listening to all the stories from people from that era and reading books about those times, there wasn't much time to have discussions and drag your feet about everything, you had to go, action, get it done. Now its like more and more talking and talking. Talk about talking. Not at all encouraging anyone to just DO.

I have always had a problem with butt kissing. How can you wake up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror knowing that your days are going to be spent not working or doing your job, but fake smiling and nodding your head at whatever your boss says even if it compromises everything that you believe in? Or maybe you like being like that! Taking the easy way out ALL OF THE TIME. It's safe, its how you got your promotion. Hey, it works for you.  Great. What I have noticed is that all men that I know who act like that don't squat or deadlift or have never participated in football or any combat sports or been in the military. They never have been punched in the face and have never been around people who, if you say the wrong thing, don't want to talk about it, they want to handle it by punching you in the face. I have a buddy who is the greatest  guy in the world, but there is always the underlying respect that I have for him. That respect means that if he gets pissed off at me, we are gonna scrap. So I am careful around him, but I like it. I like the intensity, the pride and the tension . 

Obviously, those who haven't been around that type of intensity just go along, saying what they want to say, never thinking of the possible repercussions. I always think , because of being around those type of dudes all of my life, that I better watch my step , better not say the wrong thing, or be prepared to go if I piss somebody off. To me, thats real and actually the way that it should be.

I know thats a minority opinion these days. Most folks now of age, just grew up thinking that they were tough because they imagined themselves in a stupid video game that they were playing while the door was locked in their safe little room.

Yes, you must be well read, educated and all that, but damn, you have to have a little dangerousness about yourself. Gotta take a chance that not everybody will love you all the time. It is not the way to be. All nodding your head and selling your soul down the river of nothingness. Makes me ill thinking about the people that I know who are keeping their jobs because of their butt kissing. But it's their face that they have to look at in the morning, And the cliche is true: The mirror doesn't lie.

Monday, December 3, 2018


You do realize, don't you, that in many things in life, (politics, gun rights, etc.)there are two factions. One faction is made up of purists and then the other faction are the ones that fudge the true meaning of the thing , skirt around issues and try to reinvent the freaking wheel.

Take lifting weights for football. I have railed before against making stuff easier and longer just because you don't want work hard. It's unreal to me, but maybe it shouldn't be. After all, there has always been contenders and pretenders. And those who follow trends and those that don't. 

I have heard it for years- "Oh, you don't need to lift heavy weights for football! Just be mobile." That's crap. Ask an offensive lineman who just got pancaked by a defensive lineman a few times if he would like to be bigger and stronger. If he could snap his fingers after the first pancake and be magically bigger and stronger, would he? Guarantee he'd rather be bigger and stronger. Mobility didn't have anything to do with it.

How to be more mobile? Repetition of agile movements. Like basketball. Best sport that there is for a football player. But coaches wanna set out cones and do 5 reps of this drill and 5 reps of that drill.... just freaking PLAY, let them have fun, and oh, by the way, he will be jumping , shuffling, dribbling, passing, backpedalling, sprinting, over and over again while he is having fun. So get to the hardwood. 

And get amazingly strong in the weight room. Max attempts, heavy ass doubles and triples on the squats and deads, violent cleans and box jumps, bench presses and close grips and bent rows and presses. Leave the pencil necks behind , as they talk about the perfect program while they stretch out. You will be tearing into gut busting squats and deads, just like all of the strongest men in the world have always done. Take the way of the strongest of all time. Do the basics and repeat frequently until you bust out of your shirt and pants, and rule the field. There is no other way, everything else is just a watered down version of the basics. A way to circumvent the truth. 

Heavy barbell. Heavy Dumbell. Repeat, repeat. Eat protein and repeat. And it is not gonna change. Oh, it may go away for a bit, it already has, but it will come back. It always does when folks get tired of fooling around and want to get into what works.

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.