Monday, October 24, 2016

Who Needs To Go Inside?

I want to tell you about the picture above. Its a picture of my Mom and Dad and two of my sons. 

My parents come up from Maryland once in awhile to visit.  They usually bring me some old pictures that they found or maybe the Washington Post Book World or the Sports section . They are both in their 80's, but they are very active, playing tennis and gardening.

When they arrive, they come inside and use the bathroom and then that is it for being inside. Dad throws the ball to the kids and makes them race around the tree and times them and then and I bring out my Labrador Stormy and show some of her retrieving drills and then my parents watch the kids ride bikes and then Dad tells me to call Antonino's up the street and get some hoagies or pizza for everybody. Then I bring out the dog kennel to use as a table because we don't  have anything to put the food on.

And then they watch the kids play a little longer and then Dad says, "Okay, Mom." and then they stand up and give out some hugs and then they head on back. No drama, no arguing, no fuss whatsoever.  I just think its cool that they are no trouble at all and that they they think it is silly to go inside. Why go inside when you can be out and watch the kids romp around? It's a beautiful day lets watch the dog do some work. 

And there is no CRAP involved with any of it. We visited, we are done, love you, we wanna miss the traffic on 95. Nothing fancy, hell, you don't even have to clean the house when they come. They would never dream of being any trouble. I hear other people talk about parents visiting and they are worried because such and such doesn't get along with so and so and where is everyone going to sleep and oh my god, we have to go to the store and  let's plan dinner and then we will go out one night and so on. 

Sorta goes along with what I enjoy in life, simple things that don't involve a lot of posturing or politics and zero egos. And there is no beating around the bush about staying longer and please don't go or any of that stuff. Just black and white and see you soon.  

Inside I think that its their generation that sees things simply and that when you have been through the Depression and World War II that you really know what is important and what is not. It's the kids and company, period.And in my mind,  it is the way that it should be.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Damn Fine Thing

Training with weights is a damn fine thing. It is the quickest way, the most efficient way to get stronger and more muscular. and it isn't complicated  to do, this training. Well, let me put it this way: You can make it as complicated as you want to make it. you can use chains and bands and boards and wraps and straps and count the tonnage and use a Tendo unit and obsess endlessly about your recovery, and damn is that pre workout ever gonna kick in

or hell

You can just get under a bar or pull a bar from the floor or row it or press it until your muscles ache and your vision gets a little blurry and then you finish the set and wait a few moments and do it again, and then again, and then in 30 minutes you are done, and you are done in 30 minutes because you don't look at your phone to text or take pictures or check whatever is checked 4,000 times a day, you don't call attention to yourself buy putting your arms out like you could fly away, you don't say a word except to count reps.  you don't even see anyone else because you don't care one bit, because this is your time, the time of day where you and your body work like they are supposed to work, struggling, straining, striving, advancing, finishing. You push until whatever demons that are inside of you are purged out in the sweat puddle on the floor. and then to top it off, you hit the heavy bag for a few minutes to release what is left, until your whole slate is wiped clean.

Kevin Levrone

I was fortunate enough a few months back to witness a training session with Kevin Levrone as he trained for his comeback in bodybuilding. To me, it was an admirable and Herculean task. At age 52, Levrone , after 13 years away from the stage, decided to throw his hat in the ring and give the Mr. Olympia stage a shot. 

Seeing that both of us hail from Maryland, I have always felt some allegiance to Levrone and have followed his career closely.  I saw through the internet that he was training at Exile Fitness in Maryland. I  just decided one day to go see him train. I don't really know why, except that I wanted to support him and admired his comeback and testicular fortitude for deciding to put his name and body on the line once again. I contacted the owner of Exile , Bob, and he said to come on down, that all are welcome. Just hearing that was hard to believe, seeing how most folks these days don't return calls or emails in my experience.  But in this case, Bob got right back to me, so I grabbed my 10 year old son, James and we headed down to Baltimore.

First impressions of the gym? The gym transported me back to the 1980's as soon as I walked in. No, not the condition of the equipment, which was excellent. It was the atmosphere. Electric is what I called it when telling others about it later. It was the best atmosphere that I have ever been around, and I have been in plenty of gyms over the years.

 It seemed to me that everyone in there was either training for a powerlifting meet or a bodybuilding show or a physique show or MMA. Deep squats, deadlifts, chalk, folks pushing each other. Big dudes, muscular women. No preening in the mirror, just a bunch of tattoos and cutoff sweats and hard work. 

After a tour of the place with Bob, James and I started training. It was one of those days where you just can go forever because it just feels great. I think that James did every exercise in the gym, including deadlifting twice.

After about an hour, Kevin walked into the gym and Bob called us over. We walked over and took a couple of pictures. Kevin asked James some questions about sports, about what he wants to be when he grew up . He was super cool and cordial.  He told me that he was working legs that day. After some more small talk, James and I went to finish up some exercises and Kevin and his training partners went over to the squat rack. Bob pumped up some Godsmack extra loud for this session. 

My son James was deadlifting on a platform about ten feet from where Kevin was working. Kevin called me over and asked me about training athletes and what I do with  knee tendinitis. He has an awful case of it, and showed me videos of him getting stem cell treatment for his knees. Regarding squatting, he squats deep. He asked me, " Coach, why don't people squat all he way down?" I answered, "I really don't know Kevin." Mystery, right? Each set, Kevin would call me over to spot him along with his other partners.

Between sets, he came over to me and said, "Ya know coach, you came down to see me,  and you brought your son. So I told myself that I needed to have a great workout." At one point someone brought up his age and I said, "Kevin, I am glad that you are 52, because it make it that much more special for you to be doing what you are doing."

 The whole gym stops when he is performing a set, and yells of encouragement can be heard from seemingly the whole gym.  After going up to 405 for some reps, he put on 315 and did 19 reps. Impressive. Below is a video of the 315x19.

Leg press was next. He kept putting more plates on the machine until he literally could not fit any more weight on it.

So he has all the weights in the gym on the leg press and he was supposed to get 12 reps. But he kept going, kept pushing and ended up completing 25 reps. He was working his ass off, and it was great to see it, someone pushing themselves so hard.

One thing I noticed was that his training partners were really there for him, pushing him, firing him up for his big sets. I love that type of camaraderie.

Kevin decided to take a break before hamstrings and went into the office at the front of the gym. I figured that it was time to hit the road, and James and I went back to the office to say goodbye.

Kevin looked at James and said, "James, let me tell you something, I haven't lifted that amount of weight in 13 years. I want you to know that I did that because you were here. And another thing, James, I want you to keep in touch with me. And remember James, that workout was for you."

Those of you with kids will get it- when someone is that nice to your kid, it touches you deeply. I told Kevin thanks and we headed on out . It was one of those experiences that you always remember, one of those days that just are special and one of those days that give you a heady feeling , a fired up feeling whenever you think about it.  

Although Kevin didn't do as well as he wanted to in the show, he inspired thousands with his comeback and received a standing ovation at the Mr. Olympia. He has decided to keep competing, and I for one, will be watching closely, rooting him on.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Article

Hey everyone- I have an article up at   Check it out when you get the chance. Look for a picture of my Labrador with a duck in her mouth! 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Foolin' Around and Gino

Oh, man. How about public gyms? Public gyms and talking. I was in a gym yesterday, a great gym as a matter of fact, one that allows deadlifting and squatting, and get this- chalk. Oh yes, chalk. I was doing some rows and such and four college age kids came in and were beginning to work out. I guess that you could call it working out, most of it was just bragging and inane conversation. Motivated the hell out of me though, seeing them standing around faking their lives. Here are just a few things that I overheard-

"Rough one last night, dude."

" Man, I am so hungover, I can feel the alcohol pouring out of me"

"Dude, when I was in high school"

" I tore my labrum, classic football injury"

"Let's get some curls now, curls for the girls!"

"Yeah, some guys were testing me at the club, some Spanish guys. I put them down, though, put them in the dirt!"

"You see the redhead last night? I'd like to..."

"This will not be my strongest day today"

"I would never draft an SEC running back, they are burned out when they finish college"

And this was just what I heard between my sets, it was just an endless conversation of nothing at all, and I always wonder, can they not wait a little while and then stand in the parking lot and talk? How about actually going somewhere in your mind when you train and focus and actually get something out of it? I have noticed that whenever I am unfortunate enough to train in a public gym, that this type of conversation is commonplace. It is for many, a social hour, and it is sad and actually hilarious. Let's break it down and  get this straight-

You mean that you got all dressed up in the latest greatest neon gym wear, drove down to the gym, bought your protein shake  and then stood around talking for an hour and didn't break a sweat and then  spread out your lats and puffed up your chest and then went home? That's not a waste of time at all. And it happens everywhere! Amazing to me. I don't know how they can face themselves, but then I think, they don't get it and they don't even realize that they are doing it,  and they probably think that taking damn gym so seriously is weird in itself, and, I think, who really cares anyway? Just retreat into your mind and do your training. Let them continue to wallow in nothingness and fool themselves.

The latest issue of Sports Illustrated had the "Where are they now?"in it, and this was a good one. Former Wheaties box cover man and Olympic hero Jenner is on the cover.  William Perry is in it also, and that is a sad story. But also inside was former Baltimore Colt, Gino Marchetti. That's a great article about a helluva man. He is still going strong. Two highlights from the article stuck out to me. They didn't keep track of sacks back then, but the Colt's coaches broke down the films of one season and Marchetti recorded 43 sacks one year. Yes, 43. I don't care when you are playing, in any era, 43 sacks is a boatload of sacks. And he is a World War II Veteran. He was 18 and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He grew up in San Francisco and had never seen snow before.  That is until the war. His quote? "The first time that I saw snow, I slept in it."

When those guys die off, a whole lot of history, work ethic and manliness will be gone. And it is coming fast.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Bust It Like a Mule and Willie

I just read the best, most unique book that I have read in a long, long time.  It is called Bust it Like A Mule, by Caleb Mannan. 

I loved it so much that I was savoring every page. The author writes in a stream of consciousness dialogue that is pure literary genius. Its about a rambling man, Cotton Kingfisher, and his adventures out on his own across the country. This guy is the meanest, toughest hombre around. Well, he is only mean when provoked. And when he is provoked, look out. He will fight to the death for what he thinks is right. He is on a search for a place to settle, and in that search, he runs into all kinds of mess. He doesn't let any of it get him down, though. He just powers on through by working his tail off, fighting, drinking and generally being an all around badass. Also, I loved it because he didn't chase his ex wife around, or cry or have to see a therapist about his mom not loving him, or feel sorry for himself. I was expecting some of that type of modern stuff. When I was reading it I was thinking, uh oh, this guy is too perfect, too macho for this politically correct day and age, it is about time for the author to show Cotton's side soft side where he is weak and can't handle himself. But although he has trials, he never gets to that sensitive man that ends up realizing that the way to go is to be less of himself, of what he really is deep down inside. I don't want to give away anymore. It's the best book that I have read this year and I recommend it highly.

All of the giants are getting old, man. 

I was thinking last night of Willie Nelson, and I was thinking of how bad it will be when Willie Nelson passes on.  My exact thoughts were, Merle is gone, Cash is gone, and Willie is hanging on, still getting out there . I have not been a huge fan of their music in the past, but I like what they stand for, what they represent as men. I grew up with Hank Jr. and Skynyrd, but have come into the older folks later in life. No, I do not know Willie Nelson. I have see him in concert one time, at the "Forks of the River Jam" on a farm in Tennesee in the early Nineties. It was around the time that he was in trouble with the IRS, and he had a cassette out at the time, "The IRS Tapes", and everyone, thousands and thousands of people turned out to see Willie at the concert. They turned out to support him. 

I am not sure what brought me to the thoughts of Willie. He represents something to me, some type of feeling, yes, a feeling , that's it. It's that generation that represents something to me. Willie was an outlaw in a sense that he has done what he wanted to do in life, bucking the establishment in Nashville and all that to get his songs recorded. But it is more than that , for sure. I think that I really started to like Willie when I saw him years ago on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He came across as the most humble guy in the world and I felt a connection to him. He is of the same generation as my father, of my late Uncle George. His hair would not have gone over big amongst most men that I grew up with, but his attitude surely does; respect for authority and for your elders, say what you feel, do what you say, be a man and lead by example. 

I remember the late great Bill Starr and his love for Willie Nelson. Starr only had a few tapes , VHS tapes in his apartment, and one of them was a concert of Willie Nelson. And if Coach Starr liked him, I knew that he had to be alright.  And then today I turn on the TV and there is Willie on the 30th anniversary of Farm Aid and he is up there singing in his 80's bygod, and he started the whole thing. And he doesn't squat or deadlift, and he didn't box or play football , but I respect him nonetheless! He rises above my usual measuring sticks of being a real man by just being Willie. He has the same old guitar and the same people in his band that have been there forever. And you will never see or you will never be able to find a photo of Willie posing with his head down, looking troubled or pursing his lips or looking off into some imaginary sunset in a  dramatic pose that all the "stars" all do nowadays.  Not gonna happen.  Maybe I like all those guys (And Loretta Lynn, too) because I have a deeply rooted feeling in me that when that generation is gone, America is in trouble, even in more trouble than it is in now.  

And then freaking Merle Haggard dies and I read the Rolling Stone article about Haggard and I read that when his family first moved from Oklahoma to California, the "Okies" weren't welcomed there, so instead of protesting or getting money from the government, they just went to work. Because they weren't welcome, they had to live outside of town, and Merle's dad bought a boxcar for 500.00 and the family lived in there. A box car.  They lived in a box car. And to come out of that , to deal with that everyday, not even having a real place to live for goddsake, and rising above all that, made those people strong and with that made our country strong, strengthened it's backbone. You read about those guys and that generation and the men and women are always described as stoic , and well, its time to work and we have to move the family to find work, and you can't turn to government, you gotta just keep grinding and pulling the family with you wherever it was best for them. Trying to survive. And you read how the men back then just worked themselves to death. Haggard's father dies when Merle was nine years old, and if you ever read the amazingly well written and amazingly sad Harry Crew's book, Childhood, you will remember that Crew's father died in the fields, working himself to death. In fact Crew's dad would just simply collapse in the field while working and then get up and keep working again. It is like that generation saw all of that , and remember this generation were the children of the depression, and they just thought that one had to work and you better be humble because shit could turn bad at any moment if you didn't work and stay working. Yep, that was a tough generation full of hard men and women.

I hope Willie hangs on for a while longer.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Summer 1989

Summer,1989. I had just failed out of college,  I was done playing football and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I returned home from North Carolina to Maryland. I really wasn't fond enough of school to stay around with out football. I found college boring and tedious. At that time, I would have rather just gone fishing, which most days I did instead of going to class. 

My friend Chris , who I played with in junior college drove down from Maryland and picked me up one day and drove me back in one shot. He was working at a golf course at the time and he got me a job working there, too. It was a job cutting grass on the tractors and weed whacking around sand traps and general maintenance and I really loved that job. Nobody to bother you at all.

Most of the guys who worked there hunted and fished and were generally all around good dudes. Cut the rough yet? Yes? Okay now cut the fairway. Done with that? Good, now weed whack around the clubhouse. Break for lunch grab a sub sandwich and some macaroni salad from the deli down the street, sit outside and eat, back to work, a few more hours on the tractor, off at two o'clock. It was good, pure work ,and at the end of the work day, you felt satisfied, spent .

I needed a place to train, and my buddy Chris was training at Ironworks Gym in Beltsville, Maryland. It was set back in an industrial park and it was a helluva gym. It was run by Neil, a former thrower from the University of Florida. A Hall of fame thrower, actually. A big dude, and a real good guy. I think that I paid 25 dollars a month, and I don't think that I signed anything. The place was big, it was a warehouse basically. Neil made his own equipment and he had everything that you needed to have a great workout. The stuff was virtually bombproof. And Neil had these huge loading dock doors that he would open up to let the air come through and when Chris and I would get done training and the smoke stopped coming out of Chris' ears, we would sit out there just outside past the doors and drink milk. We both loved doing that after training.

 Funny thing was that the Maryland Athletic Club (MAC) was about 3 minutes away from Iron Works. In my opinion, Ironworks was the better gym, much bigger and better equipment, but MAC had Kirk Karwoski training there so people flocked there to see him train and to be in that atmosphere. It was a kick ass atmosphere to be honest with you.

Chris was powerlifting at the time and he was strong as hell. I was all small and weak from dieting and was down to 189 pounds from 245 about 6 months earlier. Chris was close gripping 415 for reps, deadlifting in the 6's and squatting high 5's ass to freaking grass. I got back up to 215 just hanging around Chris. And he gave off this intensity when he trained. Every top set was close to a fight for Chris. He would get fired up, focus on some guy in the gym, tell me that the guy was staring at him , making fun of him. It wasn't happening, he was using that as a trick to get fired up. And get this- I wasn't allowed to look at him when I gave him a lift off on the bench press. Seriously, I had to look away when I handed the weight to him. Chris said that me looking at him freaked him out. So I did it, I would hand it to him all the while just hoping that I did it right because I wasn't allowed to look at him. Is that nuts or what? And Neil just looked at us because he got a big kick out of Chris and that crazy, inspiring intensity. Neil would let us drop the dumbells when we did incline db presses(Chris did the 150's for reps), but Chris got carried away and started throwing the dumbells after his set for emphasis and Neil got slightly pissed off and said , "I said you could drop them, not throw them across the gym." But he didn't stay mad, he liked us too much.

Anyway, we were having a great summer but then the boss at the golf course yelled at Chris for weed whacking grass into the sand trap and Chris got pissed off and was like FORGET THIS FREAKING JOB,WE ARE QUITTING! I was like, oh man ,I like this job, but Chris was storming all around and cussing and all fired up and at that point it hit me: I was going back to finish school. It just came to me when I was walking to Chris' orange Nissan. Play time was over and the golf course was gone and I figured I'd volunteer coach and get my foot in the door. I'd find work and coach and get good grades and stop messing around.

My grades improved (some), and I started coaching football and I never  regretted leaving Maryland to finish school. And hell, if Chris wouldn't have gotten all pissed off at the boss for the grass in the sand trap debacle, I may have stayed at the golf course for a long time and I don't think that it would have been all that bad, but I am glad that it turned out the way that it did. Iron Works closed and eventually MAC did also. I looked up Neil on the Internet  a few days ago and he is a high school teacher in Maryland.  I wonder if he knows just how great his gym really was back then, and I wonder if he remembers me and especially if he remembers Chris and his off the wall training intensity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rick's Basement Gym 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.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

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.