Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thoughts, Strong Women, Uncle George

Observations, thoughts, opinions.

I have been training for many years, since 1979, I believe. That is a long time. When I first started out, no women lifted weights. Now it has changed. Not sure how many women I have worked with but it is a bunch. The women that I have worked with, most of them,  are amazing. Focused, tough, driven. And they have fun, man. It's serious when they get under the bar, but I had to get used to some of the laughter and chatter before they started a set. And its quite cool when a 60 something year old women realizes that they have gotten stronger and that by getting stronger, their lives got much better.

In my experience, some men that I have trained with have  been late to train, or made excuses or began a training session and then quit or thought that they were hurt or that life was too hard for some reason that really was not a reason.

 Of course, I have always been comfortable around strong women. Doctor's and All -Americans. Some men just aren't comfortable. That is sad and funny and shallow.  I have always been around athletic women, women with confidence, brilliant women who would have been Vikings in a past life.  But the men? Most have been disappointing. I just laugh at them inside, tell them what they want to hear and move on.

I realize that some of that is isolated to my experiences , and does not pertain to all men. Of course it doesn't.  However, when I am around some of these "men" in this day and age, I think of  real men like my Uncle George who was a professor at the University of Maryland and was an amazing man. He separated his shoulder and still played basketball or tennis everyday. He just played with one arm.  And never saw a doctor. No, he didn't lift weights, and he never counted "macros". To Uncle George and men of that generation (they are or would have been around 80-85 years old now. Think Clint Eastwood) it would have been laughable and foreign and the mere suggestion would have been met with quizzical looks and "Why would I ever do that? I have too much to do to worry about that at all." He wouldn't have been against lifting weights. Knowing him, he would have squatted , deadlifted, and pressed.  5x5. Eat some steak and drink some cream soda. He would have done all of this to get stronger at life. Not to look pretty. He probably would have competed in one of the strength sports if they were around then,on a whim, with no training, maybe strongman. He was lifting weights, but not in a traditional sense. He performed gymnastics with the students. Self taught of course.

He was his own self help guru. He would have laughed if someone would have told him that Deepok or Wayne Dyer or someone on PBS with bare feet had the answers to life. Life to him and most men of that generation was all about doing. Action over stasis, action over reflection. Too busy and too bad ass to reflect.

 He was the coolest, man. Anytime that we had a big snow, he would walk to my house from a few miles away and he and my father would build a sleigh riding course down our driveway complete with a snow tunnel. He taught himself to scuba dive and he bought a 40 foot sail boat without ever driving a sailboat before, willed himself to get his doctorate in spite of having zero mentors in his family, and became the acting Dean and still remained best friends with the maintenance staff and equipment managers at the University of Maryland. A man of the people.  A man who died of bone cancer and never complained one second about the hand dealt to him.  That was a great man.

We need a farm system to create men like that, like those from that generation.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and we both said, damn, when the men from that generation die, we are in trouble. And then we both agreed that we were already in trouble.

Will Over Hope, Action Over Stasis, Power Over Weakness- Pete Helmkamp

Thursday, January 15, 2015


What's going on? Not much here. Squatting and pressing mostly. Tonight I had to rush around and didn't train at work so I squatted in the basement with the Labs and the Kids. I was gonna do some curls but I couldn't picture it and I was gonna deadlift but I couldn't picture it, but I can always picture myself squatting. I have no idea why that is. Maybe I equate it with manliness or something. Although there are some badass women squatters. So maybe its because its the most hardcore exercise around. Hardcore. Over used, I know.

How about Uncomfortable. The most Uncomfortable exercise doesn't sound too appealing. But I think thats why I do it. Because I see people always shying away from the S_Q_U_A_T.

I always say, ya know how it feels when you did that one rep where you went real deep and it felt like your ears were gonna bleed and your lungs were gonna explode? FIND THAT FEELING, go to that spot. Yearn for it, learn to love it.

Nothing smokes you like a set of high rep squats. You walk that bar out and rep out the first 10 and know in your heart that you will get 20 reps and if you get 21 you will be even happier. So at rep 15, you think that all you have to do is a set of 5. That is a mind trick that always works, breaking it down in your head . Rep 18 and 19 are a struggle, but you get 20 just barely and call yourself all sorta names as you will yourself to get 21. And your lungs struggle to regain themselves and you feel a little different, you are waiting for everything in your head and temple to settle down.

It's the best day, Squat Day. Because if you aren't focused, you are screwed, son. Especially where some outlandish reps or weights are involved. You better be living in the present when you are trying to have a great squat day.  To be continued...

Monday, January 5, 2015

Getting Fired Up

So what's your training been like? Do you take time off for "The Holidays?" C'mon man. It's okay though. I learned many years ago that folks need to decide for themselves when they are going to be dedicated to training or not. Like losing weight or quitting smoking or some other vice that you wish you didn't have controlling you. If you are happy with the way you look or feel and training  is not important to you, wonderful.

However, if you love to train, if it is a huge part of your life, and you always have the FIRE WITHIN, there is nothing wrong with using "things" to keep you going.  I do it all of the time, and I have since I began training in 1979.

 What are some of these Things? It can be anything that fires you up for a workout. Examples:

DVD's. I used to watch the Bulgarian Training Hall tapes from Ironmind. I have written about them before, but they were amazing. Max attempts multiple times a day. Broken windows and holes in their shoes. I think one lifter missed a snatch like 20 times and before the coach made him stop trying. His determination was amazing. Kirk Karwoski's "From Cadet to Captain" DVD is fantastic. It chronicles Kirk's training cycle where he finished at the USPF Nationals with a 1003 squat. Crazy lifts done with maximum intensity. 800x5 with just a belt in the squat, 1000x2 in the squat, 800 pound deadlifts. He talks to to the weights, he rages, he dominates the training sessions. And then it shows his training cycle for the IPF Worlds., which is equally amazing.

Books- I just finished Rebel Yell by S.C. Gwynne. It's a biography about Stonewall Jackson, and the Civil War.  What fired me up was the perseverance of the troops despite lack of everything. Some of the troops marched hundreds of miles without shoes, with maggots in their food, with barely a uniform to wear.  Many of the them didn't even have weapons, but still battled with whatever they could bring from the family farm.

Anything on the Bataan Death March, with Tears in the Darkness being my favorite book. Tough men, tough times, survival. And I just finished Voices of the Pacific. Wonderful book. The book is about the soldiers who are still alive today telling the real truth about those battles.Unbelievable courage and toughness. And they were young, man. If you were 22 years old, you were a real veteran.

 Jack London and Hemingway. But with them, it's not so much the books, and the stories (although they are great). I enjoy reading about the men behind the writings. Jack London did more by the time he was 20 than most people get done in a lifetime. I found this from the Bio page:

"Jack London grew up working-class. He carved out his own hardscrabble life as a teen. He rode trains, pirated oysters, shoveled coal, worked on a sealing ship on the Pacific and found employment in a cannery. In his free time he hunkered down at libraries, soaking up novels and travel books."!/people/jack-london-9385499

And Hemingway? Okay, get the bad stuff out of the way, or what society today says is bad, and look at what the man accomplished. He decided that he would be the best writer in the world, and he dedicated himself to the craft. Discipline. Writing everyday, the word counts, the self criticism. He decide to become the best fisherman and in a short period of time, he owned tons of records for biggest fish. He boxed (He had a ring at his house in Key West), and would fight a challenger at the drop of a hat. He saved his son from sharks by diving in and rescuing him. He was in plane crashes and saved himself one time by opening the door with his head. He took young writers under his wing and tutored them. If they showed enthusiasm for the craft, Hemingway went all out for them. And if there was a war? He dropped everything and just went. He even looked for submarines during World War II for our government. Inspiring.

Of course, Marcus Lutrell. Crawled on his belly for seven miles after being shot? Yep, that's something to fire somebody up right there.

And I use people I know that I admire. My Father who loaded box cars to work his way through college. My mom who in her 60's just decided to start painting and now at 81 years of age has won many awards and is the president of the Miniature Painting Society. And they both exercise everyday.

Or I will look at old magazines that I have saved and read certain passages. Here is one about Randy White that I look back at frequently about putting up a fence on his farm years ago. Just hard work.

Or this one about Johnny Unitas shoveling coal as a kid and how hard his mother worked after her husband died.

And movies? Some of the best stuff to fire you up. Rocky and the Rambo
movies. All of us in 1976 watched Rocky and started shadow boxing and
going for runs. Stallone has a knack for knowing what buttons to push when it comes to motivation.

So, there you have it. Some stuff that I use and have used to get fired up to train. My advice? Find what touches you deep inside, what lights that fire. Find what gets you in a rage to train, and use it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Calm and Seeking

I was standing in a goose blind the other day. Not much was flying, a lull in the action. And I'm looking out at the field, at the decoys, and I had this moment where I realized all the stuff I have experienced in life. It was a surreal, crazy moment. I was like, I have kids that bear my name? I have been divorced? I coach? I remarried? I live in New Jersey? People that I love have died? Nah, none of that can be. I am just a little kid at his first football practice on a dirt field in third grade in Maryland, excited, nervous and happy all at once, with my dad sitting in his Ford Falcon station wagon watching. I am a kid, not 47 years old, no way was I 47.

The green winter rye in front of the blind was like a movie screen playing my life on it. I have had another of weird moment sorta like that one before. One time I was driving on 495 in Wilmington , Delaware and I was stressing over some BS that didn't really matter and all of a sudden this sense of crazy calmness came over me and no, no voice was speaking to me, but a feeling, a realization that very few things in life are really important and that worry doesn't do a damn bit of good, ever. So I decided to just relax about things, to just be calm and enjoy life. I started stepping back and laughing at stuff that people went crazy about. That is great to do, to stand back and watch somebody freak out, a grown man no less, over something like a bad call by a referee in a sporting event. Or coaches that sleep in their offices because they love to "grind".  That is hilarious to me, not admirable.Who started that crap anyway? Or someone bragging about their car or status or a school that their kid got accepted into. Awesome.  More to it all than that kind of stuff, I know that for sure. And that nirvana-like "high" feeling I experienced while driving actually lasted a few days, but the attitude stayed with me. I care about only a few things.  The other things? This too shall pass, or just nod and and move on. 

Also, I was asking a friend of mine the other day about how he got so damn good at training dogs. I love to find out how people's lives have turned out like they have, and I really love to hear stories like the one he told me. He said that he was living in the city in Georgia and heard of a guy that was a great dog trainer, but the guy lived far away and way back in the woods of Appalachia.  My friend finds out where the man lives and he drives hours to the place. My friend was hesitant when he got there, because all that he saw was a trailer and grass that was waist high.Turns out that the guy who lived there was a former Special Forces guy and basically had cut himself out of society after all the stuff he had seen, and he just decided to train dogs and live in the woods.  Done with people and mostly everything else. So my friend knocks on the door and he gets to talking to the guy and they spend 6 hours talking about dogs. And he kept coming back to see the man. It was not always easy. Sometimes the dog guru would tell him to meet him at 7 am and my friend would sit in his car for hours before the trailer door would open. But when he did appear, my friend picked up tons of gems about dog training. And the guy saw how serious my friend was about it all, and the dedication that he showed to keep coming back and the perseverance paid off to where my friend is now able to train dogs for a living. I love stories like that because it shows that perseverance and dedication and seeking out the best , no matter what the inconvenience, pays off .

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Perfect Day

Have you ever had anyone ask you , "When are you the happiest?"

Quick, ask yourself that right away. 

I think that if you can't answer that question right away, you need some soul searching and pretty fast.

I probably just asked it so I could tell you when I am the most happy.

Hunting. And then I have a list of a bunch of other stuff that makes me happy, but it's not the intense, focused feeling of the birds coming in, your dog seeing them and holding his breath, you seeing them and holding your breath, the moment right before the shot and then the shot the retrieve and the retelling of the whole thing.

Training ,and exercising in general makes me happy, but it is more of a "have to" activity that must be done in order for me to enjoy the rest of my day. Earning the right to have a good time because I exercised. You can't just wake up and not pay some sort of toll. C'mon, everyone knows that fact.

OK! Here is my perfect day: Wake up at 3 am, let the dogs outside, let them back in to eat. Brew a massive pot of coffee and walk downstairs. Load up the squat bar and  hit 20 minutes of squats with very little rest in between sets. Dogs watching. Petting them and talking to them between sets. Telling them how many reps I have to get before each set. Telling them to count. Hit heavy bag for 3 rounds. Wake son up. Shower. Camo clothing on, kid and dogs and supplies in truck. Hank Jr. on radio. In the goose blind in Maryland with dog, kid and buddy Steve by 6:15. Birds flying in droves and getting the limit by 9:30. Dog performing flawlessly. Cheesesteak and fries with Old Bay seasoning and vinegar at the Dog House in Delaware with kid on the way home. Save a few bites of steak for the
dogs. Repeat the next day and forever and ever and ever.

 What makes you happy? And nothing cheesy allowed, like romance or a walk on the beach holding hands and stargazing or the look on your children's face or some sentimental crap. Ah, I guess you can say when your kid(s) was born, but that started love and worry. Because this ultimate happiness activity today should be about you, and sort of a make believe I don't have to worry about a damn thing activity.

Get to it! Think about it. Lose yourself in it for awhile, before the real world starts knocking you in the head again.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Training Considerations and The Old Cowboys

I get asked alot about considerations for an older lifter. Maybe it should be more "What I Have Learned After Training for 30+ Years.", because there are so many individual considerations when it comes to training.

Of course, I believe in the basics, but there are basics that may change because of injuries over the years. For instance, I squat exclusively with the Safety Squat bar because after back surgery, the straight bar irritates my Sciatic Nerve. So I am squatting but with a twist.And I made a decision to squat instead of deadlift. If I deadlift, my back gets fired up. Of course, when I have deadlifted, I always go too heavy instead of just stopping at 315. Stupid stuff. Still learning.

I think that the key is to consistently change your training. Meaning that sometimes you focus on low reps and hitting an all time best set of 1-3. And then 6 weeks later you change to doing 5 sets of 12 with 30 seconds rest of each exercise and 10-15 sets a bodypart. Another time during the year, you focus on boxing or prowler work or running stadiums and just hit one or 2 exercises for 5x5  and only train with weights 2-3 days a week. ALSO, go outside and do kettlebells or chop wood and then sprint. Press dumbells to failure and then do a minute straight of kettlebell swings. Squat your bodyweight for a minute and then run hills. Being outside and training is the BEST. One of the best workouts I had last summer was when my son and I and the dogs were staying in a cabin and I brought my kettlebell and did a mess of swings every morning then went fishing.Then you can fish and drink beer, You earned the right because you got your swings done first.

I think many injuries occur because people are doing the same old things with the same range of motion and the same exercises over and over. Both physically and mentally it can start to wear you down .A friend of mine has squatted every Monday for 30 years and now when he squats, he gets hurt all the time. Hell, I told him why! Switch it up. Front squats, sled drags, RDL, then do his squats. It would force him to lighten up also. Put his ego away. But he would still be training. And that's the key. The action of training. And then sometimes, have no plan at all, but go by feel. Which I reckon is a plan in itself, but it is liberating. You have to have some fun doing the damn thing.

Just read this book, Empire of the Summer Moon. What a great book. The Comanches and the Settlers, and the wars and the kidnappings and the brutality from both side. And especially how tough ALL of them were back then, even the children. The Comanche children riding horses at age 6, the settlers constantly fearing slavery and kidnappings, the scalping, the torture, the horse stealing, the buffalo. The being burned alive. The little kids that were kidnapped and became part of the tribe and took on the lifestyle of the Tribe, even marrying into the tribe.Also,  I couldnt believe all the uses for the whole buffalo that the Indians had, including the brains, hide, bones, intestines....nothing was wasted.  Great book.

A Football Life on the NFL Network has some of the best profiles around. The other night they had one on Roger Staubach. Bad ass show all around.

ROGER FREAKIN' STAUBACH.  Watching that show took me back to my days as a Cowboy fan.

Huge, huge Cowboy fan when I was growing up. My whole family was, especially when the Colts were run by Irsay and man, we all disliked the Redskins in my house. Although I did like some of the Redskin players. Russ Grimm was one of my favorites. But Theismann, what a jerk. Im sure he was an okay guy, but not to my family. Hotdog.

We were such huge fans because of Randy White, local Maryland boy made good. More than good. One of my earliest football memories was in 1974 and the Terps were playing Tennessee in the Liberty Bowl and all I heard at the "Bowl" party that my parents were having was Randy White did this, Randy White did that. I was 7 years old. And he knew my dad who was a professor at Maryland, and he hustled his butt off and bench pressed a house.

So he gets drafted and we become fans. Every meal was delayed if the Cowboys were playing. Especially Thanksgiving. Eat before or after the game. Never during. My cousins would be over at the house and they were Skins fans and if they were playing the Cowboys and even made one little comment, it made me nuts. I held it in, but I would be fuming inside. My Cowboys.

And I watched every play. I studied Randy White and read everything that I could get my hands on about him. The head Athletic Trainer at Maryland used to get the Dallas Cowboy's Weekly and would save a bunch of them up for me. His wife would then drop them off in the mailbox at my house. Seeing her pull up at the top of the road made my heart race. Id sprint up the steps and grab those things and read them from cover to cover. And if something was in there about Randy White, it really made it special. In 1977 my dad and I went see the Cowboys and Redskins play at RFK Stadium. Damn  it was cold. I remember these towering punts by Danny White and I remember what a thrill it was to actually see Randy White in person. And Roger Staubach. And Drew Pearson. And Harvey Martin(23 sacks that year). Tom Landry. I remember looking over and seeing Landry and he actually had that hat on and everything just like when he is on TV. And Dallas won 14-7 when Roger sneaked over for a touchdown. And then they won the Super Bowl that year and all was great. Until Roger retired after 1979. then it was a long time before they made it again. Not until Jimmy Johnson. But back then? I was a super fan, memorizing stats and player's hometowns and dying to just know about the Cowboys and how that all worked out there man, glimmering building and ranches and Larry Hagman and it seemed like a magical place to live and to play.

1978: Dad comes home one day and he says that he has a surprise for me. Randy White is coming to Maryland for a recruiting weekend. He was Defensive MVP that year, 1978. My father was great friends with the head coach at Maryland, Jerry Claiborne. Randy walks in, comes right over to me and we begin talking. He spent so much time with me that my dad had to let him go eventually. He would have stayed and talked all day, and my dad started to feel bad about us keeping him. It was some magical stuff.
Fast forward many years and I actually had the chance to interview him for, and the other day, we talked on the phone about martial arts training. Ain't that some stuff!

Monday, December 1, 2014


Every training session should have, at the start, a main lift. And really the first, main lift,  is what really matters. A typical work out may be set up like this:

leg curls

But sometimes I think it's best do just perform the main lift and just leave.

Back in the old days, circa 1989, my training partner and I, Jimmy Anderson, would squat and leave all the time. 

In fact, I can't recall ever doing anything else on squat day. Oh yeah, we always listened to Charlie Daniel's while we trained and ate biscuits and gravy at Hardee's immediately afterward.

I used to like to just squat and not even take the weights off of the bar. And leave them like that for awhile. I am not sure why. I'd always go back and take them off later.

(On another note, I have always admired minimalists. No phone, cable, no frills. And from the 1800's, the Mountain Men, recluses.)

So I was thinking that when you do that, just perform the main lift, that you are reaching your minimum for the session. Like you had to at least do that, and then you have given yourself permission to end the workout. I also have a rule regarding minimums when it comes to running the hill near my house. You have to do ten in order for it to count, for it to be a real training session. Any less,  and it was just a warmup.

And I have to admit that I have pretty much always just done the main lift. Damn, most of the other stuff is just so damn boring. C'mon, man! Lat pulls, pushdowns, extensions, blah, blah. Now bent over rows are great, and one arm rows and some shrugs. After that? Just pull, squat, press. Fun!

You can do it with reps also. I have to get at LEAST 5 on this set, you decide. And then any reps after that are just bonus.

It's like writing a book (I have to get a certain amount of words in each day)or daily tasks to be done (I have to do these three things at least).

And if you feel like crap- sick, way under the weather, done, just say to yourself that you can do a few sets of benches and you are finished. Anyone can do one exercise, right?

Monday, November 24, 2014


Thinking about training. Thinking about age. Thinking that my mentor Rich Salke told me, "Jimmy, everyone has 20 hard years of training in them and then they start to break down". And I can't seem to find anyone for whom that doesn't ring true.

The only way that you wont get hurt is to sit on the couch.  But you'll die miserable on the damn thing. Nobody I know that pushed their bodies to the limit comes out unscathed. I'm talking high level fighting, lifting, bodybuilding. It's not about health when you are lifting or competing that hard and heavy.
Sign at doctor's office.
And so you switch it up, switch templates, programs, times that you train, and you still get banged up.

And you venture into your 40's and you actually have people ask you why you still squat and press and push.

And I am thinking,

What other choice is there? Sit around and wither away? Became a Lazy- Boy sitting critic? NO! Do not go so softly. Not training? Can't imagine it, can never ever  even see it. 

And getting hurt? It is gonna happen. Accept it and work on something else. You can do something, always just a little something. Pretty soon, just by attrition, the number of exercises you may be able to do gets smaller and smaller. Just focus on those and be happy that you are training. 

It is a sickness, I believe, this yearning to train with weights, and this addiction happens pretty much when one touches a weight for the first time. You know if it is right for you and if you feel this connection with the weights or not. When you feel the connection, it stays with you through every damn thing. But at its most addictive, other parts of life will suffer for sure. Because the

Workout Always Comes First

And there are not a whole lot of girlfriends or boyfriends and wives or husbands that get it . Social lives will suffer, mealtimes will suffer. (I did skip Thanksgiving dinner at my Mom's house, cancelling at the last minute, because of dieting. Ooooh she was pissed.) 

But, really. Get over it. They just do not understand, man..Its training and it sets up the day, it is therapy for the cluttered, messed up, foggy brain. 

You get done squatting until your body is shaking and , it's amazing, you either don't care about what was bothering you before, or you know how to fix it. It's a psychiatrist's office but with chalk and sweat.

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.