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.
All About Being a Lifer
What's a Lifer? Someone who isn't in to something for just a day, a month, a year...it's for life. Whether its training or your family or your job...it 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.