Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Iron Company Article

I wrote an article on about training the young athlete. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Bobby, Part Two

Bobby strode to the gym early on Tuesday morning, chomping at the bit to train with his Uncle Mike's friend, Randy. Randy had taken Bobby through his first real leg and back workout yesterday at a real hardcore gym, Hank's Gym, where all the areas biggest powerlifters , strongmen and bodybuilders lifted weights.

Bobby struggled to get out of bed that morning, his legs and lats and lower back where amazingly sore. He felt this soreness deep down in his bones,but he wasn't discouraged. This type of soreness, he knew, meant that he had worked hard and that soreness, as his Uncle Mike told him, was just part of the game.

He had done as Randy had told him yesterday and Bobby ate a big steak for dinner last night and had a protein shake before he went to bed. Then, still following Randy's advice, Bobby woke up early and had an omelet with six real eggs and a sweet potato. He never cared for the taste of eggs or sweet potatoes, but Randy told him to eat it, and Bobby did.

 On the walk to the gym, Bobby thought that his body was sore, but ready to go. He felt like he had accomplished something by sticking it out through the workout that Randy put him through the day before. He pushed away any doubts that he had that he wouldn’t be able to hack it today by thinking just how badly he wanted to be big and strong.

He was ready to train.

Bobby stood outside Hank’s Gym, waiting for Randy. . He looked at his watch, and it read 5:15. At 5:20, the gym door opened and it was Randy, soaked with sweat. "C'mon in, Randy said, I was just getting some cardio in before you got here. You sore?"

"A little."

"Okay, get used to it. It's like a badge of honor around here, staying sore."

“I am going to train with you today. We will do some presses first. You'll hear this exercise called the military press, the overhead press, the shoulder press. Its just called the press.  So anytime you hear press, it's a standing press. These will fire up your shoulders, but it works your whole body, your triceps, your abs and low back also. It's a great exercise, and it's one that humans have been doing forever. Think about it, there was always a need to put things up on a ledge or in a tree. Maybe our ancestors put food up high so animals couldn't get to it. You have to be strong overhead. If you can press your bodyweight, you are on your way to being strong. “

They started doing presses, using two different racks and two different bars. They needed to do that, because Randy was warming up with one hundred and thirty five pounds for twelve reps and Bobby figured that he didn't have a prayer of lifting that over his head even one time.

Bobby started with the bar.  Randy gave Bobby some coaching points,"Set you feet right inside of your shoulders, like you are going to perform a vertical jump. Then put your hands right outside your thighs. That’s your press grip. That's also your clean grip and your RDL grip and your bent row grip. It's the same grip for many exercises. You can adjust according to the size of your arms and you shoulder flexibility, but for right now since you are so puny, let's go with right outside your thighs. Get under the bar, and walk back a step. Squeeze everything, but especially your quads and glutes. Push those knees back and flex your butt hard! Now lean back slightly and then press the bar , ending up with your biceps even with your ears. Pause at lockout.”

Bobby pushed the bar overhead as Randy had instructed. The bar wobbled at the top, Bobby's body attempting to learn this new skill. He brought it down quickly and Randy said, “Don't pause , just go!” and Bobby touched the bar above his chest and quickly pressed it up again. “Stop at five,” Randy instructed.  They each did five sets of five reps. Randy finished with two hundred and twenty five pounds and Bobby finished with eighty five pounds. “

Bobby could feel his shoulders and triceps fatigue as he progressed on each set, and now it felt as though they were filled with air. He felt great.

“Bench presses are next. It's a great exercise if you do it right. Lie down here”, Randy said, pointing at a bench.

“Push against the uprights and pinch your shoulder blades together. Now think about your butt and shoulders getting as close as they can to each other. Bobby scooted his feet back until he couldn't come back any further. “Good, keep those feet flat.” Randy walked behind Bobby. He touched his finger at the bottom of Bobby's ribcage. “That's your highest point. That's where the bar should touch. Now lift your butt up off the bench and then set it down lightly. Feel the pressure in the quads? Good. That makes you drive with your legs. Keep the butt barely touching the bench and crush the floor with your feet. I want you to think that the bench press is a leg exercise. I'm going to hand you the bar. Take a little wider than shoulder width grip to begin, we can adjust as needed later. Keep the position, okay?” Bobby felt as though his whole body was going to cramp. “It's not comfortable”, Randy said, But it's worth it. When I hand you the bar, I want you to act like you are bending it in half. That will keep the elbows from flying out. Less stress on the shoulders, especially the pec delt tie in. And you will be stronger this way in the long run. Bending the bar tucks those elbows tight to the body, tucks them right into the lats.”

Randy handed the bar to Bobby. “Bend that sucker!” Randy said, "Okay, now touch the highest point and think about pressing everything in to the bench, not reaching up. Press in a straight line. Down fast and up fast. “

Bobby had everything tight and flexed and he had his elbows tucked in tight. Randy handed him the bar and the bar wobbled as Bobby tried to steady it. “Its okay," Randy said, "your body hasn't done this before. It's learning a new skill.”

Bobby did a set of twelve reps with the bar and put it back. Randy threw on two hundred and twenty-five pounds and did twelve reps also. Bobby noticed that Randy did everything the same way every time, his setup was perfect and the reps were smooth and flawless. They did at least five sets of five reps after the initial warm up set of twelve reps. Bobby was concentrating to keep his elbows in, but as the weight got heavier, his elbows kept flaring out. “Let's drop the weight a bit,” Randy said, Your triceps will get stronger eventually and you will be able to tuck those elbows in. ”

Bobby finished with ninety five pounds on the bench press and Randy did a set of five paused benches with four one hundred and five pounds. The York plates clanged together as Randy pressed the weight off of his chest. Bobby thought that someday, he will have enough weight on the bar to make the weights clang together when he bench pressed.

Now Bobby's whole upper body felt engorged with blood.

“Let’s do some laterals for your shoulders, Bobby.”

Randy grabbed a pair of thirty pound dumbbells and held them at his side. “Alright, watch,” he said. “You want to bring these dumbbells out to the side until they are parallel to the ground. Your elbows should just be slightly bent. And stop about six inches from your thighs and go up again. Keep that tension in the side delt.  No swinging at all. I used to show off and do sixty to seventy pound laterals. But it wasn’t until I lessened the weight that my shoulders really started to grow.” 

Randy did a set of twelve reps with the thirty pound dumbbells, keeping his body motionless except for his arms. He lowered the weights slowly each time. Bobby grabbed a pair of fifteen pounders but had to swing the weight up for the last few reps so Randy told him to go down to the ten pounders. Bobby didn't know that ten pounds could feel so heavy. Three sets of laterals and they moved to an incline bench. Randy grabbed a pair of eighty pound dumbells and lay back on the bench. “Press these right over your eyes. If you have trouble keeping your elbows in, try a neutral gip. Again, press into the floor as hard as you can, and push your body into the bench hard also.”  Bobby did his sets with thirty and forty pounds for three sets of eight reps. Randy finished with a hundred pounds, lowering the weights under control and then firing them up.

“Let's finish with some dips.”

Bobby had done these before, so he felt confident that he could show Randy that he at least knew how to do something well in here. What Bobby wasn’t ready for was having his upper body shake as he tried to steady himself at the lockout for the dips. And when he went down, he had to struggle to get the first rep. He ended up performing five shaky reps when he could usually do ten in a row. “You are just fatigued from all the work that you did before. Don’t worry about it, you are still working hard,” Randy said.  After three tough sets of dips of 5 reps for Bobby and sets of twelve for Randy, Bobby was spent. He was feeling huge until he glanced at Randy’s triceps. They were so big that the hung over part of his elbow.

“ Are my arms ever gonna be that big?”

“If you listen to what I teach you and are consistent with all aspects of the lifestyle. That’s lifting, eating, sleeping. Basically living it. If you want it badly enough, you can do it.”

“Time for a protein shake, my man”

Randy and Bobby sat down outside of the gym and drank their protein shakes and Randy began to talk.

“How are you feeling? Like you just got run over by a truck?”

“I am sore, but I really feel great, like I have accomplished something.”

“You have. You got your ass out of bed early while everyone else was sleeping and you trained, you made yourself better. And weight training is different than other forms of exercise. I guess that you could compare sets of squats with running up a steep hill over and over again, but by doing it with weights, you get stronger and you put on muscle. You can put on some muscle on your legs running hills, but after a while, your gains will stop. There isn't any progression. Unless the hill keeps getting steeper and longer! But pretty soon you will have to run up a mountain to get any stimulus. Much easier to put weights on an olympic bar and squat up and down. But anyway, weight training gives me a level of satisfaction that other forms of exercise don't. It feels so good to challenge your muscles, really work them. And then there is the art of recovery and nutrition to maximize the work that you put in the gym. If you aren’t focused on that aspect of it all, including sleep, you are just wasting your time in the gym.”

“I want to stress something else to you also. All that technique stuff that I taught you today and yesterday is so important. Let everybody else use shitty form and let their egos go crazy. You use proper form and you will be bigger and stronger than they will in the long run, and you won't get injured , either.  Remember that and you’ll be fine.”

“Aren't there more exercises that I need to learn?”

“There sure are. I just taught you the basics. There are many more lifts to learn, but I wanted to get the basic lifts taught first. The other stuff is important also, we will add a little in each time that we train.”

“You are going to keep training with me?”

If you give me your word that you’ll be here at 5:30 every morning, I will be here and train with you, yes.”

“I’ll be here, I give you my word.”

“Good man. Getting up before school and crushing the weights early in the morning sets you apart from the masses, the regular citizens.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, the people that wake up with their big ass beer belly hanging out from a white shirt, tired as hell, haven't exercised in forever, eats a big breakfast of sugar cereal, orange juice and then always complains about being tired. Same people who are always telling war stories about how they woulda been in the pro’s if it wasn't for that high school knee injury.”

Bobby laughed. “ I know the type.”

“Citizens are the ones who are also looking for a quick fix when it comes to training. They buy things like the Shake Weight and if they do exercise, will do anything that they can to not actually get under the damn bar and do some full squats, to avoid being uncomfortable. They want to avoid that head pounding, vision blurry effect that you get from squatting your ass off. Or they are the ones who act like they are working hard, but are just going through the motions. They do a bunch of little stuff that they espouse as "functional" but it really means that they don't have to face the fact that they are scared of pushing themselves . Everybody has that little voice that says don't do it. It's just that some people listen to the voice and some people eliminate that voice by striving to meet the pain and conquer it , not run away from it."

Randy continued, “They could skip their ten different exercises with their five pound weights and literally just get under a bar , do five sets of squats and leave. Remember that lady in there with the blonde hair? She was lunging and jumping around and stepping up on benches and doing freaking jumping jacks . She used either no weight or super light weights. She was probably practicing some positive reinforcement psychology yoga shit between sets too. All a waste. I like negative self talk when I train, like get this weight you weak son of a bitch! But that’s another story. Anyway, I wanted to tell  that lady that she is wasting her time, that she is just making herself tired, but people don't like it when someone shatters their illusion that they are working hard and correctly. And citizens also keep talking and talking and checking their phone. I never have understood wanting to be so damn soft, but to each his own.”

“Well, I don't want to be a citizen. I want to be as big and strong as you one day.”

Randy stood up. “You are off to the right start. Alright , Bobby. Good job today.  I'll see you on Thursday. Don't be late.”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Respecting Famous People

I was talking to a friend of mine one day. This guy is smart, a lawyer and a writer.

We were listening to some Heavy Metal in the weight room. And he said something to the effect of , "I love him as a singer, but he weighs about 150 pounds, doesn't lift and you know that he can't fight."  I was like, "Oh man, I have felt like that forever!" Then I asked, "Has he served in the military?"

"No, he's a beanpole. Pepper James Keenan has, you know the Tool guy?"

"Okay, he passes."

"And he does jiu jitsu. So double pass."

And then I thought about it, about my unbridled prejudice regarding not reading anyone, listening to anyone singing,watching movies or tv shows or basically respecting anyone "famous" unless they have:

Served in the Military

Trained with weights

Fought (Any type: MMA, boxing, Muay Thai, one freaking street fight, Jiu Jitsu, anything combative where your life is in danger)

Hunted and fished (not just camping or hiking)

I'll be all into a band and then read an interview with the lead singer and he will talk about synchronized swimming being his favorite sport and I will ban them from my music. So shallow.

Like, I can't force myself to watch the new Motley Crue movie on Netflix. I mean, I have listened to some Crue before I became close-minded, but now I'm like, why do they get a movie about them? Like, they were wild, right? Oh, so wild. C'mon, picture Tommy Lee squatting 315. Good Gawd, it would break his tiny little legs in half!

Tommy Lee
But I can listen to anything by Zakk Wylde! Lifts weights, named his dog DORIAN, after Dorian Yates. Said his two favorite football players were Jack Lambert and Randy White.

Clint Eastwood. No question. Military, lifts, used to box. Shoe in.

Metallica.  Negative. They shop on Rodeo Drive. Is one of them doing Jiu Jitsu? They can get in if one is. Maybe more, Lars is real soft. He and Tommy Lee should lock themselves in the weight room for years. A couple of cots and jars of peanut butter and gallons of milk. Postscript- Hetfield (lead singer) hunts. Pass.

Hemingway. He boxed, fished and made himself one of the greatest fishermen the world has ever seen. Hunted, drank like a fish. Also got blown up in World War I. He passes with flying colors.

Hemingway pounding whiskey after a duck hunt

Phil Anselmo. The Pantera frontman has boxed and is a boxing historian. He passes.

AC DC. Damn, I don't think that any of them pass. Okay, one exception. They are the exception.

Led Zeppelin. Oooh, man. Fail.

Van Halen. David Lee Roth lived in Japan and practiced martial arts. They pass, although the others need to join Tommy Lee and Lars.

Stallone. Boxed, lifts. Pass.

And trained by Franco Columbo
Leonardo DiCaprio. Negative. Beyond negative. Case of protein bars and a squat rack coming right up! Chained to the squat rack. Sets of 12 on the hour and a box of bars every hour until he can squat 405. Deep.

Hunter S. Thompson. He played football in high school, didn't he? And hunted, too. He passes.

Any self- help guru. Tony Robbins may lift, though. Ok, he has a weight room in his house. He says his routine last like 10 minutes. I'm gonna fail him, I don't believe it.

Lady Gaga.

Any of the Kardashian or housewife shows. Fail.

Adam Sandler. Waterboy. Funniest football movie ever. But did you see The Longest Yard? As my college coach used to say about sorry players, "He couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie." He ain't no Burt Reynolds (who passes. R.I.P)

Jimmy Hendrix. Passes, military.

You get the picture. It has made my life difficult, always looking up backgrounds on people before I can like them. But it is part of me, and I cannot seem to shake it.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Relationships and Trust

What I have surmised after all the years of coaching athletes in both high school and college is that coaching is all about

relationships and trust

Years ago, if athletes didn't go hard or show dedication or didn't at least look like they were trying, I was done with them.

And then I realized that every kid, almost all of them, has "IT" in them and it was my job to figure out what the "IT" was and to push that button in order to help them achieve.

When I coached football in college, I would be in staff meetings with this particular head coach and we would be discussing players. If we came to a name of an athlete who wasn't performing up to par and was on scholarship, the head coach would declare, "I want his money." Meaning make him quit or step up. And if he didn't prove his worth right away, then make him quit to free up the scholarship money. And then we would run drills until the kid quit or rose up and became something. I reckon that there may be some merit to seeing how a kid will react when his back is against the wall. But the way I would approach it these days would be different. I'd talk to the kid, find out what's going on, and most of all, figure out what makes him tick.

I know this may sound crazy but years ago I was talking with a good friend of mine who trains hunting retrievers for a living and he was telling me about a great dog trainer and the dog trainer one time turned to the friend and said to him, "It's never the dog's fault." Meaning, you need to find a way to make that dog learn. You are the coach, that is your job, now do your job.

That maturation of sitting back and observing the athlete , seeing how he interacts with the other players, seeing what exercises he excels in or doesn't excel in comes with time coaching and experience.

And as a coach, you have no idea what is going on with their lives. It's real important to talk face to face with each athlete at some point. Sit down with the kid who is having trouble and don't talk about lifting weights and don't talk about his/her sport right away, just talk to them as people. What's going on? How's class? How's your family? You may find that there is an underlying condition that is messing with this kids life.

I have had athletes come to me with severe depression, relationship troubles, family trouble, you name it. And it may be as simple as just telling the kid that he is worth a damn, and let him know that you think so.

Many times it's an athlete that has a problem with a sport coach. I had one player who had a huge issue with his position coach, wondering why the coach always yells at him, why he doesn't like him, why he doesn't play him. Usually , I knew the coach personally, and in this instance, I knew the coach very well. This particular coach had a tendency to get on kids in a personal manner. Not just about the sport, but also he would comment on the kid's family or who he should have recruited instead of the player. It was tough to take if you never had a father that ripped you or coaches when you were coming up through the ranks that yelled and screamed. This one coach was a yeller but he cared about the athletes well being and as a person. Although I believe that he shouldn't coach the way that he did, he really didn't mean to be a jerk, he just was a jerk on the field,  but it was like he didn't realize the way that he was being, and how it affected the athlete. So we talked, the athlete and I, and he told me that he was thinking about quitting, but I knew that he didn't really want to. He was just confused. So I told him that he has a choice: Either quit, or walk up to the coaches' office and close the door and talk to him face to face. Ask him, with respect, what he can do to get on the field, what skills he should work on, and ask him if there is a personal issue between he and coach. Just don't do it when everyone is around. Man to Man and face to face. It ended up going well, the coach listened and their relationship improved dramatically and the player ended up starting the rest of the year. Basically, the coach had no idea that the player felt this way until he verbalized it. Sometimes it just take a little face to face meeting to work it out. Sometimes the athlete just needs to be shown the way.  

And all the kids are different and all of them have different ways of getting ready to train and compete.

You can still have an intense weight room. But you have to have an understanding of how the athlete's are different. There will be a few athletes who don't want to talk, who are totally locked in and intense. There are some others that can get serious right before they do their set. I didn't care, you could do back flips and laugh and yell or whatever, just bust your ass and do the workout and get your reps.

And another thing: I always wanted kids to look forward to their training and feel great when they left, drenched in sweat but feeling like the session was worthwhile.This idea that the training sessions should be brutal and the athlete should dread it every time is unnecessary. We have to let go of the idea that each workout should cripple the athlete or make them puke. That's stupid.

Is there a place for workouts that teach the athlete to push through difficult conditions while fatigued, like running stadiums and then squatting? Yes, it's important. But that should be done once in a while, not every session.

As a strength coach, you have a lot more influence on an athlete than you may think. More than any out of touch administrator (have the athlete ask the administrator if they even know the athlete’s name) or a sport coach.  It was so great to reach an athlete and have him trust you and to smile when he comes into the weight room, ready to train and happy to be there. And the athlete should enjoy the process. Yes, it's hard work, but creating an atmosphere where each kid feels part of it all, no matter what their personality, is essential to their success.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Dutch and the Ultimate Insult

I broke up with a girl one time over a dog. This was many moons ago when I was coaching college football. I had a Black Labrador retriever named Dutch. Dutch was my boy.  I have always loved my dogs like they were my kids, and Dutch and I did everything together. Going to the store? Load up, Dutch. Going to watch film at the field house? Load up, Dutch.  Drive in movies? Load up, Dutch. Going for a run or lifting weights? Let's go, Dutch! 

The problem with all of this togetherness was that Dutch developed severe separation anxiety and pretty soon, I had to take him everywhere. I tried leaving him in the apartment one time, and he attempted to eat through the air conditioning unit in my apartment to get out. Another time, he broke through a glass window to get out. I had put him in my bedroom, locked the door and even barred it with a chair on the outside of the door. Dutch didn't care about that at all, he went right through the window. I walked into the apartment and I saw the chair still there and I smiled becauseI thought that I finally found a solution to Houdini's magical escapes. I opened the door to the room, and there was nothing but glass everywhere and no Dutch. I found him running around with some other dogs about a mile away, mingling with the pack.  He was probably asking them if any of them had seen me.

So then I got an outside kennel and even staked him to the ground. So Dutch, who could jump like a madman, jumped over the kennel, hung himself until he shook loose and was gone. All that I found when I came home was his collar hanging over the top of the kennel. So I made the leash even shorter and covered the top with plywood and even put a rowboat on top of that, and he couldn't escape. But he was still crazy. If I drove by my apartment during the day, I would actually duck down so that he wouldn't see me. I swear that dog had ESP and could tell when I was close by. 

Dutch Boy
After a while, I felt so bad that he was chained up in the kennel that I put him back in the truck again. I had him in the truck while I was coaching football practice one time and my lights kept blinking. It looked like freaking Morse code over there. Dutch was leaning on the light switch in my truck while he was watching me coach. I was like, that son of a bitch! I can't even coach without him up my ass, wanting me to hurry up. I left him with my parents one night while in Maryland visiting, and my parents and sister said that he was groaning the whole time that I was gone, and finally, he went in the other room, got one of my hunting boots, carried over by the door, set it down, and laid on top of it until I came home. I'd put him in a local kennel when I had away games and had to spend the night and when I got back from the trip , the owner of the kennel asked me, "You got that dog on steroids?" I told him no, and wondered why he asked. He said that he needed to show me something. We walked back to the kennels, and there was Dutch, jumping over and over again, and hitting his head on the six foot cover over the kennel, looking for a way to escape. Crazy.  I'd go into a store or into someone's house and Dutch would sit in the passenger seat of my truck and stare at the front door, waiting for me to appear. 

So needless to say, if I was around, Dutch was usually around, too. If I was going out on a date, Dutch tagged along. Some girls didn't like that too much, others were dog lovers who didn't mind it . Most were just tolerant of Dutch.  But one morning I was arguing with my girlfriend about something and of course it turned into me being selfish and only caring about football and lifting weights and I was like, "What else is new?"And then she did it: She insulted Dutch. 

"And another thing, why does that damn dog need to go with us wherever we go?"

"What did you say?"

" That damn dog. Why is he always with us?"

"Damn dog?"

"Yes, damn dog?"

So I grabbed my keys without saying a word , walked out the door, got into my truck and drove off with Dutch in the passenger seat and I never saw her again. Check that, I did see her one more time. I was stopped at red light in town and she saw my truck and walked out into the middle of the street and put both middle fingers up at me and mouthed something to the effect of me being the greatest thing that ever happened to her. I think that was what she was saying.

So yes, it irritated me that she insulted Dutch and it irritates me a little still, twenty some years later. I mean, he was my dog, man. And I knew that people would come and go in my life, but that Dutch would always be there, looking out the window of my old Ford Ranger, waiting for me to finish what I was doing so that we could hang out some more.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Fired Up

Man, you gotta get fired up when you are trying to get strong and doing some heavy lifts. Now, I'm a sissy with all the peak contraction and slow negatives and stuff, but when I was powerlifting, I was around a bunch of guys that would get in a blind rage before their sets. 

Kirk Karwoski used to let out a sound that was like, YYYEEEAAAAHHH, like a long "yeah"when he placed his hands on the bar when before was about to squat. And the rest of the time, he was on his Walkman, banging his head to British Steel, pacing around the gym.

Rob Wagner (799 at 198lbs in the squat, and I spotted him when he squatted 405x20) said that he used to bang his head on the bar before he squatted , but then he was in a meet with Ed Coan one time and he saw that Ed had an inward fire when he was lifting, like he was gonna explode, but without being outwardly demonstrative. So when Wagner squatted, he would take these huge breaths and he'd flair his nostrils some and then he'd be shaking a little.  Which was just another way of getting fired up. 

My junior college partner in crime, Chris (485 bench, 610x2 squat as a freshman), would focus on external things to get him going. He'd  find somebody in the gym and he'd look at him and say to me, "Jim, that guys talking shit about me!" and I'd be like, "Who?"and Chris would explain that the guy at the front counter is making fun of him and at first I was perplexed and then I figured it out: He was using that guy to get him fired up, manufacturing the rage that he needed to help him crush the set. Once I figured it out, I was like, "YEAH, Chris, that's right, screw that guy, show him!" and he'd be growling and shaking the bar and crush the set.

I freakin' love seeing people get fired up, because at hat very moment, they are free. They are supremely focused on just one objective: Getting the weight up. Nothing at that moment matters, not your job and your dumbass boss, not your Old Lady, not your screaming kids, you are free from all responsibilities and worries don't matter at all.  I had a Special Forces guy tell me one time that competing in a powerlifting meet gives him the same rush that war gave him. I'm thinking that he meant that total focus, that white light in your brain that only happens when you are locked in on a difficult task at hand. 

Some guys like a slap on the face or back. I like the back thing, but not the face thing. That just makes me focus on hitting the guy back who hit me. One time at a powerlifting meet when I was on deck to squat, Rob Wagner started rubbing my earlobes. I was like, "What the ?" , and he said that the Russians did it to their lifters all the time,  it's supposed to irritate them and get them fired up that way. I think that I missed my squat and we never did the ear rubbing again.

One thing that I found out about getting fired up is that you need to save it for when you are just getting ready to approach the bar. You get fired up too early and you won't have the strength to lift your maximum, you'll be exhausted. In my opinion, you need to be calm, and visualize the lift, a successful lift, but not get excited when visualizing. Then when you are a minute out, start building that fire and conjure up that white light and do whatever you need to get you crazy and to block out the world and then let it build and build and build until you explode and  take it out on those measly little weights that actually thought that they stood chance against you.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


You were born in the 60's and you went through your young years thinking that the President was pure, all girls were pure, and Clint Eastwood hung the goddam moon.  

But it wasn't really like that. As you got older, you started to realize shit. You started to realize that everyone is not on your side and Nixon lied and what about that war and what if I go? No, it will be over by then, by the time you are old enough. Dad told me that.

 But still. 

Innocence did not exist and the sooner you realized that, the better off you were. 

You got picked on by some old kids and you marked in your head the fuckers who will get an ass whipping when you get big and strong enough to render one. 

You handle shit that comes up and you know that kids these days don't have a prayer handling what you had to handle.

Wasn't shit back then. No computers, no cell phones, no internet. Just you. Handling your business day after day. Until you are bigger and stronger and you can do what you always wanted to do. Revenge. Payback. You remember that time? You will real soon.

And the years go by, the years run ragged the thoughts of youth and are replaced by real life. Real life is when you again have a realization: That people are sorta dumb but most of all that they are out for themselves and there are only a few friends that will stick with you through thick and thin. 

I reckon everyone had that, but it sure felt unique to me. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Highlander Lifestyle

I have suffered for bodybuilding shows in the past, dieting on fish and beef and sweet potatoes and riding the exercise bike for hours each day for twelve weeks at a time. No alcohol, no cheating, a monk's lifestyle that was always necessary for me to lose twenty to thirty pounds in a short amount of time. To do this type of activity, everyone and everything takes a back seat to your goal. Folks just  have to understand that this is different from what they are used to, and that it is just what you need to do to get in shape. I have to admit that there is part of me that enjoys the deprivation. I know that others don't need to starve themselves or do so much exercise but it is what works for me. I feel the need to do this to myself once in a while. It "resets" me for the rest of the year.

I know that all of this getting ready for a bodybuilding show would be much easier if I stayed close to "contest shape"year round, but for me, well, to put it bluntly, I don't want to do that shit.

I want to be a Highlander the rest of the year.

I'm part Scottish (MacDonald Clan) and I seriously doubt that the men of the great clans of Scotland worried about their body fat percentage as they competed in feats of strength and tested themselves on who can lift the bigger rock to their shoulders and challenged each other in feats of strength.  I bet that they were fierce in their competitiveness but afterwards they sat around and drank their homemade brew and feasted on meat with the bone still in it and they laughed and patted each other hard on the shoulders and went over the competition , exaggerating their feats from the day.

So for the rest of the year,  I change my mindset about the whole thing.  I think about the old, old days and what men used to live like and what men should live like and all the forgotten ways that men used to live. I don't want to worry about anything even close to the bodybuilding lifestyle. For the rest of the year, I want to picture myself living like a Highlander, which to me means not caring about being proper or strict or worried about the food I eat or what I drink.

To me, this means lifting weights, hunting geese and ducks, shooting guns, working with my Black Labrador Storm, eating Maryland cream of crab soup and burgers and whatever the hell else I want to eat and enjoying good friends and good times.

 To live like this means to me that you get done with a squat training session and you are spent physically but on a high mentally. You and your friends drive over to Bucks Tavern and when you walk in the tavern is dark and cool and it takes a minute to make out everything in there coming from the brightness of the day. You say hello to the surly bartender who deep down inside is a sweetheart and you and your buddies sit on the barstools with the torn vinyl on them and order ice cold beers and  big ass burgers and a bowl of cream of crab soup and you talk about the squat session that you just finished. Everybody laughs and cuts up and deep inside you know that this is a good time, but you don't want to ruin it by talking like that, so you just enjoy everything that is about right now.

All of this is much easier when you are young and carefree. But as the years go by, you start to accumulate responsibilities; kids, bills, work. 

Not a Highlander, but a badass picture

But in my mind, you must have the things in your life that keep you feeling alive and worth a damn as a man.

Doesn't that feel good? To walk around with camo on, a 12 gauge Remington over your shoulder and a big old dip in of fresh Copenhagen and your jet black dog bounding ahead anxious to get to the band to do the one thing that she loves above all else? 

You gotta ebb and flow, push and back off, run then walk, change it up and then change it up again. Oh, you still lift weights! You never stop that, ever. But you ain't counting calories, that's for sure. You feel full? Stop eating. But there is no weighing of food, you are a Highlander, after all. They didnt do that, did they? Doubtful. They were too busy eating freaking rabbit and whatever else stew and chugging some concoction that left them seeing the Gods by the end of the evening. 

Pretty cool, right, the Highlander thing? It can be anything, a Heathen thing, a Viking thing, a Barbarian thing. 

Whatever makes you think of men being men and wearing skins as clothes, strong and muscular as hell, with huge beards and dirty all over and hunting and with food stuck in their beards and sucking on the bones of their last kill. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Bobby's First Day at the Gym

Bobby stood outside the plate glass windows and peered into the old gym on Main Street. It was five thirty am on a Monday morning.  

Hank's Gym had been there in a broken down looking strip mall for a long time, since the 1940's, he had heard. He wasn't even sure how long ago that was, but he knew that the gym was an institution here, a hardcore place much different from the fern and cardio and glistening chrome dumbbell places that could be found all over town. Those places had donut night and pizza night and they banked on the fact that people would join for a year, and then show up the first week, but then not come in much any more than that for the rest of their membership time.

Bobby wasn't interested in those gyms at all, he wanted to train at Hank's.

He had heard all of his life from his Uncle Mike, the powerlifter and bodybuilder, that if he really wanted to get big and strong, he should eschew the pretty places and go to Hank's Gym, where the real lifters trained. He was fifteen now, and although he had lifted some weights fooling around in the school weight room with his buddies, he hadn't gotten stronger or bigger. Bobby was almost six foot tall but he felt weak and he weighed only one hundred and sixty-five pounds.

He had earned enough money cutting lawns and cleaning gutters over the summer to pay for a six month membership to Hank's. He had chosen to walk to the gym today, but he really didn't have a choice. His father worked nights at the Walmart, loading shelves and doing inventory so he was sleeping and his mother had been down on her luck for a while and was interviewing for a position at the post office today so he didn't even ask for a ride, didn't want to be any trouble to anyone.

So today was the day and Bobby was all alone and he was nervous and a little out of sorts, but he was excited, also.

As he opened the doors, he was engulfed by the smell of the place. It smelled like that Icy Hot stuff that Uncle Mike rubbed on his knees and elbows before he weight trained. And a mixture of that liniment smell and sweat and testosterone all came at him hard and then the music was so loud that he could barely hear himself think. He knew that it was Iron Maiden playing because his dad listened to them when he was out in the garage tinkering with his old truck. Hearing that music made Bobby feel a little more comfortable, more at home.

Nobody was manning the front desk so Bobby just stood there, waiting for someone to come to help him, and while he was waiting, he scanned the gym. In the far left corner, there were four guys at the hydraulic squat rack. One man was squatting with six plates on each side, doing rep after rep. He had knee wraps and a belt on and this dude was big. His legs looked like tree trunks as he handled the weight with a determination that Bobby hadn't seen before in his young life.  The man's face and bald head were red with exertion and his sleeveless shirt that read on the back, "Phil's Bar and Grill" was soaked with sweat as he pushed through a last rep and then set the bar back on the rack. The other lifters were sitting on a bench, placed in front of the rack and turned sideways. As soon as the one man got done squatting, another was wrapping his knees and then getting up and approaching the bar. Bobby was amazed at the size and thickness of these men. He wondered just how anyone got so big and strong. He was dying to know the secrets behind attaining this type of massiveness and strength.

Other areas of the gym were active too. On a wooden platform in the middle of the gym, a few men and one woman were deadlifting and they encouraged each other as they pulled some prodigious weight. They were serious; just the encouragement and the weights clanging were all that Bobby heard. There was no idle chatter.

There was a heavy bag in the far right corner and two members were in the process of destroying it, taking turns throwing hooks at full power. There was a dumbbell rack and some free standing benches towards the front of the gym, on the right side. Bobby watched as a man, wiry and defined, performed dumbbell benches and was spotted by an older woman who was also in great shape.

And there were a few machines, too. A few lat pulldowns, a  T-bar row, and a few Hammer type machines .

Bobby was still scanning the area when he noticed that the massive man who he had been watching squat was coming right towards him, and looking right at him. Bobby's heart was pounding as the man got closer to him.

"You Mike's nephew?"  

"Yes, my name is Bobby."  

"Nice to meet you. I'm Randy." Bobby glanced at this behemoth's arms. Veins snaked up his forearms and his biceps looked like they were stuffed with air. "Mike told me his nephew would be coming in. I told him that I would show you some stuff. I just got done squatting. You want to try some squats?"

"Yes, sir, I would like that very much."

Bobby knew to be polite and not say too much, his Uncle had advised him on the proper protocol. He told Bobby that the worst thing to do would be to go in there and run his mouth and act like he knew everything.

Randy introduced Bobby around to all the massive men, and he looked all of them in the eye and he shook their hand just as firmly as he could, being taught by his father that you only had one chance to make a good first impression and that a firm handshake and looking another man in the eyes was one of the keys to making that good first impression.

They headed towards the squat rack in the back. "Let me go through the squat with you, son." Randy said. And he went through it all with Bobby, from where your grip should be, the width of stance depending on how someone is built, the setup, the execution of the movement, the speed of the movement, how squats fit into a program, and the muscles that were being worked.

Then it was Bobby's turn. Randy started him off with just the forty-five pound bar. He coached him through the lift every step of the way.

"Remember, find that spot on the wall with your eyes and burn a hole in the damn thing! Keep your chin down slightly and keep it rigid. Push through the middle of your foot!" After ten reps, Bobby put the bar back in the rack. "Let's put a little weight on," Randy said, sliding a twenty-five pound plate on each side. "Okay, let's get a little training in," said Randy. "We will do five sets of five and I want you to focus on your checklist that we went over. Always do your checklist of grip, bar placement, the walk back, the width, chin position and where your body weight should be centered. Do that BEFORE you approach the bar every single time. And Bobby did just what Randy had told him. Randy didn't cut him any slack. After every set, he broke down what was right with the set, and what was wrong with the set. Randy kept putting more weight on each set, about ten pounds each time. He was testing Bobby, to see if he would back down, to see if he would say that it was too hard. Most kids were like that these days. But Bobby stayed strong.

Bobby could feel his legs in places that he had never felt before, and it was a unique feeling, like his muscles were screaming during the set and after the set, they almost felt sore already, deep down sore. Different than after basketball practice, he could feel this deep in his bones, it seemed.

"It's all new to you," Randy said, watching Bobby rub his legs,"but you will get used to it soon enough. I'm going light with you today, and you already feel it. But squatting is a skill like everything else. Your body has to find the correct groove for each exercise.  And you have to master the skill. I have done thousands of squats over twenty years. When I pick up the bar, it feels like an old friend to me, totally familiar."

When it got to the fifth set, Bobby was sweating profusely and his legs were visibly shaking. Randy chuckled, "Your body is wondering just what the hell is going on. But you will be amazed how it will adapt to the new stimulus. You will look back at your early workouts and laugh at how weak you were. You will be amazed at the progress and how quickly it comes." Bobby liked what he heard from Randy, because right now, just squatting what the weakest looking folks in the gym were squatting seemed like light years away for him. But Randy gave him hope that with hard work and consistency, the strength will come.

"Lets hit those hamstrings a little more."

They went over to the lying leg curl and Randy had him focusing on the contraction at the top and also had him lower the weight slowly. After three tough sets of ten reps, Randy told Bobby that he was done lifting for the day.

"Lets go get a shake and talk a little," Randy said. They walked over the counter and Randy bought them both a protein shake and they walked outside and sat on a bench against the red brick wall of the gym.  Randy took out a pen and notebook from his gym bag that was lying at his feet and handed it to Bobby. "Take notes," he said. "Okay, here we go. Training is number one, but that right there," said Randy, pointing at Bobby's protein shake, "that right there is important , too."

"This shake?"

"Well, what's in that shake. Protein. You need to eat a lot of it. Red meat, chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, milk and protein shakes are important. You need to eat some protein at every meal and also have a shake after training and before you go to bed. Don't worry about counting the grams, just have some at each meal for now. You have to do that, it's imperative. And you can have some carbohydrates too. With your build and your age, you won't get fat. You will burn everything right up. So eat fruits and veggies and don't worry if you have rice and some bread and pasta. And have some fats too. Take fish oil and eat avocados. And you have to sleep. No phone or television or video games when you are in bed. I want you to read until you fall asleep every night. Makes your eyes tired and you are learning , too. I want you to read this every night." Randy took out a weathered copy of Bill Starr's The Strong Shall Survive. "Read it," he said. "The guy knew his stuff. When you are done with that one, I have another one for you."

"Thanks," said Bobby.

"No problem, Randy said, "I have done this for people before, but usually they let me down. They go hard for a few days and then they quit. And that's what they tell me, that it was too hard. Well, that's the point. It's hard. Everything that is worth a damn in life is hard. I mean, people either want to get big and strong or not. It takes a lot of dedication, and most people don't have that. Bottom line is that folks like the idea of getting big and strong but it takes lifting weights for years, eating your protein and recovering and never missing a workout. People don't want to do it consistently so they remain pencil necks.  Don't be normal like everyone else. It's Will Over Hope, Bobby. You can't hope shit to happen, to hope that you will get big and strong. You must use your WILL to make it happen. You must have a strong will to succeed!  It's your choice, but damn, it feels good to be strong and have muscles. Your body will fight you every step of the way. Punish that sucker with hard work and great food. Make it grow. Grow or die! That's what we always say. It's do or die with this shit, man.  Bobby saw that Randy was getting fired up. "Squats 'til you wanna puke and deadlifts 'til the skin rips off your hands. You have to go for it everyday! You can still party some and have fun but your number one priority has to be becoming a specimen, a physical damn specimen! And another thing: Sometimes your mind messes with you. There will be days when you don't want to go to the gym. That's your mind messing with you. Screw your mind. Override it with pure fury!  Rage at its weakness! Your mind doesn't get a vote when it's acting like that, just go do the work. Most people take the road with least resistance. Don't be one of those people, Bobby. If you are really serious about this, I will see you tomorrow at 5:30 in the morning. We have some pressing to do. And get your own notebook and write down everything you did in the gym today and the food that you ate. I want to look at it. That is, if you have the balls to show up tomorrow."

Bobby thanked Randy and with a hearty handshake, headed home. He thought about Randy said. Bobby loved the workout, that was great. But Randy's words about dedication and being different are what got Bobby most excited. The chance to be different from everyone else appealed to Bobby. And damn! He wanted to be big and strong. So he decided to dedicate himself like Randy said to do, to be the guy who Randy would tell people was dedicated and never disappointed him.

He went home that night and ate beef and drank milk and lay in bed reading Bill Starr's book. Before he drifted off, he got up and wrote on a piece of paper, "Will Over Hope". He posted it on the wall in his room where he could see it last thing at night before he went to sleep and where he could see it first thing in the morning.

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.