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."
"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.