First Things First

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It Starts to Take Shape

Rest in peace, old friend

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We’re young only once, so the story goes. We’re handed a lump of clay and given the opportunity to mold it. Without going into the composition of the clay, its texture and origin, or the hand of the handler, most clay has enormous possibilities. As we apply energy and force to the compliant matter, it starts to take shape. By the time we’re teenagers, the clay we have been apportioned displays distinct outlines, and a figure emerges worthy of attention. We’re becoming someone as we progress through our formative years.

If we’re alert and wise, having observed and engaged in life around us, we avail will and skill to the tools in our hands. Let us mold well. If we’re lacking or oppressed, the application of misguided pressure, abusive handling, ignorance and neglect determines our formation. Sadly, mismolding takes place, distorted, dysfunctional.

We go to school, play, grow, work and, maybe, have families. More molding occurs.

Along the way, some of us lift weights -- now you’re talking, hands-on molding -- because it’s fun and fulfilling, direct and expressive. It works. You can mold aggressively, persuasively, under the iron while you go to school, which is also molding, but what a drag sometimes.

Let’s get back to molding of the weightlifting and musclebuilding variety, since I know very little about going to school. Developing muscle, building strength and maintaining health through weightlifting is not an easy molding process. But it is a most effective method of formation and development. It is not without struggle, disappointment and problems, but it shapes and structures a person as nothing else does.

The meandering outline below suggests the challenges before the hardy and few men and women who choose the path of most resistance.

A test for astute muscleheads: See if you can find the underlying yet deeply buried thread that appears throughout all the stages of iron devotion.

The three most confounding problems a novice weightlifter faces:

~ Am I doing the right exercises?
~ Am I eating the right foods?
~ How do I improve more quickly?

After six months, we face three more problems:

~ How do I deal with injuries?
~ Am I overtraining?
~ How do I improve more quickly?

A year goes by and our lifter, now an intermediate, asks:

~ What methodology best suits my body?
~ Are there any special ingredients or food combinations to advance my training?
~ How do I improve more quickly?

Within two years, the concerns include:

~ Should I bulk up during the winter -- powerlift and pursue muscle mass -- or should I continue to train for muscle density and separation instead?

~ Is it advantageous and healthy to use designer drugs, or do I stick to a traditional clean high protein diet?

~ How do I improve more quickly?

Five years and the weights are showing wear and tear, the T-shirt that was once baggy is now agreeably snug and new puzzles confront the athlete:

~ How do I prepare for my first physique contest -- higher reps, less carbohydrate?

~ Does getting in shape mean dropping bodyweight, losing muscle mass, strength, energy and pump and everything I’ve worked for and love, apart from the layer of fat that’s driving me crazy?

~ How do I improve more quickly?

Eight years is a long time to be lifting weights when one could have become a doctor, and causes the young person to consider:

~ How much muscle and might and iron will I have to give up if Lucille and I get married?

~ Will I become a blimp like the rest of my friends and the world around me?

~ How do I improve more quickly?

Did he say Lucille, like the apple of his eye? Oh, boy! Did he say blimp, which rhymes with wimp? New questions:

~ How about the two-for-one special at Bub’s Gym for a little added wedding surprise?

~ How about three-for-one personal training sessions for the pretty bride?

~ How do we improve more quickly (at least maintain)?

Despite her commitment to training, Lucille takes time out for precious kids, which are as cute as puppies and twice the work.

~ Who sits the kids while we exercise?
~ What kind of home equipment would work well and fit in the garage?
~ How do we improve more quickly (ugh, get back in shape)?

The story grows dim for one generation and then another, till one day the kids are grown up, almost, and Mom and Pop look in the mirror and see a pair of less than dazzling and youthful strangers staring back in shock. Gasp! Who are they? Reflections from hell.

~ Chaos! What, where, why, who, how, when... Help!

~ Desperation! Bub’s Gym? It’s gone. Diet? Wha? Garage gym? Buried. Scale? Broken. Blood pressure? Sky high. Blimps... wimps? That’s us! Time? Now! Too late? Never!

~ Urgency! How do we improve more quickly (like survive)?

We’re handed, once again, a lump of clay and given the opportunity to mold it. Hmmm. The clay is familiar, chunky and clunky, but has potential. As we recall, clay can be molded if will and skill are applied with diligence. Add to that the enthusiasm and hope of a kid, and remolding is set in motion.

We’re young only once, so the story goes. Don’t believe it. Youth, in the right hands, can be gathered and extended for a long time. You can still ride a bike, right? Then you can still lift weights and eat right, make goals and achieve them. All it takes is the courage and resolve you once applied so well -- they are in the clay and the hands that mold it.

Where do you begin? At the beginning! Why should it be any different?

You’re older, yes, but how much wiser you are (and, in need). It all comes back as you put one foot before the other. There are no recent earthshaking discoveries, inventions or methods that simplify or hasten the process of getting in shape, losing fat and building muscle. Nothing new to learn or do. It’s the same exciting, invigorating and fortifying practice of training hard, eating right and being positive.

What a relief! Just apply yourself to the basics and momentum will build quite naturally. Bombers call it flying. It’s got to do with wings and wind and courage and control. Trust me. Trust yourself.

If you do nothing else for the next month to contribute to the cause, do this:

Let your mind do the walking. Recall the good ole’ days -- not that long ago, really -- when a dumbbell fit your hand like a glove, your waist was less outstanding and not a scrap of junk food sullied your countertop or crossed your lips. Doesn’t “clean and balanced” feel good: strong, disciplined and bright? Imagine, envision, feel it and go; I dare you. It’s that close, you know?

Where’s the closest Bub’s Gym, an honest place for authentic exercise? Pull on your duds, have a shot of protein and take a step back in time toward the future. Hi, Bub. You don’t know me, but I’m back. I’d like a life-long pass, please, thank you. Here’s my Golden Opportunity Credit Card.

Courage doesn’t grow on trees, and neither does discipline... or health and a strong and lean body. Nevertheless, like apples, they must be cultivated and nurtured and gratefully harvested. The work is juicy and sweet with your emboldened attitude, enlivened memory and energized confidence, and entangled arms and legs. Go. Don’t forget your hoe.

One glance in the fridge and pantry and you’ll know what needs to go. Don’t spare the useless items because they cost a dollar or two, or because they feed the craving masses, or they’re covered with chocolate. Bag 'em, dump 'em, feed 'em to the mice. Replace the trash with a nutritious stash. You’re going straight, Kate. You’re eating right, Dwight. You’re in control, Joel, and that’s that, Matt!

The last and most impending question asked in all stages of life, “How do we improve more quickly?” exists no longer. “Who cares?” is the answer and it’s been the answer all along. If only you knew.

Well, as the ancient Wiseman said (or was it the Old Fool?), “Live and learn, train hard, eat right and be happy.”

Hold it there, bombers! Is that wind I feel beneath my wings? Yes, it most certainly is. Time to harness the invisible might, disengage the force of gravity and reach for the power of the sky.

God’s speed... Draper


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