First Things First

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I Ride with the Hellís Dogs Outta Jersey. Iím Bad.

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[Editorís note: This is a fun reprint from 2004. I donít remember which trip Dave was on, but it was about the time of the 33-city Your Body Revival book tour. ~ Laree]

Traveling and training, TnT, is a problem for most of us. Itís not uncommon to wrestle with a range of emotions and considerations before accomplishing the act. Do I want to train, do I need to or would a brief layoff be beneficial while on the road, where would I work out and will it be agreeable, equipped, clubby, druggy, clean, hardcore, huge, claustrophobic or just right? Is it across town, cheap, reasonable or expensive?

For me thereís added anxiety: I wonder if Iíll be recognized and need to deal with the image thing -- I thought he was taller, younger, bigger, had hair and could do reps with 315 in all exercises. Does he talk? Letís find out. The bums. The worst scenario is any one of two alternatives: no one recognizes me, or they do and donít contemplate my presence for a single moment. The dirty rats.

I canít take it anymore. I intend to work out this trip and decide the solution is a disguise. I wear ordinary gym gear -- black cotton sweatpants, sneaks and a sorta snug t-shirt minus the neck (I rip that sucker outta there). I have a nasty towel draped over my shoulders, a few straps dangling from wrists and elbows, a thick leather lifting belt in hand and a black knit seamanís cap pulled down tightly over my head and ears.

On paper, this does not sound like much of a cover-up, but youíd have to see my kisser in a cap. I look like my father when things were not going well and it was best I went out the back door fast before being accosted. Donít stop there, son; jump the fence and head for Schmidtís woods or the Hackensack River, safe haven for errant kids. The dear ole guy could light up a room or cause it to grow strangely dim.

The grim black-capped mug, some ragged muscles hanging from a ragged t-shirt sporting a Harley logo -- screeching chopper amid fire and naked women -- and the ďBlond BomberĒ never even occurs to the most astute observer. Iím in, just another rusty lifter, past the front desk and seated on a bench with a pair of cold steel dumbbells in my mitts. I snarl to myself.

They donít weigh a ton, but they do the trick, iron in motion, up and down with a slow, intimate cadence, rep after rep, till the hanging ainít easy. The burn kicks in and the endorphins are mysteriously activated. I love this exotic characteristic of lifting: Doubt, weariness and training discontent disappear like darkness when the lights are turned on. You must stand up to an unwelcoming, unyielding object and lean hard and make it move, and once it moves, keep it moving. The thrill is quick and sure to follow.

Remember that when questioning your next journey to the steel mill. Be strong.

The gym is sparsely populated and no oneís looking; theyíre not even fazed. Fascinating, Iím fascinated. Over the years Iíve developed a way of looking at unidentified objects far from the faces of those on the gym floor. They, the UOs, are hovering somewhere overhead or down on the floor, in dark corners or outside the doors and windows. Engaged stares, yet never engaging eyes, Iím alone with the weights, the breathing, the clang and thud, the pain in its variations, and the multiplicity of thrills and chills as the iron moves from concentric to eccentric. The low-riding crew cap emphasizes the internalized affects.

Ever compelled to stray from the norm and lost in my dimwitted ruse, I contemplate exercise and set and rep combinations, dynamically transporting me into a training reverie. ďIím here, might as well enjoy it and profit from it,Ē is the unconscious message sent and received by my porous brain. Seated one-arm dumbbell alternate curls are a good choice under the circumstances: small muscles, swell pump and burn without the exhaustion of the body, heart, lungs and energy stores. Besides, I know how to do this one, having practiced it for a few years.

After the warm-up set, I choose a weight that allows an eight-to-ten rep range without a loss of rhythmic back and forth, left and right, full-up and full-down sway. The vigorous ďswayĒ brings more torso into play and gives length to the set.

Upon completion of the alternates, I stand and immediately grab a pair of dumbbells of half the weight and perform a set of thumbs-up curls till they, after six reps max, fail to remain in my grasp without ugly contortions. Forearms scream in silence.

The dipping bars are nearby and free, and I tuck a 25-pound plate under my belt and knock out a dozen reps in various positions of leaning and uprightness to affect the tris, pecs, delts and mid-back. Hallucination Red is the predominant color bombarding my eyes. Good sign.

We -- me and myself -- are sweating and breathing nicely. That fullness is pump, that sting is burn, and that curl on my lips and under my black cap is a smile.

This goes on for 30 minutes. Whatís the rush? Iím happy to be alive and kicking, soaring and bombing. The arms and upper body feel slapped around, but not exactly pounded. Something slow and heavy-ish would be pleasurable, now that Iím rockiní ní rollin.í

I set up a bar in an inconspicuous corner for deadlifts, five sets of 10 with 225 and using an over-grip to accent the hands and forearms. An exact deadlift groove is sought with each rep, the plates resting on the floor for an instant before rising upward with ideal form. The weight is perfect for practicing form and exercising my lower back without grueling or risky overload, yet takes my grip strength to the limits.

The movement also readies me for my favorite lift, the bentover barbell row. The row is mean and meaty and heavy -- cardio-respiratory, systemic and nearly full-body muscle-building. We have biceps, rear delts and lots of back, midsection, glutes, hams and quads on the line.

Today the bentover row is rarely practiced or effectively executed. Frankly, I think its worth is overlooked and itís ignored because itís so basic and downright tough to do. Ignorance pops up again, a slimy bullfrog in a cool, clear lap pool.

To properly perform a bentover barbell row, you need a strong lower back (strong erectors) for starters, one developed by plenty of sets and reps of deadlifting, hyperextensions and midsection over time. Often a trainee will attempt rows and find the lower back conditioning inadequate for the stressful motion. Body positioning and stance are always way off and a partial action is applied. This person stands too upright and grasps the bar too close and pulls the weight too low to the waist, inviting either injury, exercise awkwardness or lack of effectiveness.

ďHmm,Ē is my reaction, ďwhy do it at all if you donít do it for the most muscle- and power-building effect?Ē

I grab two inches short of the collars, settle down low in the legs as if Iím about to clean the bar, position my back as flat as possible to the floor, raise myself upward enough to bear the barís weight and pull the bar with all my focused might tightly to the mid-pec line. I lower the bar with reasonable eccentric control -- that is, I donít let the bar drop to its starting place... I fight with might -- and repeat the movement with continued deliberateness. Now we have some muscles in action from biceps and throughout the back and those thighs are pumping rep after thoughtful rep. You do some heaving, amigo, but you donít shorten the distance the bar travels or cheat like a cheapo bandito. Es muy importante.

I look to the left and right and notice some new faces. Everyoneís busy, the yakking is picking up and thereís a wait for the treadmills. Iím groping in my gym bag for some amino acids and my keys. ďItís a wrap, girls and boys. I leave you to your fun and games.Ē

Wait, maybe three sets of farmer walks around the gym perimeter as long as I have a pulse. I pull the cap low on my forehead, hook onto a pair 100s and take a clockwise route past the huge rubber balls in the corner, to the outside of the squat racks and down the length of the smudgy mirrors (whereís the Windex when ya need it?) in front of a line of Hammer Strength. Nothing like farmer walks to pummel any muscle group you might have missed while blissfully indulging in a private and remote workout.

Iím cool; red-faced, mercilessly fulfilled, but cool. I nod to the athletic man and woman behind the counter, a rumbling motorcycle nod from a distant stranger. They both say, ďGoodbye, Mr. Draper. Hope you had a nice workout. Please come to see us again some time.Ē Great!

A little boy standing by the door no taller than my pantís pockets lightly pokes me in the side; ďCan I have your autograph, Mr. America?Ē Heís holding up a pen and paper.Ē Great! Iím speechless and busted and pull off my cap. ďHere, youíll look great in this, big guy. Itís a little wet.Ē I say. Another nod, deeply grateful, a humble autograph and Iím out the door.

You never know who might be a bomber staring you in the face like an angel from heaven. Iím glad Iím not one of those uptight types who take life so seriously that he canít relax in this big old friendly world.

Everything good comes from the heavenly lights... Boom Zoom... Dave


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