The Fitness Year in Review

Bombers Don’t Burn Out
December 30, 2002

Graphic by Steve Wedan.

Time for the year’s end review: Who am I, where have I been and where am I going? I do pretty good on the middle question, but have yet to answer the first or last with any accuracy. 2002, as I recall, went by like it was on fire and I was busy putting it out. It smolders at the edges while I gather yet one more bucket.

What have we learned, what shall we do differently -- as if life was predictable, as if we had control -- and what goals shall we seek in 2003? Life without plans, hopes and dreams is not life at all, but existence. I plan to create less fire and do less fire fighting. I lost five pounds this year, up in smoke and I’m burned out. Laree, the Chief, is charred, singed and slightly water damaged.

I say these things out loud only to hear how silly they sound. They are the noises, the grunts, of the enemy. Bombers don’t burn out; they just blast away.

Part of a New Year plan at our gym to interest people in caring for their body, muscle and might is to offer an inexpensive six-week shape-up membership, complete with two solid personal training sessions to set them in motion. It disturbs me to see a hopeful new gym member dismount a piece of aerobic equipment after 10 boring minutes of plodding along and pass through the gym floor like it was a jungle of lions and tigers and bears. Intrigued, but frightened, he or she tugs improperly on a bar mysteriously attached to a cable or sidles up to a pair of light dumbbells (assured nobody’s looking) at the far end of the rack to finally confront the notorious rascals they’ve heard so many rumors about. Big deal -- clank, clank -- they’re not so heavy. Hey, what’s this contraption… do you sit here and pull or stand here and push? Oh! It’s the turnstile to enter the locker rooms… I knew that.

The trick, the challenge, the key, is to gain the person’s full attention, curiosity, fascination and confidence. As a trainer, I want to introduce them to the benefits, simplicity and joy of exercise. With just the right amount of conviction and energy, they are convinced that exercise is absolutely necessary and positively works. “It’s tough, yes, but a good tough that lifts you up and makes you better.” Too much conviction and they hear declarations of bravado for proud Olympians; too much energy and they are intimidated. Too little of each and they start yawning. Talk about rejection, have a student of physical culture yawn in your face while you define the systemic attributes of the weight lifter’s single most important movement, the full squat. Heartbreaking.

Treat the new or returning athlete as a child and that’s what you might produce, a dependent, shy and un-assured little person, obedient and imitative. Place them in the gym alone and they might go out the back door with their gym bag over their head. This is tough stuff for tough people and tough teddy bears. Give it to them straight: It’s real work to make the body strong, classy and useful; invigorating activity for a long and energetic life, and honest muscle resistance to exert discipline and bind stress.

Make it complex and you’ve lied… okay, you’ve exaggerated. You’ve also failed. Not even Dr. Frankenstein wants “complicated” on the gym floor. Make it simple and basic, like building blocks and jacks. Speak in your own voice and drop the obscure European accent. Get rid of the clipboard and monocle, for Pete’s sake. Just kidding.

They need to be told what to do, why and how, clearly, in good order and with plain demonstration. The point you want to make needs to be sure, but not necessarily sharp. The object of your teaching will do the sharpening in his or her own time, as they practice. Practice of the fundamentals should be underlined as the master trainer. It is during practice combined with focus, determination and patience, feeling and eventual knowing, that development surely comes.

Need proof? Look around. It’s a law of life. “We’ll get into a few details later,” I tell them with reassurance.

Here are the two routines I arranged to get the New Year off to a clean and quick start. They’re designed for the healthy “six-week shape-up specialist” whose concentration span might be limited, whose muscles are probably in deep hibernation, whose expectations are no more realistic than video games and who has an appetite for, maybe, junk food: your average Joe, your ordinary Jane. Sorry.

Day 1

Stationary bike for up to 6-12 minutes

Crunch and leg-raise combination for 5 minutes

Bench press, dumbbell press or Smith chest press

Wide-grip pulldown

Cable crossover

Seated lat row

Dumbbell shoulder press

Routines should be alternated to compose a three or four-day-a-week work routine. During the first week, each exercise is performed for two sets of 10 repetitions. During the second and third week, each exercise is performed for three sets of 10 reps and during the fourth, supersetting may be introduced in sets of three supersets x 10 reps where appropriate.

Day 2

Repeat stationary bike and midsection routine


Leg extension

Leg curl

Leg press

Calf raise

Stiff-arm pullover


Barbell curl

Machine dips

Pulley pushdowns

Assure the greedy trainee that he can’t do it all at once and those other unique exercises and pieces of equipment will be included in the routine at just the right time.

Form should be accented over the weight used, though a weight sufficient to cause near maximum-stress in the repeated sets of 10 reps is suggested. This is a significant contributor to advancement known as training intensity. Deliberate pace should be maintained, while allowing no more than a minute between sets. Training focus and exercise and muscle concentration are of primary importance. The seeker of physical improvement will improve to the degree he applies himself. Regularity in training and effort and good attitude -- perseverance -- are essential.

These fine aspects of weight lifting to build muscle and might (form, intensity, pace, training focus, exercise and muscle concentration, perseverance) are absolutely required, demanded upon and developed. They constitute discipline, commitment and courage. With them and the health, strength and wild good looks they produce, the trainee will be a better, more humble human being… plus or minus a few hang-ups, personal issues and uncontrollable oddities.

One more thing: There’s no urgency. Urgency kills. Urgency causes stress and disappointment -- in you and me and those around us. We have arrived, or, are arriving. Being on our way to growing -- to getting better, to improving and to developing -- is the “place,” the on-going process, the voyage to wrap our ever-growing, ever-loving arms around. Be intelligent, strong and daring, but most of all be smart. Push too hard and it breaks. Don’t push at all and it halts. We want bigger, stronger and faster; let’s think, worry and plan less. Let’s do it and enjoy ourselves more.

Just keep pressing, leaning, hoping and grinning, bombing and blasting.

God bless us in the New Year. 2003, the year of the gorilla… DD

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