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Weight Training - Bodybuilding - Nutrition - Motivation

The Winter Before Spring
January 29, 2003

January has been a promising month at the gyms, more folks showing up day by day to restore their neglected fitness. The first visits, or more accurately, encounters, are pensive, tentative and self-conscious. The returning athlete is mixed with hope, relief and urgency; neglect has been contained and hurry has become its substitute.

Recalling his or her last workout in November sometime around Thanksgiving (can that be, was it that long ago, where does the time go?), he or she loads the bar with the same weight used in the fall after a season of bombing and walking the line. The notion that one can resume where one left off two months and 10 pounds ago is crushing, both physically and morally. The barbell comes down with certainty and there it stays. Oophh...

Overcoming humiliation is a powerful experience. Humility is a powerful attribute. Welcome to the gym, where the fragile are broken only to be rebuilt, stronger and more enduring. By the middle of next month one will have dropped the excess 10, regained the dynamic strength and added indelible quality to one’s character. Next year, perhaps, he or she will not need to endure the expensive and painful refresher course. No more layoffs for me!

Concealed as one of them, wearing a distressed face and lifting belt, I watch the procession of recommitted trainees and first-timers from a bench in the corner of the gym floor. A young girl, not yet 20 and wishing she were invisible, wanders over to the cable machine and curiously pushes a dangling handle. She stares, as the thing swings and jangles, and wonders what it does beyond that.

I can’t help myself. I imagine the dear girl has taken one of the most important steps of her life -- entered the land of physical fitness -- and has concluded that, instead, she is in alien territory amid grimacing faces, clanging machinery, thuds, grunts and groans, with an exit less than 25 feet away -- a brisk walk to freedom.

“But that’s not freedom,” I want to call out, blowing my identity, “That’s not liberation, that’s captivity. That’s enslavement.” The world without exercise and muscle and strength and right eating is barren, lonely, pointless and fruitless. It’s difficult, dangerous and demanding. It’s exhausting. We need to prepare ourselves, develop our personal resources and be our best. Someone must tell her, now, before it’s too late. I stand, run my fingers through my hair, adjust my thick belt and hasten to her side. She flinches when I grab her by the shoulders and blurt out, “Don’t go.”

I feel stupid whenever I do that.

Resuming my camouflage, this time wearing a hooded sweatshirt and wrap-around sunglasses, I continue my observation of the unfolding scenarios:

A heavily-muscled guy, in his late 30s, vigorous yet haggard and wearing a Broncos t-shirt over a small paunch, sits at the bench with the bar supporting four big wheels. He’s been there and done that, though it was a long time ago. I watch him and the bar closely.

An average man, under-muscled from head to toe, smiley and animated, examines the Hammer Chest Press. And what exactly is the function of this interesting device?

About to engage a treadmill is a woman with the weight that accumulates slowly but surely from too many years of agreeing that something needs to be done, but doing nothing. The treadmill starts with a whirr and she grabs onto the rails for dear life. Oh, my!

These two were in last week, startled, curious and chatty as ever, like a pair of dachshund puppies. They run about sniffing the equipment, pawing the weights and rolling around on the stretch floor to make sure everything works. This is fun.

He’s older and his stomach precedes him by a good 12 inches. His full head of silver-gray hair is carefully styled, his mustache is handsomely trimmed, his exposed skin evenly tanned -- in January -- and that’s a fine cashmere sweater. The gut has got to go.

“The pain is in the joints and it’s only been this past year. Pushing hurts more than pulling and the knees and hips are stiff in the morning.” I’m a snoop and hear the middle-aged blonde confessing to her girlfriend, Jeanette, a long-time member and very fit 50-year-old (Oh, to be a kid again…). No time to waste -- let’s get her moving.

There they are, the most recent aspirants for restoration and rebirth. But for two arms and two legs, the candidates are nothing alike. However, what they want, where they are going and how they get there are not very different. Without exception they aspire to gain muscle, lose fat, get strong, improve their health and feel good. Each needs to exercise hard, eat right and find fulfillment and joy in the on-going process. The list of aspirations will be like fruit on a well-tended vine come harvest, plentiful, delicious and wholesome. How simple. How cheerful. I say a small prayer.

Pushing back the hood of the oversized shirt and removing the shades, I take a deep breath and contemplate the direction and fate of each in their quest for muscle and strength and condition. That is what they ultimately desire, once you pare down the definitions of their various purposes and goals. Getting in shape, looking good, feeling good.

Whose need is deep enough? Who wants it badly enough? Who realizes its vital importance? Which ones have the courage? Is it vanity or responsibility that’ll drive the achievers? Will it be survival? Discipline, weak will, persistence, intelligence, procrastination, sacrifice, excuses, reasons, levels of commitment -- how will the variables play out over the days and the years to come?

Where they exercise and who influences them early on is a deciding factor on the attitude and triumph of the player.

The gym, the atmosphere, the people and the resulting personality of the training grounds determines in large the quality and completeness of the product produced, the trainee developed. The advice and encouragement from the work crew and co-members can make or break a searching out-of-shape person who knows defeat too well. They can turn the meek into the strong. The right words at the right time will keep the troubled and the doubtful and the scattered focused on the good thing. Recognition for hard work and accomplishment can crank up the intensity of a striving kid or a retired life-loving senior. The enthusiasm and dedication of the powerful and committed under the iron inspires the weary to come back tomorrow and the next day.

Doing it gets it done. Planning, preparing, musing, comparing, considering and assessing play a role on the grand stage, but the star performance, the “big show,” the main attraction is doing it.

One exercise program fits all in the early stages of training a “first time in a long time” shape-up recruit. Some folks refuse to believe in simplicity and insist that we are all very different and require tailor-made programs to suit our unique footprint. They then spend a lifetime trying to find the perfect routine for them, never quite confident in the one they are applying. I say use your logic, common sense, intuition, instincts, sense of smell, inner ear and balance. You got that? Good. Now blast it, hard.

I’m an advocate of the school-is-for-the-birds technique of training. Take the squawking student to the edge of the nest or gym floor and push him out. He’ll learn the basics on the way down. As they say, this isn’t nuclear science.

Okay. You’re right. The wisest advice would go something like this: Take it easy the first week to find your way around the equipment, prepare those tendons and wake up the muscles. Point is, you want to get going, start the conditioning, the practice, the learning, the muscle building and the fat losing and make real progress while you’re hot. Dawdle and you cool off; you lose steam and you might lose your place in line for changing your life around. Remember, this stuff works. Doubt and you will invite hesitance and excessive caution into your fresh, new training endeavors. The exhilaration and progress experienced by timid exercise is too slight to inspire. Find the horns of the thing, grab hold and don’t let go.

Here’s the first page of instruction I give to a long-time-no-see member or brand-newbie:

Entire Body Workout
Crunches and Leg Raises, 2 sets of 25 reps

Chest, 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Bench Press (bar or dumbbell)
Pec Dec

Back, 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps
Wide-grip Pulldown
Row Machine or Seated Lat Row

Shoulders, 2-3 sets of 12 reps
Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Biceps, 2-3 sets of 12 reps
Curl (bar, dumbbell or machine)

Triceps, 2-3 sets of 12 reps
Triceps Press Machine or Bench Dips

Legs, 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
Leg Extension
Leg Curl
Leg Press

While they’re looking over the tough and tight routine, I give them The 12 Rules of Nutrition, as written in Brother Iron, Sister Steel and Your Body Revival, suggest they drink Bomber Blend at key times during the day and take Super Spectrim vitamins along with their donuts in the morning. Finally, while counting their grams of protein, I offer a hard copy of the current IOL Newsletter sitting on the front counter and let them know it’s available every week for the fun of it on the Internet.

If they’re nice I give them a Bomber handshake and tell them about supersets.

Time to head over to the hanger and check the tension on the cables and tune up the chest, back and shoulders.

Captain Draper, AKA The Bomber, but you can call me Count


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