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Down the Highway and on My Mind
April 15, 2003

It’s been a long day and you feel pummeled. Not everything went as planned -- come to think of it, nothing went as planned -- and you grope for hope. You check your attitude as you buckle your seat belt, refusing to submit to the trivialities of the workday. You remind yourself that your strength of character is reflected in your behavior under minor stress, good days are around the bend and things could be a lot worse -- the routines of the mind to assist in your transition from rattled to relaxed.

The key slides into the ignition and cranks over the engine with a zoom signaling that part one of the day is over, no small feat. You feel free for a moment, the tether that binds you given slack by the forward lurch of your vehicle, your private space that moves you to your next task-site or playground, objective or challenge. These small interludes provide time to collect your thoughts, visualize your day, converse with yourself and otherwise glean the chaff from the wheat.

What’s your plan, where are you headed and what’s on your mind as the first mile rolls away? I’m expecting a large number of folks across the fields and fences and cities are headed home to couch, fridge and TV. Good to kick off the shoes and let the hair down. Some need to take a deep breath and wrestle a second job or a long list of unending chores. A moist handful, of course, moves quickly and without obstruction to strategically placed watering holes. Whatever it takes, I guess, to move the pieces across the board.

But wait a minute. There exists a rare breed unaccounted for in the above collection of characters. In a certain place where the sun shines and the air is full of oxygen, the navigator of his or her vehicle steers clear of the traffic and heads to the gym. Thoughts are on grander things, life, love and the pursuit of happiness; or, as interpreted on another level, discipline, patience and the pursuit of pain. Whatever it takes, I’m certain, to improve the worth of life.

You know this singular sort whose habits do not resemble those of his neighbor. His countenance glows, his gait is sure and determination marks his actions.

The rare breed is you.

And the time and place you spend before entering the gym, be it on Main Street or in the garage, are rare as well. As the gym is a refuge and an area for productive work, so is the mind in preparation of a solid, bold and mighty workout. A powerful workout is established in one’s head before entering the inner sanctum of the gym’s walls.

Compromise, sacrifice, long-suffering and discomfort, no one said the task was easy and no one knows but the one who performs it. The groundwork begins in the mind, is effected in the body, transferred to the gym floor and finally to the iron where it is consummated by the fortitude, courage and heart of the pursuer.

That doesn’t mean we don’t love it -- even when we hate it we love it. How can you hate that which is so wonderful and beneficial and, more often than not, fun and fulfilling?

“Self-centeredness -- self-gratification -- is the great deceiver,” a ragged sage once said, “and we are easily deceived.” We reach for pleasure and relief and grasp neglect and ruin instead.

I believe in giving each dimension of our life its due attention. We are wise not to be dominated by any one area of our life to the neglect of another. Easily said but great effort and discipline must be applied to achieve the balance. I’ve been known to fail and not on rare occasions (sterling humility).

But, some healthy workout forethought is smart. Anticipating your training with a brief, yet energetic, review of its benefits -- health and strength, the afterglow, the mental and physical purge, the admirable steps toward achieving goals, the personal investment in goodness and right -- and a positive overview of your exercise scheme is all you need to fill your mind. Fill the mind with these magnificent thoughts and there is no room for the twin enemies, doubt and apathy.

Of course, the well-organized, efficient and successful person makes sure his energy and muscle-building stores are supplied in advance. Sufficient food and water must be part of the simple plan. That clear plastic bottle topped with cool water and a protein drink in time make the difference in superior mind and body performance. So simple, so smart, so effective.

Stopping by the gym on the way home for a quickie is admirable -- in this day and age it is remarkable. But to be profitable and long lasting, a workout must be more or it will become less. As you must not let training and thinking about it dominate your life, so is it unwise to squeeze it in like a wedge of lemon in a cup of tea. Unfold that list of your top ten priorities and you’ll recall that exercising for your health is among the top five, not a cup of cozy Constant Comment.

90 minutes, four days a week is your contribution, from the time you park your car to the time you pull away refreshed. Diligent work in the focused, yet unrushed, minutes between defines the physical investment. The rest of the week and the rest of your life are yours to give freely and generously.

Not that good things don’t take place without psychological and intellectual preparations, mind you. I rely heavily on the unseen work of the subconscious.

The gym is down the highway and on my mind. I’m home and though it’s the weekend, I’ll probably go in to make a few repairs and, as long as I’m surrounded by weights, hit a decent workout. These not necessarily necessary training sessions often turn out to be some of the best. I’m drawn to the iron by desire, not obligation. I don’t have to lift, I want to. There’s no pressure, no rush, no ground lost, no ground to make up, just the playground where time floats rather than flies. And so it goes with physical preparation and mental psyche. They happen.

What do you want to do, what stirs you, what would you like to perfect or investigate, create or devise? The field is open and letting the workout evolve is a relief and can be most instructive. Sufficient spontaneity is needed to provide freedom in your training without allowing it to become random and loose and unproductive in the long term. Here you may wallow in your favorite exercise combinations, try a personal best, switch to high repetitions for pump and burn and the experience or you might exact a dumbbell movement to work that part of your deltoid no standard exercise ever has. A little creativity and thinking on one’s feet goes a long way to add to one’s self-esteem and training maturity.

Invention rings a loud bell.

Here’s what I did the other day when time was on my side and I lived life as if it was mine and not the possession of the tyrant of urgency, the demon of conformity or the brute of convention.

I grasped the iron and proceeded to pick it up, push it and pull it. Hold on… it gets more interesting; I lift it and lower it, raise, press and extend it, all the time planning to swing it while contracting and isolating it. Do you get the picture? I’m hoisting, straining and laboriously maneuvering. I shove and thrust with might. Plates are flying. My heart is throbbing, I’m wet with sweat and I gasp for air. I’m hot now. Under the heavy metal I drive it away from my chest, over the metal I tug it to my shoulders and beneath the cumbersome weight I force it upward with my legs. Lost in spontaneity and gaiety I grab a pair of ungainly dumbbells and walk -- rather, clomp -- around the gym as if on a mission. I wind down after four breathless, staggering circuits about the equipment-strewn floor and finally collapse.

Out of all the madness I recalled why I love supersets and discovered a burning shoulder combination with an emphasis on the rear delt, upper back and lateral-head of the triceps with a touch of pulling for the bis. The first superset is a warmup, the second set produces searing heat and evidence of smoldering, with the third set there is a significant blaze and the fourth near-devastating round sounds five alarms, an out of control blaze.

It goes like this:

PBN (press behind neck) performed seated with the back supported by a utility bench. Positioning of the bench and the body under the guided bar is very personal, very important. Using a medium-wide grip, bar should slide down the back of the head and to its base (maximum range) without the head thrust forward. The deeper the bar goes in its decent, the greater the stress on the shoulder joint region. To emphasize muscle action and protect the vulnerable shoulder area, use a moderate weight with focused movement, avoiding rapid lowering, rapid thrusting and bouncing.

4x12,10,8,6, supersetted with

Pulldown behind the neck performed with a medium-wide grip with a medium weight and focused muscle action is again the most effective application of the movement. At the top of the movement (arms fully extended) the lats do the work and at the bottom the upper back is contracted intensely to amplify its participation in action and growth. Medium pace reps without excessive thrusting will prove most effective and fulfilling.

4x8-10, supersetted with

Seated bent-over lateral raises are performed sitting at the very end of the bench and folded over extended thighs. The rather light weights hang down below your thighs toward the floor. While looking forward, raise the dumbbells outward from your sides and slightly forward, maintaining a palms-down grasp until the weights are head-high. At the peak of the movement emphasize the contraction of the rear delt to assure maximum muscle involvement. Lower slowly to the starting position. Focus.

The movement is less than inspiring, as the recruited muscles are usually under-trained (perfectly good reason to train them), not large, the action awkward and hard to define and the response muted. Remember this, however: They are very important to the health and integrity and protection of the whole shoulder and are very attractive.

4x6-8 reps

You know when you’re done cuz you fall off the bench and whimper as unimpressed, insensitive co-trainers step over you while others nudge you with their foot, suggesting you drag your sorry body under the dumbbell rack and out of the way.

Don’t whimper, bombers.

Be thankful. The best seasons for flying high and fast are here, long days, sunny skies and warm breezes. Hold on to the days and don’t let go. Your training is an on-going mission, every challenge a reward. When asked what defeat is, you’ll answer, “I don’t know.”

God’s speed, brothers and sisters… DD

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