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Twist of Lemon
September 15, 2003

The last of the tuna was wedged in the curve sweeping the bottom of the pop-top can. I scraped around with a wooden stick used for stirring coffee (somebody stole my fork) and wondered why it was so important I get every last morsel of the smelly, less-than-delectable fish before retiring the container. I’m cheap, I thought. No, that’s not it. I’m frugal and can’t stand waste. That’s true, but nope, that’s not it. I realized with little more thought it was the protein that each fragment represented and the muscle growth that would be lost if I ignored the nugget, or gained if I retrieved and ingested it. I dug deeper and chewed on the stick before tossing the tin in the trash and opening another. I’m rich.

“Draper, does this stuff ever get easier, the weights, I mean?” Oh, no. Not again. It’s the same old line I hear from the I’m-here-instead-of-home-with-the-family malingerer, suffering-but-courageous martyr and misery-loves-company stiff. I look up and there’s Fred with his loopy white cap from a yard sale perched crookedly on his forehead. What the devil is under that thing, I wonder. “Freddy,” I tell him, “you’re rich. You’re here. You’ve got the world in your mighty grip. Pull up a chair, pour yourself some water.” I’m sitting on the deck in front of the gym under a giant redwood which grows perceptibly by the day, its roots slowly lifting the recently constructed area skyward. “Hold onto your hat, Fred.” He’s staring at the tuna, but he’s not getting any.

I go on to expand upon my commentary of his being, past, present and future. “It’s Friday afternoon in the land of the free, my friend, and you’re about to elevate your body with exciting muscle- and power-building exercise. An original musclehead, you’ve been caring for yourself for 50 years and now you’re letting out moans that only come from little old wash-women. The mind is loose and drifting, Fred. Go in there and concentrate on your workout; execute each exercise with precision and intensity, one rep, one set at a time. Allow your thoughts to wander no further than the vision of your goal and the fulfillment that comes with the completion of a high-powered bombing session. Turn your passions toward…”

Amid my raving Fred placed his meaty hands on the round espresso table, leaned forward and said, “You are so boring.” He got up dragging his gym bag toward the front door as I reminded him he was an “elite master athlete” who, due to his perspicacity, discipline and sacrifice, was not of the ordinary cut, suffering from obesity, diabetes, cardio-respiratory ailments and shingles. “Thank God, Freddy. Blast it.” Yeah, we’re rich.

Remarkable how generous I am after a two-hour training session, two cans of tuna and a bottle of spring water. Had he approached me three hours ago I’d have nodded sullenly and warned him I was using that bench, that bar, the platform and not to bother me. What a dope I can be.

That reminds me…

I have a long-overdue stack of email requests from folks, male and female, of differing ages and various levels of experience with a broad range of training problems. However, upon reading and re-reading them, the underlying dilemma is the same: training frustration because improvements have stopped dead in their tracks; no sign of life, not even a twitch. They are convinced it’s their workout or their diet or a combination of the two and they can’t untangle the mystery.

One guy wants to gain weight, muscle, of course and another wants to lose weight, fat, of course. A third wants to get stronger and harder at her current body weight. Can you see the predicament? I ask you, what do I suggest? I don’t know the parties involved beyond their letter of request; I don’t stand before them to determine their structure, sturdiness and skin tone. While asking questions I can’t look in their eyes, the windows of perception, to discern their muscle-building conviction, depth of understanding and willingness to train hard, real hard.

I have only hollow specifics: age, gender, height and weight and an outline of their current eating and training scheme. This is fodder sufficient to make a perfunctory assessment for the average Jane and Joe, but does nothing for the bomber who is about to take a nosedive.

I can make the usual menu recommendations: increase the protein, drop the junk foods and sugars, frequent feedings, supps… been there, done that, thank you. Training insights? Increase the volume, more basics, more supersets, pyramid… yeah, yeah, yeah. The bases are covered, but nobody’s up at bat. Maybe that’s it. I’m confusing the sports… take a wider stance, stay loose in the hips, choke up on the bat and keep your eye on the ball. The answer is not in the training program or eating habits. It’s in the heart. It’s not in the black and white of principles. It’s in the red-hot fire of passion.

The fact is we could make one single nutritional and exercise program to fit all three that would serve them exceedingly well and position them on-track toward their urgent destination. The requirement -- the unquestionable necessity -- the absolute responsibility -- is moving on that track with confidence, high hopes and controlled acceleration. This means up the long grades, along precarious ledges, across deep ravines, through tempest and storm and barren desert heat, all the time pressing on with unwavering zeal, merciless power and pace. Now I’m a frontiersman, Davy Crockett, entreating the traveler to heroism and high spirits as they conquer unknown territories.

Expect much, but no more than you have to give.

This is not a stretch. We are influenced by the abundance of information, choices of exercise (and food) and therefore believe we must need them all and make use of them all… if not at once, then very soon. Further, the desire for entertainment, the threat of apathy and the submission to monotony has us looking for change frequently, convinced easily by the thin theory that exercise variation promotes growth and prevents muscle staleness. Why not? Is it possible that trainees fail to maximize an exercise or a routine fully and thus do not achieve the margins of muscle-building overload it offers, the finer margins that demand muscle adaptation and growth, where none might be found in any manner less intense, less painful and less sacrificial?

Retain a good exercise until it evaporates and you absorb it.

Unless we’re currently flogged and short of breath, we’re quick to agree life is wonderful. Daily it draws us in every direction for responsible service, pursuit and achievement. We endure exhausting, yet fascinating trials and occasionally plunge into mysterious adventures. Consider: For those devoting themselves to four hardy 60-minute workouts a week and correct eating, it is sufficient, quite rewarding, in fact, to gain health and well-being while seeking trimness and conditioning. We are bombers, yet we cannot expect the exotic bodybuilding extras (barndoor lats, ripped pecs, six-pack abs, spider veins, cannonball bis, horseshoe tris) without the devotion of the professional, the genetics of gifted or the freedom and youth of the ever-ready, pre-career, pre-family n’ credit card 20-year-old.

Do not give up. Trust your iron and steel investment. Crank up the volume and throw out the calculator. Built within and ever-developing are the feelers that, given half a chance, will direct us toward our potential.

Below is an outline of the “same old” with a twist of lemon.

Bike or jog for 15 to 20 minutes four days a week with variations of intensity to suit your mood and needs. In all your training you must be the governor. You’re in charge of your workout regularity, levels of intensity and focus of performance. Wherever there is decision to be made within your routine, you make it; for example, adding weight on strong day or going light on a blue day; when to do your aerobic activity, before your workout, on an off day or on the same day, but at a separate time. It’s the live-and-learn principle, which is no different than the-learn-as-you-go precept. Try it. Takes common sense, builds confidence and makes life easier.

None of this training stuff is all that critical at any particular stage. Big in, big out vs. little in, little out theory. See, I did my homework. Seek counsel, yet grant yourself credit for thoughtfulness, logic and creativity. You’re on the sky-pages, which suggests you have the basics down or they’re at your fingertips. We live and die by the basics. What we do with them determines how well we live, how big and lean, strong and quick, long and healthy and how happy and fulfilled.

“You know, Bomber, for a living legend you sure talk in circles. I’m falling asleep here and you are yet to make any sense or tell me something I need to know. I want a smoothie.”

Where’s everybody going? I think I’ll continue the lemon-twist workout next week. It’s been a long day for all of us.

Remember: When you discover a treasure, consider its worth, delight in its touch and hold it close. It sparkles and glows only when we keep our eyes on it.

Do not remove your hand from the throttle or your eye from the sky.

DD The Bomber

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