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No Club Med or Dance Floor

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The gym is nothing more than a large playpen filled with heavy, oversized toys. And we, its participants and frequenters, are not unlike children, only older, larger and more complicated. At first sight our actions have all the appearances of adult actions, thoughtful, proper and purposeful. In a short time, however, it becomes evident the child has not left the body and he’s there to play, have his own way or pout and rebel.

Getting along with the rest of the kids is a welcome sign of growth and maturity.

As part of a child’s behavior (okay in kids, yet unhealthy in adults) we see in ourselves, imperceptibly, and those around us early boredom, daydreaming, a penchant for chattering, the inability to focus on activity, impatience with listening and learning, the unwillingness to share, a need for attention, lack of invention and resourcefulness and loss of interest due to the demand of the game or the absence of immediate reward.

The grand thing is that the playpen -- rather, the gym floor -- can make men out of boys and women out of girls. It can direct and accelerate the growing process of the body, mind, emotions, personality and spirit of a person, if they endure... of a people, if they persist.

Be sure, there are obstacles, disappointments and interruptions along the way. And it’s these weighty matters that provide far greater challenges for personal progress than the barbells and dumbbells. Finding the time to exercise, the will, the energy, the patience and the desire are among the top ten snags that test us. How, when, where and why can also throw us for a loop.

The hang-up I’ve observed that most regularly frustrates aged, overgrown kids from becoming adults is their desire to play and be kids forever, even while pursuing important goals. Cute concept, but not practical.

Daydreamers and chatterers are the first to leave the demanding muscledome. They might be back, but for now the gym floor is not convenient or desirable for their passive pursuit. It’s back to the kitchen, the hangout, the coffee shop, mall or street corner for cogitators, gossips and conversationalists. The bored might stay a long time going from machine to machine, barbell to dumbbell, TV to treadmill, and to the nose pressed against the window overlooking the parking lot. They linger and lift and manage and mutter. Hey, they’re here; they could easily weigh 50 pounds more if not for their active wandering of the gym floor.

Lots of bigger kids don’t focus well and have difficulty listening and learning, but they will improve dramatically in the large person’s toy box. I mean, who taught them to focus and listen in the first place? Mom and Dad? Who? Mom and Dad? Who? See what I mean? The teachers in junior and senior high school? They tried, did their best, exhausted and frustrated themselves, but they did not teach; they monitored. It was the TV in the den, living room and bedroom: Looney Tunes and MTV, LA Cop and X Files... and their swell, indoctrinating advertisers. Education en masse. Listening and learning comes from watching and imitating. In the gym, under the cold heavy stare of the iron, there are essential lessons, basic understanding and swift behavioral responses. Lift, push and pull.

Selfishness has got to go if a lad and the lass are to make it in the world of authentic grownups and mature youth. Haven’t you noticed? Wanting more and needing your way drive a wedge between you and people and things. The most selfish act you can perform is eliminating the rude characteristic from your personality. Selflessness achieves far more than self-centeredness ever will. Don’t be fooled. The loaded bar on the platform and unwieldy dumbbells on the rack don’t acquiesce to sniveling outbursts and childish insistence. And standing behind you, the lady with her hands on her hips and determination in her eyes and the guy with smoking guns hanging by his side aren’t the types to step aside for a pushy nuisance. Be smart, be nice and lift.

We’re all a little needy. Everyone hates rejection. Encouragement is as vital as air. Yet some people absolutely insist on being handheld and directed, stroked and guarded and otherwise spoiled rotten. United they stand and alone they fall. Good for a nation, but deadly for a survivor of one in a land of iron cages, metal cables, and steel bars. I am eager to assist anyone when he a spot. I’m willing to share my equipment if a lifter needs the space. I’ll talk to those who need support and information. But do it yourself if you can, work around others when you are able and leave religion, politics, sports, home-improvements and vacation planning to neat conversations at the juice bar, in the carpool or at the poolside. This isn’t a dance floor or Club Med. And for crying out loud, don’t let your personal trainer hand you the weights or count your reps unless you absolutely cannot do it yourself. Do it and bear it.

I’m beginning to sound stiff and stern, bordering on grouchy, like the gym is no place for fun and games. Hmmm... I have my hand to my chin and I’m thinking seriously. I delight in my workouts, even when the weights are immovable and there aren’t enough wraps and straps to curtail the pain in the joints. My training sessions number in the tens of thousands and the best ones are those that are uninterrupted, evenly paced, thoughtful and focused, well-planned yet creatively modified to suit immediate needs. They present, of course, convincing burn and enough pump to inflate a mid-size dirigible. Perfection -- a fool’s treasure -- is not sought, but very good is most desirable and achieved frequently. Eight out of ten isn’t bad.

There’s always something to prevent a perfect workout, thank God, or I’d be increasingly frustrated as I tried to achieve it just one more time. Certainly all subsequent workouts would fall short of perfection and life would become a horror. I love very good, very much.

I have no worries ever about lack of training disruptions and training perfection. Background music is provided to successfully disrupt workout excellence: too loud, too repetitive, too redundant, too vulgar and too absolutely unbearable. There’s the group who think everything’s a joke, therefore they laugh, giggle and cackle between, during and after every set and rep. There’s the couple doing walking lunges in front of the dumbbell racks and crunches on huge balls between the cable crossovers. There’s the teenager jumping rope forever in the middle of the only lifting platform and there’s the older and shorter new fella who wants to work in on squats -- looks like a neat exercise, he says.

I’m not grouchy, but I am serious about the training environment. Noisy, disorderly, chatty, a barrel of laughs, posh, stylish, social-cliquish, boy-meets-girlish and soft and cuddly do not describe the atmosphere conducive to power lifting and muscle making. Worse yet is arrogance, rudeness and I’m bad. Pass me the stungun. That doesn’t mean a gym can’t be honest, open, friendly, fresh, welcoming, enjoyable, fun, thrilling, motivating, inspiring... and intense.

Time... time and practice, that’s all it takes. The same thing can be said about playing a violin or driving a Formula-1 racecar. Gaining the most from the toybox and growing up in the process requires continual play and attention. At some point one begins to figure it out and respond to the repetitious input. The monotony combined with the almost-accidental progress leads the non-adult to try different exercises and experiment and truly experience. Imitating no longer works and one requires subtle alterations; alteration becomes invention and invention involves discovery and discovery unearths self-awareness. It’s a matter of evolution. The kid evolves. The kid becomes a Gym Rat. Wow!

Gym Rats live forever, they are not children and the gym is no longer a playpen. It’s a citadel. Gym Rats are also known as Muscleheads and from a distance no one can tell them apart; it’s a matter of fur, whiskers and the tail. They never lose interest in training because it’s far too... well... interesting... and fulfilling. The demands are enormous, but so are the benefits. The rewards come with time, and they keep coming and coming.

Gym Rats and Muscleheads are like Bombers except Bombers have wings and travel at great heights at high speeds. They are skilled, clever and exceedingly maneuverable. Did I mention courageous and dauntless? Humble?

Bombers rule the sky.

Dave Draper

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