First Things First

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Why Work Out?

Away from the Maddening Crowd

Dave Draper front squats

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Ever find yourself sitting quietly on your favorite bench away from the activity on the gym floor and wondering what exactly are all these people doing here? Of course not; you’re healthy, but I do. I’m deranged, paranoid and lonely. Two more sets before another amazing workout is complete, I feel like a million (wiped out, aching and red-eyed) and a generous calm has flooded my pulverized body. Who are they, where do they come and what are they doing here?

More specifically, I ask, “why does a person go to a gym?”

1) For appearance: to look trim, cool, attractive and shapely

2) To be bad: huge and tough or sexy and foxy

3) To be healthy and vital: lean, energetic and happy

4) Out of fear or guilt: he’s a wreck or becoming one and can’t stand it anymore

5) By doctor’s orders: poor health due to inactivity (overweight, diabetes, failing heart)

6) To join a friend: friendly persuasion, to accommodate or please a mate

7) To socialize: make a friend, boy-girl action, join the fun, identify

8) To rehabilitate an injury or recover from an ailment

9) To conquer diminishing health, loss of muscle and strength, energy and personal control due to age or inactivity

10) To become a better person, inside and out: enthusiastic, disciplined, vital, strong-muscled and enduring

11) By virtue of personal responsibility: caring for one’s health, ability and well-being

12) To improve one’s abilities in other sports and recreational activities

13) To live longer and enjoy an independent and more abundant life

14) Because there’s a cheering challenge and fulfillment in the tough experience of weight lifting, exercise and action. Each workout is fun (in odd and different ways, discovered day by day) and profusely rewarding

15) Because the Mr. Big Boy or Ms. Cool Chic is coming up next month he or she’s gotta get ripped

16) Cuz the state powerlifting, weight-toss, Olympic lifting and Strongman contests are right around the corner and he wants to win all four

17) Because he’s been lifting weights for 10, 20, 30, 40 years and can’t stop his ongoing training any more than he can stop an oncoming train. He needs it bad.

18) To stay fit and healthy, dutifully, enjoyably, without undue labor or the miseries of letting go

19) In response to pressure from society: media, talk shows, human-resource proclamations, family and friends -- Conformity, the right thing to do

20) Cuz the word is out from IronOnline that there are invaluable benefits at one’s fingertips the moment one enters the gym, from musclemaking to long life, from moral fiber to joie de vivre

Anybody you know? Everyone is different, head to toe, fingerprint to DNA, mind to soul, personality to possibility, needs to desires, and experiences to expectations.

What are their expectations, to what level do they apply themselves, how committed are they and how committed do they become? Hmmm.... I watch, assess and hit another set before I’m busted or lose my pump.

She’s been coming for years, three or so, and has gained direction and form. When she first walked the floor her steps were tentative and her expression was fearful. Within a month I knew this one would stick; she needed it, her face showed it, she wasn’t young and exercise gave her hope. She was a bit lonely, I guessed, and I saw some youth returning to her eyes and to the curves on her body. This day, three years later, she appeared younger, stronger, brighter and more certain.

This middle-age gal came for physical and emotional restoration and to confront and overcome some hurts and losses. You’re right, what do I know? She is 10 times more a person than she was or was becoming in 2001, I can tell you that. The gym opened the door just enough to let her in and set her free. She likes being alone and moves with a sure pace and she looks good. Still don’t know her name, but I like her. Let’s call her Proud Mary.

One more set and I’m outta here. The last set counts, big time, like the exclamation point at the end of a declarative statement.

Now that guy comes to the gym to unwind and rewind. He works at the American Airline counter at San Jose International, checking in travelers and attending their needs. Long hours, long drive, long lines, long faces -- sorry, ma'am, your flight has been cancelled. The weight room provides comfort, order, a noisy privacy and the mindless task of pushing and pulling, stretching and straining. He counts his sets and reps with familiarity, unthreatened by a one-rep-max or tight supersets. He’s 40, in good shape -- no gut, sufficient muscle and strength, no need for guns or striations -- loves his wife and kids and wraps up his stress in neat piles of iron and steel. He reads Newsweek between sets (I frown on this, but...) and will pull out his cell-phone any minute if I don’t huff. Other than that, he’s cool. I don’t know his name either. How about Captain America?

Gathering my training gear together is not exactly a simple chore. It’s scattered across the gym floor like tangled cars and rooftops after a tornado; water bottle under the squat rack (I thinks that’s mine, or maybe it’s Andy’s), belt’s hanging over the bench press, elbow and wrist wraps dangling from the dipping bars and there’s my thick-bar attachment leaning against the cable-crossover. Where’s my chalk... can’t leave without my chalk. Another day on the battlefield.

I’ve known this lady since we opened the doors 15 years ago and taking the gym away from her would be cruel and unusual punishment. She loves this stuff like a geologist loves rocks and digs around barbells and dumbbells with similar interest and intent. A female bulldozer, moving, unearthing, piling, shifting and replacing. Metal goes up and down, cables and pulleys load and unload; she tugs and stacks, pushes and racks. Every bodypart is worked with precision and passion and the effect on the forty-something structure is inspiring -- a strong, well-balanced and sculpted form natural as gleaming river rock. You can call her Sue, but that’s not her name.

Before I hit the road I am obliged to serve the nutritional needs of my body. The tall order is composed of a two-scoop Bomber Blend milkshake and a small pop-top of Dave’s tuna. Whatta combo, just what the doctor ordered. Yummy and it’s good for you, too. While I contemplate the fare, I can’t help but notice the big guy who comes from work every day at this time. He cruises the stationary bike for 20 minutes, mixes his abs with his stretching for 10 and hits a total of 20 sets of weighted exercises. He wants results bad -- power, size, shape and muscularity -- and is consistent in his efforts. Been nine years according to my calculations and he’s done his share of research and experimentation. He’s doing fine, though he could use less mind, more heart and increased intensity.

Truth is the man wrestles with a demon: he smokes like a chimney and can’t stop. It’s killing him, he knows it, we talked and he cannot. Too many years on the sucking end of a Camel, the household and his companions smoke and he hasn’t been cut deep enough... yet.

“I neither win nor lose the fight,” he says, the thought being that training and right eating sort of neutralize or diminish the negative effects of the sticks. “I’ll just keep plugging along and quit when the time is right.”

Yeah. I’ve been there with the booze, Smokey. Time flies! Extinguish the butt before the butt extinguishes you.

Traffic’s never very good in my coastal Santa Cruz neighborhood unless you travel between one and three in the morning. I’ve got five miles to go and it might take me 20 to 50 minutes this afternoon, depending on the surf and tides, stars and the moon risings.

That guy by the adjustable incline is new; that is, I’ve never seen him here before. He’s spent time in a gym in the past; I can tell by the way he moves, though I’d guess it’s been years. Like riding a bike, he has the approach down, but he’s a little wobbly making it up the hills. Guessing again, I’d say he needs to accept his extended absence from the weights and adjust to his less-than-impressive return: very difficult, mostly disappointing and painfully instructive. If he’s got the mettle, he’ll stick it out. He’s 30-ish, carrying a spare, probably married with a kid or two and at least one job. Zorba referred to the situation as “the whole catastrophe.”

Nothing will be more valuable to him and his family than his successful re-entry into the world of health and fitness, exercise and eating right. I’ll spare you the rhetoric. Let’s just say it’s more valuable than a hefty pay raise, a sparkling new sports car, a college degree in this ’n that, a case of Bomber Blend (close call) or a cozy lakeside bungalow in Northern California.

Good luck, Charlie Brown. The world is counting on you -- you and all you former dropouts from Nova Scotia to San Juan, from the Straits to the Keys, Baghdad to Buenos Aires.

Isn’t it a thrill, bombers, to fly above the turbulence, know where you’re going and why? The fuel’s not free, the stabilizers need occasional adjustment and the cockpit is a little tight at times... but we soar, by God.

Let ‘er rip... DD

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