What Gets Us to the Gym—What Gets Us Going When We Get There

All I Want is a Quick Workout, but Oh, No!

Dave Draper 2004

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A little gloomy. No, not me... the day. I kinda like it, though, if you know what I mean. The woods are soft and quiet, the blue jays are minding their own business, there are no chain saws or weed whackers blazing in the distance and the hum of traffic drifting up from Highway 1 is muted and reluctant. If I wasn’t a mild cynic and this wasn’t the planet earth, I’d say it was almost peaceful. However, if it’s gloomy tomorrow, I’ll want a refund and assurance that the sun will shine by Friday or I’ll never do business here again.

Today is arm day, otherwise I’d stay home and count the redwoods. As it is, the gym calls, and sets and reps will be counted instead. It’s Monday, and Monday reminds me of a freshly scrubbed man all dressed up in a suit, uncomfortable, tugging at his sleeves and apprehensive.

The days of the week have different moods and personalities. Tuesday and the tie is loose, the collar unbuttoned and the hair is slightly out of place. The tie and jacket hang over a chair back on Wednesday, the sleeves are rolled up and the hair has been roughly combed with spread fingers a hundred times. He’s smiling on Thursday morning and, as he leaves the house, the suit coat is slung over his shoulder like an old friend. His free hand is in his pant pocket, jiggling loose change, and there’s a bounce in his step. Good morning, world. The jacket’s in a heap ready for the cleaner and a sport shirt is tucked in a pair of casual slacks, and Friday, the last day of the workweek, is embraced like a long lost friend. Long time, no see... let’s boogie.

Mondays are serious: places to go, things to do; time is money and no time to waste... the early bird gets the worm. Thank goodness for clichés and barbells. I will start with midsection, then five tri-sets of wrist curls, reverse wrist curls and overhead triceps extensions with cables from the floor. Then I’ll do those persuasive standing thick-bar curls to the forehead, supersetted with lying triceps extensions for five sets, and finish with seated dumbbell alternates and machine dips for five all-out bi-tri combinations. Another short n' sweet, intense n’ pure arm workout completed, no arse-dragging around the gym floor, no distracting outbursts of laughter, no loss of focus or pace and a profusion of inner smiles of contentment. You done good, partner. Is it Friday yet?

Tell me. Why did that workout get nines and nine point fives, when some bouts with the iron don’t register on the score board? As you know the weather was dismal, there was the typical Monday blues to contend with, I still ached from last week, felt fat from the weekend and I sorta wanted to stay home and count trees – my latest diversion since selling the gym -- while Mugsy purred on my lap.

No, I’m not getting old, wise guy. My black stallion, Diablo, is too big to sit on my lap.

There are a lot of influences that determine the outcome of our training sessions. While none of the conditions mentioned above are motivators -- on the contrary, they are burdens and anchors -- I was able to rise and shine, pump and burn. What is it that lifts us up or lets us down? Some of the influences are subtle or hidden or not in our control; others are obvious and we confront them or we ignore them.

There’s only one way to get to the bottom of this provoking mystery and you know what it is. We make a list and we consider its contents. A good bomber is also a good detective.

~ The weather:

A no brainer. The weather’s crappy, you have a crappy workout -- the weather’s amazing, you have an amazing workout.

Too hot, too cold, too rainy, snowy, miserable and threatening -- these extreme conditions negatively affect our training. Their influences are physical and psychological and sway our moods, desires, energy and endurance, flexibility and ability to exert. Weather conditions can cause confusion and distraction and one might get his hand tangled in a violently thrashing umbrella caught in a gust of wind en route to the gym. We long for extended and mild springs and summers and autumns with light clothing, tan bodies and long days. Pump and burn, grow and show.

We already mentioned gloomy and sunless Monday blues with body aches and lazy bones. Tough combination, yet they were overcome by strength and drive.

~ Our pre-workout feeding and fueling:

Training on empty is possible, common, and it’s a big mistake. An insufficient anabolic environment causes the lifter’s system to seek immediate energy from its most available source, and it’s not fat; it’s our precious amino acids stored as prized muscle. Horrors! Recuperation is compromised and muscle pump and its accompanying inspiration is noticeably absent. Nuts! Low blood sugar is often experienced as trembles and overwhelming weakness, even fainting.

Avoid the dilemma. Pour yourself a tall one, Bomber Blend straight up, and blast away.

~ The psyche, the mood, the attitude we establish before the training session:

What kind of head you carry into the gym makes a big difference in what you can expect from the weights. Bad moods and negative attitudes subvert our workouts and they need our immediate and certain attention. Truth is we depend on the workouts to do that job for us, but we can set the process in motion by throwing our crankiness a few unwelcome glares and some mental jui jitsu.

There’s no secret to the power of psyching up. Prepare yourself for a great training session by imagining and visualizing and enjoying the possibilities. Exercise is our gift to our self, after all.

~ The prevailing atmosphere of the gym:

The way you like it is central to your training success. We’re all different and some of us are more sensitive than others. Give me a handful of trainers on the floor, no loud mouths, no competition and the way is clear. You share a few knowing exchanges, toss out an occasional encouraging comment and dig in -- no apprehension, no atmospheric pressure, no interruptions and no distractions. Very cool, very focused and very internal. In the words of James Brown, "I feel good."

Some guys and gals prefer the scene: loud music, boastful banter, showing off, clanging plates, dropping dumbbell and swinging from the overhead florescent lamps. Hey, somebody set off the sprinkler system... how cool.

~ Our wear and gear for training comfort:

Ever train in the only gear you can find in the closet that’s clean? Sheesh! The shorts that make you look like Wendy Walrus or the saggy baggy sweatpants that are way too short -- hi, my name’s Billy Blob. How about the t-shirt with the paint stain that look like vomit? I hate that one. My workouts go downhill when I look like an authentic slob. I like my Ts tight, makes me feel big and bad, muscley and strong. Looks dopey... so?

~ The time of day:

The best time is the best time, when you’re relaxed, most energized and at your peak strength. Aim for this slot and bomb away.

~ Time sufficiency to prevent the haste that wastes:

It’s wise to train with a solid and purposeful pace complimented by total focus. This requires freedom from time restrictions, which impose haste in performance and distraction in concentration. Block out a time of day for training devotion... or not.

~ The particular workout -- body parts and training approach:

Favorite workouts can lift you up. Yes! The tough ones can depress or frighten you. Oh, no. You’ve gotta have heart and courage and readiness for them all. Aren’t you glad you’re a bomber and not normal?

~ Prevalent stresses and personal distractions:

We all have a monkey on our back and a pain in the gut marking our days with strife. Life, it seems, is not without these unwelcome attendants and they need to be subdued, if not eliminated. Let’s use the wretched forces as incentives to train harder, channels for our aggression and targets of our anger and despair. I like funky monkeys, and the pain of gain is like sweet summer rain, but these chumps are for the dumps.

~ Body’s readiness for an intense workout:

Knowing thyself comes with close attention, practice and common sense.

Sometimes I moisten my finger and put it to the wind. It works.

Too often we have legitimate reasons for poor exercise performance and low marks from the mysterious judges. Influenza will do it, a fractured rib will slow us down and too many workouts without adequate rest takes its toll on our energy, muscle and might and well-being. You’ve got to know when to rest and how to lick your wounds. Flat on the back works. Sometimes short, stimulating workouts with affection work better. Nothing wrong with a doctor, a nurse, penicillin and a splint, either, if your instincts should fail.

~ Confidence in workout schedule (quality appraisal):

When in doubt, you’ve got problems. Lack of confidence in your workout scheme will weaken your enthusiasm for training, compromise your exercise performance, retard bodybuilding progress and sabotage your general hopefulness. Let’s see: weaken, compromise, retard and sabotage. You need help, Son. Break out Brother Iron, Sister Steel and choose a routine to fit your mood and needs.

That was easy.

~ General assessment of your training efforts and hopes for future improvements:

This exercise in appraisal is a cousin to the characters visited above. Are you training with focus and intensity? Do you find your workouts engaging and fulfilling? Do you have clear goals you visualize regularly? Do you care, or are you merely going through the motions? Does the gym and weightlifting bring you delight or despair? Would you rather be fishing?

Ask yourself these questions to help determine with some accuracy your lifting input and expectations. Are they red-blooded or do they need a transfusion? Break out the first aid kit. You might need a band aid, a kick in the pants, more protein, a routine overhaul, a lay-off or an attitude adjustment.

~ Self-image challenges, confrontations -- attitude:

Who are you lately? Friend, foe, anybody we know? Do you like yourself, or are you a general pain in the bum? It’s real important to like yourself. It’s also real important not to like yourself too much. Weight training does more to aright a person’s ego than money or position or stardom. It’s humbling, while at once it builds us in a hundred different ways. Remember this truth when you feel weak and inadequate -- and everyone feels weak and inadequate now and again -- and realize you’re in the process of fixing what’s broken as you continue to lift with all your might. I mean, who else besides us has the courage and insight and simple knowledge and discipline and might to do what’s right? Huh! Nobody!

So much for a lousy self-image. Next.

~ Attention toward, trust in, commitment to and enjoyment and appreciation of the weightlifting and musclebuilding processes:

Otherwise known as obsession, this can be a delicate subject to the typical, highly intelligent builder of muscle and might. Should any of the above prerequisites -- attention, trust, commitment, joy and appreciation -- diminish or tarnish or distort, the lifter’s integrity is subject to question. This can be devastating.

Sometimes we forget why we go to the gym and the driving forces -- the countless reasons for lifting heavy with meticulous form and in relentless pursuit -- are left behind, under the bed with the dust balls, in the closet with the dirty laundry or at work under a stack of papers. Get in the habit of recalling your name, who you are and why you’re here; to be good to your neighbor; to cultivate high morals; to be loyal to your country; to drink your milk and to train hard, with undying commitment to health, strength and long life.

There are other duties in life besides lifting weights that are important. I just can’t think of any right now.

Board your craft, brothers and sisters. The sky is your canvas; your wings are the brush. Paint big pictures, delightful and bright.

Yo Cap... dd

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