First Things First

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon


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I notice stagnation in my daily workouts, a sudden revelation of a gradual process. My training has the metallic taste of iron oxide, the useless feel of junkyard steel, the bland look of ordinary, a clanking sound of repetition and a moldy smell of time-gone-by. Training stagnation is more than the cessation of musclebuilding action or progress; it’s a subtle festering accumulated over time that clings, corrupts and breeds toxins and disease.

Once recognized amendments must be certain and quick, yet not determined without serious consideration. Sit and think, pace and wonder. There’s always a solution. Lean back, tap the fingers and contemplate. Why the standstill? Why the stall? Knit the brow, squint the eyes and squeeze the thoughts tightly. What’s missing, what’s wrong?

It never ceases to amaze me, muscleheads; thinking works! I believe I know the condition my condition is in. Realizing and acknowledging I have a problem drives the issue to the clear and well-lit foreground. No place to hid, its examination is swift, and semblances and outlines of a solution are soon exposed. Let me candidly assemble my thoughts and see what appears.

I hang on to extra bodyweight -- five to ten pounds, whatever -- to serve me in the musclebuilding process. You know that. It’s part of my training credo. A well-planned heavy bodyweight provides more energy and endurance and mass to blast, greater resistance to injury and illness, fuller feeding to create and support an anabolic environment, the distinct psychological advantages of largeness, and the elimination of the preoccupation and stress of dieting, seeking cuts, veins and other elusive and maddening objects of perfection. The latter can reduce a friendly and otherwise sensible human being to a blithering idiot.

Good credo. Beg, roll over, fetch. But along with the rational attachment to bulk and hulk comes the sneaky desire to be ever-stronger. Fine. That’s one of the points, after all, to our commitment to lifting weights and eating like horses -- health and fitness, long life with quality, bigger muscles and ever-stronger. My problem comes -- might I say, our problem comes -- when reaching for strength becomes out of reach and counterproductive.

A typical progression: We seek a personal best in the bench press. Enthusiasm and inspiration flourish. Eventually, after applying and exhausting all training methodologies, we reach our limit. Our performance is respectable, yet unacceptable. We press on to exceed our quivering ability and our pressing goes down with our pump and mood. Stop there? No way! We ache, we swell, dread our workouts, endure disappointment, sabotage our intelligent musclebuilding workouts, enlist black magic, stupidly push beyond our capacity and tear the rotator cuff. What the...? Humbly, we retreat and lick our wounds for a long, long time.

This revolting predicament occurs regularly throughout our training experience. By gosh, it sounds miserably, almost embarrassingly, like a plateau or sticking point. This, the creature from the black lagoon, has been known to swallow hefty bodybuilders whole or frighten them from the face of the earth. Beware and stay close to the group. Only the strong, persistent and wise survive.

There are enough characteristics to distinguish the condition of my condition from a plateau to make it something else, "what" I am not exactly sure. Plateaus are enigmatic. This here dern stagnation is personal, has a unique origin and a distinct end.

Let me remind you -- and me -- that I offer these obscure thoughts not out of egoism (Heaven forbid I have one of those yapping pets at my heel), but cuz I think they might evoke identification, tighten our bond and help you unravel some objectionable trend in your own workout scheme. Sharing, understanding and encouragement do more to keep us going strong than any instruction book, mechanical device or hot new ingredient. Prayer’s right in there.

My most recent workouts -- those of the past several years -- have endured a sort of sameness: No, not in form or exercise similarity, zeal or even achievement, but in goal immediacy -- to conquer, as in battle, each workout one at a time, the enemy being pain and its restrictions. To that end all other goals are lost: size, shape, strength, condition, training form and pace. I’m not moaning or complaining; I’m explaining.

Excuse me for a second; I’m overcome with grief... slobber. Woe is my middle name... gasp. I can’t go on... sniff. There, that’s better.

Unimportantly, the pain is located in the hand and wrist, neural in origin and minor relative to daily living. Swell. But when pressing and trying to build strong shoulders and big triceps (yeah, I know... at 63 why bother?) the pain is a dirty rat, a rotten dog and a wretched swine. Sets and reps are not done for fun; a delicious pump and burn is not the object, and the fulfillment of perfect form no longer matters. No, not hardly. Instead, maximum pain is sought indicating that maximum-muscle exertion is accomplished. No pain, no gain. You’d think I was building the Grand Canyon.

I insist on lifting as heavy a weight as I can within each exercise, which is absurd considering for starters I can lift no defendable weight at all. Never mind the blow to the yapping little ego, the vain, disgraceful endeavor is a loathsome struggle (gasp) and amplifies the pain proportionately. The pain (scorching) interferes with my form (sloppy), pace (slow), goal (lost) and attitude (nasty).

The solution is easy, simple and plain. It is also objectionable. To lower the pain, lower the pressing weight -- from nothing to nothing minus five. I imagine high school girls and thirteen-year-olds gathering in small groups and snickering.

This is what I plan to do starting Monday -- chest, back and shoulder day: I shall submit to the light weight I loathe in all pressing movements -- Smith presses at 45- and 75-degree angles and 60-degree dumbbell incline presses. Each has its corresponding superset movement which I love (surprise!) -- widegrip pulldowns before the neck, widegrips behind the neck and stiffarm pullovers. I’ll execute five sets of each to assure saturation and move with a pace that is unimpeded by pain and the anticipation of pain.

I expect the reps will be happier (smiles and laughs), freely flowing and higher in number, as I deliberately seek an inspiring pump and exhilarating burn apart from the once familiar debilitating pain. The sets will accumulate like precious ore from a mine streaked with shimmering gold veins, not a hole deep in the bowels of the earth producing rock slides and toxic gases. The pace will be regular, rhythmic and tuneful, like an orchestral march for brave warriors off to save a land from oppression, a welcome replacement of the pitiful war cry for senseless barbarians off to a bloody slaughter.

Another part of the plan, equally intolerable, is lowering the bodyweight from 225 to 215. This is not difficult for me technically. The weight is solid, yet a bit of a stretch, and hangs on with deliberate effort. I’ll remove one average meal from my daily menu and in two weeks I’ll be cruisin' at 215. I despise letting go of the bigness, but will delight in the leanness and enhanced feeling of wellbeing. It’s that trade-off that makes us crazy: big, thick and strong for light, lean and fast, rhino for leopard.

The five-percent loss of bodyweight, I suspect, will provide a change in training direction without obstructing bodybuilding progress. On the contrary, it should support it, encourage it, further it. At this point in time I’m subject to my workout program and style. With the cascade of alterations released by lowering the bodyweight and exercise weight, my training will be restored and renewed. I shall expand and grow with the new found freedoms. That is, until circumstances -- knobby elbows, enraged insertions, sallow muscle bellies, gaunt facial features, danger crossing parking lots on windy days -- call for rethinking and recalling, refurbishing and retrofitting.

Geez, Louise! No wonder most people stay home and watch TV.

Presently, Laree, my little cutie pie, often sez, "My, what a big strong stomach you have." And I reply, "The better to squat with, my dear." Well, time to give the squats and knees and ankles a rest, kids. There’s a winter coming up before you can say July 9th Bomber Bash. Winter’s are for squatting and bulking and eating and stuff like that. In March I was 230 pounds for a day. All I could do was taxi down the runway and rev my big fat engine. At 215 I can do rolls, dives, somersaults and minor crash landings.

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