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Weight Training and the Winter Wilderness

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It’s time for me to remind you that winter is in the air. Chances are you would have figured it out on your own, the cold, possible snow and the holidays a dead giveaway.

Winter offers snow and snowmen, skis and snowboards, cheerful winter wonderlands, steams of white breath from shivering smiles and steaming hot cider by crackling firesides. Snow crunches under boots and chains rhythmically chatter as emboldened tires dig in.

The end of the year is an interlude of groping. The holidays begin early, foisted upon us by marketing engineers, and they shuffle along from week to week as we prepare and recover, prepare and recover, till they’re gone. Unless you’re a jolly merchant or a merry advertising agent for the festive season, business stops like a herd of wild horses charging into a box canyon. There’s rumbling and stumbling, but not a head goes anywhere, not a thing gets done. 

Musclemakers don’t make big plans or big strides during the winter abandon. It’s a bare time and a dull place best reserved for repair and review, remaining on course and retaining the iron connection. The law reads: Do not let go of the iron or steel, and certainly do not eat foolishly. Obey the law and you are rewarded generously. Defy the law and you pay dearly.

I never break the law. The generous rewards referenced above include not having surrendered to the winter’s chill, thereby forfeiting your workouts and sliding into the deep fitness-less pit. This is a grim place from which one’s extraction is difficult. The days go by and the light recedes, the guilt mounts and muscle and discipline soften. Though you’re not alone, it’s a lonely place.

Winter can be a vague season; it’s long, drags on and can be gloomy. We adjust and even the cynical among us embrace Christmas, thank God, and family and food and fun. And who isn’t spellbound by sending out the old year and bringing in the new, a time when we remember, we forget, we plan, we hope, we smile and cry and sing. Was it a good year, did you learn, did you grow, are you richer or poorer, are you better or worse? And the year ahead -- is it a well-turned phrase, an honest answer, an apple of gold in settings of silver?

To assure that you do not fall off the Windy Winter Workout Wagon, a small catastrophe we agreed, let’s make it interesting and apply the latest bodybuilding tricks, those creative, inventive, blockbusting systems of training recently developed and waiting for your trial and approval. Be a courageous old dog, we can do this.

Lucky for us, bombers, the popular adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” will not be put to the test. Truth is, there are plenty of old dogs, but no new tricks. The recently developed tricks are either old tricks in a slick disguise or they are some dopey deviation of the basic tricks made to appear new, cutting-edge. Nothing cutting-edge has appeared in lifting since the introduction of barbells and dumbbells a hundred years ago. Any dog knows that. 

So now what? Do we lie around and scratch our fleas? I don’t know about you, but this old dog doesn’t have fleas. Patches of hair are falling out and I don’t chase the little birdies like I used to, but I am spending my time and energy on good, old-fashioned, cutting-edge Muscle Beach training. Fleas (wimps, twerps and twits) have no tolerance for heated activity, bathing in sweat and deep-throated groaning set after set, rep after rep.

Once you trod the straight path to the center of things, why wander circuitous routes in the name of advanced technology? We’re dealing with the physics of gravity -- what comes down must go up; the mathematics of addition -- one rep plus one rep equals two reps; the science of nutrition -- garbage in, garbage out; the logic of persistence -- push that iron intensely; and the philosophy of mankind -- only the strong shall survive.

Thank heaven for straight lines, clear views and commonsense: obstacles that challenge, injuries that instruct, plans that stimulate, deeds that reward and goals that motivate -- blessings available to all of us, not just the elite.

I’ve searched gyms, you’ve researched libraries, we’ve scratched our muscle-heads: no secrets, nothing new. This, a testament to hard work and perseverance, does not make our mission any easier, but it does make it clearer and more certain. Now all we need to do is juggle the hefty objects we have in hand and dazzle our audience with our endurance, performance and perfection, the audience comprised of us, or more precisely, ourselves -- you or me.

We have single sets, supersets, tri-sets and multi-sets, high reps, low reps and mixed reps, volume training, power training and fitness training, with various intensities of training depending on one’s goal, health and constitution. There are several dozen essential exercises and multiple combinations of muscle groups to form a routine, and these routines can be applied throughout the week or month in different patterns based on your time, training involvement, desire, purpose and ability to recuperate. That’s it, folks. That’s all she wrote.

And the choices above in their entirety change with the flow of life, trial and error, and maturity in training. Now add time of the day-by-day variety as you attentively apply the basic exercises. There’s much more and it comes naturally if you care and persist. Add to the list the patient observation of progress, the ever-growing understanding to render modifications, plus endurance of the mind, body and emotions augmented by sound genetics, right eating and living. These determine the extent, direction and swiftness of your development.

Not a secret or a hot idea in the lot. You’re disappointed and you can’t go on. The weights have nothing to offer but their heaviness and that hideous, ear-splitting clang. I think you’re looking too close and can’t see the forest for the weeds.

Step back from the underbrush, hug a tree and rewrite your program. Make it so simple you’d think a kid wrote it. Now you’re getting back to the basics, what works best for all occasions.

Sometimes the less we demand of ourselves, the more we are willing and capable of applying ourselves. We shorten the routine, removing the twists and tricks and addendums, and blast the undiluted truth. We’re in, boom, we’re out. The pump follows us, the endorphins are not exhausted, fatigue is withheld and catabolism is contained. Your eyes are not bloodshot and your family greets you at the door with open arms. You’re home!

In due time the metal ball, continuing to roll, picks up speed and momentum. The muscles grow, the fat burns, you learn and the money comes pouring in.

I lied about the money.

To sidestep the chill winter conundrum without ceasing to sweat, here are two free 'n easy routines you can alternate week after week till I say stop.  (Remind me after Christmas.) They’re designed for men and women, young and not-so-young, who lose focus, purpose, courage and commitment right about now. Did I mention muscle and might and self-respect?

JOYFUL DANCE WITH THE IRON # 1

Crunches and leg raises (2 sets x maximum reps, 15 to 20)

Flat bench dumbbell press (2 – 4 sets x 8 reps)

Close-grip pulldown (2 – 4 sets x 8 reps)

Sidearm lateral raises (2 – 4 sets x 8 reps)

One-arm dumbbell row (2 – 4 sets x 8 reps)

Machine dips (2 – 4 sets x 8 reps)

JOYFUL DANCE WITH THE IRON # 2

Stiff-leg deadlift and rope tucks (2 sets x 10 -12 reps)

Leg press (3 x 10 – 15 reps)

Calf raises (3 x 12 – 15 reps

Standing barbell curl (4 sets x 8 reps)

Pulley pushdowns (4 sets x 8 reps)

The idea of the iron tango is multi-faceted: to enjoy yourself and fulfill yourself, to build muscle and strength, to burn fat and diminish stress, to improve your health and wellbeing, to bolster your character and personality and to ready you for daily living and protect you from the enemy.

Thus, perform the moves with your eye on continuing practice and perfection of form. Push when passion arouses you and withdraw when inspiration ebbs. Be graceful, but accept an awkward misstep and occasional fall. Picking yourself up and carrying on are the most elegant movements you will make. Let them happen naturally.

There’s no room for negative thinking in our wonderful act, but it will, like the devil, impose itself upon us in the guise of monotony, weariness, doubt, disappointment and selfish desire. Don’t give in to the cheap tricks of forces over which we have growing control. To quit is to lose to the loser within. Remember that despicable creature? To carry on the good fight -- the dance -- is to avenge the hollow, damned beast.

Smile. The winds are onshore at 20 knots and the lucky old sun is high in the sky. Great day for gliding and soaring, take-offs and landings, or oiling and fueling your rig for another day.

Go... God’s Might... DD

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