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Dragging an Unwilling Body to the Gym


Photography by Robert Gardner

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Here we are amid another 24-hour period and I have your attention for five minutes, scattered and chased as it may be. Some of you are at work squeezing in a personal read between important messages to ease the day. Others are at home between projects, browsing the web freely and killing time.

We invent ways to make life at once interesting and effectual; that's what we do -- most of the time. A ton of work, an ounce of profit, a slab of business, a slice of play: We're a patchwork of this and that. We piece together what we want to do with what we must do, the good, the bad and the ridiculous. And with every day and every deed we do the best we can do -- most of the time.

Some days we don't want to do a thing: Another day, we say without gratefulness; another opportunity, we note without enthusiasm. Who cares? Why bother? We're burned out. The job is boring and the pay ain't so good. Fun is bothersome and our companions are as dull as decaf. We watch the latest news to divert our attention (yikes). We down a can of tuna and a slug of water to indulge the appetite (ugh). We put on our baggies and head to the gym to lift our mood (groan). We get caught in traffic, a favorite diversion (honk).

She's goin down and he ain't lookin' so good.

You made the right decision, by hook or by crook, by rack or by stack. You're going to the mounds of metal and the stacks of steel to chomp on the iron and chew on the hard stuff. Nothing like a dose of solids and heavy minerals to lighten the load... Not bad for building muscle and might either.

Did I mention character?

You see, bombers, the gym is a hotspot for action and a cool setting for focus and thought. Once you step over the threshold and enter its boundaries, you and the space come alive. The noise is a wall to the outside world, the effort put forth a sword against life's pressure, the routine you choose a highway to triumph, the pain you endure a relief from the blues. The gym straightens the winding road, brightens the dismal way and adds purpose to a pointless day.

I only say these things because I'm approaching the hour I grab my stinky gear and drag my less-than-enthusiastic bod to the house of barbells and dumbbells, cables and racks and other cuddly devises of body-manipulation. I need all the help I can get.

Sleep did not come like a gentle butterfly in the night. I wrestled fleeting opponents and awoke from a thin dream, greeting the day with a fat headache. Good morning, world!

Today I shall slip into a slow, full-body workout. You'll notice I did not say leap into, hop, skip or jump into this or that program. Also, bombing and blasting were not the outstanding word choices used to describe the manner with which I intend to apply myself.

There are times when a slow training session with precise and deliberate movement is preferred to match existing power and energy, desirable to accommodate the mood and most effective for muscle development. Not all our workouts need to be knock-down, drag-out sessions. Lighten up, Whacko. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

A slip 'n slow full-body workout means light on the legs with a few select basic movements to bombard the upper torso without concentration on any particular area. I did say bombard, didn't I? I can't resist.

Routines of this sort are best devised in the car on the way to the gym. Of course, some of you train at home, in which case you need to drive around the block a few times. Just kiddin'. Foregoing a drive around the block, seated on the end of the bench press will do. Lots of thinking is done on the end of the bench press. The point being these are last-minute designs built on the latest sensitive input.

Zip, zip. Zoom, zoom.

Gone and back in a flash, and there was no traffic either way, north or south, a sure sign of the ebbing summer and encroaching fall. You'd never know it by the temperatures, double digits. The workout any other time would have been unacceptable, but today it was just right. I climbed upon the spin bike for 15 disagreeable minutes to satisfy the legs (and my love of aerobics) and completed a couple hundred high-intensity crunches and leg raises to remind the gut I care, and to set me in motion.

The investment was worth it. The more I do this stuff, the more I discover and clarify the be-here-now moment of performance. Muscle building is about what you do, and no less about how you do it. Total attention to the muscle action is essential, and form is ideal when it matches the performer, his mood, needs and ability. If I saw a youngster doing curls the way I do curls, I would be obliged to correct him. Worse form no one could display.

No, lad, don't lean this way and that and, please, complete the range of motion... less thrust, and quicken the pace. You look like a broken heap.

My body, older and more developed, less supple and more restricted, compels me to modify my movements to continue my training, extend my progress. The resulting modifications are deliberate and not perfunctory, carefully determined and not accidental. Failing to apply these rules, I risk injury, proceed with constraint, or must eliminate the unaltered exercise entirely, any of which options limit my growth and training experience.

I grabbed the thick bar, the Apollon Axle, and set it on the rack of the thinking-man’s bench press. Where once I loaded the bar, I now slid on a teensy plate or two. They jingled... cute. I knocked out one masterful set just to be sociable. No one gasped except me.

Near the open double-wide exit doors, a conduit for breeze, I placed an Oly bar with sufficient weight across a flat bench for my second exercise of a superset, the beloved stiff-arm pullover. Let the action begin.

Hunched at the end of the bench awaiting inspiration, I peered out the rear doors and over the field and parking lot. Nothing moved. It was Sunday, very hot and very late summer in coastal California, why should anything move? I did, but with similar stillness and quiet. The thick bar was light, unthinkably light years ago, but now was right for my purpose. With an agreeable close grip (18 inches thumb to thumb -- wider kills the shoulders, closer kills the elbows) I lowered the bar to the sternum (higher and both the elbows and shoulders die) where I rested it for a split-second before returning overhead with focused effort.

One rep in a million, I attended it as if it was the first and last. Nothing else mattered. The movement was well-worn, yet as new as a pair of birthday socks. With accumulated might I guided the bar’s descent in a rare groove that had not been thus far worn thin by time and use. Control to maintain the track and speed of descent of each consecutive rep added to the exertion of muscle without threatening the body's health. The burn and pump and volume of breathing were maximized, and exercise fulfillment satisfied and the body spared of injury.

Let's see: I sufficiently engaged the grip, triceps, front deltoid, pectorals and some vague, yet substantial torso mass with the press.

The stiff-arm pullover is a powerful relief movement recruiting the lats, pecs, tris and bis and abs in a sort of quiet rage. Lying on a flat or slightly declined bench with my feet up for body control, I hold the bar overhead and focus on its slow and steady stiff-arm lowering. Stretching and reaching expose the body to insertion and joint vulnerability. Too much weight, unprepared tissues, quick action and excessive extension and repetition can ruin a good thing. Careful, pal! Besides, the stiff-arm pullover is a feel-good, restorative movement and should be enjoyed.

There's gold in them thar rugged muscles. Back-and-forth supersets, adding weight each consecutive set for five sets x 6 to 15 reps. Each rep is a hard-earned nugget and should not be spent foolishly. Dig in. We’ll blast it another time, count on it.

The last ringer of this contracted workout is the seated lat row. I rave about this exercise cuz it's a goldmine of attractive, powerful and utilitarian muscle development. Done with full range of motion and tight contraction, it involves darn near the whole body: the quads and hams engage with each complete rep, the lower back is amply applied, the lats from stem to stern work hard, the biceps and forearm contribute considerably and the body’s core is heavily involved as volumes of blood move rapidly far and wide. Start light, go heavy, traverse the path slowly, note the flowers along the way and squeeze out the fragrant reps, five sets x 8-12.

In word the workout looks like a day in the shade. Lemonade, anyone? In action it’s a generous mix both soothing and exciting to the mind and body. With enough dynamite it can blast your wings off.

Have wings, will fly... The Bomber

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