First Things First

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Take Me to Your Dumbbells

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There’s a new guy in town and he plays basketball. This is good, an athlete with discipline and a sense of fair play, while being aggressive and quick at the same time. He doesn’t weight train hardcore, which makes me a bit suspicious, but he’s made his choices. We’ll soon see how he does at the heavy lifting.

I’m a good sport. I’m rooting for the fella, though I’m not on the same team. Cheap shots, foul play, stepping out of bounds, submitting to the opposition or other rule breaking and he’s benched. Fans become discontented when their favorite player, the high-scorer, gets sloppy and loses the ball, and the media can’t ignore it.

He should blast the iron; could have a heck of a body.

So much for sports, bombers, let’s discuss politics, religion and ethnicity for a cheery change of pace. We can start with a few verses of Kumbaya... or not.

You might recall at a recent Bomber Wingding, I asked the bombardiers (packed to the rafters) to assist me to determine the most outstanding musclebuilding problem -- the top of the heap, the biggee, utterly unbearable, sheer misery, pure torture, slow death and dag-nab unthinkable.

I passed out several thousand questionnaires (a little shot of me in the upper right-hand corner hitting an overhead biceps shot, big smile -- nice touch -- Laree’s idea) listing the 10 most troublesome bodybuilding dilemmas common to lifters, asking them to number each according to their difficulty.

The dark list was comprised of, as you’d expect, losing undesirable fat, gaining well-shaped muscle, building cannonball biceps, forming horseshoe triceps, creating cantaloupe deltoids, developing colossal pectorals, acquiring washboard abs, crafting diamond-shaped calves, constructing oak-tree thighs and getting back to the gym with high-spirited enthusiasm and confidence after a long lay-off.

Several eager participants vehemently commented there was no category for barn-door lats. “Widegrip chins, pulldowns to the front and back, barbell and dumbbell rows, seated lat rows,” the answers came from all directions in equal vigor. Good crowd. “Go heavy, focus on form and high reps, superset, get the last rep, bomb it.” Lively crowd. “Bomber Blend is absolutely essential, drink up, never give up.” Intelligent and resolute.

The inquiries with the cool picture in the top corner were collected and the answer was swiftly computed by the ever-popular Wing Girls. Almost unanimously, the final entry, getting back to the gym, was selected as numero uno, the most excruciating bodybuilding dilemma of them all.

The remaining nine were by no means less difficult, yet you’re in the gym before the weights, racks and benches consistently and actively applying yourself. Every workout, though not meeting your expectations, granting your wishes and fulfilling your high hopes, is in your hands, under your direction and providing progress beyond measure.

Simply being amid the iron and at work is a triumph. Curling, pressing, pulling and lifting with all your heart, mounting the sets, stacking the reps, combing the movements and forming the grooves; exerting, willing, forcing and finessing; stretching, straining, struggling and sweating. You hear the metal, feel its coolness, leverage its gravity and fight the fight. You finish with a smile somewhere on your face and joy someplace in your heart and an ache of fulfillment all over.

Another step forward, you win once again.

Woe to the men or women who have forfeited the battle, tossed in the towel, given up the game. They lose, they know it and they hate it. How do they fix it is the ultimate question. “How do I get back to the iron and commence bombing with enthusiasm?”

Having agreed on the problem, let’s consider the solution. We know from past experience we do not one day simply go back to the gym and pick up where we left off. There’s the obligatory self-loathing, guilt, cowardice, doubt, numbness gagging and excuses revisited. This often leads to the couch, the TV and a bowl of popcorn. Bad first start.

Seeking sincere help I turned to the well-informed winged warriors for their input.

Bombers, recommendations, please:

Bomber) “Never quit in the first place.”

DD) That’s sort of a suggestion, like saying don’t spill the milk and there’ll be no spilled milk to cry over. Good one, but not the answer we’re looking for. And, there are legitimate reasons why the iron is moved to a back burner -- another topic for another time.

B) “Recruit a personal trainer for advice and accountability.”

DD) A good answer and one to consider. There are personal trainers here who’ll totally agree with you, but bombers are self-reliant characters (AKA stubborn, pig-headed, proud) who prefer to succeed or fail on their own.

B) “Start with a light regimen of aerobics, like walking, jogging or biking.”

DD) A smart beginning for sure, enlivens the body and its systems and awakens -- reintroduces -- the mind to health and fitness. A good starter, a valuable investment.

B) “Dig out and refresh the ole’ gym bag and training gear, and place it in a conspicuous, yet unobtrusive corner (don’t want the other half giving you grief… George! Get your crap off the kitchen table!). A small reminder, a tiny first step.”

DD) Another clever and effective suggestion. Another step closer...

B) “Guilt works. Let it bristle. When feeling low, break out the gym membership card and be certain it’s updated. Or, if you train at home, casually check out your gear to see it’s in order, free of grime, used tires, wheelbarrows, webs and rats.”

DD) First things first, bombers, we’re making progress. Continue, let’s see some more hands.

B) “Now’s the time to reconsider the diet. Is it balanced with sufficient protein, good carbs and fats to suit you needs? Are you eating too much or not enough? Are you getting plenty of fresh, living foods? Are you eating regularly, are you eating junk? Are you willing to fix it? Fix it.”

DD) Tough one. Spilt milk. Clean it up... fix it.

When the time comes, when the guilt and self-loathing have done their work when we can’t look in the mirror or sleep at night or just hang out with ourselves as we used to, we need a strong personal confrontation. How do I back in the gym with spirit and confidence?

A question is often answered with a question. What if I don’t? The answer is evident, by our asking, by our disposition and by our lack of strength and health. The answer is straightforward and not so pretty.

The question then becomes, what do I do about it; do I do something about it now, or do I confront myself next time. Wait, there’s more; where will I be then? If this question with three faces doesn’t scare you into action, upgrade your TV to a super-size flat screen with TIVO and surround-sound. You’ll need it.

This is what I’d do (can’t say this is what I’ve done, cuz it’s been over 50 years since I’ve similarly laid off -- el nutso), after answering the proposed Q, and not accepting the grim answer:

Sit down (by now you’re tired and out of breath), calm yourself and gather your nerve. What a great opportunity; you’re seriously moved to do something about your desolate condition. You’re in control, despite the low position you think you hold. You know all there is to know, you’ve been under the iron, your plate has been sufficiently full or spare, according to your needs. Recall the clang, the first and last rep, the last set, the pump, the burn, the energy and endurance.

These things are not forgotten, they’re not history, and they’re not childhood games or tasks of the past. They are high hopes, your high hopes and eagerness for today and tomorrow.

Do this for the first week before the iron and before the chow line:

1) Make a sufficient assessment of yourself; it’s the last you’ll see of this floundering fellow. Be nice. Check, for example, bodyweight, tone, activity and lack of activity level, general well-being (good time for a doctor to give you the once over, bombers of all ages, especially those over 40). You know the drill... personal inspection.

2) Dump the killer pop and junk food. Assure balance to your menu, upping the protein and fresh veggies and some fruit, as you can deal with it. Don’t make life miserable with excessive rules and regs. Let time rebuild good habits. Do be persevering.

3) Don’t stop with the body; review the mind and the spirit, as well. Get these vital components in order by discarding the negatives (like guilt for not exercising and for poor eating), by imagining your under-construction improvements and anticipating the powerful progress ahead, by thanking God for your revival and abilities and goals. As I said, you know the drill.

4) Having arranged the absolutely necessary training time and place, slug down your Bomber Blend, put on your duds and head for the gym, like a magnet straining for a pile of steel.

5) In 60 seconds or less, while fumbling with your gym bag in a safe corner of the weight room, review your inventory of exercises and pick two or four exercises, your favorites, easy ones that require no set up nor cause any commotion. Stealth and strength, bombers.

While you’re there, with a bench for assistance, do a warm up of leg raises and rope tucks. Be gentle and focused and allow the body and mind to unloose themselves, accelerate and synchronize. Physics, not Zen.

My favs would be curls plus clean, well-executed close-grip bench presses. My extended choices would be incline dumbbell presses and seated lat rows. Two to three sets of each with light to moderate weight (enough to strain sweetly at rep 8 or 10, 20 on the pulley work).

6) Wipe your brow and go home with a smile on your face and a pump in your biceps and that sense of satisfaction that comes only after a terrific workout.

The rest follows as the days go by. You’re off and flying.

Godspeed... Dave

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