First Things First

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Bent Buckets, Broken Bottles

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When I have spare time, I put the dumbbells aside and review my two most prominent life lists: The bent bucket list, comprised of the wonderful and daring things I want to do before I leave, and the broken bottle list, filled with the worthy things I should have done with the time I was here. Hustling iron all my life has left me with a bump on my arm, rust on the brain, an echo in my heart and a hole in my pocket.

Slightly shallow, perhaps, but it allows me ample time between training, sleeping and eating to ponder my presence. Rather than lifting iron like a junkyard crane, I shoulda been doing something smart with my time, becoming somebody, a census-taker, a politician, or, more nobly, a volunteer, a rodeo clown or a spy.

I guess the best philosophy is, don’t worry today about the sets and reps you didn’t do yesterday, worry, instead, about the sets and reps you won’t do tomorrow. Heavy.

I think Zabo said that late one night in the mid-‘60s when we were hanging out at Gold’s. We’d sit there after a stony workout staring at the empty gym with the lights out and he’d say, “What’s it all mean, man?” and I’d say, “Yeah, far out.” Those were the good old days.

Neither the bucket list or bottle list is long, they both lack inspiration and reason, and, unsurprisingly, they share fundamental and equally inane similarities: bench press 500, squat 500, deadlift 500, make a ton of money, invent the secret to building huge arms, wash the pickup, pick up some milk and eggs on the way home from the gym.

Pondering, besides being dull and uninteresting, gets boring real fast. Think about it for a sec. See what I mean? That’s why I work out -- plus exercising is very healthy, rewarding and productive. Maybe I’ll be somebody some day when I grow up. But, for today, it’s bis and tris. Rock on.

I don’t know that I’ve ever looked forward to training; it’s always been something I’ve had to do. And, as I think back to that indelible moment kneeling on the sidewalk in front of my house in Secaucus, a pile of weights scattered for the very first time before my 10-year-old-knees, I knew then what I was about to embrace was no dip in the pool, no pony ride, no picnic in the park.

I recall a muted joy, pastel in color, at my little-boy purchase (Dad, can I buy the Charlie the milkman’s weights? Gee, thanks.), and a seriousness in the immovable toy and the games it presented. It was mine, gulp, and now I had to play with it. Pride is a powerful taskmaster.

It’s all a blur -- weights in the bedroom, the basement, the shed, high school, prep school (under my bed), the Y, Vic Tanny’s, American Health Studio, Weider’s Union City warehouse with Leroy C -- until the Dungeon a dozen years later. I did it, but it was never a party.

That’s not to say there weren’t a lot of laughs along the way, tons maybe, or that I won’t smile as I climb the few steps from the parking lot to the gym floor later today. I won’t dead, squat or bench 500 -- can erase those illusions from the list -- but I will pick up milk and eggs on the way home.

I do not have the hallucination I will build bigger and more powerful muscle from this day forth (pass the Geritol, please), but I do expect to do everything in my might from losing what I may, day by day by day. Less output in the gym, more input in the sack and similar eating patterns minus the second helpings. Oh, yeah... plus plenty of life thrown in to make it interesting.

Less output means as much as I can do without overdoing it. I suppose that’s always been my methodology, though I didn’t always get it right. When you’re younger and chasing your tail…or a thick back and cannonball delts… too much seemed better. Today, too much is murder.

No less than two-hour workouts, six days a week from January 1st to New Year’s Eve ruled during the mid-‘60s. I was truckin’ 16-wheeler. They dropped to two hours for five days out of seven in the ‘70s (1-ton pickup) and I cruised in a Toyota half-ton 90 minutes x five as the road stretched across the mountains, valleys and plains.

Now I have a wheelbarrow I load with scraps of iron (5s ‘n 10s) three days a week and push with all my might. 75 minutes is all it takes. Actually, that’s all I’ve got.

I shoot for 24-28 sets of exercise, which includes sets of 6-12 reps to sets of 35 weighted reps, depending on what, where, when, how and why. Supersets and trisets are still managed, yet any sense of swiftness is removed. ‘Steady as she goes, thank you, God,’ has replaced the no-light-between-sets blasting paradigm.

Weight heaviness is not the target -- it’s all heavy -- but effort expended is. Ready or not, good or bad, right or wrong, I need to strain, feel the pain and be certain the form is personally commendable.

Nice reps, Draper, whatever the heck the exercise was. Often they are unrecognizable, but well contorted, and work just fine.
 
We need to get the job done and we are the tool, the medium, the director, the implementer, the performer, the deliverer and the receiver of the benefits. I say this because I have to make what I do, what we do, very important, very necessary and very intricate, while at the same time very simple, or we won’t do it. And it’s good to have an answer why, should somebody ask.

Health and strength, fitness and tone, diversion and duty are good answers. But they only scratch the itch.

Why? Because! That’s why.

Not everybody gets it.

I wish I was a kid, but I’m glad I’m not descending the staircase to the Dungeon 45 years ago. Those workouts were brutal.

We press on, by God... DD

The iron works, this we know: We want it, we need it, we love it, we hate it, we do it... Take it or leave it.

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