First Things First

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We're Not Average

Jamie (Draper) Johnson, RIP 12/10/2016
Jamie and Dave in a World Gym ad, early 1990s

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Despite untiring effort and creative experimentation, I have not been able to stop the wind nor the movement of time. Neither am I able to provide a sound new technique to accelerate muscle growth or promote the speedy loss of unwanted fat. I'm certain there are none, though like flies in a window we desperately look for a way to the other side. No buzzing or beating our heads will do and I suggest we save our energy for the inevitable, the real work ahead.

Here it is mid-winter, the third week of January. The days are getting longer, if that's any consolation, and the drug store in our neighborhood has Valentine cards on display. Spring is in the air (today but not tomorrow) and maybe that's a robin redbreast poking around in that barren field over there, and not really a crumpled ball of paper tumbling in the wind. Maybe you'll get a pump in the gym this afternoon and the stiffness in your joints will disappear as the temperatures soar into the 40s and the sun briefly glances your way.

Oh, my, it's morning already. Time to rise and shine, up 'n at 'em, the early bird gets the worm, today is the first day of the rest of your life and all that stuff.

The average person wakes up, stretches, splashes around in the bathroom for ten minutes, has a cup of coffee and a bun and is off to slug it out with the rest of the world.

The average lifter wakes up, stretches, flexes, extends, reaches, bends and generally considers mobility, muscle tone or lack thereof. We splash around and sneak a few quick peeks in the right bathroom mirror from the precise angle... hmmm... holding water, cut the late-night carbs, bring in the cardio later this month to attack the winter weight... the muscle's there.

Time. It's happening. Time and courage. We're gonna do this. Patience, pal, and discipline.

The pile of pills grows as we prepare a protein shake. The kitchen counter is cluttered with a blender of ice, a jug of low-fat milk, a bottle of EFAs, protein powder and a banana. We mutter little muscle-building reminders: Go for a pump today and maybe a single in the squat if the inflammation is down... we'll blast it. Let's see... old brown bag packed with pop-top can of tuna, cooked steak -- slice it -- and small baked potato in Tupperware, cold, quartered veg in a baggy and some fresh fruit and a liter of clear water. Keep a bottle of aminos on hand and fill an empty vitamin bottle with protein powder just in case. Gonna be a long day and the muscles must remain in an anabolic environment without providing excess calories.

Ready to hit the road after a cup of coffee and a bran muffin to top the protein shake... and the pills, capsules, nutritional powders and water.

It's worth the effort and what appear to be extra dollars and time, attention and foolishness. Health and strength come at a small price. The cost of sickness and frailty is enormous, too costly to be estimated.

What is the price of a shortened life? Or the value of one that is tired and broken and without vitality, a life that is limited by weakness, immobility, fatigue, a ravished self image, lack of motivation, purpose and will? It's prison in a free world, solitary confinement.

Let's bust out of this joint.

Each year is different -- events, job, finances, relationships, health, wins and losses, the good and the bad, the steps forward and the steps back. You add them up and what you get is who you are. Maybe I'm getting older? Nah. Maybe it's been a goofy year. Whatever.

The condition we're in -- the mood or attitude, the slump or tilt, the chills or sweats -- suggests that we try something different in our training. What? Not bulking up and going for heavy lifts -- too demanding, broad and cumbersome; not leaning down and going for cuts -- too demanding, narrow and defined.

The word "demanding" appeared twice as a negative, yet we like demand in life. We'll temper it. We're looking for growth and improvement (yeah, Bomber, tell it to the good fairy) with strain yet less pain. But pain must be accepted, nay, embraced.

We'll modify things. For one month do what you probably haven't done for a long time in training: reduce the weight used and increase the pace -- lighter weight, faster tempo, less pain, shorter workout, more pump.

Who can relate? In some movements lowering the weight 10 to 15 percent will eliminate (another word for "substantially reduce") the strain and pain on the elbow, wrist or shoulder. This replaces the grimace on the face with a glowing smile and allows us to proceed more quickly. Flight, freedom, momentum, thrust and exhilaration define the workout and training misery is defeated.

I know what you're thinking. Sounds kind of submissive for a bomber; replacing light weight for pain, tiptoeing in dainty circles instead of marching forward, prancing rather than galloping, ducking, not slugging. It's only for a month, fighting comrades, like R 'n R, a trial run, a brave stray from the known, a daring and defining rebellion against convention, the risky maneuver of a fearless warrior, a noble experiment in discovery by a selfless leader... and you doubted me. How could you?

You're right. I'm guilty. Confession -- admission of guilt -- is good for the soul. It reduces stress and thus reduces cortisol (a catabolic hormone), which reduces catabolism, making way for the anabolic environment needed to heal injury and build muscle.

A shorter workout, while intense and all-out, will further contribute to the anti-cortisol campaign. The scheme is as old as the hills -- a grin if nothing else.

Did I mention the days are getting longer? Before you know it, it'll be summer.

Reach for the sky, pilots... That's heaven up there.



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