Thursday, April 16, 2009


Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 8, No. 1 (July-August 1996)

“There is something in good men that really yearns for discipline and the harsh reality of head to head combat...I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear, is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and he’s exhausted on the field of battle—victorious!”
—Vince Lombardi

Matt Brown was lying on the hallway floor, semi-conscious and breathing like a steam engine, with the 200-lb sandbag in front of him. A month ago he got 150 but 200 is a whole new animal. He had just collapsed for the final time today, while trying to get the bag all the way around the perimeter hallways of the building. And this was after a grueling one-hour high-intensity workout. There was nothing left. KOed. Comatose. Workout finished.

There are only four names on the bag and Matt is not yet one of them, but he always gives it his all and earns the respect of anyone who watches him train and hears the noise he makes. He usually manages to go an extra few steps with the bag each time he tries it. It’s only a matter of time before he gets it all the way around the building, and his name on the bag. Matt has gained 20 lbs of muscle this past year and his bodyfat has gone down. Six months ago, the 100-lb bag put him down for the count.

Effort, Not Just Poundage

The key thing to remember is that it is not just how much weight you lift that earns the respect of yourself and others. It’s how hard you work. You can’t fake all-out effort. If you are not going all out, you will get less respect and not feel as good about yourself, no matter what poundage you are lifting. I know some strong powerlifters who have no broken a sweat in years! They are strong and worked hard (years ago) to build their strength, but for the last few years have been coasting. I’m not criticizing all powerlifters, but a lot of lifters could be even stronger if they continued to work hard and not “get satisfied” with a moderate level of strength.

There is something about the camaraderie of effort that brings about respect and goodwill. Too bad that they don’t give Nobel peace prizes to places like the few good old-fashioned gyms. The good gyms do more to bring about brotherhood and camaraderie than all the theorists, philosophers and politicians combined. At the good gyms like Iron Island Gym and The Pit, they appreciate hard work and will root for you when you are going for a personal record. It doesn’t matter what the poundage is. If it’s a PR, it’s something to root for. It’s effort that gets respect, and the maximization of your genetic physical potential. And it’s not what you’ve done in the past that counts, but what you’re doing now.

Vern Veldekens was scheduled after Matt, and arrived a few minutes early. He was rooting Matt on during his last set of Trap Bar deadlifts and his battle with the sandbag. You cant help but root for, respect, and like a guy who works his guts out. Matt went several steps farther than he thought possible due to the encouragement and friendly peer pressure (i.e., screaming) of Vern, myself and other patrons of the third floor who are getting used to this, and enjoy watching.

An hour later, Vern would end up in the same shape as Matt, except today he would not even make it to the sandbag. I made him do his Trap Bar deadlifts Iron Island Gym style. He went to what most people would call muscular failure, a about 15 reps, then managed to get 5 more reps, with each rep bein a life or death effort. At 20, he collapsed. I then let him rest for one minute (timed), but did not let him take his hands off the handles of the bar. He had to rest in a squatting position and just suck in as much air as possible. At one minute it was go again! All out to failure. KOed! Workout over! My “Iron Brother,” Drew (the human wall) Israel, passed on this torture technique when he stopped by for a visit recently.

Drew and I had a great time “killing” each other. After our workout was over I made the mistake of trying to keep up with Drew with a knife and fork. Dr. Ken called earlier that day to warn me: “Keep your hands off the table when eating with Drew because he might stick his fork into them!” That boy can eat! It was Thanksgiving three times over.

Drew leaves camaraderie-building messages on my answering machine, such as, “Kick Vern’s ass today, Bob. I want him on the floor.” Vern replies, “Thanks, Drew. I love you, man!”

When I first met Vern, over one year ago, I didn’t like him at first. He came into the gym with a baseball cap on backwards, which I didn’t like and wrongly perceived as disrespect. I didn’t smile or say a nice word to him, and was like a drill sergeant. He called me “Sir.” I really busted his ass extra hard. Vern took whatever I threw at him with no complaints. After a few workouts I totally changed my mind about him and he earned my respect. We laugh about this now. You can’t help but like a guy who gives it his all.

It’s the same for women. Muscle tissue is not defined as male or female, but only as human, and will respond to hard training regardless of gender. With any individual you start with whatever can be handled and build up from there. No one at my gym works harder than Charlene McNamara. I train her the same as a guy. No BS toning. She said, in the past, she was getting so sick of being “babied” because she was a woman. She loves training hard, and ends up on the floor after many workouts. She recently carried around the building a barrel filled with sand that weighs more than she does, and after a brutal one-hour workout. She now has her name on the barrel in large mailbox letters for all to see. She is respected by all because she works her ass off!

Gym Atmosphere

The training atmosphere of a gym is far more important than the equipment in it. Some gyms have great equipment but a dead atmosphere. No one is working, and no banging, shouting, grunting and groaning are allowed. No camaraderie. Soon there will be gyms filled with great equipment but there will be no sweating allowed! These are toner gyms. If you are in one, find another gym.

I had some of the best workouts of my life at a poorly-equipped and crowded gym at an Air Base in Germany—rusty weights, creaky floors, broken cables, etc. But boy, what a great atmosphere! Several hard workers were always in there. Weights were banging, sweat was dripping, people were screaming, and chalk was everywhere. Just the basic Olympic bars and plates, a flat bench, and a squat rack was all we really needed.

Willie Bell the powerlifter, and Glenn Pieschke (former Mr. YMCA USA) were stationed there, with a lot of other strong good guys. I made great gains there. The gym was a dump but what atmosphere and camaraderie! We were all friends and had a great time training together.

Compete Against Yourself

Put for the effort to compete against yourself, not others. You never lose when you compete against yourself. Don’t get overly concerned with numbers, but always be concerned with progression. As long as you are striving to add weight to the bar and giving an all-out effort, you will never be criticized. You will be respected. People respect effort. You should feel good about yourself. If you consistently put forth the effort, the numbers will keep going up.

Don’t get discouraged. Keep striving! Nothing in life that is worthwhile is easy. If it was easy, then every wimp in the world would be strong and that would take all the fun and camaraderie out of training.
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