Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 8, No. 3 (November-December 1996)

I arrived at Penn Station in New York City and walked to the corner of 34th and 8th to meet “The Human Wall,” (6’4’’, 310-lb) Drew Israel. We both had a great time when Drew visited my place, in Washington, D.C. (See Drew’s article in issue #44.) Now it was time for round two.

Just like clockwork, at 11:15 am, a car came by close to the curb and the door popped open. It was Drew. It was a good thing that the train was not late. I jumped in, and we were off to eat a pre-workout lunch at the Dixie Pig, one of Drew’s and Dr. Ken’s favorite places to eat. The place is not fancy, and not in one of New York’s better neighborhoods, but the food is great and the portions are huge.

After lunch it was off to Drew’s apartment/gym. We talked training and watched a few training videos while waiting for our food to digest. I had to sit between two Hammer machines to see Drew’s TV which is mounted high on the wall above another machine. Drew has a large training video collection featuring high-intensity workouts and lectures from top strength coaches. We watched “Strength Training by the Experts” and “Dr. Ken at West Point.” We were really fired up to train! Since we were planning to visit Dr. Ken at Iron Island Gym tomorrow, I made damn sure we did all of our training today at Drew’s.

Drew initially called me a few years ago after my article in Hardgainer issue #32 that described my living conditions at the time. I had literally lived in a gym for several years. Drew didn’t think there was a nother guy as crazy as he was. We had an immediate bonding and have been good friends since. I have since moved my gym into a commercial space, but Drew is still living in his gym.

Drew’s gym is an awesome display of dedication and passion for training and the Iron Game. It is a basement studio apartment in a nice Queens neighborhood. He has a bed in the corner, and a bathroom, which are the only two places where equipment is not taking up the entire space. (Later that night I slept on the floor between the Hammer Iso-Lateral Leg Press and Pullover machines. I felt right at home!) Drew has more machines and equipment than some large commercial gyms have. The machines and equipment are packed side by side, many actually touching each other. You have to contort your body just to move around the room.

The Training

We were now ready to train and this time I went first. Drew had me start with the Hammer Chest Press and, after warmups, I did sets of 325 for 8 reps, and 370 for 5 reps. I felt strong and was going to try 400. I took about two minutes rest as this would be a personal record for me, and I wanted it. Drew was yelling encouragement but his shouts faded into the background as my concentration grew intense. I felt good. This was it! Bam! It went up about three quarters of the way. I hit a slight sticking point but kept pushing. I rammed it through to lockout. A new PR! No matter what happened during the rest of the workout, I would be happy about this one.

The next movement was on the Tru-Squat® machine from Southern Exercise (800-348-4907). I have heard good things about this machine but had never actually had a workout on one. Let me tell you that it was brutal. This is a fine piece of equipment that makes you squat with perfect form. It takes all the stress off your lower back and is as hard (or harder) than free-weight squats. I will get one of these machines in the future. After warmups I did 20 reps with only 200 lbs and it was murder! The poundages on this machine do not correlate with free-weight squats as I’ve done 380 x 20 in the barbell squat. After completing the twentieth rep I felt sick and had to rest a few minutes.

I felt okay after a few minutes and went over to the Hammer Pullover machine. I did a couple of high-rep sets to failure and then weaved my way outside to Drew’s driveway where he does his free-weight exercises. There is no room for free weights inside his apartment. Drew has a garage with a bench for bench presses, a lot of free weights, Trap Bar, and other equipment. Trap bar deadlifts, military presses, bench presses, etc., are done in the driveway, even in January! Seated military presses were next in my workout. After warmups I did a set of 8 reps with 190 lbs, and then 210 for 5 reps. I quickly moved back inside Drew’s apartment to the Hammer Pulldown and did a few high-rep sets to failure with 180. Workout over! I was still feeling the effects of the Tru-Squat machine.

Now it was Drew’s turn to battle the iron. Drew’s first exercise was the Hammer Iso-Lateral Leg Press and, after warming up, he did 3 sets of 10 with 550! He lowered the weight slowly and did not bounce at all. An awesome display of strength. After a short rest it was over to the Hammer Chest Press. After warmups Drew did a set of 10 with 380 lbs. When Drew goes all-out to failure he really is at true failure. He looks like he is having a seizure on his last rep!

Drew quickly moved over to the Hammer Pullover machine, his favorite upper-body movement. After warmups he did a gut-busting set to failure with 250 lbs for 15 reps. Drew scraped and contorted himself through the machines and made it to his driveway for seated military presses. After warming up he took 235 lbs for 6 reps, then collapsed. He laid on the grass near the edge of his driveway for a few minutes, before getting up. I was feeling a lot better by now, but we waited a little while for Drew to regain his senses. You can tell when Drew is feeling good because he talks about eating. After about ten minutes Drew began ranting about Peter Luger’s Steakhouse (“Petah Loogiz” in New York dialect).

The Eating

I was really looking forward to visiting what Drew calls “the best steakhouse in the world,” in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. This is an area where you would not walk alone after 5 pm. It is a famous place, known for its huge portions of beef and has been an institution since 1887. It is also one of Dr. Ken’s (and the Iron Island gang’s) favorite places to eat. Two of Drew’s training partners, 6’ 260-lb Jim Duggan, and 6’3’’ 260-lb Howard Menkes, were going with us. Jim is well known in the New York area but is one of the best kept secrets in the Iron Game. He is one of the strongest drug-free guys in the world. Howard is a strong man in his own right and a big advocate of hip-belt training. He has got great results with it after a back injury. We were soon on our way. The car had tough springs as it carried about 1,000 lbs.

When we got to Peter Luger’s we were seated but were rubbing shoulder to shoulder. We had to pull the table a few feet from the wall, which caused a stir. We had to sit straddling the legs of the table so we would have room to move and breathe. There is no menu. It is simply steak for one, two, three, etc. We each ordered steak for two. The four double platters covered the table and there was little room for the bread and side orders. Everyone was staring at us and seemed to be wondering, “Who are those guys?” The steak was great and really hit the spot, especially after a good workout. Drew finished off two baskets of bread, a few side orders, and dessert. I learned a lesson from our last meeting: Do not try to match Drew with a fork or you will regret it! As we were leaving, the manager came over to us and said, “It’s been a long time since four guys have come in here and all finished their double steaks!”

After we got back to Drew’s place we were both looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I crawled between the leg press and pullover machines, and slept like a rock.

Iron Island Gym

Th next morning we got up late and all Drew talked about was having lunch at La Palma, a good Italian place. We had a great lunch there and Drew put on a show consuming enough veal parmesan for three people. We then set off on our way to “The Mecca,” Iron Island Gym.

When we first got there, I thought it looked small from the front view, due to the store front entrance. Once I walked inside, however, I saw how the place spread out behind the entire row of stores and went back about a block. The place is huge!

When I first walked in, I genuflected. I felt that I was in a sacred place, a place where many great battles have been fought with the Iron. The place was buzzing with enthusiasm and there were people training hard everywhere I looked. It is a hardcore but friendly place, not at all like the typical bodybuilding gym. The walls are covered with pictures and Iron Game memorabilia. It has every type of machine you could imagine, a large powerlifting area, and a graveled area behind the gym where large wheelbarrows and wagons are filled with Olympic plates. You are harnessed to them, and pull them like a mule over the bumpy sand and gravel surface. There are many other unique items there like the lead-filled torpedo cases with welded handles, to use for trhe farmer’s walk, the canon balls, two custom-made 90-lb Trap Bars, dumbbells with 2 1/2-lb jumps all the way to 200 lbs, and many other unique items.

Dr. Ken has his own custom-made 45-lb plates that are a light purple color (Iron Island Purple) and have IRON ISLAND in white letters that go around the inside of the plates. Drew brought a few of these plates down to my place during his visit. One thing that you will notice right away about Iron Island Gym is that it is extremely neat, with every item in its proper place. There are no plates laying on the floor, and plates are not even left on the equipment after use. Ken has his members trained to put all plates back on the plate racks after they finish their last set on any exercise. They all do it.

Meeting Dr. Ken was great. I spent some time with him in his office and we talked training. I had a great time. I picked up a good training tip that I’ve applied to my program. It’s the fifties day. Dr. Ken has written about this in The Steel Tip (reprinted in Hardgainer #44), and Drew uses it in his program. It is not a way to train all the time, but for a change of pace, once or twice a month. I have a new tradition at Whelan Strength Training where everyone’s first workout of every new month is fifties day. I pick four or five of the most demanding exercises and the workout’s objective is to get 50 reps in each exercise. I do it slightly different than Ken and Drew. I load the bar (or machine) to a weight only slightly lighter than what would normally be used for a set of 10 reps. The client then has to go to failure sevearl times to get to 50 reps. I usually have them do two exercises back to back. They must keep going back and forth until 50 reps of each exercise are done. It is brutal! And it is especially brutal if the exercise selections are the squat (or Trap bar deadlift), bench press, Hammer Iso-Lateral Leg Press, and Hammer Pulldown.

Another good tip I picked up from Dr. Ken is the use of the half-hour workout. I now offer both half-hour and full-hour workouts to my clients. This past year I’ve added five Hammer Strength units to my gym and this makes life a lot easier and faster. I can “clock” someone in 30 minutes or less now because changing plates is a breeze. When I had only free weights I’d spend at least 15 minutes in any workout changing plates and moving bars and benches around, and in and out of the power rack, etc. Also, a lot of good, tough, young (but broke) guys wanted to sign up with me but couldn’t afford the hourly rate. They can now train with me using the half-hour workout option. The shorter workout is just as tough as the hour one, and perhaps even tougher because get little if any rest between sets.

I had a great time in New York, and Iron Island Gym is a must-visit place for all Iron Game fanatics. But soon it was time to head to the train station and catch the train back to Washington. After saying farewell to Ken and Drew I told them I’d be back for another visit, when I attend the Oldetime Barbell and Strongmen Association meeting in October. Then we will have Peter Luger’s Round Two. I can’t wait!
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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