Friday, September 17, 2010

Iron Nation Review by Randy Roach

Around 1997 a good friend of mine, Ted Nellis, traveled from Ontario, Canada to Washington, D.C. in order to experience one of Bob Whelan’s popular strength training clinics. Drew Israel was a guest speaker and told Ted of a book project that he and Bob had undertaken. Ted then informed me of the book upon his return. It did, in fact, take another 13 years to come to fruition, but it was certainly worth the wait.

I think many would agree that “Iron Nation” is not for the faint of heart, nor would it serve as an effective recruitment tool for today’s modern, mainstream exercise facilities. In the preface of Volume I of “Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors,” I wrote on those I believed were the true pioneers of the fitness explosion:

"These men are the root of the booming fitness industry we see today. They are the true die-hards, who in the decades past, trudged for miles to remote, dingy and often hard-to-find gyms. In many cases, they would simply build their own in basements or garages using any scrap material accessible to them. Take away all the modern conveniences made available by today’s super-fitness facilities, and you would lose 95 percent of those gym populations, leaving only the likes of these men.

They have been pointed at, labeled, clinically categorized, and even laughed at, but to the men of the Iron Game, the way they are is simply the way they were wired."

Well, herein lies the likes of these very men chronicled within the pages of Bob Whelan’s and Drew Israel’s 2010 release, “Iron Nation.” I say “likes” because this hardcore training nature was not confined to the days of old, but actually traversed the decades as clearly demonstrated in this book of well over 120,000 words. I would venture to say that no matter how much the fitness craze has proliferated in various directions over the recent years, these men, like it or not, are the anchor for the entire industry.

Whelan and Israel carefully chose a number of trainers ranging in age and methodologies to share both their entry into the Iron Game and what training sessions stood out most within their minds. Let’s just say these short stories have no shortages of blood, sweat, and vomit (no tears), not to mention, tons of bravado and ego. Many of them are very talented with the pen and were able to express themselves with both intellect and humour. Fred Hahn’s rendition of his encounter with big Jim Flannagan was worth the read alone!

As an amateur historian myself, I enjoyed reading the historical backgrounds for every single one of the contributors to this book. Nonetheless, “Iron Nation” offers much more than personal histories and tough workouts. These men freely gave their best advice on building strength and muscle. To say they know how to utilize the barbell would be short changing them significantly. The resistance they constantly butted heads with came in the form of weight stacks, kettle bells, logs, water and sand filled barrels, chains, springs, axels, and yes on occasion, barbells and dumbbells. All of these tools are presented in a pretty wide spectrum of training philosophies from Olympic weight lifting, powerlifting, bodybuilding, high intensity training, super slow training, odd lifts and strongman training.

Bob Whelan and Drew Israel have sequestered a great cross section of trainers and compiled their histories and advice into an engaging format and appropriately named it, “Iron Nation.” I read the book right through from cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed every story. This style of book easily begs further volumes, but hopefully their next release won’t be in 2024. But then again, who am I to advise on releases!

- Randy Roach,
Author of “Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors”
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