We’d look back and laugh at that but these dumbbells were something that I loved; I was a martial artist at the time and had always admired the physique of Bruce Lee and had got hold of a copy of the book Dynamic Tension by Harry Wong which advocated the use of tensing your own muscles within movements as a means by which to increase muscle size, it was great to feel the muscles working but I think I knew that to build muscle I had to use a stress that my muscles were not able to cope with thereby forcing some type of adaptation process. I had also seen photos of Bruce Lee using weights, dumbbells, barbells and weight machines so I was keen to develop a lean muscular physique as it never felt right to see great martial artists who were in terrible physical shape, it seemed almost a contradiction in their teachings.
“The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live.” Seneca to his friend Lucilius.
I used the dumbbells religiously every day for over a year before an older friend (he was in his 20’s) who belonged to the same martial arts club as I did, invited me along to the gym where he trained. Now, my friend was built and yet also a great martial artist so I knew the two were completely compatible (to a certain degree anyway!).
We met up at the Brunel Gym and Spa in the town centre of Swindon for my first real gym workout and he showed me around the exercises, the machines and introduced me to some of the other members who his knew. The old Brunel Gym has long since gone now but in its time was THE place to train in the Swindon area with the owner flying in some of the top American Pros of the 80s while I was there……..I’ll tell you more about that later.
The Gym – The First Time
When I first went to this professional gym I was terrified!!! I was a tall 14 year old kid who I looked older than my age and I was lean with a tiny bit of muscle on me but to venture into what was a completely new world filled with men and women who looked sensational and huge (well, that’s how it felt to me anyway back then!) was a very scary prospect. So, I know exactly what it’s like for new members of any club or gym to feel uncomfortable and intimidated when going into an environment like that for the first time. What I found, though, was that most people couldn’t care less that I was there; they weren’t staring at me as if I didn’t belong, they weren’t even looking at me at all, they didn’t care!!! And people don’t! All those fears that most people have are always inside of our own minds; the people there were too busy with their own training and the ones that did speak to me were very welcoming and friendly, I felt great; not only feeling comfortable in the gym but loving the feel of the weights on my muscles and pushing my body to limits I just didn’t have the means to take it to before. Those dumbbells I was repping for 20 to 30 reps before I would even feel a slight burn by then so to pick up a weight and feel the muscles tighten and begin to burn, get pumped up at around 10 to 15 reps was a wonderful feeling. The advice people kept saying to me over and over was ‘don’t go too heavy’, ‘aim for 10-15 reps each set’; it was great advice not just for a still growing body but for someone who was just learning the basic movements. Basically any resistence when you start will produce adaptation and growth (as long as you are eating enough) so the advanced guys and gals in the gym really helped me out back then; and yes, there were plenty of women in the gym back then. It was the period of Rachel McLeish, Carla Dunlap and Gladys Portuguese and they looked great! I was a 14/15 year old boy in this gym with huge guys and strong women who still very much looked like women still (drug use wasn’t seen in the women’s side of the sport at that level and even at the Pro level until later or if there was any, it was miniscule amounts of very high anabolic, low androgenic comounds). Like Arnold said….’I was in heaven’!!! And I was at the start of what I knew would be a long, arduous but essential journey towards my purpose, whatever that may have turned out to be:
Just start your journey, no matter how scared, insecure, afraid of failure, no matter how far off it may seem, listen to what the Stoics had to say about beginning work:
“What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules. And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir into him action?” Epictetus (E-peec-Tee-tus)
Suffice to say it didn’t take me long to get hooked on going to the gym, I began by going twice a week and then up to three times a week, on a Monday, Wednesday and a Friday and I was soon known to everyone in there as the young kid who was now a member of the gym ‘family’; for a young man, being accepted into an older, more mature, more worldly wise group of people who also happened to be respected by everyone in town was a good feeling and I began to learn a few of life’s lessons in there; how if you shave in a sauna, your face will stay smooth for about a day longer than shaving in your bathroom, about relationships, how to get along with people and to know when it is appropriate to approach someone and when it is not i.e. not when they are about to get under a 600lb squat!!
The basic rules of gym etiquette were taught to me very early on and are very simple and common sense although new gym goers may not always be aware of some of them having not experienced how gyms run at their smoothest:
- Be courteous and polite to all member; that means new members as well as experienced gym rats.
- Do not hog one piece (or several pieces of equipment at any one time) of kit; if you train in such a way that you will be using a machine or bench for more than 5-10 minutes then offer people the chance to ‘work in’ with you between your sets.
- Use a towel on any machine or bench that you are sitting or lying on….no one wants to sit or lie in your pool of sweat or spot erupted puss!!! Horror story alert…..yes, when I used to train with a World Champion power-lifter his back was so covered in spots (huge, red, ready to explode zits) that whenever he would get off from a bench the bench would need disinfecting before it would be safe to lie down on to do my set but yes, he did bring a towel and thereby prevent the problem! I must do a full blog about him one week, a great powerlifter who I spent years working with on the doors and trained with on a few occasions when either he wanted to get extra volume in; or I wanted to focus on a power workout.
- Try not to walk in front of someone performing an exercise when possible; this isn’t always easy or possible but when someone is focused on doing a intense set of curls with 60lb dumbbells, the last thing they want is for any movement in their peripheral vision to distract them from their set.
- Do not talk to someone whilst they are in the middle of a set, the start of a set or the end of a set EVER!!; this is a critical one!!! When someone, especially someone who is engaged in high intensity training is performing a set particularly their working set; any distraction or influence from outside (someone talking to them, bumping into them or even being too close to them and distracting their peripheral vision is likely to cause serious injury….possibly to the person doing the talking!!! Seriously, this is a dangerous practice and not just because you are likely to ruin their one opportunity that week to stimulate growth in an optimal way but it is dangerous because they will be lifting weights that, to them, stress their bodies to their maximum capacity and any loss of concentration can result in physical damage, ligament, muscular or tendon. When someone is training, respect their zone and personal space and likewise everyone will respect everyone else’s. I remember talking with Dorian and Kenny one day and we all agreed that there could literally be a bomb explode outside of the gym and it wouldn’t break our focus or concentration at all. So, please when someone is obviously training near you, just respect their space, their focus and you’ll be respected yourself for doing so.
- Put your weights away!!! Or leave any piece of equipment as you found it; or even if you found it loaded up with weights do the decent thing and unload it for others, less strong than you to use afterwards (then find our who left it in that mess and put them down a peg or two!! I know it will surprise you to know that I have had to, on occasion, had to explain this gym rule in crystal clarity to people who should know better, they always got the message). A good one is to tell them ‘Remember your mother and father don’t work there, so clean up after yourself; put all your weights away!!!!’ If you’re big and strong enough to lift them up in the first place then you’re big and strong enough to put them away. Yes, I’ll admit whilst I trained with Dorian, we would wait until the workout completely ended before putting everything back in its place, things like dumbbells were replaced in their right spots when we had finished the set…or three or four minutes afterwards depending on how long it took to regain consciousness!!! But there were no other members training when we trained so it affected nobody.
- This isn’t really a rule just a piece of advice and common sense; Some gyms have other rules such as to making noise, grunting, sweating etc.….so, if you are going to train to produce maximum results in the minimum time and produce results that others will simply not believe is possible then…. make whatever noise you have to make the get the job done; scream, yell, grunt, shout abuse at your partner (if that motivates them); just do what you have to do to get it done. This doesn’t mean that gives you a free pass to shout at the end of every rep if you’re squatting one plate a side; but put 6 plates a side and go ass to grass and you’ll find that sometimes you need that outlet of aggression and air release which sometimes comes with noise to get the job done. Sweat is a natural product of your body trying to cool itself when its core temperature is being raised; therefore, if you’re giving the workout your all, your body will sweat. It’s not bad, it’s natural; simply make sure you use a towel to wipe any equipment down and wear clothes that will absorb most of the sweat so others don’t have to feel it if you brush against them!!
- Wear workout appropriate clothing to train in! If you’ve just come in from your job on the construction site, don’t wear the same muddy boots through the gym to train in and leave a trail for others to clean up after you! I don’t advise wearing jeans to the gym; get a pair of shorts (then you’ll have to train legs hard!!) or sweatpants or even the old style clown baggies that I used to wear in the 80’s and 90’s!! If you enjoy wearing clothes that show your physique off then that’s your prerogative but before you strip down too much make sure that you are properly warmed up first and also don’t be upset if others don’t look at you or give a sh*t that you’re showing all you’ve got…..if they’re real hard-core trainers they won’t care what you look like or are wearing! The only exception to this is the wearing of shorts of you also wear boxer shorts….obviously when you lie down flat on a bench, you’re likely to let everyone see parts of you that should remain hidden, no one wants to know what religion you are that way, keep it tucked away if you’re a man. Seriosuly, I’ve seen this happen so many times over the years it amazes me; is it common sense lacking or do these people just don’t care what they let hang out!!
This is what Seneca had to say about teaching and learning: This is what you should teach ne, how to be like Odysseus – how to love my country, wife and father, and how, even after suffering shipwreck, I might keep on sailing on course to those honourable ends.’
As you can see, most of it is common politeness but some things like walking in front of others may not be so obvious to someone who doesn’t understand training and is new to the gym environment.
I quickly learned the rules; if I made a mistake I was normally given a friendly word in the ear but there wasn’t much to it but to get in there and enjoy it. I was surprised how the biggest guys and best shaped ladies were normally the most polite out of everyone; the biggest jerks (and still to this day you’ll see this) are the ones who ‘think’ they’re big but are just soft, fat dough boys who’ll never achieve anything and they know it therefore they feel so insecure that they have to try and raise themselves up by bringing others down; now, many women have expressed the same thing to me with regards to women’s behaviours with other women, the most secure women are the ones who lift their fellow sisters up and the ones who are most likely to gossip and say stupid things about others are the least secure and have to find alternative means to feel good about themselves….the trouble is, it never does, they still feel bad about themselves.
It would make life so much better if those with such insecurities knew what Marcus Aurelius tells us, “Enough of this miserable , whining, life. Stop monkeying around!”
Anyway… it was this feeling of camaraderie and family that I was experiencing that was not only new to me but something that I loved; it was the iron family, the brotherhood and sisterhood or iron and it still exists today, friends, and although not quite as strong sadly, it is something that you will feel here. Here at the Home of High Intensity, you are now with your family…..!
I’d workout, I’d take a sauna and have a chat there with the big guys and listen and learn about their training and their lives and their commitment and then one day I walked in to see something I’d never seen before; I saw a physique that was beyond anything I had ever witnessed except for in magazines and even there this, in the flesh, seemed bigger than humanly possible. There in the gym was Jeff King, a Pro bodybuilder from America.
Jeff was the biggest human being I had ever seen; within two years I would also meet Mike Quinn, Lee Haney, Bill Kazmaier and champion powerlifters but up to that point I had seen nothing like this man……he was a FREAK!!! His legs were not twice the size of mine, they were four times the size of mine; his neck was so wide and thick no one would have been able to get their hands around it to strangle him even if he had let them, his chest, back and arms were just swole, huge!
I watched him train legs and was in absolute awe; I had never seen anyone train that hard, that heavy before and I began to realise that what I had thought of as the big, strong guys in the gym were very much just big fish in a very tiny puddle….what I was seeing here was a shark in the Pacific Ocean, the real deal; and I liked it, in fact something inside me already was changed and somewhere I knew that was what I wanted but a Paul Baxendale version of it.
He would train that huge neck of his with a head brace, a piece of equipment that was common back then that strapped around your head and you could attach weights to the chain at the bottom and then lift your neck up and down with control to develop the neck muscles. He also shrugged ungodly amounts of plates on the barbell placed on the squat rack and he’d incline bench three, then four plates a side with ease, literally just a warm up, it was a whole new world!
The gym owner deserves a post all to himself (and I may do one eventually but I don’t want to say anything even in jest that may upset anyone……well, maybe just a little!!) as there are so many stories what he got up to in and out of the gym; the people he upset and the consequences of those actions!! Most, not violent or nasty, just very humorous and funny!). One that I will recount for you, as it makes me smile even today as I’m writing this, is when he decided he would himself compete in a bodybuilding contest. Now, he trained but not seriously and not with any heart or passion or real effort but he must have looked in the mirror and seen something that no one else in the gym was seeing because he actually sent off the registration forms for a local show and entered it. Now, I’m not one to criticise anyone competing who does their best and prepares well but is just as beginner; but this was a forty plus year old man that had been telling others how to train and eat for years and he was also quite a ‘unsavoury’ character getting involved in some not quite legal exploits; he loved to think that he was the top man in the gym and, to be fair, he brought over many great athletes for us all to enjoy, however he just shouldn’t have gone anywhere near a bodybuilding stage!
Again, as Aurelius tells us, “It is possible to curb your arrogance, to overcome pleasure, and pain, to rise above your ambition, and to not be angry with stupid and ungrateful people – yes, even to care for them.”
One last story before I call it a day with this one as I must be boring the life out of you all; Jeff King, Jeff stayed with the owner for about a month and had a show coming up so was training and doing cardio and dieting hard too whilst he was with us. He did half an hour of cardio every day and he always did it on a bicycle, never on a piece of cardio equipment (not that much cardio equipment existed back then anyway!) and when he went out he always asked the owner to follow him in the car. The reason he got the owner to follow him in the car was because he would do half an hour and half an hour only, to the second!!! As soon as that half hour was done, he dismounted and stopped; no matter where he was he would cycle no further than that half an hour; so he got him to follow so he could be picked up, collected, the bike put in the boot and driven home and not spend any more energy than the precise 30 minutes he had allotted for his cardio!!! Now, I’m not sure even to this day whether he really felt that strongly about his half hour cardio limit or whether or not he was just winding the gym owner up, I don’t know….but it certainly made us all laugh and wonder if the guy was nuts, obsessive or he was just having a good old laugh!!! Til next time; get nasty and train like a beast!!! And remember, there are ALWAYS 3 more reps in you……
Let me leave you, today with the words of Seneca, who had this to say about being noble; something I believe we should all do our very best to be at all times on all days: “Nothing is noble if it’sdone unwillingly or under compulsion. Every noble deed is voluntary.”
See you next week, goodnight.