Shall I engage the iron or ignore the defiant scraps scattered across the rubber mats, amassed on racks and poised on Olympic bars?
I want to go. My musclehead unequivocally says, “Umm… give me a sec…er…sorta, maybe…sure, why not?” But the brain says think twice, Tinhead. Is this for your health and well-being, your muscle and power, your ego and amusement or your addiction and neuroses? What drives your train wreck: responsibility, obligation, approval, insecurity, entertainment, fulfillment, fear, pleasure, pain? Dementia?
Gee, put that way, it sounds like a thing of great consequence. No trivial matter, the relationship between iron and man. When did it become so complicated? It’s just iron. You lift it or you don’t.
I went to the gym Sunday early afternoon—1 p.m.—and it was as empty as a bank vault after closing. The treasure was there with no one to plunder it. I felt like a thief about to stuff his bag with booty: any exercise I want, as many sets and as many reps; squats, supersets, dumbbells, benches and cables.
It’s mine, all mine. I’m rich.
At that point a straggly part-time guy who’s broke and has no life stepped from behind the front counter and requested my membership card and reminded me to sign in. “It’s policy,” he said. The dirty little…
He introduced himself, Billy Jay Whimple, as if it was a number he was assigned when he swiped his first breath. With emphatic mockery (hee-hee) I said, “I’m Steve Reeves.”
“A pleasure, Steve,” he said, assuring me it was never too late to exercise. “Have you been a member for long? I don’t recall seeing you around.” I was robbed right there in what was once my very own muscle bank by little Billy Jay with jump ropes for arms.
Empty bag in hand, I dragged myself to a bench, sat and glared at the sun-filled parking lot through the airy doublewide doors. Sunday, now 1:03, and the place was packed with a crowd of three—Steve, Billy and me. At least Steve knew who I was—the Sunny Sunday Sunshine Bomber. I should have gone to the beach.
I trained for 75 minutes while BJ Guns studied the TV above the front counter, Sunday soaps and reality shows. I had an oddly rewarding workout, like cold soup on a hot day.
I learn something new every time I work out. Or I uncover something old—so old it seems like something new. Like, check it out…that guy grabbed the bar above his head and is pulling himself up to his nose and down and up. Original noses, old as Muscle Beach…ya feel what I’m saying? I cannot remember the last time I did wide-grip noses.
That particular day I discovered standing barbell curls are indisputably the best exercise for building massive biceps, and they, combined with overhead triceps extensions, will complete the deed for colossal arm development. Who’s willing to dispute these facts; who would dare? I felt empowered, alone and drenched in silence.
I applied my discovery with concentrated enthusiasm, intensity and might. Another pure truth unfolded: An ordinary exercise performed with focused enthusiasm, intensity and might becomes an extraordinary exercise, extravagant in yield. I was raking it in as shadows crossed the floor.
I inhaled deeply, threw my shoulders back, spread my lats and flexed my tri’s. Ever try that one? Looks dopey but feels cool. Emboldened and undistracted, I pressed on, taking advantage of the calm and solitude.
In less than a rep and as suddenly as a torn rotator, a vein of unflawed certainties lay bare before me. Had I hit the motherlode, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? To demonstrate the veracity of the find, I blasted a superset of dumbbell incline curls and pulley pushdowns. The reality of the matter: Dumbbell incline curls define the biceps and contribute unselfishly to their density and shape.
There’s more: Combining them with pushdowns etches a rugged grin on your face, unless you’re a girl, whereupon it’s a sassy smirk. It doesn’t stop there: Intense pushdowns add horse to your horseshoe triceps, as they can be performed a hundred different ways according to the practitioner’s needs and desires and intentional positioning of the cable. Thus and therefore, they are multi-applicational and multi-engaging.
The practitioner—with a little imagination, that could be you—is in total charge of the action of the exercise. He or she is not on the other side of the handle or bar going through the motions. If you’re going through the motions, Jack, you might as well go home or the beach or wherever. And no talking while you’re training…this place look like a social club to you?
In charge means you control the effort, the groove and the pace, all of which take persistent practice, attention and time. Here’s where most wide-eyed gymsters fail: They don’t persist. They are persistless. They’re gutless, shallow, dull and apathetic.
Flooded with knowledge and understanding and rediscovery, I topped my arm workout with a tri-set from heaven’s storehouse. I imagined thunder broke the silence and a streak of lightning devoured the shadows. Wrist curls, followed by thumbs-up curls, followed by machine dips—epic poetry in decided motion.
The combination of movements consumed the arms from the tips of the fingers to the shoulders they hung from. No new discovery, but the reminder was exhilarating. That trio wrapped up a powerful arm workout, and it was not as if the rest of my body wasn’t vigorously stimulated.
A constant revisited: There was something throughout, above and beneath it all, that would always be true—nothing like a silent, empty, shadowy gym to brighten the day, add clarity and sparkle to an ordinary, sunny, summery, Sunday afternoon.
Oops. The Jayster’s standing at the back door jingling the gym keys like gongs. Closing time already? Time flies when the sun shines and the beach is mobbed.
Editor’s note: For more from Dave Draper, visit www.DaveDraper.com and sign up for his free newsletter. You can also check out his amazing Top Squat training tool, classic photos, workout Q&A and forum.