The off-season was gaining steam as New England transitioned from fall to winter. We had yet to have our first snowstorm, but I was ready. My wife and I had finally purchased our first 4×4 vehicle, a new Ford Explorer, so no longer would driving our town streets feel like running across an oil-slicked linoleum floor in bare feet. My sports car is about as useful driving in snow as it would be on those craggy mountaintops in the commercials for giant pickup trucks.
I was pretty sure that this winter you wouldn’t find me on the elliptical runner screaming, “No,” when the TV weather report came on and showed those little snowflakes falling in the graphics. Bring it on, Old Man Winter. You want some of this? I grew up in this climate, fool. I could eat snow and poop ice cubes if I had to. Perhaps I’m getting carried away. We’ll see how I feel when the first storm dumps a couple tons of white stuff on my driveway and I’m out there shoveling for five hours. Most likely I’ll regress to childhood and cry for Mommy to bring me some hot chocolate—and a snowblower while she’s at it.
My bodyweight had crept above 220 between Halloween and Thanksgiving and was now within spitting distance of 225. Randy had taken my advice to heart and decided to abandon his goal of staying lean forever. From 200 pounds he had bulked up to a much fuller and stronger 212, and his goal of hitting 225 before the spring thaw was right on track. Gone, of course, were the tank tops, replaced by a collection of XXL novelty T-shirts. My favorite had a silhouette of a hot woman pushing a baby carriage. Its caption: “I only date MILFs.” I’d given him that one. Hey, it was only $9.99. For those of you who don’t know what MILF stands for, I’ll give you the PG version: “Mom I’d Like to French-kiss.”
It was, of course, a lie in Randy’s case. The 24-year-old was about as likely to date a woman with a child as he was a woman with a face like Drew Carey. Hell, in many ways I still considered him a kid. Apparently, though, a lot of the teenagers and young guys in the gym, as well as another gym he now trained at that was closer to the Ford dealership where he worked, considered him a guru.
“Ron, it takes me twice as long to work out sometimes because these kids are always coming up to me for advice,” he complained. “Even when I wear headphones, they still get in my face and keep talking until I take them off.”
“What are they asking?”
“They usually want to know what I do for this or that bodypart, or they want me to show them how to do an exercise. A lot of times they want to know what to eat to get big, and, man, there’s no way I can tell them all that in under 10 or 15 minutes. It’s getting annoying.” He looked exhausted. “They want to know what supplements to use. There’s even one kid who keeps bugging me to write him up a full workout program. He wanted me to give him supplements for free because he thinks I have a lot of money too.”
I shook my head. I’d learned my lesson with free supplements after giving a brother-in-law a bottle of testosterone-booster pills he’d been bugging me for, only to find the same bottle, unopened, in his medicine cabinet—two years later.
“Randy, in one way you should feel pretty good. You’ve obviously developed your physique to the point where others can see you know what you’re doing, and they want your help. On the other hand, you see how demanding that can be. They all expect you to give your time and knowledge freely and without any thought of compensation, which can start to feel like an insult pretty fast.”
“So what should I do,” he asked, “be a jerk and blow them all off?” I proceeded to tell Randy of a few notable cases where I had to draw the line and say no.
The Advice Whore. Brett was a nice enough kid, though his lame attempts at humor could get on your nerves. He was on my butt for advice constantly years ago when I lived in California. Brett loved to go on about his horrible genetics, and they were pretty bad. Tall, completely devoid of facial or body hair, and pear-shaped, he probably had about as much testosterone coursing through his veins as Richard Simmons. I’d at least trained Brett to bother me only when I was doing cardio, never when I was training with weights. Before that he’d actually come up and start talking to me in the middle of a set—intolerable. He wanted to look like a bodybuilder, but he trained with zero intensity.
Brett used weights that would hardly challenge a kitten strung out on OxyContin, and no matter how many times I went over proper bodybuilding nutrition with him, he continued to miss meals and eat junk on a daily basis. He was obsessed with the idea that supplements had magical properties that would somehow make up for his wimpy workouts and inadequate eating.
I finally cut Brett off from the lengthy free advice sessions when I figured out that he was hitting up at least three other guys at the gym regularly for the same thing. How did I find out? Brett had the nerve to ask me to defend my advice against that of the other guys when it wasn’t exactly the same. “You said I should eat every two hours; Rocco says three is fine. You said I should do three or four work sets of an exercise; Biff told me just do one set.”
On and on it went until I finally snapped and told him to bother them and leave me alone if he didn’t have any faith in me. To have given him so much of my time, only to have my own advice thrown back in my face and questioned, was just plain rude.
The Freeloader. Mort was an attorney, and a very wealthy one at that. He drove the most expensive sedan Mercedes makes and strutted around with the aura of a man who knows he can probably buy and sell you five times over. Mort may have had a million bucks in his checking account, but he had a five-dollar body. That, despite his having hired all of the personal trainers at my gym at one time or another. Mort was in his late 40s and “skinny fat,” meaning he had very little muscle and was flabby all over, even though I’m sure no one knew how horrible his body actually looked when he was wearing one of his Armani suits. My feeling is that the better shape your body is in, the more likely you are to look better naked than you do in clothes. People in bad physical condition always look better in clothes, especially clothes that push the fat into a more pleasing shape.
Anyway, Mort was done with all the trainers, most of whom weren’t in great shape either, and he was now starting to badger me for pointers. At first I didn’t mind, but eventually it started to really bother me the way he assumed that because I was built well, I was obligated to help him in any way I could. Further, I knew he hardly considered my vocation as a bodybuilding writer a “profession” like his own.
One day when I was in a pissy mood—I may have been dieting, and it was a low-carb day—I went off on him. I asked him how long it had taken him to become a lawyer, though I knew the answer—four years of prelaw and three years of law school. I explained that it had taken me well over 20 years of training and learning—three times the duration of his higher education—to get to the level of expertise I now had in matters of transforming the human body.
I asked what his legal consulting rate was, and he hesitated before informing me that it was $300 an hour. I smiled and told him that he was in luck. Though I had given up personal training years ago, I would be more than happy to train him. Due to my level of expertise, the rate would be $600 a session. Not surprisingly, he was appalled at my gall—a guy who probably spends that much every time he goes out to dinner. He never approached me again—thank goodness.
The Socializer. I need to set this up by explaining that a year ago I’d long needed glasses and didn’t know it. I was convinced that my damn windshield just wouldn’t get clean, which is why I was having trouble seeing where I was going whenever I drove at night. At my gym there was a guy I’ll call Saul who I initially thought was a woman. I’d never seen him up close or heard him talk, and my vision was blurry past about 12 feet. Saul had man-boobs, a big belly and a big butt, so you can understand how I could have mistaken him for one of several overweight middle-aged women with short gray hair at the gym.
Saul was active in town politics and was on the school committee, so he knew quite a few people at our gym. He probably spent a good two hours in there every day, but if you added up the actual time he was exercising, it probably wouldn’t have totaled more than 30 minutes. Like Mort, he’d briefly enlisted the services of at least two trainers. After heaping compliments on me one time when I was particularly tanned and lean for a contest, he’d confided to me that he came to the gym “to relax,” which stuck in my mind. No wonder he looked the way he did. I almost felt like asking him if I should go draw him a bubble bath and light some scented candles.
He was in no way willing to work hard or endure any type of pain or discomfort in the gym, and he admitted it. Obviously he was there only to socialize and pretend he was working out. I’d never once seen him break a sweat.
Time passed, and one day Saul asked if I’d do him a favor. Guardedly, I said that depended on what the favor was. “Can I work out with you sometime?” Instantly my mind translated that into, “Will you be my personal trainer for free?” I stared him dead in the eye and told him no way. Saul was taken aback, so I nicely explained that I take my workouts very seriously. Working out is like a job to me, and I’m always striving to do that job better. Letting him work out with me would only slow me down and waste my very limited time, and I wouldn’t do that because he didn’t really want to train anywhere near enough to see results in fat loss, muscle gain or strength. He understood, but he was still offended. Too freaking bad. Relax in the gym? Don’t get me started.
Randy was amazed at those accounts, especially as he knew who Mort and Saul were and never knew I’d turned them down.
“The thing is, Randy, anybody who hasn’t already made a solid effort to learn and gotten at least some kind of results isn’t worth your time. The kids who bug you could find out almost everything they’re asking you about on the Internet, but they’re too lazy. They want you to save them the effort.”
“I know; you’re right,” he nodded.
“Just as the Lord helps those who help themselves, I don’t help anyone who hasn’t at least put out some genuine effort. It’s taken me so many years to get where I am today that if people can’t or won’t respect that, I won’t give them the time of day. Another thing is that if you give things away, they’re never appreciated as much as if they had to be paid for or earned in some way. That’s why my brother-in-law never used those supplements I gave him. I bet if he’d paid for them, they’d have been gone in two or three weeks.”
Randy sighed. He knew that if he listened to me, a lot of people were going to think he was arrogant, selfish, greedy or just a big jerk. He also knew that if he didn’t listen to me, people in gyms would be taking advantage of him for the rest of his life. The kicker was that most of them wouldn’t follow his free advice anyway. It’s an issue that I still struggle with all the time, but I’ve stood my ground.
Randy was one of the first sincere young bodybuilders I met who took my advice and absorbed it all. I also knew he was willing to work as hard as I told him to. I enjoy passing on what I’ve learned because someday I’ll be gone, and those whom I’ve taught will continue the tradition and educate and inspire the next generation of bodybuilders. And really, that’s what it’s all about. IM