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No Knuckle Dragging Allowed

If you are a serious-minded ironhead (classy oxymoron), you know the value of a clear mission statement. Composing a simple, yet thoughtful, personal avowal not only intelligently reviews, sorts out and defines your training goals, but it also roots them in both your conscious and subconscious. Therefore, you enact them double-strength, inside and out, as if they were facts. I am certain it is this practice, engaged in 50 years ago, that accounts for my hearty achievements today.

Pen in hand one evening in a Secaucus summer, 1960, as a single lifter daring to represent many, I offhandedly jotted down the words that follow.

Take nothing for granted, neither set nor rep nor course of the iron. We have not arrived at gravity’s feet unwittingly, by accident or by fault. The time is now, the load is upon our yet-narrow shoulders. Force upon the articles of steel the unborn might of our hands, and reward our structures, our characters with almighty goodness. Maximum exertion is our quest; well-formed and stone-hard sinew our mission, and a burn hotter than a smithy’s fire our charge.

Get lost, kid, or I’ll smack ya one!

Two years later I was on a beach in sunny California begging, borrowing and stealing. Go, young people; follow your dreams. Never quit. Never let go. Don’t drag your knuckles.

After a delicious night’s sleep and a cascade of delectable proteins, carbs and fats and a delirious peek at world affairs, I can think of nothing more desirable than a workout at the local bar—barbell, that is.

Were I a young rascal standing before an Olympic bar for the first time, assuming I didn’t have the presence of mind to turn and run like a scalded-arse ape, I’d act on four separate impulses: grasp and lift the beastie bar off the ground, press the bar overhead, curl the bar from my waist to my chin and, finally, repeatedly squat with the bar on my shoulders.

Right about then a knuckle-dragger from out of nowhere snickering, “I’ll show you how it’s done,” would no doubt lie on a convenient bench and press the bar from his chest to an overhead position, after which he’d sit upright and complain about the pain in his shoulder. How obtuse. I’d suggest, of course, he use dumbbells next time and put a milk crate under one end of the bench to give it an incline.

“Resist shoulder injury and prevent undesirable development of low, hangy pecs.”

Which brings me to my latest attempt to serve, reserve and preserve my lingering muscle and might. I call it Salvaging Remnants (SR).

Just showing up is not enough, as some old-timers like to say. You must move the iron from here to there and back again, the distance, weight and manner of movement dependent upon multiple factors—including luck, the stars and moon risings; oxygen reserves, efficiency of tattered wraps, degrees of swelling, memory, level of consciousness and God’s grace.

This is what I did.

Showed up Monday, midafternoon. Don’t laugh. I was day-dreaming and speeding—bad combo—and missed my exit, forcing me to the next exit five miles down the freeway and killing 15 minutes retracing my way through foreign territory to the gym’s welcoming doors. I counted the lost time and frustration as my daily aerobics.

After scanning the well-populated workout area, I stealthily made my way to a five-by-five-foot spot where two lusty pieces of equipment were located back to back, a pressing machine and a multicable unit. I would train there for the next 30 minutes, sorta nonstop. I’d expend 75-percent of my energy in concentrated motion, engaging the various upper-body muscles—chest, back, shoulders, bi’s and tri’s—in close harmony.

You know my drill: presses, wide-grip pulldowns before and behind the neck, close undergrip pulldowns and triceps extensions. Old wineskins, old wine.

Heavy weight (good luck, good riddance) is a thing of the past. Now I accentuate maximum exertion with precise form. In other words, any form that feels really good loads the muscle, is nonthreatening and doesn’t exact unrighteous pain, no matter what it looks like. I can live with that.

I will ache from head to toe on Wednesday and Thursday, like I was beat with a stick, but there’ll be no throbbing elbow or immobile shoulder from hostile training. With verve and good sense, I eradicate those demons.

Did I mention I apply absolute, undiluted focus to every set, rep, breath, action and nonaction? Probably did. One more thing: I prefer four sets of six to 15 reps, unless we’re talkin’ torso, which sometimes requires 40 to 50 reps.

For the remaining 25 percent of my stores—the last steely fibers and vanishing 15 minutes—I devise a dedicated superset to drive the spike home. Seated bent-bar curls, straight-arm pullovers and lying triceps extensions, a tri-set for three sets, gave me peace and stole my breath away.

Take this one out back and prop him up against the telephone pole. Use Velcro if you have to. He’s done.

God’s Speed, no faster, no slower… Dave Knuckles

—Dave Draper


Editor’s note: For more from Dave Draper, visit www 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.


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