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The Essential Nothingness of Weight Training

It’s not the workouts as much as our relationships with them. We strangely and regularly encounter an invisible pull or magnetic tug, a cosmic force or soulful union compelling us to surrender our being to the touch of iron.

I’m looking out a narrow window beside my desk that views a steep wooded hillside. Two men are hard at work chipping fallen branches and reducing stout limbs to firewood, worthy tasks rendering valuable fuel for the winter.

They make me weary. Chain saw buzzing, chipper grinding, arms full, backs loaded, up and down, back and forth. I’m humbled.

Muscles functioning, calories burning, hearts pumping, works accomplished. I’m envious.

Laree gathered a pile of debris the size of a turnip truck during the early autumn from a 50-yard radius. Assiduously, painstakingly, she dragged—lifted, hoisted, heaved, pushed, pulled and tossed—the woody detritus, not as labor but as muscle- and balance-building exercise.

“Weightlifting primarily works the body in a limited plane of motion,” she says. “Balance and mobility suffer. We need to accommodate our bodies’ complete structural strength and health by exercising in multiple planes of motion, and smartly performed physical labor can do the trick.” She also mixes Bomber Blend with Greek yogurt and organic peanut butter for breakfast.

I agreed totally, noting years ago I found furniture building with heavy wooden beams a most natural and beneficial addition to muscle building with heavy iron weights. I continued to offer the dear girl encouragement and masterful advice. Alas, she rejected my advanced training scheme, which included two very productive shoulder and arm movements—scrubbing and polishing my truck.

A wise man is not enthusiastically greeted in his own backyard. Thus, I’m off to the gym, leaving Laree to her multilinear home training: stacking the firewood recently cut by her hard-working associates.

Gym time. Over the highways, through the intersections, across the parking lot, up the staircase and through the double doors; toss the tote bag in the corner and straight to the hunky pulley machine. Hello, hunky pulley machine. How’re your cables hanging? Enough of that, no time to lose; here’s where the action begins, the friendly and cooperative iron confrontation.

First, the search for the exact handle to attach to the end of the dangling cable. That can take a few testy minutes, as there are about 30 handles of various lengths, shapes and thicknesses snarled in a heap, along with hooks, chains and carabiners. Priceless tools of the trade.

Many a pinched finger and bloody knuckle are retrieved from the mess, along with a mere look-alike contrivance, a piece of mistaken identity, a cheap impostor. Nothing less than the exact handle—the real McCoy, the genuine article, the grippus perfectus—will do for the neurotic lifter. Anything less, and he’s outta there.

Well, not exactly, but he will cuss, act up and throw stuff. Come to think of it, that’s common behavior for most muscleheads east of the Mississippi.

I don’t recall when muscle building became such a fussy business. For years I lifted weights wherever I found them and left them wherever and whenever I was done. Seemed to work okay at the time. Of course, I was limited to a single corroded dumbbell and a space the size of an army footlocker. How messy can one little soldier get? Besides, those associated with the army try to be all they can be.

Nowadays I am orderly and precise. Form and focus have replaced the weight used and the strength exerted, as the latter most elements require continual updating (they fade into the shadows of time). Pace has gained importance (steady as she goes), and exercise grooves have been slowly modified and perfected. They are precise, barely resembling the archaic oversize, far-reaching movements of my earlier training days.

Where would we be without the progress of time and the latest technology? Precision exercise performance (PEP) is the advanced training methodology (ATM) of applying the only exercise that doesn’t hurt (OETDH), or the last remaining groove (LRG), or the popular this-way-or-no-way dynamic (TWONWD).

Life made simple (LMS). Life simplified.

I hasten to catch up with you, my devoted training partners, and march by your side with iron determination and steely deliberation. Having heaved heavy metal for half a century, making light of all levels of lifting and living is the best I can do. Sticking with it and never giving up and staying airborne are our daily objectives. Flying, soaring, bombing and occasionally taxiing are our foremost objectives and mutual responsibilities.

I maintain all we really need to know about muscle making and strength building is wrapped up in a seed the size of a dumbbell containing a bowl of good food and an attitude of love and appreciation. Once planted in fertile soil, it grows by continued watering and faithful attention.

Health and might pierce the soil imperceptibly and die off if not valued and cared for. That doesn’t mean we need or ought to worship the living thing, but feed it we must. Nourishment must be provided during the cloud-covered and frosty months and in the heat of the dry summer. Let’s be there side by side to offer a breath of fresh air and appropriate provision. Push that iron.

Many of us regard weight training as the most important thing in our life. Well…mmm…not more important than, say, our family or friends or our precious and flourishing almighty dollar (ha…cute, very cute), but the relationship between us and them is directly related. Our workouts are up, our treasures are up; our workouts are down, and we’re broke, busted, not worth a dime.

Exercising sensibly and eating right always are the rules of engagement. Keeping it simple and making it a joy are the codes of performance. We are waist high in autumn, soon knee-deep in winter. Button up, buckle down, breathe deep and barrel ahead. The challenge now is to not let go and lose momentum.

In closing, before I fold up my wings and tuck them in my tote bag, before I deflate my hovering dirigible and stuff it in my backpack, let me assure you of this: Never do I engage in a set or rep without total involvement. My kicking, screaming body might occasionally become snared in a net or cage, a pit or an illusion, but never do I relinquish my grasp of the iron.

It’s not the workouts as much as our relationships with them. We strangely and regularly encounter an invisible pull or magnetic tug, a cosmic force or soulful union compelling us to surrender our being to the touch of iron. Be not confused, bombers. Love is expressed in infinite ways. IM

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