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The Overflowing Riches of Iron and Steel

Reviewing the selection makes you want to race to the gym and grab a set of dumbbells before they’re gone.

Here’s the beginning of a promising conversation: “Had you invested your time and effort in an education rather than building muscles, you could have made something of yourself-you could have been a doctor, a lawyer, a banker or a hairdresser. What have you got to say for yourself?”

Though the declaration highlights your potential, I don’t believe it’s meant to be a compliment. The glib inquiry that follows, I’m certain, is not a bid for a cheery and thoughtful reply. Inarticulate mumbling with downcast eyes will do nicely.

I don’t think so.

You want to be prepared with a cogent response without appearing defensive or dumb. Here’s how I finessed that very question when proposed to me recently: “Yes, Laree, you’re right as usual. But I’m nothing without the iron. I’m a mess. I get the shakes. I drool. I wet my pants.

“When hoisting the iron, however, in addition to building muscle mass and shape, strength and health, the specific things I seek and often achieve are plentiful and praiseworthy. Ponder the list below.”

1) Pleasure and play and camaraderie: lifting weights is so much fun.

2) Pump: the tight and full muscular feeling is sheer joy.

3) Burn: the kind of pain any healthy individual craves.

4) Stimulation: all regions of stimulus-body, mind and soul-are immeasurable.

5) Increase in weight used: another ounce added is another step forward.

6) Increase in reps applied: one more rep and away we go.

7) Muscle concentration: focus is absolute and transcendent.

8) Complete, well-performed reps: what compares to perfection in motion?

9) Even, orderly exercise pace and set-rep pace: order is sanity.

10) Desired degree of muscle exertion: appropriate force enhances life.

11) Discovery or invention or learning in exercise application: trial and error, learn and grow, create and know.

12) Education in methodology: how to, how much and when equal wisdom.

13) Exercise investment: training is an added step in life achievement.

14) Inspiration: self-realization, self-respect and self-assurance equal harmony.

15) Exhilaration: high spirits, the thrill, the high. What can exceed them?

16) Expanded purpose: muscle building and training knowledge are grand goals.

17) Fulfillment: inner satisfaction; accomplishment; initiation and completion of a tough, worthy job done well, start to finish, is the grandest goal.

18) Stress relief: a training by-product. Physical exertion burns our worries, and mental concentration diminishes our woes.

Reviewing the selection makes you want to race to the gym and grab a set of dumbbells before they’re gone. Never mind college tuition, Mom and Dad; presses are free. Nurse Goodly, squats today; tell my patients I’m conducting a major operation. Ms. Justin, have my clients and their lawsuits wait in the conference room. I’m before the honorable bench. Note: Banks are closed on Arms Day.

Okay, not every workout is playful and fun. Some days they’re downright agonizing and-What’s this?-the company you keep is on a bummer, too. Bad vibes, man. We got da blues. That’s life. You must get your kicks outta something else, then, like the awesome pump and nasty burn. We’re bombin’ and blastin’. Yeah, and sometimes the pump and burn are limp and cold-big trouble at the farm, turkeys.

Stimulation you can count on every time. Stimulation covers a lot of territory. Just a little is enough to feel good and be worthy. You can soak in a thimble of stimulation if you don’t splash around too much. Get what you can, where you can, when you can-the brain, the bi’s, the heart, the soul. Don’t be greedy; don’t be cheap.

Once in a while-not always-the sets are easy, and the reps go up, gravity is mild and the poundage goes up. Sing for joy and remember the song. This is a very good day. These are the days that will carry you onward when obstacles arise.

If you and the iron are at all good together, there will come a day when anything short of total concentration is unacceptable-a major training flaw. No leaks allowed. One must unite the engaged muscle with the pain and the force, with the action and the form, with the will and hope and the completion of the set and reps. Focus or die.

Well-performed reps vary from lifter to lifter. Cute, perfect reps from the manual are eventually replaced by lifts and grooves that match the iron vet’s limitations and abilities. Injury often defines one’s exercise performance, and perfection takes on broadened margins…any way you can accomplish the deed. Looks good to me!

Aim to do everything with order and rhythm and rhyme. Only you can hear the music that resounds in the ear of your mind and heart. Yup, there are times when we sound like the Huber Street Elementary School Band, but it gets better with practice.

Now, we want to lift with all our heart and soul, but productive muscle exertion requires us to retain a reserve. I have a hard time with that one, and I’m not alone. One more rep. Training intensity! Maximum muscle exertion! 110 percent! A bunch of busted-up ironheads are crawling around out here. Nevertheless, I highly endorse moderation and sanity-that is, when not bombing and blasting it.

Train with focus, yet keep your mind’s eye wide open. We’re learning and growing constantly, adapting and increasing. Not everything has a by-the-book answer; things don’t always work and fit together as planned. Be ready to cut a new path, to adjust to the circumstance, to invent a solution to a personally unique condition.

You can read and learn and go, or you can go and learn and grow. Brad Harris called me yesterday to make sure we were alive and well. He said Gene Mozée had just left his place in Santa Monica after interviewing him for an article, which appeared in last month’s IRON MAN. The only muscle talk we shared was his training method, developed a million years ago: trial and error, lift and learn. See? Told ya!

When we think we’ve done enough, lifted sufficiently, moved all the iron we can or should, we wake up the next day realizing it’s training-hard exercise, right eating and right thinking-that propels us forward and lures us on. Weight training is a passion. We’re rich. Our wallets are empty, but our gym bags are full, whatever that means.

I’ve gotta tell ya, bombers, without the steel-studded path I can’t find my way to the gym. It is there, that cold and austere place in the sun, where I’m reminded how to count sets and reps, count others and count myself. If only I could spell or knew the capital of Washington, D.C. Where’s Canada?

You can be dumb and still find joy and exhilaration in a heavy bench press, a thrill from a series of well-executed supersets. Your spirits can be sinking when you enter the gym, but they’re soaring when you leave. You remember why you’re alive: to live. Few things are more fulfilling than a challenge undertaken and accomplished, all in 60 minutes, one 24th of a day. Frustration and anxiety and stress fall like scales from your being. You’re whole and good and right.

The only thing missing is the wind at your back, before you and to your left and right.

Get wings and fly…Godspeed.

Dave Draper

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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