posted on May 25, 2011 00:00
It’s an interesting dynamic...guys working out with one another. It’s all good when it’s a close friend, but when partnering up with an acquaintance at your local gym, or simply exchanging spots with a stranger to maximize one another’s lifts, it can be awkward and not always easy to put egos aside.
While training folks at a west county gym, a fellow employee – a smart-ass, suburbanite kid who worked the front desk and walked around as if he’d accomplished something more than the fine art of the perfect towel-fold – asked me for a spot. For many reasons, I did not like this guy. But I obliged.
The maneuver was a reverse-grip bench press, a plate (45 lbs) on each side. I don’t have a problem with switching things up, but the motion itself did not and does not appeal to me personally.
When he walked away to catch his breath after a set, I climbed onto the bench and banged out 20 quick reps with a normal frontward grip.
“Dude. What are you doing.”
It was more an arrogant declaration of my failing to satisfy his expectations than any concerned inquiry, so it was only fair that I reply in kind.
“Just throwing up this little ass weight you were doing, homey. What’s the problem?”
A debate then ensued about whether or not I was going deep enough into my motion, bringing the bar close enough to my chest in this particular circumstance.
Then Exhibit B was brought up...a pissing match between a few of us employees the week before. The challenge: a dumbbell bench press, 100 pounds in each hand. The most I had ever done was 85, incidentally the day before. The stars were aligned just right and I managed to get them up a few times, which was a few times more than he or anyone else on that day.
But there is always a haters. And to at least this guy, I wasn’t using proper form.
Not then…not now.
Who the fuck was he? Some cocky little fuck still living with his parents is giving me workout advice? I'm fucking certified! Shouldn’t he be checking on the old guys in the locker room, making sure there’s enough baby powder on their balls or something?
Man, fuck this dude.
. . .
. . .
My reaction was damning evidence enough. Once I had calmed myself, I had no choice but to acknowledge that, at least to an extent, he was right.
I was about 145 pounds soaking wet when I first started lifting weights. As of this column I am around 180. I’ve been able to gain muscle as opposed to fat while maintaining a 32-33 waist.
And speaking of 180, that’s about the degree of turn I had to make in order to progress on the health and fitness tip. I was a fucking disaster in my early twenties and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. At 30 years of age I am in the best shape of my life.
Therein lies the problem. Early on it was about not being skinny and weak. I focused and worked hard. At some point, the results began to show. I focused and worked hard. But eventually the novelty wears off, and you’re faced with what is left. A lifestyle...habits chosen. It becomes harder to focus and work hard. There are days, and sometimes weeks where you are literally just going through the motions.
That’s when you find yourself being chided by a 21-year-old man-child who jerks off to techno music and wipes off with a shmedium tee that his mother probably washes for him.
And that’s the exact moment in time you must remind yourself of these exercise fundamentals. Also helpful if you are just getting started.
Warm Up. I resisted this for a long time due to the fact that gaining muscle mass was difficult for me; my metabolism runs high and I didn’t want to burn extra calories. But the fact is that by warming up with 5-10 minutes of cardio (elliptical, treadmill, a brisk jog, etc.), you prime your body for a good workout. A warm muscle contracts and relaxes more easily, allowing for faster, more powerful movements. Higher body temperature means your muscles have greater elasticity, which is ideal for exercise, but also aids in avoiding strains and pulls. And there is certainly something to be said for preparing yourself mentally.
Use Good Form. The amount of weight and number repetitions you do means nothing if your form is poor. Not only can bad form and posture lead to injury, but it often causes muscles you were not intending to work out to become activated, thus minimizing the effectiveness of your training.
Good form is everything.
Lift The Proper Amount Of Weight. If you are unsure about the amount of weight you should be using, a good gauge is to find the amount that you can do 12 reps comfortably. 3 or 4 sets at that weight will bring results and allow for the aforementioned implementation of proper form. Add more weight as you gain strength and familiarity of your routine.
Breathe. Fight the desire to hold your breath while lifting. A purple face doesn’t help your lift and you might shit your pants if you’re not careful. Breathing out upon exertion helps you to develop a rhythm, maintain level blood pressure, and to not shit your pants.
Keep A Balanced Routine. One problem that comes with becoming strong in a particular area of the body is that you’ll enjoy working that area more than others. I’ve seen many a strong-chested man with an untrained back. He’s the guy whose shoulders are pulled forward by his pecs due to weak lats. The result is a knuckle-dragging-Neanderthal kind of look. Some women probably like that sort of thing, but most do not.
Remember that everyone is stronger in some body parts than others by design. But once you train the weaker areas, they become as enjoyable to exercise as the rest.
Switch It Up. For some of us, health and fitness is a labor of love. For others, it’s a means to an end. Regardless, you will get bored at times, you will get sloppy at times, and you will get lazy at times. Whatever you can do to keep your routine fresh and agreeable will help you to remain safe and engaged in times of struggle.
But you gotta do it. Because being unhealthy, I assure you, is more difficult.
Swallow your pride and get to work. But do it right. Need help? Drop me a line.
Justin Adams is a writer and nationally-accredited personal trainer. Follow him on Twitter @Intangiball or send your questions, comments and training inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org