Why I Keep Strength Training
Don’t Get Civilized
When I was a teenager with a drivers’ license, I had the freedom to drive to any gym I wanted. Back in the 90s, there were gyms in every town. There were the chain gyms like Powerhouse, World, Gold’s and a few independent gyms. The majority of these gyms were outfitted with great equipment. However, the ONE thing that kept me seeking another gym and yet another gym, was the atmosphere, the music and the energy I felt through the gym walls.
If there was a lack of energy, I felt it the moment I walked through the doors. If the music was too low, and I could hear commercials every 5 minutes, that was a bad sign. Trust me, when a commercial comes on right when you walk the 405lb bar out of the rack, it is NOT good. As a young man learning how to harness my focus and the power of my mind, the last thing I wanted to hear was a commercial!
In the late 90s, I was watching Rocky on my DVD player; Rocky III to be specific. For some reason, I kept rewinding the scene where Apollo takes Rocky back to LA to train at TOUGH Gym. I took out a notepad and began sketching the gym sign for TOUGH Gym.
I had NO plans on opening my own gym at the time. I was teaching and had not yet developed my full-time obsession with becoming a Strength Coach. Shortly after that, I watched Rocky IV, and another scene caught my attention. I kept rewinding this particular scene where Micky tells Rocky, “the worst thing that can happen to a fighter is you get civilized.”
Man, that line stung me in the heart. I always felt the frustration and even anger when I would train in a gym where the majority were not serious. I would literally feel the energy and fire in my soul getting sucked out of me in these gyms. I had to find a change. I found that change in 1993 at Diamond Gym, but more on that later.
The bottom line is this; if you’re reading this book, I know you can relate, I know you feel that fire and passion burning in your soul. Do NOT become civilized. Do not become the common man/woman. Keep your edge. Sharpen the blade daily.
When I started training in my garage in 2002, it was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Today, we see MANY garage gyms, often times outfitted with world-class equipment. Times have certainly changed from when I began in 2002.
Let me emphasize to you that an expensive weight room is NOT what gives you the edge. It’s the training. It’s not WHAT you do, it’s HOW you do it. It’s HOW you Deadlift, Squat, Clean, Jump & Sprint.
Whether you trail solo or you’re a Coach, do not allow your equipment to be what determines your results. You can have excuses, or you can have results.
In a garage, basement, shed, or anywhere else you train – You will create your own world, your own atmosphere, your own training grounds where there are no rules and records are always broken. Turn that garage or basement into a proving ground, a place where no one can steal your thunder. Pump your favorite music and set aside a time of 30 – 45 minutes that is undisturbed. Put up your own posters and pictures that will motivate you. Remember Rocky 3 and 4 when Rocky goes away to train? Well, he needed that environment to get back the Eye of the Tiger. Remove the distractions and anything else that makes you feel or think “normal”.
Do NOT become the common man/woman. Normal training = Normal results.
In today’s day and age, hard work is viewed as punishment. The truth is, Hard Work is a Gift. If you can find a rare commercial gym where they encourage hard training, you are in luck. If not, then build your own. Find a way to make it happen.
Go completely raw with your set up. Spartan style and minimalist. My friend Marty Gallagher, author of The Purposeful Primitive, has a set up in his backyard, in a shed. It’s an old power rack, an old bench, and a barbell. He’s had Tier 1 Military training in his backyard. Again, it’s not just what you do, it’s HOW you do it.
Dan John has spoken about his best training routine being 2 exercises per workout/ training, twice a week.
Day 1 – Squat and Bench
Day 2 – Deadlift and Bench
Deadlifts were interchanged with cleans or snatches.
It’s so simple, it’s complicated.
When I first began training athletes from my parents’ backyard, it was a very simple Spartan setup. At first, it was just me training in the garage and backyard, attacking my training and destroying my inner weakness. Cold, hot, I didn’t care about the weather. It was mine. Iron Therapy is the best therapy for me and likely for you as well.
One day, I was going to the local gym to get a protein shake and I saw a few wrestlers training at this gym that I used to train at before my garage days. I watched them perform leg extensions, shoulder presses on a machine, chest presses on a machine, etc. They were sitting down, lying down and just going through the motions, no intensity and no struggle with the guided machines. Nobody was sweating, and one guy was wearing gloves. It was calm and relaxing. I couldn’t take it. I had to say something.
When one of them came over to say hello, I told him that I’m training athletes from my parent’s garage. I was already visualizing training him like Rocky III & IV, using stones, calisthenics, running through the streets, up our stairs and hitting some old school barbell basics.
The days of Golden Era Bodybuilding and prior were excellent. These lifters implemented powerlifting, weightlifting and then attacked supersets of free weights, bodyweight and some machines.
Many of these bodybuilders were athletic, could perform hand balancing, feats of strength and were actually really strong. Nowadays, many bodybuilders look strong, but they lack speed, power, and athleticism. I see plenty of bodybuilders who look strong. Yet, they can NOT perform basic athletic movements like sprints, jumps or throwing objects with power.
If all you’ve got is a barbell to start off, stick with ground-based lifting. You can always rig up your own lifting blocks using old milk crates.
If you want to front squat, you have to clean the bar off the floor. If you want to floor press and you have a training partner, you must deadlift the weight to hand the bar off to start each set. Lift, Run, Jump.
When benching properly, it becomes a Full Body Lift. Your legs are driving, your shoulders and back are tight. The bench press is a ground-based lift from a different angle. If you floor press, you still utilize full body tension by squeezing from head to toe.
When squatting properly, your upper body is locked in, shoulders tight, back tight and strong, abs locked in. Same with push ups….. Squeeze your legs, hands gripping the floor. Training properly is when you learn to integrate all of the body, even if the focus is just upper or just lower body.
What is functional strength? Functional simply means that you are able to use it effectively for whatever endeavor you are involved in. What are your training for? Your goals? If your training is directed towards your goals and daily tasks, then you are engaging in functional training. Functional training for you might not be functional for a soccer player. The training philosophies outlined in this book will give you functional strength in a broad, general sense. The application will include a broad spectrum of activities.
My favorite: Training for Life! Hey man, just be Strong, Tough, Confident, Lean and Capable. Be able to lift heavy or able to rep out calisthenics. Be able to sprint. Be able to do manual labor, picking up heavy, awkward objects on your own.
Picking up a weight from the ground and lifting it to your chest explosively might be considered functional. Try lifting a sandbag up and placing it on a platform or a picnic table next to you. This move has you incorporate lifting from a low level and rotating. Training from angles instead of just up and down is important. You begin to work what I call the “in between muscles”, the muscles that normally don’t get worked from our standard free weight exercises.
We are not trying to mimic movements in sports. That looks awesome on “Youtube”, but when it boils down to it, the old school basics consistently deliver the best results. Consistency in and of itself delivers great results. If you want to make progress, keep showing up.
Leave the sport specific training to the sports skill itself. Later in this book, I address GPP (General Physical Preparation), GSP (General Specific Preparation) and SPP (Special Physical Preparation).
In a nutshell, we want to strengthen the muscles involved in your sport/job tasks and improve the body’s motor behavior by training correctly. Building this foundation is what will get you STRONGER.
Back to Training at Home….
Another reason for you to train at home is that you will have the necessary equipment that many commercial gyms do not have. Even if they do have the equipment, it is often a mock-up version not built properly. That is unless you’re in a serious powerlifting gym.
If you get serious about things and start investing in equipment such as a belt squat, reverse hyper – sure, it gets expensive. Just remember, you’re investing in your own health. Those pieces of equipment will last you and your kids a lifetime. What price tag can we put on our health? Instead of excuses, we need results. Change your mindset and build it.
Training in a powerful environment with your own choice of equipment will put you on the road to the success, not only physically but mentally as well. You will quickly see how this style of training has a great carry over to the psychological aspect of your training and in turn, your life.
I’ve worked with adult men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s and I loved seeing their confidence increase because of HOW we trained. It’s as if they were still that insecure 15-year-old when they showed up to begin training with me. As they got stronger, ate better and built that inner confidence, it literally changed their lives. They achieved more success at work, family and social life. Training for LIFE, that’s what we’re doing here.
We need the proper mental attitude, but that is probably another book in itself. I will let the results of the training prove to you how it transforms your mindset and life. Just do the work, don’t overthink it. My personal quote is, “It’s so simple, it’s complicated.”
Do NOT complicate the training or nutrition. Instead, I will outline key methods you can use quickly and without complications for excellent results in your mental & physical journey. I’ve been training since 1989, and I have seen so many fads and gimmicks come and go. Yet the basics continue to be the best. The basics will never let you down.
When I first made the transition from commercial gyms to my own garage, I had the most basic, Spartan setup.
- I bought a 300 lb weight set from Costco. I also had a curl bar w/ this weight set.
- Flat Utility Bench, 50 + 100 lb dumbbells from newspaper classifieds (I used my Dad’s toolbox to incline the flat bench)
- Dip Bar from newspaper classifieds
- Squat Stand for $110
Those workouts were brutal. Even though I was limited on weights, I was pretty darn strong. In time, 300 pounds wasn’t a challenge for me. In turn, I wound up doing a lot of higher reps on the barbell. THAT was a challenge. The dumbbells being only 50 and 100 lbs, pushed me as well. There was nothing in between so it was 50 or 100! This forced me to find a way to make it all work.
Here’s a run-down of how I implemented the basics, simple and savage:
- Squats for 10-20 reps
- RDLs for 10+ reps
- Bent Over BB Row (overhand & underhand)
- BB Hang Cleans
- Shrugs for 15+ reps
- Heavy BB Curls
- Lunges, Curls, and Benching were ALL done with the 50s and 100s
– DB Step Ups
I bought a stereo system so I could crank my own tunes. Of course, that was in the stone ages. Nowadays, all you need is your iPhone and a small speaker that blasts. Sometimes, the best music is listening to your heartbeat and heavy breathing!
I trained 3 x week and made tremendous gains in my parent’s freezing cold garage. I created an eBook called The Gladiator Project.
I basically did a 3-way bodybuilding split but trained more like a power-bodybuilder. On the weekends, I would sometimes go to a Gold’s Gym about 20 minutes away. I did this mainly because I wanted a gym with heat!
Day 1 – Shoulders, Arms
Day 2 – Legs
Day 3 – Chest & Back
This was way back before iPods. I was stuck training with a Sony Walkman for those of you who were around as teenagers in the 80s and 90s, you know what I’m talking about. Most gyms played such horrific music it would steal your thunder. I was fired up and had no time to listen to depressing radio music with endless commercials. I always loved loud music, be it rock, rap, house music. Classic Rock – anything loud.
As I got older, I learned to block out the noise and didn’t care what the music was. When you’re younger, you get caught up in circumstances and let the music dictate your mood, which is not a good thing.
My own experience in training at countless gyms has taken me through much of NJ. I have even been able to work out in gyms in other countries! In 1993, I found Diamond Gym, about 30 minutes away, that suited me perfectly when I began to take bodybuilding seriously. The gym was dark and dungeon-like. The music was loud, very loud! They never played the radio, only CD’s in order to avoid the annoying commercials that came on every 5 minutes in a typical gym.
The loud music put all the lifters in “The Zone”. It also made it too loud for conversation, so distractions of small talk never occurred, keeping the gym a serious place, a deadly serious place, nothing less. Too many other gyms have people reading the newspaper and doing the same exercises using the same weights year after year. Their lack of results speaks for itself, unfortunately. If the stereo was shut off for a minute in these “normal gyms” you would hear everyone chatting up a storm. It sounds like a crowded coffee shop. That’s not my style. I need intensity and high energy.
When I entered this gym, there was a certain smell in the air. The smell of hungry gladiators pushing themselves mentally and physically to new limits. Everyone was sweating. Heavy weights were dropped on the floor constantly and no one told us to be nice to the weights. We were there to go to war against ourselves and our training partners.
If a CD was being changed you heard no one talking. All you heard was the beautiful sound of weights clanking together, weights being dropped to the floor and people grunting while pushing out those last few reps that separate the men from the boys.
My training partner was a former wrestler. I knew my best training partner would have to be a wrestler for him to be able to understand & accept the intensity of the workouts. Pain tolerance was not a problem for either of us and we pushed each other to our limits and beyond. We may have even trained TOO hard.
We did forced reps, negatives, drop sets and any other intensity technique known to man. When building muscle and strength, you have to be careful with those intensity techniques. Back then, I really couldn’t control my intensity. I was so fired up I wanted to destroy the gym and make my training partners quit.
These bodybuilding intensity techniques are NOT what I recommend for performance. But I will say this, there are times in training the athlete when the rules of training must be broken. Challenges must be thrown out there and athletes must learn to get Comfortable being Uncomfortable.
When I hear about college football players ending up in the hospital for doing 100 reps of squats with bodyweight and then pushing a prowler the length of a Football field, I am shocked. In college, you are in your prime. Your body and mind can withstand almost anything IF you are trained up.
No one should ever stop training, competitive athlete or not. When the college athletes have a break, the serious ones come back to The Underground, even if they only have a day or 2 off during Thanksgiving.
Don’t volunteer to be weak or average. Strength is a choice, so is weakness. Push yourself to go beyond what the “normal person” would do.
During my days as a bodybuilder, I recall my partner getting nauseous and taking trips to the bathroom, even during a shoulder workout! We both had “the eye of the tiger”. We pushed each other on every set and every training session. It taught me the crucial importance of being in a great environment surrounded by like-minded people.
Diamond Gym reminded me of the gym Rocky trains at in Rocky III, TOUGH Gym. When Rocky walked in he saw all the boxers had “the eye of the tiger”. When was the last time you saw this in a gym, in your training partners? The environment pushed Rocky to a new level that he never trained at before when he was “training modern”. Mick told Rocky that the worst thing that can happen to a fighter is to get civilized. I agree. Even as you get older, be wary of becoming “normal”. Soft, undisciplined, weak and unable to fend for yourself or handle your own business is no place for a man or woman.
For more information, you will want to review the Underground Strength Coach Certification.