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Chaos and Pain

  /  tips   /  The Perfect Gym is All In Your Head

The Perfect Gym is All In Your Head

As I staggered the fifteen steps from my toilet
shower to my desk, sweating like a pedophile in an elementary school bathroom,
desperate to find another roll of toilet paper, I lamented the fact that
dysentery was going to steal yet another day of heaving around some heavy iron
from me. That’s not to say I wasn’t going to train, but rather that I was
going to train light to avoid crapping my pants under a heavy load. Just five
days earlier I had hit an all-time high in bodyweight, 171lbs, which was just
about 10lbs heavier than my best bodyweight prior to entering the smog-choked
land of the terra cotta soldiers. Upon turning and seeing the trail of
blood I’d left on the floor leading to the small pool forming directly beneath
me, I ultimately decided that discretion was the better form of valor, because
unless I’d been shot in the browneye by an overzealous and underfed Chinese
soldier, I should probably not be bleeding from the rectum and a day off from
the gym was indeed in order. After a moment of half-delirious
consideration, I washed down enough anti-laduzi (Mandarin for diarrhea and the
only word of Chinese my dad ever learned) to prevent a normal person from ever
crapping again, I fired up the showerhead over the toilet bowl because my
asshole felt like it had spent a weekend with Marseilles Wallace’s buddies, a
pair of pliers, and a blowtorch, so a shower was vastly preferable to scrubbing
my abused asshole with what amounted to sand paper but was alleged to be toilet
tissue.

I have no earthly idea
how much money my dad spent in sending me Met-Rx in 1998, but it was not an
inconsiderable sum. He was the man.

Unless you’re a fecal-feliac, you’re likely
wondering what the hell this story has to do with anything lifting related.
The tie-in, rather than another rant about eating to grow, is that I
managed to pack on ten or eleven pounds of rip in about six weeks without the
aid of supplements beyond a couple of meal replacement shakes and/or protein
bars a day, and of those six weeks I had dysentery for at least three.
Not only that, but I accomplished that feat in the most rudimentary gym
I’ve ever seen that wasn’t in Uganda, and I’d already been training for five
years, so these weren’t noob gains. Add to that, it was summer in Beijing, so
the temperature ranged from 90-100 degrees in the daytime with the smog-choked
humidity so thick you had to use a steak knife to cut it before you could take
a deep breath, and the gym in which I trained daily didn’t even have a
goddamned fan, never mind an air conditioner.

Nah- this isn’t another public service
announcement to enjoin you to eat like you’re white trash at a crappy buffet.
This is a statement regarding the endless online discussions about
finding the right gym to ensure success. This debate, like the mindset behind
it, is entirely wrongheaded. As it is with choosing a program, the
maximization of success with gym selection is far less about the equipment than
it is about the effort one expends on the equipment they’re using. To
wit:

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Herschel Walker built an unbelievable physique with little more than thousands
upon thousands of pushups and sit-ups, and a crap ton of sprints. At 51,
he almost certainly looked better than you and everyone you know with that
routine, and he spent literally nothing on gym memberships beyond an MMA
school.

Marcy Multi gyms were so
basic they should have come with Ugg boots and a pumpkin spice latte.

Bruce Lee
built a crazy strong and muscular physique with a routine centered on PHA
(peripheral heart action) training
that
mostly utilized a Marcy trainer, the predecessor to multi-station Universal
machines.

For his role in Reign of Fire, Matthew
McConaughey
literally grappled with cows and carried stuff around his ranch
to bulk up. His basic weight workouts, like Bruce Lee’s and Sonny
Chiba’s, three days circuit training. Nothing special, yet the dude
looked like a badass in that flick without ever touching a bumper plate.

Big Jim Williams was the first man in history to
bench 660lbs and still one of the biggest benchers ever, in spite of the fact
that he had to take all of his attempts back to back (he had as much time
between attempts as it took to load the weight and count down from 90), and he
did almost all of his training in prison. Despite what you might think,
weight lifting equipment in jails is hardly state of the art, and at the time
Williams competed bench presses were notoriously rickety even in high-end gyms.

In case you missed it,
there are dudes in Africa who are doing a hell of a lot more with a hell of a
lot less than you.

The list of athletes and celebrities who have
done amazing things with their physiques in rudimentary gyms or *gasp* on
machines is endless and dates back to antiquity, and should provide ample
evidence to convince most people that they needn’t train at the regional
“hardcore,” “functional” gym that happens to be the talk of
the internet in order for them to maximize their potential. Though I
realize this simple fact should be easy to grasp, I fully realize it isn’t
because the internet mostly exists to destroy the fabric of reality and replace
it with bull-crap. As such, here are a couple of gym anecdotes that might help
to drive the point home:

My favorite machine in
high school, and one that tragically no longer exists- a weighted
dip/pullup/calf raise machine.

My old high school gym was a 1980’s special, donated by a former student who upgraded
his home gym and gave us the stuff he’d bought a decade prior. It boasted
a Marcy multi-gym, a few old Nautilus machines, a squat rack, mismatched
dumbbells, and a couple of benches. Everything was old and jacked up, and we
loved it. In two years, my bench went up 140 lbs. and I went from a pudgy
kid to a three-sport varsity athlete with school records for bodyweight
exercises.

World Gym Tucson, which is now a boxing gym, was the best gym in which I have ever
trained. The bodybuilding mecca of southern Arizona in the 1990’s, our
member rolls included IFBB pro Rusty Jeffers, a couple of Westside transplants, and the most entertaining cornucopia
of weightlifting maniacs I’ve ever seen. It had no AC, no pussies, and an
absolute lunatic for an owner who would physically throw people out of
the gym for minor gym rule infractions like leaving a plate leaning against the
squat rack. Powerlifters and bodybuilders trained together (I don’t think
I even met an Olympic lifter until after 2000, and internet icon Steve
Pulcinella was the only person I’d ever met who competed in strongman prior to
2004 or 2005), and all of the serious lifters went to every competition our
gym’s members entered… mostly because at that time people only competed to
win, not to show up and collect a goddamned participation trophy. Every
person I knew in that place was jacked and strong, and we’d have non-stop impromptu
competitions on everything from squatting for reps to deadlifts to bench to one
arm dumbbell rows.

Top Gym Vienna. With the motto
“No Wellness,” I knew these were my kind of people. At the
time, I was eating paleo and although prevented by EU law from taking
ephedrine, was a ripped-to-shreds 170lbs when I returned home, after repping
440 on the front squat and doing ballistic pullups as the gym’s sole strength
athlete. You don’t need to train in a strength-oriented gym to be crazy
strong. Everyone else in that gym was an
old school string-tank-top-and-spandex-shorts clad bodybuilder or figure
competitor stick figure, yet we all got along famously and killed it in the gym
daily. To say there was a lot of gratuitous high fiving going on between
sets is like saying the volleyball scenes in Top Gun are slightly homoerotic,
and that kind of rampant positivity and mutual respect made for a badass
training environment.

Iron Sport Gym is one of the few strength gyms on the planet I don’t despise,
and I’ve made massive gains because of training there periodically over the
last 20 years. To give you some idea of how long I’ve known Stevie P, I found his gym as the result of seeing his ad in the Yellow Pages
of the phone book years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he’s the
progenitor of the DYEL meme, a World’s Strongest Man competitor, a Hall of Fame
Highland Games competitor, and one of the most hilariously surly people on the
planet. He’s one of the most knowledgeable guys in strength sports, and
our conversations helped mold my training methodology. If you’re ever in the Philadelphia
area, check it out.It’s packed with pro
bodybuilders, pro strongmen, elite Oly lifters, and several powerlifters of
varied skill levels (though I’ve heard their gossip game is on a bean).

24e– This was the gym I trained in to set my world record, in a
chrome squat rack with bars that I bent completely out of shape. It
boasted no competitive strength athletes at all, had a perpetually broken
homemade platform, nothing but octagonal plates, and a handful of competitive
bodybuilders. Three or four guys in there benched over 500lbs (despite
the bent, dead bars with collars that wouldn’t spin and slippery vinyl benches)
and never took a single gym selfie or video of themselves doing so, because
they were far more interested with lifting than with posing online as lifters
when they’d rather be doing anything else. This gym was also the
birthplace of my supplement company, and generally stands as proof that gyms
are built on people, not equipment, and that bodybuilders make a gym, while
powerlifters generally ruin them. That said, “mainstream” obsessed
money grubbing dickheads can kill a gym even more quickly than USAPL lifters,
and that gym was the victim of on such crap-slug.

Renmin University gym. This is the gym in
Beijing. It boasted no fans, no AC, enough rust on the plates to give you
tetanus just looking at a photo of the gym, two extremely unsafe squat racks,
and a single bench. This place even lacked dumbbells, and it was so
goddamned hot in there that I looked like I’d just gone for a swim in my
clothes after my second warmup set. It was in that primeval place that I
learned how to pack on mass quickly, lifting heavy as hell on made-up exercises
and just going nuts the entire time shirtless in rust stained shorts.

Stern’s Gym in 1970 and
his gym in 2001 were not appreciably different.

I’ve got plenty more examples, because I’ve
trained all over the place. I once did a set of 97 reps with 135lbs on
the squat, weighing maybe 150, in a squash club’s tiny gym. I’ve done death sets of deadlifts overlooking
the Hong Kong skyline in a posh resort’s fitness center. Threw around some
weights with the guitarist from Sworn Vengeance at the awesome hardcore gym
22nd St Barbell in Iowa. Partially re-tore my bicep goofing around with the gym
owner of an awesome Ninja Warrior/strongman gym outside of Chicago called Golden
Age Strength Club
. I’ve had awesome
workouts in innumerable Gold’s Gyms, Powerhouses, 24 Hour Fitnesses around the
country, plus the iconic Golds and Worlds in Venice Beach and Vince
Gironda’s gym
there, Leo
Stern’s gym
in San Diego that was
practically a museum piece when I trained there, among many others. Hell,
I’ve trained in a Guido gym in Pittsburgh that even had a shrine, an honest to
god shrine, to Robert DeNiro in it. An LA Fitness in North Hills, PA in which
the dudes were so juiced up they had to wipe the pus off the benches between
sets because their back-ne would burst, and have even seen dudes bench 405 on
free weight benches in Planet Fitness. In short, I’ve got a pretty good
idea of what constitutes a good gym, and what you need to have a good lift…
and it’s not the facility or the equipment. It’s the people who train there and
the people who run the place.

If you can’t find
someone you want to bang in a CrossFit gym, you need to get your test levels
checked, ladies included.

If you want to dispute that, feel free, because
I have one trump card you can’t beat. CrossFit gyms. If the ridiculous
performance of Cross Fitters in the Games isn’t proof of concept enough,
consider the following. If you’re going to be training half naked with a bunch
of people who are trying to outlift and out-hot you, chances are you’re going
to think twice about skipping workouts or cheating on your diet. The
motivation of others will carry over to you. Likewise, if you’ve got an
undiscussed competition going on with some bench bro from your gym and you know
they’re gonna be checking to see how many reps you get on behind the neck press
out of the corner of their eye, you might push a little harder when it’s time
to do your accessory work. The equipment you’re using to achieve the
strength you want to display is only an impediment if you’re a complete bitch
who wants to excuse your weakness with nonsense. In fact, training on crappy
equipment has the benefit of making the same weight on a good bar or a good
bench seem light by comparison, so when you hit the platform weights that were
a struggle, they absolutely fly up… and it will give you extra reasons to
excuse unimpressive training weights when you’re typing comments on Instagram
(seriously, stop that crap already. Your every goddamned lift does not
need to be filmed).

If only New Orleans
Athletic Club would allow people to train in their historic weight room…

Speaking of training on different equipment,
much of the online discussion about choosing a gym seems to come from people
with little experience in doing so and even less in lifting. It’s a
literal matter of the blind leading the blind, which necessitates one other
entreaty.For the love of all that is
unholy, hit up some other gyms in your area. See what is out there. Get in some
workouts on unfamiliar equipment, around unfamiliar people. Not only will
this give you a great deal more perspective on the subject of what actually
constitutes a great gym, but you may discover your gym is inferior to other
gyms, be they an LA Fitness, a Planet Fitness, or Ryan
Cellis’s awesome spot in Pittsburgh
.
You might find that you have some of the best workouts of your life while
travelling, because you will likely feel the need (like I do) to immediately
insert yourself into that gym’s strength hierarchy… and you might come to
find that your gym isn’t the local end all, be all of strong mofos in the area.

If the gym in Todd
Schorr’s mind was open to the public, I would be the first mofo on the planet
to sign up for a membership.

In short, the perfect gym is likely out there,
but it exists between your ears. Hell, even athletes who own badass gyms
like Kansas
City Barbell
agree. The owner, Jay, told me that his best
experiences lifting were not at his own gym but at the old Worlds Gym in
Reading, PA, because he was lifting with a pro-Highland Games competitor and a
dude who played in NFL Europe and every training session was beyond ball-out.
Equipment isn’t holding you back when you train. Your mind is. The gym
isn’t the problem. You are. Greatness is
within your grasp, but you’ve got to be your own salvation. Keep an eye out for
the people who train hard. Not the
Instagram ass-hats constantly filming every goddamned thing for the internet,
and not the assholes who foam roll for an hour before they train (incidentally,
I will be gassing those sonsabitches my first day in office as overlord of
post-apocalyptic America). All that stuff is window dressing to disguise
the fact they’re not there to train, but to preen. Forge your own path and own
it rather than placing your destiny in the hands of strangers, whether they be
on Facebook or the owners of your gym or anyone else. And remember, the perfect
gym is not a physical location but a mental one, formed out of your mindset,
desire, and drive. Build one worthy of attaching to a drinking hall in
Valhalla, because the alternative is dying unremembered.

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