8 lessons learnt from 25 years under the bar
Around 25 years ago I’m shooting the breeze with one of my best buddies Simon. Then out of the blue he made unusual request. “Take your shirt off” he said. I thought, that’s not a question you hear often, from one man to another, so I naturally hesitated.
But the look he gave me suggested I do it or else, so I did.
“Mate, you really need to hit the gym” he said while poking his finger into my spaghetti noodle arm. Simon was right. I was 6 foot 2 inches and around 145 pounds (66 Kg) soaking wet with a concave chest, poor posture and almost no muscle tone.
The next day I joined a gym and my love for the barbell began.
Like a lot things in life, I learnt lifting the hard way. Is there an easy way to learn anything? It wasn’t always pretty but now I’m standing taller and stronger than ever. And now, being on the other side of the barbell as a personal trainer, I’m able to pass on my 25 years’ worth of experience to my clients and now to you.
After reading this, I hope my pain is your gain.
1. Treat every single repetition like it’s your 1RM
More often than not, gym goers go through the motions during their warm up or sub-maximal strength work. Sloppy form can lead to bad habits and bad habits can lead to a visit to the Physical Therapist. Trust me, I’ve been there. To prevent this lock in your form and set up for every lift, no matter what the exercise.
Yes, even biceps curls.
2. Ignoring pain is never a good idea
In 25 years I’ve trained around and rehabbed through several injuries including:
- Torn quadriceps X 3
- Strained hamstringsX2
- Knee and ankle tendonitis
- Sprained triceps tendon
- Tennis and golfer’s elbow
- Right A/C joint inflammation
- 3 herniated disks and several back spasms
Some had warning signs, some didn’t and some were just my own dam fault. However, ignoring the symptoms only made my matters worse. If you’re ever in doubt, stop training through the pain and start asking questions. Your health is more important than those extra set of curls.
3. Live to fight again another day
Some days you walk into the gym, feeling like dog crap and you crush your session. Other days you’re high as a kite and you cannot press a pink dumbbell above your head. Shit happens. Not every training session is perfect. On those days that are less than perfect, reduce the intensity, focus on technique and live to fight another day. Your body will thank you in the long run.
4. Fit exercise to your schedule
A routine requires you to be in the gym five days a week for 90 minutes but you can only spare three days a week for a 45 minutes is setting yourself up for failure. This often leads to heartache and a trip to the fridge to find the ice cream. Yum….ice cream. Instead, avoid disappointment and fit exercise into your schedule. Works out much better this way.
5. Have a little fun
I used to take exercise way too seriously. I’d grunt, make faces, slam the weights on the floor and be really pissed when I missed a lift. Yes, I used to be one of those gym jerk guys.
Many years and lots of injuries later, I’ve mellowed. My gym time is now enjoyable and not a “workout”. However, sitting behind a desk for eight hours and taking orders, now that’s a work out.
6. Keep it simple
The majority of your training should be spent squatting, pressing, pulling, hinging and carrying something heavy. There are endless variations and sets and reps schemes that should keep things interesting for the rest of your training career. Anything outside of this is window dressing. Not that there’s anything wrong with window dressing.
7. Be the tortoise not the hare
When it comes to exercise progressions and or increasing the weight on your main lifts, slow and steady wins the race. Because when you don’t own the weight you’re lifting, it shows. Please leave the quarter squats to the clueless meatheads who think they’re crushing it.
I recently invested in a pair of 2.5 pound weight plates and have been increasing weight on my main lifts by five pounds a week, give or take. Over a period of 9 weeks I have added 30-45 pounds to my 5 rep max on the squat, overhead press and bent over rows. That’s nothing to be sneezed at.
8. Pass it forward
Early in my lifting career, I had no clue and it showed. However, instead of gym employees or fellow lifters helping me, I was laughed at and dismissed. No wonder some people find the gym an intimating place. I somehow muddled through this by reading, watching and learning about the basics of lifting. But the learning curve would’ve been much shorter if somebody stopped to offer advice.
Next time a gym goer asks you a question or you spy someone who’s about to put themselves in hospital, politely offer your assistance instead of ignoring them. The gym is a place for everyone to get better, not worse.
The gym is a place that can transform you into a bigger, stronger and healthier version of yourself. Weightlifting has changed my life for the better and hopefully it has for you too. Now get after it, keep it simple and have some fun.