I started going to the gym initially because I was given a free month pass by a girl i liked.
Despite the fact my brother had been bodybuilding and powerlifting for over 10 years, had won pretty much every show and lifting comp there was to win, there really wasn’t anything about going to the gym that appealed to me.
After being shown how to do the basic movements: bench, squat, deadlift, leg press, shoulder press and some arm stuff I went about doing a training program my brother had kindly drawn up.
I knew nothing about nutrition, although I had heard somewhere a basic rule of: eat every 3 hours and 3/4 of the plate should be protein and 1/4 should be carbs. How big the plate was or how high the food went didn’t seem to be covered in the rule. So I just winged it. I went from a 55kg starting point to 100kg in just under a year.at 5’4, it wasn’t pretty.
What struck me early on was I didn’t like that other guys could lift more than me. I didn’t really care that they were bigger or more experienced than I was, it made me angry that the guy next to me was squatting 3 plates and I was only squatting 1.5! Maybe it was a case of “little man syndrome”. Whatever it was, it was enough to make me want to train harder in order to lift more.
Everyone seemed to look up to the big guys in the gym because they were the biggest and strongest. They were like super heroes. Real men! Huge men that lifted huge weight! I knew I was never going to be the biggest, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be the strongest.
So I went about my training. Sticking largely to the basic compound movements and free weight exercises as that’s what I had been taught and what I knew. I experimented every now and then with machine stuff but it never really gave me the same feeling that a free bar loaded with plates did.
Every time I hit a new Pb or did something heavier than id done before there was a feeling of satisfaction, followed by determination to do more. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t overloading a bar by 50kg more than I could possibly lift. I wasn’t putting weight on simply for the sake of attempting more weight and running the risk of massive injuries due to dangerous form. Strangely enough my form in those earlier days was way worse than what it is now. My strength now is far greater than it was 10 years ago, and yet people today are much quicker to call out my bad technique than back then.
As time went on, I got stronger. Much stronger. Pretty soon I was one of the strong guys in the gym, even if I certainly wasn’t the biggest. Training turned into sessions of seeing just how many plates I could fit on the leg press and still do decent depth reps. being able to say that id run out of dumbbells to press was a goal I had early on. There was a new challenge after I had reached the 50s, which were the heaviest, and then the gym went and bought 55,60,65 and 70kg dumb bells! If last week I deadlifted 190kgx5, well this week I’m either going for 6, or I’m just trying 200kgx5 instead.
Training was always about getting stronger and better and making progress. That’s just how it was done. That was the point.
I started training at a gym in Spring Hill in Brisbane. At the time it was called All Sports. Goodlife later bought it out.
The gym was under the pool. There was no ventilation. There was no air conditioning. You walked down the stairs into a concrete bunker that in summer could have been considered a torture chamber; it was that hot and stuffy. There were no fancy machines. It was old equipment. Old bars, old cages, old leg presses and old plates and dumbbells. It certainly wasn’t a hardcore gym, but due to the equipment available, everyone did basic free weight exercises.
When my membership ran out, I moved to a gym in Carsledine called Masters. Masters was much larger than All Sports. More equipment in a much bigger space. It was above ground too which meant it has air flow!
Masters was a fairly old school gym that had a large crew of old school body builders and power lifters, as well as the normal gym going public. There were dumbbells up to 80kg, 3 squat racks, leg presses and some other hammer strength chest and back machines.
Training at masters was where I started to push myself to lift heavier. There were a couple of really big guys that out lifted everyone. 4 plate bench presses, 5-6 plate squats, 6-7 plate deadlifts. This is what I saw when I trained there. Massive guys lifting massive weights. This is what I aspired to do.
Seeing these guys lifting on a weekly basis really pushed my own training forward and I made rapid progress.
Twelve months after joining masters, Goodlife purchased it and moved in. out went the big dumbbells. Out went the old leg presses. Out went the old school body builders and powerlifters who had all been sent a letter from management, saying they were no long welcome as the gym was taking a different direction and looking to cater to a different type of member.
Over night the gym changed. Gone was the wonderful old equipment replaced by awful Calgym crap. The once huge open space of free weights was divided up with cardio sections and group classrooms.
When I enquired as to where the big dumbbells had gone, the response I got was “none of these members can lift them so why have them?”
It was then I knew training there was dead.
So I left. Probably to the delight of management.
Skip forward a few years and I had been working at Biologic Labs where my training and my physique had made massive changes.
The Lab was built on the principals of heavy training and diet. How much you weigh is based on your food and how much muscle you have is based on your strength. Want more muscle? Get stronger. Want to be bigger? Eat more. Very simple
In the year or so id been at the Lab, id been exposed to an environment where the majority of guys deadlifted over 5 plates and squatted 4 plates or above. The women deadlifted 2.5 plates at least and were leg pressing over 300kg for reps. It was just normal. What were also normal were the extreme changes in people’s body composition due to this type of training and dieting.
I very rarely trained in commercial gyms. Lack of equipment, way to many members, everything you did being scrutinized by trainers or management. I preferred to stay in my cave.
I never realised how spoilt I was. Or I did, I just forgot over time. It was just how it was to me. I was rather blasé about it. Having somewhere that I could bang weights, drop dumbbells, grunt and swear was just normal. There were like-minded people around me that enjoyed beating themselves as much as I did in the name of adding more weight to the bar. Having loud music playing and not Nova on the radio was just the way it’s done. The air conditioning was useless and in summer the air was so thick with humidity, your clothes were heavy with sweat. It was perfect!
I don’t mean this in a stupid meathead kind of way. It’s just that to generate the kind of aggression and focus needed to train with weights requires a certain type of environment. I just assumed, naively, that to a degree all gyms were like this.
Then I left Biologic Labs.
And my training fell apart.
Moving to Melbourne I knew that for a few months I was going to have to train in public gyms. I had already crossed off the Fitness Firsts and Goodlife’s. I’d had enough experience and clients in QLD complain to me about how bad they were. In Melbourne, I’d been told there were plenty of “hardcore” training gyms at my disposal.
The problem, I quickly discovered is that just because the gym has hammer strength equipment, dusty floors and dumbbells that go up to 100kg, it doesn’t mean it’s the right environment to really train. Yes there are people using the equipment. But the moment more than four plates are on the squat bar, or god forbid your back slightly twitches on a deadlift, all eyes are drawn to you with such scrutiny, you can feel it burning into your skin.
At one particular gym my wrist strap snapped on the 6th rep of 250kg deadlifts resulting in a massive BANG and the owner to come running out yelling about making to much noise! Apparently the banging annoyed the people in the floors below. Who the hell puts a gym three floors up AND has a powerlifting club set up in that gym? No dropping weights? HUH?
Each training day as I entered the gym I’d be greeted with Nova playing on the radio with the same 5 songs playing over and over and over and over again, and I felt my desire to train and live being sucked out of me. I’d walk to the squat rack to find guys doing chin-ups, even though there are chin up bars all over the place. 120kg men doing 60kg deadlifts, and some how struggling. I saw some guy doing some weird Indian prayer looking movement with a 5kg plate? I think it was for his chest?
At what point did weight training stop being about weight?
All of a sudden the idea of putting 300kg on a deadlift bar seemed lost. Maybe ill do lat pulldowns instead? That makes less noise and my form wont be criticised by people who cant lift a quarter of what I do, or don’t actually deadlift at all. If I fail on the 5th rep of 220kg squats and drop the bar, I can already hear the people snickering, “he should lower the weight. If he is failing like that it’s obviously to heavy!” Ill do leg extension instead. The idea of making progress, the very reason I train and diet as strictly as I do, was gone. The motivation (I hate that word but it fits here) that builds the fire and aggression in my mind as I walk to a bar to do something I’ve never done before was gone and it depressed the hell out of me.
My training went backwards quickly.
That depressed me more!
I used to foolishly think that old equipment was the best there is and that anything new was plastic junk. I’ve since learnt that bad equipment is bad equipment and it doesn’t matter how old or new it is, its still bad. The leg presses in most gyms are horrible. Anything over five plates a side and everything goes into the knees. Bench press stations have no safeties, and if they do, they are at face height directly above your face. I’m sorry, if I have to drop 140kg, id rather not do it on my face! Those old school seated shoulder press machines that start the bar about 20cm behind your head so you dislocate your shoulders when trying to lift anything over 60kg off. Horrible mixes of different plates from different companies. I know this sounds petty but ask anyone who seriously lifts and they will tell you, all plates feel different. Mixing them up changes how a bar moves entirely. Cheap Chinese bars that have no grip or flex so they either break your spine, or fall out of your hands.
I guess I was spoilt at Biologic Labs. There aren’t many places like it. Leaving there made me realise just how hard it is for people to train correctly and make progress in public gyms. I have newfound respect for anyone who does six plate deadlifts using those awful Chinese bars, or anything above three plate bench presses on benches with no safeties. And to the girls who put up with dick heads constantly questioning, “why are you trying to lift that?” or “don’t you think you should lower the weight?”
When we first set up the equipment at Recomp:HQ, I mentally chose which cage was mine, where I was going to deadlift, which leg press I liked the most. The first time I trained there, completely alone on a Sunday night, I knew this is what I needed. The bass from the speakers pumped old Wu Tang Clan and rumbled through the building combining with the freshly painted black walls and exposed brick to create the grimy atmosphere I so desperately missed. It was supposed to be a light pumpy workout, but here I was able to drop bench presses when I failed without killing myself. I could actually do seated military press with the seat on the right angle and not destroy my shoulders or my spine. I could grunt and swear without fear of offending someone walking on a treadmill. Why would I waste this on light weights? I knew I couldn’t train anywhere else.
In that first month I had access to Recomp:HQ I felt my training return to almost where it was before I left QLD. Id always had the mentality of “just add a 1.25kg plate to each side…you wont even notice it, but its still more weight” That was returning, where for the first months in Melbourne, that left me entirely. Having no restrictions on how I complete reps and sets allowed me to train the way I used to. There are no form Nazis in here and if things turn ugly at the end of a set, well, it’s the end of a set and its supposed to get ugly!!
I am certainly by no means the biggest or strongest person training in a gym today, far from it! How ever the style of heavy weight training that was taught to me, and was just what training was, has been softened to the point that when those of us who still seek to add weight to the bar and train in the way that is required to make progress, are glared at and criticised by those that cant and will never do what we do. With commercial gyms catering to these people who don’t really want to train and shunning those who do with signs like “NO DEADLIFTS.MEMBERSHIPS TERMINATED”, its becoming increasingly hard to find places that allow people to train properly.
Today people seem far more interested in doing the latest fitness fads: crossfit, trx, boot camps and functional training, or other activities that make them feel as if they are doing something worth while, while at the same time avoiding putting in genuine hard work to get real results. There are hundreds if not thousands of useless personal trainers out there that have no real experience in doing what they teach and are out of shape themselves. It’s the blind leading the blind. A quick look at the majority of the general public is proof enough that what’s being done, isn’t working.
It seems that every second person wants to compete in bodybuilding shows yet many don’t train, have no muscle, have no physiques and aren’t willing to put in the work in the gym to get one. How is it that what should be considered one of the hardest, strictest sports around, has been invaded, and in my opinion, ruined, by out of shape lazy people?
The growing popularity of power lifting and PTC around the country has brought a lot of focus back to heavy training and that can only be a good thing. Seeing more people deadlifting and squatting for the first time, making rapid progress is a refreshing change to the years of hearing “deadlifting is bad for your back and squatting will ruin your knees”
However for the masses, running around cones in a park, doing ¼ depth body weight squats, swinging from chains or bands or jumping up and down on boxes isn’t training. It’s stuff. Doing stuff does stuff all! So I ask again, what happened to training?