First Things First

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Meet You at the Gym, Dad

Mid City Mr. Universe 1970
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In my precious spare time (between business trips abroad, consultations with the Administration, surveying my real estate investments here and in the Caribbean, Cancun and Singapore), I often think of ways to train with the limitless collection of weight lifting gear we have unknowingly stored in and around our homes. Garages, attics, basements, closets, sheds and backyards are warehouses of unusual equipment to build muscle and might. One needs only envision the ubiquitous gear in logical operation.

Allow me to offer you a few creative workout approaches you might decide to put into practice.

How about squats in your backyard with a rear axle component from a ’51 Ford sedan? Greasy, challenging and slightly out of the ordinary, but they work.

Here’s a good one: Secure 12 to 15 bowling balls in sturdy burlap sack and hoist the lumpy mass overhead repeatedly. Builds hand and grip strength, lower back and shoulders, and is handy in breaking 200 in your League games on Saturday nights.

This might become a favorite: Firmly grasp the old footlocker filled with IronMan and Muscle Builder magazines stashed in the attic and carry it to the basement, around the workbench, and back again. Do this every morning and evening for 12 weeks and see the difference in your strength, performance and attitude. 

One more, a fun musclebuilding challenge for you and your sweetie: Make a stretcher out of scrap wood and load it with weighty odds and ends -- pipes, engine blocks, bricks, chains, manhole covers, old fire hydrants, paint cans filled with dirt -- and carry it around the neighborhood till you drop. Switch places and go again. Take advantage of hills; ignore or rally the neighbors, depending on their disposition.

How am I doing so far? Give me a minute and I’ll offer some swell menu tips, too, like my muscularizing and tantalizing frog’s legs and water diet, which is similar to the original tuna and water diet except you substitute the slippery legs for the stinky fish. Add snow peas after 7 to 10 days for zest. It’s simple, it works and it’s cheap, especially if you live near a pond. 
 
Another idea, for dads who have sons -- and daughters, perhaps -- lying around the house interested in lifting weights, but haven’t a clue how to proceed. Grasp the rascal firmly and go to the neighborhood gym. What a great opportunity to develop the family relationship and develop the character, strength and health of both the youth and the adult. This simple undertaking can be a treat or a defeat, a wonderful experience or a catastrophe, a bonding or a blundering. It depends on communication; that is, love, patience, understanding, clearness and sharing. It also depends upon a handful of basic exercises, their orderly presentation, clarity in their purpose and execution, and a grand introduction to the excitement and value of the entire musclebuilding process.
 
As this is the beginning for them, go back to the beginning yourself. Remember, for example, we are all different; different in personality, nature, chemistry, expectations, receptiveness and maturity, and you are about to mix 'n blend the differences. Be strong, walk with humble certainty, watch and listen and guide, but do not control. The last thing a kid striving to grow big and strong wants is to be controlled. Control beyond thoughtful instruction is a death sentence to his pursuit and your bonding relationship.

Apply controls when it comes to drugs and sex, right and wrong, honor and responsibility, but give him sufficient margins when it comes to bench pressing form and widegrip pulldowns. He’ll get it right. That’s what the sets and reps and concentration are for.
 
Give him respect and room to practice and make mistakes. Encourage the lad and lass as they fight for might. Correction should be a mutual experience, as you promote muscle engagement and proper exercise form. It is as hard to instruct as it is to receive instruction, to learn. You’re growing together.

We are always learning, always growing, even as we stumble and fall.

I learned more about exercise after I won my competitions and agreed to undertake a position as an instructor at a health club. I knew exactly how to train, yet had no idea how to explain an exercise to a bright-eyed trainee. Words and demonstration must commingle engagingly. You both need ample space -- give 'n take, sharing and mutual consideration -- to develop. Each workout is a practice session and a step forward. If this thing we love is taking root in your young subject, development is visible in the sets and reps, workout after workout: the increasing strength in the lifts, fluidity of exercise execution, confidence in overall performance, enhancement of muscle awareness and a thriving discipline. I call this major progress. Life has a better chance.

Of course, not everyone becomes attached to the sport the first time around. It’s tough, it’s special and its joys are bittersweet, not like the cherries in cherry cream pie. Teach them well and they might be back. Treat them harshly and they might not. Just the same, it is better to have visited the land of iron and known its power than not to have visited at all. Similar to going to the museum or zoo or planetarium when you were growing up, the lessons are there.

It’s important that the sprouting fitness-nut be made aware of the value of exercise and eating right early on, before he or she walks off to destinations unknown. Go with muscle and might and everything right, but slip in a lasting education of the priority of exercise and healthy eating in his or her life forever. You’ve done your duty if they grasp this extraordinarily valuable, yet secreted, life-giving law. God bless you and them.

Now, about the exercises upon which I suggest you concentrate. They are the building blocks most used by champions and children alike. They are the simple movements that involve the body’s complicated system of muscles, bones and ligaments advantageously, safely and joyously. They are the basics. They work best. The rest is up to their consistent, strategic and intense performance supported, naturally, by sound nutrition... and you and me.

Here’s my list, The Top-Twenty:

1) Bench press
2) Dumbbell press, flat and incline
3) Lateral raise, sidearm, front, bentover
4) Stiffarm dumbbell pullover
5) Cable crossover
6) Pulldowns
7) Seated lat rows
8) Bentover row, one- and two-arm
9) Standing barbell curl
10) Dumbbell curls, standing, seated alternate, incline
11) Triceps pulley pushdown
12) Triceps extensions, lying and overhead
13) Dips
14) Chins
15) Squats
16) Leg extension
17) Leg curl
18) Calf raise, seated and standing
19) Deadlifts
20) Midsection, crunches and leg raise

The exercises listed above include 90 percent of the basics, though there are numerous more non-basic movements (thumbs-up curls, pullover and press, front squats) practiced by us all to add variety and nuance. The truth is there are limitless movements when you consider grip and body-position variations, exercise finesse and the execution of personalized exercise grooves. Of the Top Twenty, I can extract six or eight major moves -- indicated below -- on which to concentrate to avoid excessive instruction time and learning time and, therefore, devote more intense quality training time in the near-future workouts. This will assure greater muscle and strength response and a more solid training and musclebuilding experience.

Choosing and combining the exercises, planning a routine of sets and reps and weight handled will be part of your first day’s experience. I’d make it a free and easy, fun and entertaining day without diminishing the seriousness and value of the activity. You want them to like, enjoy and appreciate weightlifting and strength building and not to fear the feats or be burdened by them. They and you will discover a lot as the bars are grasped and the bodies settle onto benches and the weights are hoisted, employed and replaced. Watch, look and listen...  their groans and clangs, expressions and approaches, levels of input and reactions to exertion, swiftness to learn or reluctance to try and your ability to teach, coach, encourage, inspire and instruct tell the tale of two lifters, young and old, hitting the iron.

Here’s my version of an introductory workout for the first few weeks as you and your young training partner get to know each other and the challenges and joys of weight training... Don’t forget to fuel yourselves before your workout and hydrate throughout:

Every other day or every three days --

Underscore the importance of core body strength and teach them crunches and leg raises to be performed before or after each workout.

Chest:
Bench press -- light weight warm-up set plus 2 sets x 8-10 reps of moderate weight

Back:
Widegrip pull down -- light weight warm-up set plus 2 sets x 8-10 reps of moderate weight

Shoulders:
75-degree incline dumbbell press -- light weight warm-up set plus 2 sets x 8-10 reps of moderate weight

Biceps and triceps (supersetting introduction):
Standing barbell curl -- light weight warm-up set plus 2 sets x 8-10 reps of moderate weight
<supersetted with>
Pulley pushdowns -- light weight warm-up set plus 2 sets x 10-12 reps of moderate weight

Legs:
Leg press -- light weight warm-up set plus 2 sets x 8-10 reps of moderate weight -- follow by high-rep freehand standing calf raise of block.

We can debate the variations and benefits of first-time training routines, but this is an engaging and well-rounded assortment of exercises that puts order in the plan and enlists discipline from the onset. Learning and growing depend on these qualities and one’s life blossoms by their presence. As the first two or three weeks under the strain of the iron roll on by, so does the young lifter’s knowledge and understanding strain forward. Let it happen. Soon it’s time to upgrade their routine, as you and they assess their progress, abilities and growing interest.

I gotta go, Joe. More on the routines and schemes for the striving young bombers next week. Meanwhile, catch some air while it lasts.

God’s might... DD

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