Iron And The Soul by Henry Rollins

Around seven years ago, possibly around this time, I discovered Iron And The Soul, this incredible, well written article by Henry Rollins.  Upon reading it I was absolutely stunned to see how much I could relate to it, especially the many moments of fear, self loathing, weakness, anxiety, depression, lack of hope in life itself.  However, I thankfully was also able to relate to the ability to find solace in weight training, and that the fact that I somehow was able to learn so much about myself and what I want to be.  So why am I talking about it?  Because I’m positive that all of you reading this right now can absolutely relate to something in this article.  I like to preach that if I can do it so can you and what I love about Iron And The Soul is that Henry is pretty much preaching the same thing.  It’s amazing that at the time of the article’s original release, Henry was willing to expose what he was really thinking underneath his macho, tattooed exterior, that there was more to him than the fact that he was once the frantic lead singer for  Black Flag.  So, if you’re reading this for the first time, sit back, relax, and see if there’s something you can take home from this.  I dedicate this to my hardcore brothers in the Iron game, and to everyone fighting for direction in their lives, this is for you.  So without further delay, I bring you Iron And The Soul.

Iron And The Soul by Henry Rollins

I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself.

Completely.

When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me “garbage can” and telling me I’d be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn’t run home crying, wondering why.

I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time.

As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn’t going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you’ll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn’t think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class. Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no.

He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn’t even drag them to my mom’s car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.’s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn’t looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn’t want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say s–t to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn’t want to come off the mat, it’s the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn’t teach you anything. That’s the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr.Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn’t see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone.

It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you’re made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it’s some kind of miracle if you’re not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.

Thanks for reading.  Be sure to follow me on my Instagram and Tumblr accounts!

https://www.instagram.com/strengthenandconquer/

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New Deadlift PR…And Then Sickness

So, as you can see from the main picture above, I hit my Deadlift PR of 370lbs for a triple just last Tuesday night.  I would’ve loved to hit at least two more reps but it just wasn’t happening.  Below is the entire workout with a little more detail than in the picture:

Deadlift

135lbs – 1 x 5

165lbs – 1 x 5

200lbs – 1 x 5

300lbs – 1 x 5 – beltless

335lbs – 1 x 3 – w/belt

370lbs – 1 x 3 – w/belt – new PR

Leg Curl

50lbs – 1 x 12

80lbs – 1 x 12

105lbs – 1 x 9 – clearly, my hamstrings had enough by this point!

So, as of this workout my new 1RM is 405.  I discussed briefly how to calculate your 1RM in my last article and I will probably write an article on it soon.  But this was and still is really exciting for me, being that I came such a long way since April of 2015.  This was exciting enough that, instead of just making my usual post workout shake – which is delicious enough, believe me! – I decided I wanted real food.  So I made scrambled eggs, English muffin…and bacon.  Yeah, that was my big mistake that night because the very next morning I felt very different.  I won’t go into full details but let’s just say my projectile vomiting bacon grease ensured I wasn’t going to work that morning.

But wait, it gets better!  I wound up not eating any solid food for days – last night being the first time since Wednesday – and whatever I did take in didn’t stay in for long.  I finally went to the doctor on Saturday and after swimming for days in fears that I might’ve developed a hernia as result of my 4mm thick belt pushing into my upper abdomen, it turned out that I have a stomach bug.  The doctor gave me a prescription for pills to stop the nausea that comes for eating anything and told me to drink Pedialite.  For those of you who don’t what Pedialite is, it’s liquid electrolytes for children who lose them from diarrhea and vomiting.  Me?  I just went to CVS and found their store brand adult electrolyte.

So, what happens now?  Well, I feel like I’m doing better.  Problem now is that I still don’t have an appetite and I still feel very bloated throughout the day.  I predict it’ll be another week before I can go back to the gym, so when I do I plan on making it a deload week just to start off light and not risk hurting myself.  Since I never got to do my planned 5/3/1 Bench Press and Squat workouts I plan on restarting those two whole training cycles all over again.  So, what did I learn here?  C’mon sense reigns supreme…and I’m a knucklehead.  If you have to wake up early in the morning, why would anyone eating something as greasy as bacon before bed??

Here’s the Instagram video of my Deadlift PR.  Be sure to follow me there @strengthenandconquer.  Thanks for reading!

A Lesson In Humility – Lessons Learned From A Pretty Bad Training Session

Woke up pretty late today, having woken up at 10:34am, a good hour and a half later than I wanted to wake up.  So, I started my day off with a cup of coffee.  It’s funny, I only started drinking coffee very recently, not being able to do so before since coffee with regular milk disagrees with my stomach that bad.  The life of someone living with lactose intolerance.  Good thing for almond milk.  Sure, it does contain less protein than dairy milk, but it contains a bigger percentage of monosaturated fats.  Great for lots of other aspects of the body.

Because I didn’t necessarily feel the effects of the caffeine on my system I still took my preworkout like I normally would.  After arriving at the gym I made a small video rant on the bar I used for my last deadlift routine, pointing at the much better bar I was using instead.  For today’s 5/3/1 Shoulder day my planned lifts were 85lbs for 5, 95lbs for 3 and then 105lbs for a many reps as possible (AMRAP for short).  I got through it…but everything felt so much heavier, and by the time I was finished with my bicep curls I was shot, panting on the floor, my heart racing with anxiety.

In response to the video I posted on Instagram ranting about the bad bar a friend of mine that works at my gym responded, letting me know that the bar I used was in fact 55lbs, ten pounds heavier than expected – making every Overhead Press set a good ten to even twenty pounds heavier than it was supposed to be.  Well…that sure explains a lot!  And, as if things couldn’t get worse, I experienced numerous dizzy spells and light headedness following my Overhead Press sets.  Clearly this is brought on by my increased heart rate and I found my self on my hands and knees, breathing heavily, too many times.  It’s amazing that I even got through my weighted dips.  But of course there was a catch; I felt like I had no choice but to cut off my final set of 70lbs after the fourth rep, feeling that if I kept going I would’ve lost my grip and fallen, possibly wrecking both my shoulders for a long time.

So, since I want part of the site to focus on self improvement and learning from your mistakes I’d like to take a moment to share with you a lesson or two that I learned today:

First – and this should’ve been too obvious – never take preworkout if you drink coffee, even if you think you don’t necessarily feel the caffeine hitting you the way you would taking preworkout.  I feel very fortunate that I didn’t just pass out today because I honestly thought I was going to several times.  I had an issue with this more than six years ago that I actually do want to write an entire blog post about in the future.

Secondly, make sure you know the exact weight of all the bars in your gym.  I figured for sure that all the bars were 45lbs, being that I pretty much train in a commercial gym.  If you’re new to training understand now that just because most bars look the same doesn’t mean they weight the same.  In fact Skiba’s Gym over in Carteret, NJ has a few 65lb bars, which some Powerlifting federations use for the squatting portions of their competitions.  In fact, I squatted with the 65lb bar at my first comp back in May and, surprisingly, it felt pretty good.  Come to think of it, I might write a post on that too one day.

Finally, don’t ever let yourself become discouraged when something goes wrong.  It tends to happen all the time in all areas of fitness, not just Powerlifting.  It’s okay to be upset for a few seconds but after should start thinking about how to prevent it from ever happening again.  I find that helpful in preventing falling into a deep depression in the gym, I’d know because it happened to me too many times over the summer, costing me the motivation to do much afterward.

So what do I intend to do differently?  To start I plan on starting my Overhead Presses from a rack again as opposed to cleaning the bar from the ground, which I did for years.  Looking back on things I feel like cleaning the bar stopped it from staying in my palms, thus hindering a proper force transfer between my hands and the bar, making it harder than it should be for me to push the bar up after just a few reps.

I also plan to give all biceps work a break for now and replace it with dumbbell shoulder work.  I feel another issue I have is, while I have a decent amount shoulder/tricep strength, I lack appropriate muscle mass to help me push harder than I’m currently able to.  So, starting next week I plan to replace curls with three sets of Dumbbell Shoulder Presses.  Hopefully that will solve my current problem in time.

I’m looking to hit a Deadlift PR of 370lbs AMRAP this Tuesday night.  If I hit at least 3 reps my next calculated 1 RM will be 405.  Think I can do it?  Check back here either Tuesday night or Wednesday to find out.  Also, here’s my first video collage, covering today’s workout, my way of demonstrating that not all training days will be perfect.

Thanks for reading!

 

Leg Day: The Journey towards 315 begins! Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

So this week began not just a new, month long 5/3/1 Powerlifting cycle; but it also marks the beginning of my journey towards a 315lb squat.  I plan on one day writing an entire article on Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 method, explaining the importance of training percentages, proper programming and even nutrition.  But the one thing that’s most important here is calculating your 1 Rep Max for lifting, which is how I got this point.

What you need to do is take the amount of weight you lifted – the exercise itself being irrelevant here – and multiply it by the number of reps you did, and again by .0333 and then add the amount of weight you lifted.  So let’s just use myself as an example.  In week 3 of my previous cycle I hit a PR by squatting 270lbs for five reps.  So I did the following on my handy dandy cellphone calculator:

270 x 5 x .0333 + 270 = 314.955

And of course, if you round off 314.955 you’ll easily get 315.

I did have two small problems however.  Number one, the one power rack in my gym was taken up by someone using it for…Deadlifts??  Ok, so it’s not as bad as say…using the rack to do curls but it’s still a waste of space.  Sure, there were two squat racks I could use but my one issue was that neither of them are as stable on the ground as the power rack.  The power rack doesn’t tend to slide around as much as the squat racks do and it made my arm positioning a tad awkward, even adding a little extra pressure to my left side during the ascension portions of my squats.  I recorded this too, by the way.

Number two is completely my fault.  I essentially gave myself a bit of a stomach virus just a day earlier from overeating.  At my job there’s a nice, long stretch between my breakfast smoothie and my lunch time.  Therefore, there’s a point where I’m going to get real hungry.  I never carried anything to eat in between because I never felt hungry before lunch.  But now that the weights are becoming heavier, the hunger pangs are finally kicking in.  So when it hits, it hits.  Needless to say I ate way more than I should’ve in too short of a time and I suffered for it the rest of the day.  I couldn’t even eat dinner that night.

Needless to say, I walked into the gym the next night feeling weaker than usual.  I was still able to pull off my entire workout, but the final two squat sets were harder than they would’ve been had I not gotten myself sick.  Just remember something: in life these things happen, what matters the most is how you get through it.

Squat

110lbs – 1x 5

140lbs – 1 x 5

170lbs – 1 x 5

195lbs – 1 x 3

225lbs – 1 x 3

250lbs – 1 x 3

Leg Press

165lbs – 1 x 10

245lbs – 1 x 10

330lbs – 1 x 10 – New PR!

You can see the video of me squatting 250 for 3 here:

 

The College Weight Room….Where It All Began.

It was April, 2003 when, after years of having been humiliated both physically and emotionally, I finally decided to do something good for myself and hit the weights.  Before that moment I was one of those kids, you know the ones, an outcast musician that’d rather just stay in his bedroom and bash the living hell out of my Tama Rockstar Custom drum kit while I was home alone.  Exercise?  At first I just saw it as a form of conformity and I didn’t want to be like everyone else.  Even after seeing a picture of a Zakk Wylde at his most JACKED in 2001 I still didn’t care, despite being in awe.  It simply took one moment for me to just make the snap decision to give the gym life a shot.

So, one day after class, I walked to my campus athletic center, complete with racquet ball courts, and indoor track, a big swimming pool, a room dedicated to just treadmills and ellipticals, a basketball court and of course, a weight room.  Like most gym goers, my first time in the gym was completely intimidating.  Worse?  I had absolutely no plan written down, I’d done no research at all.  As I looked around me the gym was one big mass of people since most of them were most likely done with there own classes of the day was well, making it even harder for me to make my way around since my anxiety levels were sky high at this moment.

The weight room itself was very barebones, by which I mean there was just one bench, one squat rack (not a power rack), one smith rack, a pullup/dip assistance machine, several preset barbell going up to 100lbs, several dumbbells, a broken stationary bike, one of each type of machine and then there was what I considered to be the weightroom’s centerpiece.  This had to be the biggest multi station cable crossover machine I’ve ever seen.

First off, it was way too long in width, to the point that when it comes time to finish crossovers the process of letting go of the handles becomes pretty awkward.  There were times later on where I’d find myself in this situation and the handles would just pull too aggressively on my shoulders because there was too much distance between me and the base where you’d have to bring the handle back to.  Also, both towers holding this together featured multiple stations, sometimes three per tower.  The tower closest to the weight room’s exit door included a lat pulldown station on the right side, a triceps pushdown station on the left, and a cable row station in the middle facing the wall.  I don’t remember too much about what stations where on the other tower, other than the cable preacher curl station in the middle.  This thing was huge, I wish I was able to find a picture of this contraption!

So, what to do?  I at least knew I needed to warm up before I did anything so I went on the malfunctioning stationary bike and pedaled away at a steady pace for ten minutes, surely the only thing I did right the entire time!  After that I made the choice to just toy with the machines since I they had instructions on them, therefore making it even easier for me to avoid talking to anyone and avoid judgement…you know…the judgement I’ve been fortunate enough to have never been subjected in any gym.  So starting with Leg Presses I essentially worked my way down the row, using probably every machine there.  Chest Press?  Yep.  Shoulder Press?  Oh yeah.  Oh, do you think I even remotely knew the importance of post-workout stretching?  Fat chance.  Post-workout nutrition?  Not on your life!

Needless to say I paid dearly for not at least stretching because I woke up with my left side completely cramped up.  My hand, chest, shoulder, quad, you name it, it hurt.  I think it even hurt to breathe!  Worse?  I had a big test first thing that morning and, that’s right –  I’m left handed.  Needless to say, writing hurt so bad; it was a miracle that I even passed with a perfect score.  I was so sure I’d get points off because my professor wouldn’t be able to understand half of what I wrote.  Right there was my first lesson in fitness that I’ll now share with you: always stretch after your training sessions!  But of course this was the first of many lessons I’d learn along the way, but more on those another time.


 

 

Quality Over Quantity: The Case For Abbreviated Training

What you’re about to read is the first article I wrote for Bodybuilding.com two months ago today on why I believe shortened, or abbreviated training can be beneficial to many lifters ranging from hardgainers to those of us – like yours truly – who are running on a tight schedule.  If you’re reading this and hearing about abbreviated training for the first time then please feel free to write me with any questions you may have.  I’m a big believer in this type of training and have been training this way for over 7 years now.  Enjoy!

The Case For Abbreviated Training

I was first introduced to the idea of abbreviated training in 2009, when a trainer at my former gym told me about a book entitled Brawn. Originally released in 1991, it’s author, Stuart McRobert, wrote in extensive detail about the important of shortened, more simplistic training in comparison to the more complex routines found in magazines during the time of the book’s release. McRobert stressed that the average Joe couldn’t possibly get big or strong on a pro bodybuilder’s routine, but they could totally benefit by going back to the basics.

Let me clarify something first, the average Joe is not just a non-competitive bodybuilder. It’s someone like you and me, who works a day job five days out of the week and goes to home to multiple responsibilities. Some of you work more than one job, some of you have young children at home, and then there are other responsibilities that naturally hinder us from being able to just go to the gym and do multiple exercises in the course of four, five or even six days a week.

I can actually relate to this now more than ever as someone who recently competed in his first Powerlifting meet. I live in New Jersey but I work in Brooklyn, NY so it takes me a good hour an a half to get to and get home from work. Once I’m home I still have to prepare dinner, get ready for the next day, do things around the house, etc.

My current program, Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 for Powerlifting, calls for three or four day a week training; so what I decided to do was take the four day a week template and alternate it into a three day per week schedule in order to fit my daily needs as well as give myself time to recover from the previous workouts. That was a very important first step for me. The next thing I did for sake of shortening my training was reducing the amount of exercises I needed to do per training day.

This can especially benefit powerlifters. Are we training for looks come competition time or are we training to improve on the big three moves, Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift? If you chose the latter then keep reading! There are plenty of great powerlifting routines out there but if you’re like me and your trying to save time are you really going to waste your time training your secondary muscles? Sure, having thick lats can be beneficial, but are they what you’re using when you Deadlift? Fat chance! You need the power of those hamstrings and your glutes to help you bring that bar up. Same thing applies for Bench Presses. Once again referring to the lats, do they help you push the bar off your chest to the ceiling or do you need a thick chest along with strong triceps and shoulders to help you do the work?

So what’s the point of all of this? Because I’m strapped for time ten months out of the year I need to train in a way that’s practical and in order to do that I stripped my training of anything I found was unnecessary in helping to improve my functionality in the main lifts. In doing this I shortened my training dramatically and I still get results. Here’s an example of the way I currently train using just my working sets:

Day 1:
Overhead Press – 3 x 5/3/1
Barbell Curl – 3 x 10
Tricep Dips – 3 x 10

Day 2:
Deadlift – 3 x 5/3/1
Leg Curls – 3 x 10

Day 3:
Bench Press – 3 x 5/3/1
Dumbbell Bench Press or Chest Dips – 3 x 10
Row – 3 x 12 – any kind of rowing movement is fine

Day 4:
Squats – 3 x 5/3/1
Leg Press – 3 x 10

Upon reading this you might notice that I split the assistance leg work to two different days. I chose to do that purposely based on which assistance work helps with certain lifts. If I’m squatting then I’d rather just stick with Leg Presses to help me build muscle in my quads, just as I’d rather do Leg Curls on Deadlift days to strengthen my hamstrings. Therefore I have two strictly upper body days and two strictly lower body days, all even arranged as to save time and give me more bang for my buck.  Oh, and one more thing.  You’ll notice I put a rowing movement into Day 3’s routine.  I did that because doing a rowing movement should at least help you build enough muscle to help you hold a better arch in your upper back.  Jim Wendler, Elite FTS’s COO and the innovator of the 5/3/1 methind, said he believes in training for power in the front and bodybuilding in the rear; but that’s a more detailed topic for another article.

But this is just how I train, for the most part. It might be different for all of you. All I did was take a preset template and removed what I felt was wasting time, because time is money, of which I usually have none. So here’s something to think about in the future if you happen to fall in this category, because it’s amazing to see that the saying “less is more” actually fits here. So if you’re strapped for time and still want to train, get rid of the excuses and make a plan of action today!

Mike is an amateur powerlifter hoping to enter his second competition in the near future

Thanks for reading!  You can read the original article minus the adjustments here if you like:

http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=172409253

Hope you enjoyed it, remember to write me with any questions.