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A Bodybuilder Is Born:
Episode 2 - The Barrier Of Pain!
Today was the first day of Randy's life as a bodybuilder, although he didn't know it yet. It was five minutes to nine in the morning, and I was sipping away at some nasty instant coffee I had brought from home in a thermos mug because I'm too cheap to give Starbucks a five-spot every morning. The goo stained my teeth faster than any dentist could whiten them back. Here came Randy bursting through the front door, his eyes as wide and attentive as if it were the first day of school. Which, in a very real sense, it was.
"Uh, morning," he greeted me. He was obviously waiting for me to tell him if it was even okay to put his stuff away in the locker room, since he was frozen in place.
"Today is back," I informed my new protégé.
"But I did back two..."
"Back," I cut him off with. "You're on my schedule now if you want me to train you. If you don't like it, nice knowing you." He frowned, not expecting such a Drill Instructor attitude. It came from having been too accommodating to past protégé's who had in turn taken the lack of discipline to full slacker behavior and habits. I had given them an inch, and they had responded by taking a mile. If Randy failed, it wouldn't be because I was too lax.
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"Put your stuff away, but bring your
wrist straps, and
belt," I instructed him. "Meet me over by the chin-up bar."
A few moments later he was ready to begin, visibly shaking with anticipation. I had positioned a flat bench under the chinning bar. "Climb up there and strap in, overhand grip right where the bar bends on each side." He obeyed, and that's when I stepped up behind him and started tearing off strips of silver duct tape. Randy almost bolted when he heard the first ripping sound.
"What's that for?" he asked. I had my eye on the front desk, knowing that what I was about to do would not be considered proper gym behavior and could easily be grounds for my being expelled from this lovely facility. Luckily the girl seemed preoccupied with two tall guys in full basketball uniforms competing for her affection. The manager was hidden away in his office. So far, so good.
"That Steve Michalik guy I told you about yesterday was pretty nutty, but he did have young John DeFendis do something I thought was a good lesson in willpower and mind over matter." Now I was criss-crossing lengths of duct tape around Randy's hands, securing them to the bar. "He used to tape John to the chin-up bar and wouldn't let him loose until he had completed one hundred chin-ups."
"What?! Are you crazy, Ron? I can't do that..."
"Shhh! Keep your damn voice down. I'm a pushover, so relax. You only have to do fifty." Randy wanted to protest, but he must have realized this was an important test.
"Come on, all good reps, full range of motion." Randy set his jaw in determination, and got to work. I pulled the bench away so that there was nothing below him but air. Until he got fifty reps, he could stay up there hanging like a piñata.
His first set yielded twelve reps, which wasn't bad at all. He paused while hanging down for a minute and ground out eight more. "Right on, kid, that's forty percent right there!" From this point on the rest periods were longer and the sets were only three or four reps each. By the time he had done forty, Randy was only getting partial reps and it was clear his lats, biceps, and rear delts were all in searing agony. I knew part of him was deeply regretting asking me for guidance. He glanced over his shoulder, searching for a signal that his chin-up nightmare was over.
The Barrier Of Pain
"Hmm." I pondered for a moment. "Ten reps to go, guess I'll have to help out." These last ten reps were brutal. I pushed up on his feet with just enough force to let him complete the reps, and truth be told, by the last four I was pretty much lifting his entire 170 pounds and he was fighting to keep from simply dropping like a brick back down. I quickly pushed the bench back under his feet and hopped up to tear the tape off. I had to move fast, because the cleaning guy was making his rounds wiping down the equipment. Even though he spoke only five or six words of English, I am fairly certain he could have communicated the bondage scenario playing out on the chinning bar to the manager.
Randy collapsed into a sitting position on the bench, trying to massage the various parts of him that seemed to have been injected with sulfuric acid but finding his arms oddly uncooperative. His breathing came in rasping hitches, and his head was bowed to the floor. As I wadded up the pieces of tape into a lumpy silver softball, I explained the purpose of what I had just put him through in his first few minutes under my tutelage.
"Great job. Nod your head if you can still hear and understand me, Randy." There was a little bobbing movement from his sweaty head.
"As you may have guessed, that wasn't just about back training. One of the most important elements to being a successful bodybuilder is training hard. Everyone thinks they train hard, but very few guys in the gym have a clue what hard training is really all about." Randy peeked up, squinting. The other eye was closed with salty sweat, but he wasn't able to wipe it just yet.
"I do," he croaked.
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"You're starting to learn, but I've watched you in here and I know you've never taken a set that far, have you?" He shook his head, finally managing to get a forearm up to wipe the sweat from his eyes. "It's all about breaking through the pain barrier. Most men and women stop a set when it starts to hurt and further reps seem impossible, but a real bodybuilder knows there's still a lot more left inside him if he can only shut off that inner voice that tells him to stop. Were you hearing that voice a minute ago?"
"Oh yeah, it was screaming alright."
"And I know the pain was unbearable. But you kept going. Most guys can do chins for months and never get any growth, because they don't go to true failure. They don't push their limits enough. I guarantee you your back is going to be sore for three or four days at least, and it will grow from what you just did."
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"Right on," he said, his breathing almost back to normal.
I knew the chins had knocked the crap out of Randy, so I only put him through one more tough set, a drop set of barbell rows that had him start out with 185, drop to 135, and finally just 95 for a total of about twenty-five reps. Dumbbell shrugs and hyperextensions rounded out his first back session with me.
"Any questions?" I asked as I was about to send him on his way until next time.
"Just one," he hesitated, unsure of the appropriateness. "Do you ever get used to the pain?" That was a great question, one I was glad he had thought of.
"You never quite get used to it, at least it always hurts when you train hard. But I can tell you that you learn to embrace it, to seek it out and make it your friend, because it means you are forcing the muscle to adapt and grow. Once you appreciate that, the pain takes on a different meaning and isn't something you dread any more." He nodded, and I saw that the message sunk in. I had the sense that Randy wasn't going to join the long list of those I had started down the bodybuilding path that never saw it through.
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The kid had a lot of heart, and he was destined to be very good. He had just learned a valuable lesson, and had passed the test by not complaining or trying to quit at any point. Of course, this meant I was obligated to keep the heat turned up high.
As he staggered over to the locker room, I gave him the good news.
"Tomorrow is legs, young buck!" I saw the color drain from his face, but I knew deep down he was up to the challenge. The Force was strong in this one.