Spot! Randy managed to spit out, his face reddening. I was standing above him with a slightly concerned expression on the incline press. An Olympic bar loaded up with 245 pounds was slowly crushing him into the bench, digging a trench into his upper chest.
I knew I should probably take it off him now, but as usual I wanted to make sure he would remember this moment. He tried to say something else, but only managed a little choking sound. Sighing, I at last took it off him and put it safely back on the rack.
"What the hell?" Randy usually didn't get angry with me, but his emotions were running a little hot right now. He probably thought I had just showed my first signs of trying to actually kill him.
"Why did you let me stay stuck like that?" I knew I had to phrase this next part right to calm him down. I spoke in a soothing tone. "How many reps was that, Randy?" He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.
"I didn't get any reps because you didn't spot me!" Several nearby gym members looked over at this outburst, no doubt hoping to see a fight of some sort. "I didn't spot you because you put more weight on the bar than you could even get for a single rep." His expression now turned defensive.
"I usually get five or six reps with that weight, sometimes more," he retorted. "I used to watch you train, don't you remember? You always had a spotter, and they weren't just spotting, they were lifting part of the weight for you from the beginning."
He tried to think of a comeback to this, but nothing was popping into his head. "Are you trying to impress me by using so much weight?" I asked. "I guess you don't know that people who rely on spotters to lift more weight don't impress me, they make me laugh.
They think they're a lot stronger than they actually are, and the only person being fooled is them." I took the ten and the forty-five off and slid a quarter on each side of the remaining forty-five while Randy looked on. His outrage had melted into embarrassment in less than thirty seconds.
Don't Lift With Your Ego
"Try this." Randy got back under the bar and did his little pre-set ritual. We all have our own. In his case, it involves muttering something to himself under his breath with eyes closed. I never asked him what exactly he was saying, though I did hear some pretty foul obscenities in there sometimes.
I bet his parents would faint if I managed to record it one time and play it back for them. I say do whatever it takes to put you in the right frame of mind. I handed the bar off to him at arm's length. A grim expression painted his face. I knew he was determined to show me something special this time.
He lowered the bar slowly until it just grazed his upper pecs, then drove it up forcefully for a strong contraction. His pecs bunched up together. This was repeated seven more times. At the point I saw he had no more reps on his own left, I got my hands under the bar.
I then applied enough force to let him just barely squeeze out two more reps. I helped him rack the bar with a clang of metal, then he sat up and flexed his chest in a crab most-muscular as I had taught him to. Following the Parrillo way, he then reached down for two 20-pound dumbbells at his feet and sat back up on the bench.
Lowering into the bottom position of an incline flye, Randy held the stretch a good five seconds before dropping the bells to the rubber-matted floor with a cry of "ouch!"
"Now that was a set," I said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Your pecs are pumped up like balloons." Randy had an aw-shucks smile at that. I pointed to a guy over at the squat rack, using it to do barbell curls. He had a forty-five on each side and his form was beyond horrible. It hurt me just to watch him.
"Are that guy's arms anything special?" I asked. It was almost a rhetorical question. The curler in question was about six feet tall and maybe 180 with a little potbelly. If I had to guess, his arms were probably no more than fifteen inches. "His arms suck," Randy replied. "How much weight do I use on that exercise?"
"I think a quarter on each side, maybe a 35." I wasn't about to ask him about my arms, because if I was fishing for compliments some other bodypart would have been the topic.
But Randy was well aware that I had struggled with weak arms for many years and had brought them up to a pumped nineteen inches through a lot of hard, smart training. Not until I had learned to suppress my ego and lightened up had most of the progress actually occurred.
"You realized that guy's biceps will never be any bigger than they are now, right?" I asked. Randy shrugged. "I am sure in his heart of hearts he is convinced these cheat curls using his whole body are putting him on the way to having arms like Lee Priest, but they are just ensuring that his arms will be more like Jerry Seinfeld's."
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Lee Priest At The 2004 San Francisco Pro.
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Less Is More
Randy had a little chuckle at that. I fixed him with a serious stare, because this was not a subject I wanted him to think I took lightly. "That's you if you're not careful, Junior," I said. "Not even!"
"I'm afraid so. If you keep trying to use more weight than you can handle in good form all the time, you will never have the physique you say you want so badly. And I won't help you do that.
I lift enough damn weight in my own sets, I don't need to be lifting your weights too. You have to get this stupid idea out of your head that piling on more weights is the secret to getting big. Good form and feeling the muscle work are far more important. Sometimes less is more."
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Randy didn't say a word. He got back under the 185 on the incline press and ground out another eight reps. "This isn't going to be easy for you, because most of the guys your age are still wrapped up in the 'how much ya bench' mentality. That cr@p isn't bodybuilding, it's just macho egoistic posturing.
You'll see your buddies using more weight than you, and you might be tempted to try and do the same. But listen to me." I got even more sober in my tone. Some of his friends were loudmouths, and this all was certainly going to come to pass just as I was describing it.
"Your buddies will never be anything special physically, just like that guy doing the curls probably never will either. None of them will ever have the type of muscular development that gets your pictures in the magazines or wins a contest. In fact, I doubt any of them will ever even look like they lift seriously."
"Wow," was Randy's reaction to this grim reality. "Would you rather walk down the street and have people think you can lift a ton, or have to stop passerby and explain how much weight you lift, even though it doesn't look like it?"
"That's easy," Randy said. "It should be an easy choice to make, but most trainers never understand that there is a choice, and they aren't choosing wisely."
How Much Do You Bench?
We did more for chest and triceps, emphasizing the contractions and forcing the muscles to work at full capacity. By the time we left, a group of four guys, one in his 20's and the other three over forty, had started warming up on the bench press. They came in twice a week and did this, each working up to a max of over 400 pounds.
It was clear to me that none of them could actually lift this much weight, but it made them feel good to think that they could. Only the young guy had a good build, because he stayed after they were done and did lighter work every time. The older guys all had fat bellies and skinny arms and legs. Randy nodded in their direction.
"Those guys would be me in twenty years if I kept trying to go too heavy, huh?". "Probably. But I know you're too smart for that" As we walked past the group, the wise-@ss in me shot to the surface. One of the guys had just bounced 405 off his chest.
It had come crashing down as it always did, and was stuck until a spotter on each side of the bar got it off him. His face was purple from lack of oxygen, and the spotter congratulated him on a good effort. My own chest was pumped, looking high and thick enough to set a pitcher of water on.
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I smiled as I walked by and asked, "Yo, you know how much I bench? Nowhere near as much as you." He stared back blankly at me, unsure of whether I was mocking him. Randy and I managed to get into the locker room before bursting out laughing.
"The sad thing is, Randy, that I bet he thinks benching all that weight makes him the stud of the gym. And if I ever catch you doing some stupid cr@p like that, I'll have no choice but to slap you upside the head." "If you ever see me doing that," Randy responded, "feel free to knock me out cold."