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Is Your Training Program A Job Or Career?

A definition of terms might help to clear the confusion. A career in the Iron Game, in the context of the Oldtimers meant, an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one's lifework.

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I first became interested in the Iron Game in 1964 when I saw an article by Steve Reeves in All American Athlete. The weight rooms were archaic by today's standards, but I remember that young men, myself included, were getting stronger, bigger and fitter with just barbells, dumbbells, and a few pieces of equipment such as leg press machines [made out of pipes and railroad ties] and an incline board [a 2'x 6' board with some pads on it].

Back then, the most current source of information came from Ironman, the Weider Publications, and Bob Hoffman's Muscular Development. But one thing has changed from then to now. Back then, the trainer was encouraged to train for health, strength, and overall fitness by making weight training a "career," or a lifelong pursuit.

Fast forward to today's websites, infomercials, and the same publications by the same Weider, Ironman and Muscular Development [although the editors and owners of the last two have changed over the years]. Now it is "Abs in 10 Minutes a Day," "Add 2 Inches to Your Arms in a Month," "Lose 30 pounds in 30 Days."

On The Job Training

The career of fitness and overall development has been replaced with the "job" mentality of quick fixes and results in 30 days or less or your money back [sometimes]. The fast food mentality of going to window "A" and requesting, "I want a 6-pack of abs, armor plated chest, great guns, incinerated bodyfat, a hardcore hardbody, and 60 pounds in 4 weeks [all were taken from covers of popular "muscle mags"], then going to window "B" 30 days later for the full package. And when it does not happen, drop out and say "I am not genetically disposed to build muscle," or, "I tried lifting weights but couldn't gain any weight," or, "I am a hardgainer, and don't have time to be training."

A definition of terms might help to clear the confusion. A career in the Iron Game, in the context of the "Oldtimers" meant, "an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one's lifework."[1] A job in the context of the "Oldtimers" meant "a piece of work, especially a specific task done as part of the routine of one's occupation or for an agreed upon price."[2] With these definitions in mind we can begin to clear the air and start to make progress.

A job is the task at hand, whether it is that training session, whether you use an incline bench or decline bench, or do cardio, squats, or lunges. Too many trainers get hung up on the "job" aspect of the training-which exercise to use, how many sets or reps, when to stretch, etc. These are all variables of the overall scheme or long-range plan and are subject to change depending where you are in the training phase.

Study Up

Being a student of the "Renegade," I love the new/old exercises and the challenges of mastering the techniques. But I realize these are but tools in my quest for strength and power conditioning. It is like the electrician emailing the chat room to find out what brand of wire cutters to use, how to hold the cutters [pronated or supinated], and the exact number of cuts it should take to strip the wire when the goal is to rewire the whole building following the blueprint. Just do it and use the best tools available!

When you have a "job" versus a "career," you are always looking for a "better" job-more payoff, more advancement, etc. When you have the "job mentality" versus the "career mentality," you are always waiting for 'the' routine, supplement, or exercise to get through the rough spots. Having a "career mentality," you realize that through hard work and experimentation some routines, supplements, or exercises do not fit into your overall plan and, therefore, are not useless but not the correct "tools" for the goals you have set. Remember Edison's reply when the reporter asked him how it felt to have failed in 10,000 [not a typo] attempts to perfect the light bulb: "I haven't failed, I just found 10,000 ways that didn't work."

When you have a career in any endeavor certain requirements are to be met to be a success-planning, continuing education, hard work, attention to detail, and, if possible, a Mentor. We will discuss each of these factors and see how they can help our training.


When a man or woman decides to be a Medical Doctor, he or she must first attend college, take premed courses, graduate, apply to and attend Med School, serve an internship. Then 8-10 years after the decision to become a Doctor, he or she can take the boards, pass the exams, become licensed in his or her state to practice. But first a decision had to be made to start the process.

The word "decision" comes from the Latin "decider"-to cut off. What that means is that when a decision is made, all other avenues are eliminated or relegated to secondary considerations. This does not mean you quit your occupation and go live in the gym, rather you are willing to commit to the attainment of your goal whether it is a champion bodybuilder, powerlifter, or lifelong health.

Keep the details of your goals in a written form so that they are there to refer to keep the fire burning. Keep a training log of exercises, phases, cycles so that it can be used for reference when planning to see what worked the best and what did not. As the saying goes, "the dullest pencil is better than the sharpest memory."

The attainment of any worthwhile goal [getting stronger, running faster, building muscles] requires planning--short term, medium term, and long term. Periodization is the Iron Game's answer to planning with microcycles [short term], mesocycles [medium term], and macrocycle [long term]. Originally developed by Eastern Bloc scientists in the 1960s, they used it to prepare their athletes for World Championships, held every two years, or the Olympics, held every four years. The intent was that by breaking the training cycle into different components -- transition, hypertrophy, strength, and power [also in season for competing athletes] more could be attained to condition their athletes than by trying to concentrate on all the aspects at the same time. It is not the scope of this article to go into detail on periodization, which brings us to the second requirement-continuing education.

Continuing Education

Continuing education [CE] is required by most professions to ensure members are current with research, education, and the plethora of information being generated in regards to their profession. The Iron Game is the same-research is done weekly on such topics as periodization, hypertrophy, supplements, strength training, sports performance enhancement among others. Most of the certifications that are recognized by their peers as being among the best require hours of CE for each qualification period to retain their certification.

Beware of "certifications" that don't require CE credits as the assumption is that once you have passed their test or mailed in your money, you are an expert with nothing left to learn! The most knowledgeable people I have met in the Iron Game are familiar with each other's work and are constantly studying to perfect their career.

I have a personal library [my wife cringes when I buy another book] of over 700+ books ranging from sports psychology, yoga, strength training, plyometrics, nutrition, anatomy, etc., ranging over the past 30+ years. Now I have several e-books on my computer, favorite websites, and weekly informational newsletters dealing with training, not counting the videos, cassettes, and magazines. I once bought a book on plyometrics to find out what chinees were because another book mentioned them but didn't explain the technique!

Become a student of the Game and you will find that there is a lot of information and misinformation available, but the good and the bad cannot be differentiated until you study both sides of the coin. Read a half hour or more a day and you will be surprised in the amount of new and useful information you have at your disposal. Seminars are held in your area or state on most of the training topics that will be of interest to you and they are always looking for participants. Attend them!

Hard Work

Some of my favorite authors are Bill Starr [Only the Strongest Survive-should tell you something], Randall Stossen, Bradley Steiner, George Turner, Brooks Kubik, John Davies [The Renegade] and others of their ilk because they stress what is missing in today's society-a work ethic. They don't promise results in 30 days but do say that over a period of time you will become stronger, faster, bench more, squat more and enjoy the confidence of a job well done. To quote Seneca - "What was hard to do is sweet to remember."[3]

Any career requires hard work, dedication and practice to achieve any level of success. Train yourself to give it all in the gym or on the field and then go home. Rest, study, keep your goals in front of you, and use your time wisely.

Attention to Detail

Do you train on a consistent basis, eat nutrient-rich foods regularly, get adequate recuperation, and keep a positive frame of mind regarding your training? Are you giving it your all or waiting for the next super supplement to raise your GH levels, make muscles from fat, or learn what was discovered in a cave in Russia where they trained Siberians who can deadlift 1,500 pounds on a Swiss ball? The devil is in the details, as the saying goes. Does your gym bag have all the necessary equipment you need for today's training or is it strung all over the carport and bathroom [I would have benched 400 today but my mother cleaned the garage and I couldn't find my bench shirt]?


A Mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.[4] In the Odyssey by Homer, not Simpson, Mentor was the friend and counselor of Odysseus. Mentor counseled and advised Odysseus's son and help guard his wife for the 20 years Odysseus spent floating around the Mediterranean Sea trying to get home from the Trojan War. I am fortunate to have had several Mentors in my careers to date and presently am learning from Coach Davies as part of his Mentorship program in Power and Speed Program.

A Mentor can cut years off the learning curve but require that you are a diligent and eager student. They do not expect you to accept everything they say, but encourage you to find out for yourself and are there when you need them [like Gandalf]. They will not do the work for you but will offer encouragement and a kick in the butt when necessary. Find a Mentor [in the martial arts they are Senseis, or Sifus], learn from them and make them proud of your efforts.

Once that you have decided that you want a career instead of a job, then you can make the plans necessary to achieve your goals, whether it is to be a Doctor, Mr. Olympia, or the next champion in the Olympics. Make sure that they are your goals and not those of the magazines or your friends. Realize when you choose a career, not every day is rosy and you can bench 400 pounds for reps. In a career, you will have up and down days, but when you know that even the down days are getting you closer to your goals and you can accept them as part of the overall scheme. In a job, when you have a bad day, you are ready to hit the door to find another job that "suits" you or look for next 30-day miracle cure.

Don't get hung up on which are the best exercises, cables, machines, medicine balls, but realize they are tools of the trade for each specific job and treat them as such. You might be benching 85% of 1RM for 2-3 reps in the strength phase, but only 60% 1rm for 5-8 reps in the power phase, but both will help you to accomplish the goal of each phase. Neither set/rep scheme is better or worse than the other-they are both useful tools for the job at hand at the moment. Stick to your overall goals, refer to them, adjust them, always with the end result in mind.

Calculate Your Exact 1RM Here!

Pavel Tsatsouline referred to the training session as a "practice" versus a "workout."[5] The semantics are essential because all career minded people "practice" their art or skill because they know, not "practice makes perfect," but 'perfect practice makes perfect." It takes time and diligent effort to master some of the intricacies of the lifts and the correct mental, emotional, and physical approaches to ensure a good "practice" session. If we took the same "job" approach when learning to walk as children as we do now when encountering new exercises or techniques, quite a few of us would still be crawling-"I tried it but it required too much work to walk," or, "I'm a hard gainer so the best I can do is crawl fast."

Make the Iron Game your career and follow the path to health, strength, hard work, and confidence. And along the way help some other jobseekers to start a rewarding career. "Think of all the blows which the athlete receive yet they put up with all this pain ... and they do it not because they are fighting but so they will be able to fight; for their very training involves pain. So we must too rise above all pains ... for the reward of them is not simply a crown or the trumpet of the herald calling for silence so that our name can be proclaimed, but [our reward is] virtue, a steadfast soul, and piece of mind for all time, once we have overcome the buffers of fate."[6]


1. Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, 1996,p. 315.
2. Ibid, p. 1030.
3. Terry Todd and Jan Todd, Dr. Patrick O'Shea: A Man for All Seasons, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol 15, No 4, p.401
4. Webster's, op cit, p.1201.
5. Pavel Tsatsouline, M.S., Muscle Media, October 2001, p. 30.
6. Terry Todd and Jan Todd, op cit, p.404

Charlie Newkirk