“If You Love Life, Don’t Waste Time, For Time Is What Life Is Made Up Of”
~ Bruce Lee ~
Time goes fast. TOO Fast. Here’s some stories and lessons I’ve learned along the way & hopefully you’re not too cool to learn from some of these.
Anyway, for no reason whatsoever I thought it would be legit to have a pic of Dr. Ken training with an empty bomb to remind you to push the limits
1) I remember when I was 7 years old and racing big wheels with my friends down the hill and smashing into garbage cans. That was FUN. As we get older in age and acquire more responsibilities we forget to have FUN. Like I said time goes fast and sometimes I forget this also. Be smarter than me and DON’T forget.
2) I remember arm wrestling all the kids in the neighborhood one night in 6th grade. Everyone beat me. It sucked. It was summer vacation. I went home that night and started doing push ups. I think I did 3 or 4 push ups. The next day I did 5, then 6, 7 and up to 20 something reps. I started doing GTG (Grease the Groove) ala Pavel without knowing it. Do your push ups, kids.
3) When I was in elementary school and my older bro was in middle school he started getting into working out. There was a sporting good’s store in the mall near our home called “Herman’s”. My bro made me go to the mall with him on our bikes, with empty backpacks. He bought 40 lbs, all in 10 lb plates. We each had 20 lbs in our backpack and the ride home had a steady incline. I wanted to quit but he yelled at me and made me push through the hill.
When we got home and I took off my back pack I remember feeling light as a feather walking up our stairs.
4) When I was in 2nd grade our Doberman had puppies, born in our home. My old brother woke me up at 3 or 4 AM when they were born and I couldn’t wake up. I woke up that morning to see 8 puppies. One puppy didn’t make it and we kept one and my Dad sold the others.
The one we kept grew up with me from age 7 till I was 21. When he died I was depressed for 4 days and experienced my first lesson in losing my best friend.
5) I used to play Soccer. My Dad being of Romanian descent didn’t know much about American sports like Football & Baseball. I remember standing in the field and not paying attention until a ball went flying at full speed and nailed me in the gut, knocking the wind out of me.
I was about to fall to the ground in pain and my Coach shouted out to me, “Good block, Zach!”. He totally knew I just got my ass kicked by a flying soccer ball.
6) In 4th grade my BMX bike was stolen by 2 kids. They were big, bad teenagers and my friends and I were playing Football. The apartment complex was known for getting bikes stolen, and these kids stoke my bike in broad day light, in front of all of us. We ALL just froze, it was a surreal experience and time seemed to freeze while the only thing I saw a kid racing away on a bike I saved all my paper route money for and dumped every penny of my allowance into.
To this day I still remember that feeling of seeing my bike ride off to Perth Amboy, NJ.
I would gladly like to meet both of those kids today and would have NO problems spending a little jail time to let them know that I’m not 9 years old anymore and stealing bikes isn’t nice.
To this day, my bikes hold special meanings to me and I’m always waiting for someone to think they can ride away with my bike. It wouldn’t be pretty, that’s for sure.
7) My older bro bought one of those crushers you’ve seen in Pumping Iron. I tried to crush it and I was so weak it slipped out of my hands and nailed me in the chin, damn near knocked me out and I think I cried. I probably did cry. I was a BIG pussy back in the day! ha ha
8) My older bro bought the soloflex the fall of my freshman year in high school, I was still 13 years old. I think he saved his money as a bus boy to pay for most of it. I thought if I used it I too would look like Mr. Soloflex. I’m still wondering what happened?
9) The first time I ever cut school was freshman year in high school so I could tape American Muscle Magazine. The show would always air at strange times like 3 AM on a weeknight or 12 noon on a weekday. I fell in love with bodybuilding and decided I would use my “sick days” strategically, once a month, to record the monthly American Muscle show. I would then ride my bike to The Metuchen YMCA so I could get in a double workout that day. I was always scared they would call the cops and ask me why I wasn’t in school.
10) The first hardcore gym I ever trained at was called Dynamic Fitness. The owner welded ALL the equipment himself, all the plates were wide flange Ivanko plates. Squat racks lined the wall along with plenty of benches and dumbbells up to 180. It was common place to see bodybuilders benching 315 and squatting over 405. The place was a 7,000 sq ft warehouse and no air conditioning. There were large industrial fans everywhere and I LOVED it.
There was ALWAYS someone bigger and stronger than you in that gym. It was heaven while it lasted.
11) While in middle school and in Israel, my older bro and I went to the local book store and I found Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. I sat on the floor and couldn’t stop reading the book till I was kicked out at 1 PM when ALL the stores shut down for mid day naps.
The book was twice as expensive in Israel compared to the states. My Grandfather bought it for us anyway. He never said “No” to us.
I STILL have that book today, in my office.
12) I rented the movie Pumping Iron while in high school and watched it over and over ALL day on that first day. It blew me away and all I could think about was bodybuilding and living in California. I was connected to the Golden Era bodybuilders 100 x more than what I saw happening in the 90s.
I began reading books from Arnold and Mike Mentzer. I preferred the black and white pics over the color pics. I preferred the REAL pics of the guys lifting heavy compared to the fake images in the magazines.
13) When I trained at The Metuchen YMCA the membership was $5 a month! They had a York Isometric rack, York Dumbbells, plates and all York gym equipment.
Mid way through high school they got rid of all their York equipment and the dingy basement gym and brought in all fancy nautilus & bodymasters equipment, put it upstairs and added carpeting. I NEVER trained there again. The day that old school gym was removed broke my heart.
14) I remember trying to ride my bike home from the YMCA after a leg workout. I could barely pedal my bike so I started walking it, leaning on it, trying to push it. My legs were cramping up BIG time after following a leg workout from Arnold’s Encyclopedia at the young age of 13.
I was hurting and saw a landscaper along the way watering a garden. I asked him if I could drink water from the hose and I think he saw the desperate look in my eyes and let me drink. I began to cherish the feeling of soreness and the inability to walk after a leg workout was THE main factor that determined if my leg workout was intense enough or not.
15) The first time someone coached me to deadlift was at Apollon Gym. His name was Herman and he still trains there today and I always remember that day. I was deadlifting with 115 lbs.
16) The first year I began wrestling was freshman year. The team was packed and I had to wrestle off for the freshman spot. I got pinned EVERY wrestle off and it fueled my fire to train harder than everyone else. Those consecutive losses also proved to be a burden on my mind and I was never able to recover from so many losses. No matter how hard I trained my mind held me back.
Those depressing times taught me largely how I need to think to become a champion in everything I do. My pain in wrestling and a select few other areas in my life have fueled my first to do what I do today, to help others avoid my painful past.
Wrestling taught me to become immune to physical pain and discomfort.
Wrestling taught me the pain of losing.
Wrestling taught me the power of the mind.
Wrestling taught me emotional pain and it is the ONE thing I never want to face again.
17) After freshman wrestling season ended I joined Apollon Gym, which is the gym I share a parking lot with today! I trained 6 – 7 days a week, for a minimum of 2 hrs a day. Often times on weekends, my parents would drop me off in the morning to train while they went food shopping, ran errands, went to the mall, etc. It wasn’t odd for me to be at the gym 4 – 6 hrs on weekends. I just kept on training till they picked me up
18) My subscription to FLEX magazine was what I lived for. I would hound the mail man as I began to dial in the exact day of the month in which FLEX magazine would arrive. I would read the magazine cover to cover on the very first day and as the years went on, my book shelf was bending and on the brink of breaking with the hundreds of bodybuilding magazines that overstuffed every inch of my book shelf.
19) In the summer of 1990 we were going to Israel for 3 weeks and feared I would be unable to train. The day before flying I did over 50 sets of squats with over 225 lbs with hopes of the extra work maintaining through my time away from weights.
20) While in Israel during the summer of 1990, I did 20 sets of pull ups every other day. Every other day I walked to the local school and began every workout with a 20 rep set. The first 10 sets were performed with an overhand grip. The last 10 sets were ALL mixed grip pull ups. I came back to the gym after vacation and was banging out multiple 20 + rep sets of pull ups weighing approximately 150 lbs at age 14 (I was YOUNG for my class, I turned 14 in December of my Freshman Year!).
21) Sophomore year of high school I returned 20 lbs heavier than freshman year. My Wrestling Coach was impressed, my friends were impressed and girls LOVED it! ha ha Muscle DO help
22) The summer of 1990 I attended The John Smith Intensive Wrestling Camp where there were about 13 or 14 wrestlers, ALL of whom were state qualifiers and all state wrestlers. There I was, a kid who NEVER won a wrestling match and got my ass kicked so bad I didn’t even know my zip code.
It was hellish. Every morning was 3 – 5 mile run followed by 3 wrestling sessions, 4 workouts a day in total. I got injured and tore rib cartilage which was NOT fun.
23) I FINALLY won my first wrestling match during my first match of the season, my 2nd year wrestling, it was December 1990. I ALMOST lost…. I had worked hard all off season and nailed my low single which I had drilled thousands of times. Somehow, someway my opponent had me on my back and I remember a whirlwind of feelings going through my head at a mile a milisecond.
I thought it was over… getting pinned… AGAIN… I felt like death crept into my body for a few seconds as the ref was counting back points. Somehow, someway, deep inside I remember shouting to myself.. “FUUUUUCK YOU!!!!”
I got off my back, escaped, and starting getting takedowns and back points, racking up points, gaining the lead, more and more. The match was a whirlwind experience, and I still remember my Head Coach, Mr. Pagach, telling me to remain calm, there was 22 seconds left on the clock…..
Getting my arm raised after SOOOO much emotional pain through the past year was one of the best feelings I ever experienced.
24) To pay for my gym membership I began mowing lawns on a regular basis after wrestling season ended. My dad would drop me off with a lawn mower, trimmer, weed wacker and gas. I was making regular money and I could pay for my gym membership, my protein powders and endless bodybuilding magazines and books.
I didn’t care much for fancy clothes or the typical things other high school kids did. All I cared about was lifting. Every book I had for school had a muscle magazine stuffed in the middle of it and I could barely focus on school work, all I could think about was training.
25) In October of my senior year in high school I was walking into a Quick Check. While walking in 2 thugs were staring at me. 15 minutes later, I walked out, and now there was close to 15 thugs, most of them drunk or high. The guy who was staring at me earlier was now shouting at me and calling me out with his back up crew. He started calling me and I turned around and he pushed me.
I didn’t even know how to fight, so I shot a double leg takedown on him and pinned him against the wall. He started shouting to his friends, ‘Help, Help, get him off of me!”. I thought they would watch us duke it out, mano e mano, but I was wrong. In a milisecond my entire body was getting kicked from head to toe.
I scrambled my way to my feet while a few kids held me and another was punching me. I escaped by hitting another double leg takedown and never threw one single punch.
The cops arrived and I was lost as to what just happened and embarrassed at the fact that i had NO clue how to fight, all I could do was wrestle. I learned a VALUABLE lesson that night regarding wrestling, street fighting and rules of engagement. I was 16 at the time, it was 1992, I remember that fight as if it happened last night.
26) Guidance Counselor told me, “Maybe college isn’t for you….” after I scored 840 on my SAT 2 times in a row. That very same day Marine recruits were in my school and they told me I could join the Marines and wrestle. At the moment, it sounded pretty cool but the idea never REALLY took over my mind so I never followed through. Third time I took the SAT I scored 970 and this helped me get accepted into college.
27) The Fall of 1993 began my freshman year at Kean College and I also became part of the first graduating class of Kean University. Freshman year was brutal for me, I was failing Algebra and had NO clue how to study. After being an honors student in high school for 3 years in Level 2 classes, I realized the “system” was bull shit. I wasn’t smart enough to be in Level 1, but they needed nice kids who do their homework in Level 2.
You think you’re doing good, till you show up in college and can’t read more than 5 pages without day dreaming.
Being 17 in college doesn’t make you the most mature person either.
28) In December of 1993 I fell in love with a girl. You know, the stupid kind of love that only a 17 year old knows. That girl cheated on me and it f**ed my world up REALLY good. I went into a downward spiral for a solid 6 months and felt like the walking dead. I was having a brutal time in college and I didn’t pack on 1 ounce of muscle during this 6 month stint of depression.
29) In the summer of 1994 we went to Israel again. I was STILL depressed and wanted to go home. My older bro was in the military at the time and he brought me to the new gym in town. I remember training shoulders and arms HIT style on my first night there. Drop sets, partials, forced reps….
The owner saw me and showed me a poster of the upcoming Mr. Israel Bodybuilding contest that was 2 weeks away. He insisted I enter the “Young Mr. Israel” contest. Being the depressed idiot that I was, I said “No.” I trained at his gym every day, and every day, Avner, the gym owner, asked me to compete. Every day, I said “No.”
30) My friend in Israel noticed I was walking around like a bag of shit. He told me I need to start waking up every morning excited for life. I need to wake up and say to myself, “Today is gonna be a beautiful day!”
That next morning I woke up and tweaked that speech a little bit, it went like this: “F**k this! I am done being a depressed piece of sh*t! Today is gonna be a Beautiful day! What beautiful things will today bring me? ONLY beautiful things!!”
I know, it sounds kinda crazy, BUT, I AM Crazy
That moment changed my life forever. I drew a line in the sand and NEVER looked back.
31) That very same day I went to the gym and Avner, the gym owner, said to me, “I will ask you one last time….will you compete in The Mr Israel?”
I said “Yes!”….. we had 7 days to get ready and I remember doing EVERYTHING at once. I met Joe during that first workout. Joe was trying to get into the Israeli SEAL Team, called Shayetet.
We trained 2 x a day every day, with a third “workout” being me practicing my posing.
My Grandmother cooked chicken and rice for me to eat during EVERY meal except for breakfast which was 8 eggs every morning, half whites, half yokes.
I was scared when I showed up to compete. There were kids from Russia and all over Israel, but they were dressed in baggy bodybuilder clothes and looked HUGE. I thought they were HUGE. The competition was held in a HUGE amphitheater with the clear night sky above us.
But…. prejudging was held in the basement! It reminded me of Arnold talking about his first bodybuilding show in America, unable to speak english. He pumped up his chest by doing feet elevated push ups with his hands on chairs for the extra stretch. I did the SAME thing, along with curls, rows, presses and calf raises.
I stayed away from the competitors and Joe helped me warm up and would not let anyone near me or allow anyone to talk with me. The other teenagers were accusing of me being on steroids because I was from America and was much bigger than they were. I was offended and tried to explain to them how hard I worked but they still accused me of being on steroids provided by Joe Weider (NOT kidding!).
There were close to 20 teenagers in the competition and after the strange pre-judging was over the night show was ON. The music was blasting and I performed my posing routine to a Metallica song…..It’s the same song I always listened to on cold winter nights during wrestling season, when I would go out and run like a madman for 3, 4 and sometimes 5 miles every other night in the freezing air…… Dedication…. Comitment…..
The amphitheater was PACKED and people were screaming like crazy. I NEVER saw such a thing in my life, let alone experienced this. I believe there were well over 1,000 people…..
When the dust settled I was announced as “Young Mr. Israel”. My family was there and my friends along with the thousand plus attendees screaming. It was very surreal to go from a half a year of depression to the best week of my life. When I was finished with the competition younger kids were waiting outside for me to get my autograph, asking me questions on how to build bigger biceps, chest……
32) When I returned home from Israel, I went from 185 lbs to 198 lbs in about 2 weeks. The depression I was going through stopped ALL physical and mental progress from occurring. As soon as I drew that line in the sand my body responded like a mad man and I gained 12 lbs in 2 weeks.
It was THEN that I learned the power of the mind and controlling emotions.
I also NEVER again let a girlfriend ever again have an emotional effect on me. I became cold and heartless to anything anyone could possibly do to hurt me.
33) Sophomore Year in college began and with my new outlook on life and greater confidence I began kicking ass in school and learned how to study. Everything in life was starting to go GREAT and I became consumed with learning about the power of the mind.
This was the fall of 1994 and I didn’t even have e mail or internet.
34) While training at one of the last hardcore gyms in NJ, Dynamic Fitness, I ran into my friend who was a former wrestler and a top level bodybuilder. He was impressed by the gains I had made and asked me to train with him to get read for the 1995 Mr. NJ Bodybuilding Contest.
I told him I’ll ask if my Mom can handle cooking all the necessary food so I can eat 6 meals a days. If she would agree, I would call him and commit to the training and we would train for 6 months together, at Diamond Gym. At that time, FLEX magazine ranked Diamond Gym as the most hardcore gym in the world. And for GOOD reason.
This gym had hours from 5 AM – 10 PM. I once showed up at 5 AM on the dot thinking I’d be first and most committed. I was WRONG. I walked in at 5 AM and when I opened the door a gust of heat and sweat hit me like a ton of bricks while loud house music was blaring through the speakers and shaking the walls. There was around 30 guys in there drenched in sweat, lifting heavy and what seemed to be at least mid way through their workouts!
It was common to see bodybuilders benching 315 for reps, squatting 405 and 495 for reps, deadlifting 495 + for reps. The dumbbells went up to 180 lbs and MANY guys used them!
Weights were dropped ALL the time and NO one ever batted an eye lash about it. The gym had an electric energy that I have never experienced anywhere else… ever.
These bodybuilders were built VERY differently than the bodybuilders of today. NONE of these guys were pump up artists, they trained heavy and hard and that’s what the owner, John Kemper, encouraged everyone to do and he led by example.
After our workouts we all hung out in front of the gym, eating our food (we ALL packed meals with us everywhere we went), trading workout tips, old school workout stories and more. I was always in my glory when training there and being part of the bodybuilding culture. I loved it ALL, not just the training, but the camaraderie involved which is so rare nowadays.
I guess it’s tough to bond nowadays when you don’t have a hardcore gym to train at and you feel like an outcast trying to lift hard and heavy amongst other people on cell phones and lifting baby weights.
I stopped by a while ago during lunch which is a bit of a quit time but you get the idea…..
35) In April 1995, after training like a madman for 6 months, it was finally time to compete. The goal was to compete in the Teen Mr. NJ but then I saw a poster hanging up in the gym for The Mid Atlantic Natural Bodybuiding Show. It was to be held a week before The Mr. NJ.
I wanted to do it, especially after so many people accused me of being steroids. People were saying things like, “There’s NO way he’s natural. No one can train that hard and recover from those workouts and still be natural.
I wanted to prove them WRONG.
My attitude was TOTALLY different as was my confidence compared to my high school days. I had matured mentally, BIG time, and I had an animal instinct and a desire to win with an even greater desire to NEVER lose again unless you killed me.
I trained so damn hard and committed to the lifestyle of winning to the T.
Every night, lights out at 11 PM NO Matter what! I remember escorting a HOT girl out of my house at 10:45 PM and she had NO clue what the heck was going on! ha ha
Every morning I woke up at 7 AM, even if I didn’t have an early morning class, I still woke up to have my first meal of each day, a Met-RX meal replacement. I then went back to bed and woke up at 9 AM and had the classic bodybuilder breakfast.
8 egg white + 1 yolk
bowl of oatmeal
TONS of water
Multi Vitamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E
As soon as I committed to competing as a bodybuilder, the ritual was ON! I wrote down EVERYTHING I ate and drank for 6 months. For 6 months, I went to sleep at 11 PM and woke up at 7 AM. My life was bodybuilding and school. I would pack food to school and eat in my car…. turkey, potatoes, turkey….. chicken….. more turkey, broccoli…. I still HATE Turkey to this day.
That’s me 4 weeks out from my bodybuilding show, below.
The results from my bodybuilding competitions went like this:
Mid Atlantic Natural Teen: 1st Place & Overall
Mid Atlantic Men’s Novice Light Heavy Division: 2nd Place
I weighed 178 lbs at The Mid Atlantic and the Light Heavy division ranges from 176 to 198.
The next week I took 2nd place at The Teen Mr. NJ, the 1st place trophy went to the kid who went on to win the Teen Nationals that summer. I was natural…. he was not
Well, that’s 35 life & lifting lessons but I’ve got MUCH more to share and tell….. so, without a doubt….
36) Since this is story # 36, I’ll talk about something I did when I was 36. It meant the world to me because it was my opportunity to silence and defeat my inner demons.
The fact that I wasn’t successful as a high school wrestler has always haunted me.
It’s the story of my 2 pains in life and I was about to embark on a journey of being trained by Navy SEALs through a brutal challenge called the 20X Challenge.
I KNEW that mindset was KEY. I could relive the “train harder than everyone else” but it would mean NOTHING until my mind was in the right place.
I trained like a MadMan Possessed!
Often times hitting 2 training sessions a day. Running and rucking, hitting bodyweight circuits as soon as I woke up, training on the beach, in the woods, in my garage, at my gym and anywhere and everywhere.
Learning what 20X truly was helped me beat my demons as I completed the 20X challenge and not once did the thought of “quit” ever creep into my mind.
I learned my WHY and pushed with everything I had the entire time. I now approach life with 20X all the time.
37) Not long after The 20X challenge came quite the challenge.
Hurricane Sandy hit my hometown extremely hard.
A natural disaster beat my business and beat many people.
Homes were lost.
The homes 1 mile from the beach were all destroyed. Luckily, my house is not that close but the energy and stress I felt and experienced from what I saw happening around me hit me hard.
The emotions were tough, as I recall riding my bike through town after the Hurricane Sandy passed. I saw sidewalks piled with household items. Things like kitchen supplies, stuffed animals of young children, mattresses and more.
Homes were destroyed and worst of all, lives were destroyed.
Most of NJ had no power for 2 weeks. I remember at least half of the gym members had to leave because parents had to fix their homes or their boats.
The lines for getting gas were sometimes miles long, hours and hours of waiting time. I would carry our generator in and out of the garage throughout the day and night, careful of looters who were stealing generators form backyards in the middle of the night.
I saw how human nature was negatively effected as some people thought it was funny to have no power and no work. They looked at it like a vacation as I saw a handful of adult men drinking beer in the middle of the streets and laughing.
Others were fighting to find out where and how they would be living with their family.
After a few days of no power we left the area for a few days so we could get our kids some normal food, shelter, etc. That time of stress reminded that being strong in mind, body & spirit are critical. I was grateful for who I had become by overcoming obstacles in life.
It allowed me to be strong for my family while stress was all around me.
38) Underground Strength Gym of Manasquan Begins….
I wasn’t looking for any warehouse space in my hometown. I was, however, looking for a second location somewhat closer to home.
But, life has a weird way of happening. I had been searching for exactly one year to find a second location and literally 2 or 3 days before my 37th birthday I saw the ad for a spot in Manasquan.
Perfection was never something I waited for.
I went and checked out the warehouse and man was it a shit hole. It was covered in grease and saw dust, top to bottom. The floor had holes, bumps and poles sticking out from the floor.
3 months later after LOTS of cleaning with my wife we got the gym up and running. Underground Strength Gym of Manasquan was now open and I was inspired beyond words to pursue even greater results with the athletes I trained than ever before.
These 3 documentaries / movies pushed me to follow my path and trust my gut instincts. I highly recommend you watch these 3 movies yourself.
39) Coming soon…..
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