35 Life & Lifting Lessons, Part II


If you missed Part I, check it HERE

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.. "F-----CK 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.... Commitment.....

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 whites + 1 yolk

bowl of oatmeal

TONS of water

Multi Vitamin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E

2 Bananas

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....

I'll continue with a Part III Soon Enough!

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Any questions or comments, please drop a line below, I LOVE getting comments and answering questions 🙂

Live The Code 365,


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22 Responses

    1. @Tyler: Tyler for sure! I didn’t think 35 memories would be so easy, but it was, I’ll prob hit 50 stories!!

  1. Loved #17….a good example of parents supporting their children in fitness endeavors….why can’t parents be like that these days?

    1. @Leia: ha ha, they prob. LOVED it, I was out of their hair all day long!!

  2. Zach,
    We are the same age and I am a dad too (1 yr old daughter). These posts have been great to read. Looking forward to reading about adjustments you had to make to get good training done with kids and a busy job. I miss time with my daughter on the weekends when I train which I justify by saying to myself that I’m setting a good example and I’m no F’ing good to her if I’m weak and miserable. Still feel a little guilty about it though sometimes.

    I’ve also read that we need to get more recovery time as we get older. Makes sense, but I don’t wanna be a puss about it and take an extra rest day if I don’t really need to. So, looking forward to reading about how you’ve adjusted to that.

    1. @JFD: Bro, spend time w/your baby girl! SERIOUSLY. Either lift early in the AM before she wakes up, OR, lift all week, 3 – 4 workouts, then NO lifts on weekends.

      I will def. have input on this as to how I adjusted training.

      I used to run on weekends, my daughter wpuld go in the jogger and I would run for well over an hour, run, walk, run, walk…. she would fall asleep and I’d keep going usually for 90 minutes or so till she woke up from her nap! ha ha

  3. Great read zach! How old were you in that pic? Look great regardless!
    Reading this makes me wish that wrestling went on in our school’s and college’s in the UK. Sounds like it really drills in the discipine!
    Anyway, really enjoyed this man, got me pumped to go train! You should definately make this 50 life and lifting lessons!!

    1. @Luke: Luke I was just turned 19 in that pic, maybe 19 and 3 months or so. I weighed about 185 in that pic, 4 weeks out from my bodybuilding show.

  4. Jim Thompson says:

    Hey man, thanks for all you do. I have built an underground gym and work my ass off to not be a p___sy every day. Thanks to you, Jimmy Smith, Hire Hashey, Martin Rooney and Dan John. I am able to pass it on to my clients. Being from Montana I’m syl bit isolated from alot of the seminars etc . But I read and study everyday to be the best trainer and athlete and man I can possibly be. I’m a powerlifter with a 900lb+squat,585 bench, and a 805lbs deadlift. All of those lifts have come at the age of 43 and a bwt of 240lbs. Down from a bloated 290lbs. But the coolest thing is I can flip tires carry sandbags and push the prowler all fricking day. Thanks to you brutha. Jim

    1. @Jim Thompson: Jim don’t thank me, homie, YOU did all the work, those numbers are SIC!!! #BEASTMode

  5. Zach, how are you? I’m the guy who used to update you via facebook about the Beast Program results and via e-mail. I remembered one time I told you about getting fat and you told me to read The Paleo Solution. You are an awesome man. Since the last time I e-mailed you, I stopped the Beast Program because I went on vacations with the family and I was so stressed because I wanted to keep training but travelling with a sandbag, kb, sleds or pull ups bar was simply not right. Thus, I stopped the program because I realized that it was just not for me. The scheduled workouts, the deload week and the fact that I’m a growing teenager that wants to train more, conspired against me in a good way, to make me stop. However, Zach, I finally got access to a gym and fall in love with the weights. Now I follow a paleo-diet dairy free, grain free, and train 2x day 5xweek, the mornings are bodyweight exercises and the evenings are heavy squats, presses, shrugs, rows, zerchers, whatever. On the weekends I sprint and usually walk a lot. Thanks to that I have finally leaned out as I wanted and got strength and muscle. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing to tell you that your Beast Program was a shit or something like that. The fact is that it’s a great program, but it wasn’t right for me and my lifestyle (you know, my mom was starting to complain about me storing sandbags in the living room haha). And also to tell you that you are a massively great coach. Thanks to you I’ve learned a lot, investigated, read, everything. I must recognize that at some point reading your blog the last months I got mad and looked down on you because you were endorsing the HIT with low frequency, but then I realized that you’re obviously older than me and you know what you do. I don’t see myself however, training with HIT twice a week or so, but I know at some point in the future I’ll do it, it’s all part of the learning process. Thanks to you I’m learning a lot and that it’s great. I hope some day in several years I’ll wake up with lower back pain, hand pain, foot pain, to switch to another style of training, until that happens I’ll continue bordering on psychosis at the gym. All the lessons you’ve just put there make me remember of me right now. Totally awesome.

  6. hey Zach awesome post, one of your best yet. Love the Israeli navy seals video clip, the Metallica, and the story of your evolution from boy to beast!

    Next time I hit the gym I’ll think of your post and see what happens.

    I like your sentence “consumed with learning about the power of the mind”, I can really relate to that.

  7. Awesome stuff Zach! Your posts are really motivating and it’s great to see some history.

    1. @John: Thnx, John, crazy to see how many stories I have NOW, what will happen in another 30 yrs!!!???

  8. Zach love video of you going back to your old gym. Got me nostalgic about where I started heavy lifting sessions. Would love to know where you get your hands on those old Russian and polish training videos. Love to see that shit and try to post and maybe talk about the way they trained. keep up the great work

    1. @Roger: Yea, brutha, that gym is SIC!!! Diamond Gym is a killa shizza gym, I gotta go back!!

  9. Hey Zack,
    I am a trainer and like your old school style of training. It reminds me of the days I use to play football. Just found your site and would not mind learning more from another fitness pro like yourself. Thx Zack

  10. Franco Columbu, what a perfect person to reference in this article. He was an inspiration to be when i was bodybuilding when i was younger. He was pure strength and I remember seeing him in the strongman competitions. He had such a muscular back and strong.

  11. Yo Zach!

    Awesome post, probably one of my favourites from your. Sometimes, when I’m down or feeling like I have no control over my life I like reading these kind of posts from you.

    I do not use them only to motivate myself and feel pumped up or good, I use them to inspire myself and feel like I am going to own the f*cking day, week and year!!

    You really lead by example and walk the talk, thanks for inspiring me and making me want to live the code.


    I know I still have much to improve in those 4 areas, but those words inspire me and I want to work hard and grow into the kind of person that is described by those words.

    Keep being so great and working so hard, you’re the best Zach.

    Best wishes from Spain,


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