The photo above is from the no longer open, Gladiator Gym. This gym was housed in "Alphabet City" in The East Village of NYC.
Pro Bodybuilders used to train there. Hard charging weightlifters trained there. The unspoken rule was simple: Train Your Ass Off. Intensity Rules.
This was the story in MANY local gyms back when I was a teen and in my early 20s.
So when I was a teen and in my early 20s, the way I learned was by getting under the bar. I would sometimes have organized training partners, other times I would find my way into a training group if I saw a crew that I KNEW was intense.
I would end up training with pro bodybuilders and top nationally ranked bodybuilders to push myself. I also wanted to push them and see what they could handle. I loved training partners because I wanted to test them and test myself.
Who could handle more?
Who would quit first?
If I had a planned back or chest day but these guys were doing legs, I made it leg day!
I was obsessed with getting bigger and stronger. The obsessed mindset is a key to making gains that most don't comprehend.
It takes MUCH more than just showing up to train. Showing up doesn't equate to results.
I can explain the mind - muscle connection in MANY ways, but the one that hits home for me the most was during my freshman year in college.
I went into a long 6 month streak of being depressed.
I trained hard and ate my 5 - 6 meals a day as prescribed but I did NOT gain an ounce of strength or size.
When I drew that line in the sand during the Summer of 1994 and refused to ever go back to being depressed and walking around like a zombie, I gained about 12 lbs in the next 2 weeks.
I wrote about this story inside The Encyclopedia of Underground Strength & Conditioning.
My mind was on a new level and in turn my body responded BIG time.
I was always learning from the other bigger, stronger lifters in the gym.
When I trained at Diamond Gym, I would spend 1 - 2 hours after most workouts sitting outside with the guys talking training and nutrition while we ate our post workout meals on the ledge in front of the gym. These guys were bodybuilders but damn they were strong.
The guys who didn't compete in bodybuilding, they were all strong. That was the way back then. Train heavy, train hard. It was an unspoken rule at Diamond. It didn't matter if you were competing or not. Lift heavy, train hard. Period.
- It was normal to see them incline benching 315 for reps. I've seen plenty of bodybuilders benching 405 there as well.
- Squatting 495 for reps was normal, as was 585. Bodybuilders doing rack pulls? Deadlifts? Barbell Curls with 185? YES.
I recall seeing guys doing rack pulls inside the old school YORK isometric Rack with 5 and 6 plates. I had never seen that exercise before, it was 1994 or 1995 when I saw this. Seeing their traps exploding through their shirts told me that I should do that exercise myself.
Machines were always racked with all the weights and then rigged with extra 45s pinned to the weight stacks. Heavy, Intense lifting. THAT was always the way.
When Dorian Yates starting winning The Mr. Olympia, more people got back to intensity on the basics.
- Bent Over Rows
The guys at Diamond Gym were inspiring to be around. The photos surrounding the walls were mostly of guys from the 70s and 80s who were Savages. Jeff King, Johnny Morant and of course plenty of Golden Era Bodybuilders.....
Just looking at those photos between sets fired you up to lift heavier.
I met Dorian Yates at a bodybuilding show on a Saturday Night. I purchased his Blood & Guts on VHS and got home after midnight. I was a stickler for "lights out at 11 pm" and I had work at 8 AM the next day. For me, an 8 AM work day meant waking up at 6 AM to ensure I didn't rush my morning breakfast.
I couldn't wait to watch Dorian's VHS until tomorrow morning, though!
I got home, heated up my chicken and rice and watched Blood & Guts. I couldn't fall asleep that night I was so fired up! The next day I destroyed my training! I couldn't wait to wrap my hands around the iron the next day!
If I could have driven straight to the gym at 1 AM, I would have!
Let's go DIESEL!!
I learned a LOT by being surrounded by Savages and chasing Savages. I wanted to beat everyone I trained with. You need the same attitude. Beat your training partners.
Today is quite different. Most people who go to the gym together don't train together. They're too busy on their phone, too busy talking. Talk less, Train MORE. More Intensity. More Focus.
I trained with the strongest and biggest guys at the gym when I was younger. I asked them 100 questions on nutrition and training and then applied them myself to the "advices" they gave me.
Here I am today, almost 41, but I still feel like the 14 year old kid, hungry to learn "the secrets". Still trying to get bigger, stronger, faster, tougher.
The other day, I was searching for videos of Kirk Karwoski to share with my athletes.
Kirk had this perfect set up and approach to the bar. You could see he OWNED the lift before he even put his hands on the bar.
I noticed some of his videos had only 2 or 3k views.
Note how the set up, the lift, the entire execution of Kirk's Squat is dialed in to the T. His hands, his back position, his walk out, the squat, the walk in. It is is flawless.
Here is 1 of the greatest lifters of all time. 1 of the strongest men of ALL time. But, until those videos feature some crazy circus acting, some fads, some circus acts, etc - there is NO enticement by the majority to learn from his videos.
How many lifters of today even know who Kirk is?
You can Learn more about Kirk HERE.
I consider myself lucky compared to the lifters of today.
I didn't have all the distractions that people have today.
People spend (Read: WASTE) endless hours on facebook & instagram and lose reality with the real world, in turn, missing out on powerful learning experiences.
I've watched people cross the street, NOT looking either way, head down on their phone.
Are people willing to DIE to read that text message?
See that Instagram post?
It's a crazy world and I don't fit into this world!
Only a few thousand video views on 1 of the strongest men to walk the planet, lifting in basic shorts, shirt and a weight belt? I am confused.
Is it Not popular to be 1 of the Strongest Men to ever walk the planet? I guess not?
And that is ALL GOOD by me.
I am cool if GREATNESS is for the minority while fads and gimmicks is for the majority.
As much as I want to see others Succeed in the gym and in life, I must constantly remind myself, not everyone gets The Gold. We can't have hundreds or thousands of people being Great let alone Good.
So, forget about the past.
Look at where you are today. Who you surround yourself with. Where and how you learn from? Is everyone around you on their cell phone. Are your training partners busy taking selfies?
You CAN learn from the greats of the past & you CAN / SHOULD be learning from the greats of today. Success leaves clues.
Is your bench an "All you, bro!" set or have you learned to make the rep or die?
You learn that type of commitment when you train on your own AND have been thinking about setting that PR for the past 5 days in the Bench, spotter or not, you KNOW you're gonna make that rep or die under the bar.
MANY years ago when I started seeing "Hardcore Gyms" closing I wondered what happened to all these guys who were Squatting 5 plates and benching 315 and 405.
Dave Tate told me they all went to their garage and basement to train.
I know this......
I'll always do the work.
I'll always find a way to connect with the lifters who punch their excuses in the face and live for the work.
You can find a way or you can find an excuse.
You can have results or you can have excuses but you can NOT have both.