An Email that made my day…
My father is a longtime admirer of yours. He’s been lifting since the late eighties, and got me started in the mid-90’s, when I was a 10-year-old midget football player. I eventually enjoyed a successful high-school-sports career in football, wrestling, and the shot put (I never did become much of a discus thrower, though) and then went on to play college football at Carnegie Mellon University.
Only after reading your book Never Let Go did I realize that most of what he taught me was essentially your material. He made me do some bodyweight and broomstick work before I was allowed to use weights. He taught me to clean instead of teaching me to curl. He taught me that the overhead press was more important than the bench press.
While playing ball in college, I always thanked my father for those teachings. I was the only player (on a team of over 100 testosterone-filled young men) that could clean 300 pounds. In fact, only a few could even clean 225 pounds. Most were content to try a few sets with 135 and then move on to the dumbbell rack for some curls, Bro.
Hell, when I went home for the summer and worked out with my dad (in his mid-50’s), he would usually clean more than most of the kids on the team. I found it hilarious that I couldn’t find a kid on my college team to clean 200+ with me, but my dad always would. He still does, too.
After college football, I dropped some weight, settling nicely around 200 pounds, and fooled around with a bunch of different exercises, went through a long running phase (I ran a couple of marathons), and just dabbled in lifting for a while. Got sick of that eventually and went back to the gym, realizing that lifting was more satisfying, better for body composition, and easier on the joints than running.
After reading your book, I realized that maybe I should quit doing a lot of the bullshit and focus on the good stuff. Frustrated with waiting for benches and navigating the crowd around the dumbbell rack, I realized that I could get nearly everything that I needed out of a workout with just a bar and a 10-foot patch of floor space. I could do deadlifts, power cleans, presses, and rows. That covers it all, and I don’t even need a Nautilus machine or an elliptical. Most of my workouts at the gym are pretty simple – start with a couple of complexes at 95 pounds, then add some weight for some clean & presses, then add some more weight for deadlifts, then strip some weight off and do a few rows. Squeeze in some bat wings and shoulder mobility work, and I’m done. I was amazed to discover that it really is that simple.
Funny, I usually don’t spend more than 30 minutes in the gym, but my arms are a good bit bigger than a lot of the guys checking out their gunz in the mirror after their 10-minute-long strip set of EZ curls. Maybe they ought to put down Muscle & Fitness and pick up your book.
I also am a big fan of one-dumbbell work (I have a few dumbbells in my apartment; this is what I do when I can’t go to the gym). Performing 20 minutes of continuous clean & press, goblet squats, and two-hand swings with a dumbbell is magic. Even my girlfriend (and frequent workout partner) loves the one-dumbbell workout.
I’m not really training to compete in anything – I still lift because a) I believe in staying in shape and b) I just like lifting – so I’ve simplified my goals much as you suggest. Clean and press bodyweight. That’s it. As long as I can clean and press my bodyweight, I will be happy.
Why have I spent the last 30 minutes writing this to you? I’m not sure, really. I suppose it’s just a way of thanking you for writing so many excellent articles and compiling them into an outstanding book, reminding me to keep it simple and work hard. Have some fun in the gym. Do the basics.
With many thanks,
Andrew Althouse, M.A., Statistics