This article is an excerpt from Iron in My Hands.
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The Only Way is Up
Why are you downhearted, oh, my soul?
You're in a slump. We all have them, the valleys of our lives, those regrettable times when nothing goes right, contentment and achievement are vague memories, and future expectations of either are doubtful.
It's not one thing in particular that knocks you out of whack; it's an accumulation of things.
The world is falling apart at the seams. Your immediate surroundings are maddening -- traffic, weather, leaky roof, potholes, bills, the sameness of things. And the gym is not the answer as it should be, but is part of the problem -- the weights are heavy, the joints ache, there's no pump; the sweatpants are tight in the waist, t-shirt is baggy in the shoulders . . . lousy attitude and lousy mirrors.
Eating junk or taking a day off -- common approaches to manage the mess -- only make it worse. Negativity spawns negativity and you tire in your attempts to raise your heavy spirits.
Sometimes you've gotta let go and be still. This does not mean give up or give in; it means stay tight and hold on, look and listen. it's called being strong and courageous, confident, hopeful, patient, disciplined, slightly desperate and a little mad.
This is tougher than we think. Look what we're dealing with.
The world situation: Who can fix it? We've been trying forever, participation is vital. Don't do anything to make it worse, and maintain a positive and productive atmosphere around you. Contribute where you can with your talents, knowledge, awareness and energy, and recognize in your head and heart that you're doing just that. You count. You influence your surroundings more than you realize. Your smile can light up a room; your glare can darken it.
Imagine what your laughter can accomplish right about now.
The local situation: It's called daily living. We all face it, endure it and cope with it. Now is the time to recall we have also loved it, applauded it and could not get our fill of it. The road is winding and rough, and then it's a highway. There's the storm and there's the calm, the steep climb and the mountain's peak. One cannot be without the other, you note, if you're paying attention.
Here it comes again. Breathe deep; grab on, hold tight and go with the flow. Look up; observe, learn and grow. This too will pass.
The training situation: before we talk about the gym and iron, throw a net around your diet and pull it in. When folks get blue, they head to the fridge for ice cream. If that doesn't work, they're into the kitchen for cookies. The phone is the next source for sausage pizza from Luigi's Italian Hut. Finally, it's the family, the family car and The Swedish Smorgy across town. All you can eat, $6.99.
Eating a lot of garbage to chase a mean attitude is like adding dry timber to a raging forest fire. Stay cool. No littering.
The gym situation: ah, the only place you have control. Even when the weights are virtually bolted to the floor, you have control. You can practice exhilarating isometrics, exertion with no apparent purpose other than pure exertion. Deeply rewarding and downright fun, pain with no relief. That, indeed, is the worst scenario I can think of. You've gotta give the old-timers a lot of credit, pushing and straining and groaning without movement, pump or achievement -- only trembling and deep, dark, silent pain.
Mercy, it's gotta get better from here.
A light bulb goes on. Let's move light weights, since the heavy weights won't go. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We are in the grips of a slump and the only thing standing in the way is the towering, unquenchable ego -- a hairy monster with a big stomach and a little brain. The intellect tells us muscle in motion under resistance stimulates tissue growth and adds to the entire system's health and well-being. Common sense and experience tells us not every day is triumphant. And the Good Book tells us there is a reason for everything; reaping and sowing, pumping and burning.
Today, it's light weights with a focus on form and muscle stimulation; high burning reps rather than low power reps; feeling, discovering and enjoying instead of intense exertion, maximum concentration and critical pain.
The path to accomplishment is not always straight and clearly defined. Sometimes the traveler, if savvy, will abandon the ordinary trail to circumvent perceived obstacles. He might, for experience, try a direction less frequently chosen. Or, the rascal might go left instead of right simply because he wishes to -- for the freedom and fun of it.
Sometimes eager steps forward are steps too many, steps backward or steps into the abyss. Where one day heavy weights engender hypertrophy, another day they may engender injury. Squats today, as duly prescribed, might overload the knee or back if the lifter is unfocused and out of reach.
If you don't have the desire, brain fuel, mettle, oomph or heart to blast it, make a series of snaps, crackles and pops. They're less explosive and get the job done. They tickle and tease and are entertaining. What have you got to lose this day already in question?
The years in the gym and under the iron have a way of wearing you down. To carry on you must be inventive and half crazy. A worn-down lifter no one can tolerate, neither the lifter himself nor those within a stone's throw. Worn-down lifters, like those tossed stones, become pebbles, then sand and grit, and finally dust. I'm allergic to dust. Dust makes me sneeze. It's time to improvise.
Anything goes when creative, half-crazed lifters combine exercises, or movements, as they prefer to call them now, and execute them with continuity. They know how to blend two or more exercises so them become one; they know intimately the affinity and purpose of the movements. They sense them as elements in the formation of a compound (H2O), spare words in a command (Just Do It), notes in a catchy tune (do, re, me, fatso, la, ti, do).
I once wrote a set of slumpbusters
ten favorite exercise combinations that entertain and blast, change direction, challenge the norm, save time, get to the point and build muscles.
Thirty years, maybe fifty, have gone by since they were first installed and practiced. Like bread crumbs to the hungry, let me toss out another pinch of even-less-likely combinations.
Why? Because you're hungry and they work; you're half-crazy and why not.
1) Close-handed under-grip pulldowns supersetted with dips -- extraordinary compression.
It's Friday, leg day, and you're finished. You worked arms and upper body two days ago, ran and did midsection yesterday, and won't train again till Monday. You're beginning to feel lonely, a faint sign of withdrawals. That tic in your right eye and the tremor in your lower lip confirm your fears. Your fix has not been satisfied, something's missing, you're not done here. You need more, just a little more: a clever, yet simple combination to fill the hollow within.
This blend of pulling and pushing works the whole upper body. It can be practiced by itself for a very short workout and, if done with sufficient intensity, can replace a long, hard day at the gym when time has fallen off the earth's surface. The pulldown simulates a chin up, working the biceps fully (great for improving chinning ability for enthusiasts still lacking chinning status), guarantees a strong grip, grabs hold of the lats mightily and engages the serratus. And there's more abdominal work in the action than you would believe, as indicated by the pain of strain in the torso the next day.
The dips, as directed by body position, work the tris and shoulders and back and pecs. But you knew that. You also knew you would get a great pump.
5 supersets, rep range 12, 10, 8, 6
I generally start with a moderate weight for higher repetitions and add weight each set, getting lower reps as the weight increases. Pace and all-out effort vary with mood, need, energy and fatigue level.
2) Press behind neck (PBN) supersetted with pulldown behind neck
This is a satisfying combination of exercises when you've been craving that wide, V-shape feeling all day long. Legs needed to be worked and you did your duty valiantly, squats and their accompaniments, but now you deserve a reward, a prize, a thrill.
The PBN is not for the fainthearted. It requires substance, practice and finesse, but the payoff is heavy duty -- thick deltoids, thick upper back. Grip and focus are everything (along with all the other stuff -- back support, body position, steady motion, exact muscle engagement, complete extension and contraction). However, if you feel a pinch, these are not for you. I love them, but they can cause some problems for some people.
The pulldown is best performed facing away from the apparatus, allowing distance from the overhead pulley. You want to achieve a smooth and tight contractijon in the upper back without the interference of your head or unwisely shifting your head forward to permit the bar's tight and energized passage. Tugging (contracting and pumping) the bar into place as if repeating overhead bicep poses for an audience of approving fans is the proper way to execute this exercise. Have fun. Listen to that crowd going wild!
5 supersets, rep range 12, 10, 8, 6
So who said these would be revolutionary? It's not the movements and their combinations; it's the lifter and the performance.
I have more crumbs, but I've run outta time and space and readers.
Besides, the wind's up. Gonna grab my wings and hit the air . . .