(as previously published in the Merrimack Journal)
My first weight set included a barbell, 4 safety collars, and 4 hollow plastic weight plates that you had to fill with water to make each plate weigh approximately 5 pounds. Since the barbell itself was hollow and made of aluminum, adding all 4 water-filled plates plus the safety collars added up to only about 21 pounds.
This was my first exposure to weights. It was 1982. Weighing only about 4 pounds when not filled with water, this weight set arrived in the mail. It was one of three gifts. The second gift was 22 volume, Wildlife Encyclopedia Set- these encyclopedias contained information on virtually every major animal in the world. The third gift was two books by Jack London: The Call of the Wild and White Fang.
These were birthday gifts from my father. It was the last time I would ever receive a gift of any type from my father. My mother had remarried and we had just settled into our new home on Martin Street in Lowell. Sometimes I think that maybe my father had carefully calculated when choosing these three gifts to send to me, knowing it would be the last contact. Especially considering that the central themes of The Call of the Wild are survival of the fittest, civilization versus nature, and fate versus free will. And the central themes of White Fang are morality and redemption. Other times I think maybe he was just in a rush and picked up this stuff at a local yard sale on the way to the post office. Either way, I was thankful.
So, there I was. Eleven years old. Five feet, two inches… 103 pounds. I had not heard of Arnold yet. I didn’t know who Rocky was yet either. But, I started lifting weights anyway. In my 8 foot by 10 foot, 2nd floor bedroom. I understood one basic principle. Try to stimulate the muscle by lifting weight. On some exercises, 21 pounds was a challenging amount of weight. On other exercises, it was not. “If 21 pounds on this exercise is too easy, how can I make it harder?”, I asked myself. Do more reps…? No. Perform the exercise in stricter form. Move the weight slower. Concentrate on the muscle more. You can make a light weight feel twice as heavy to the muscle that way.
When you have limited resources, you find a way to make what you have work. I spent a considerable amount of time figuring out how to stimulate all my major muscle groups with just that 21 pound water-filled barbell set. Overhead presses, barbell curls, lying barbell triceps extensions off the edge of my bed. Barbell rows, squats, single-arm barbell press off the side of my bed, one foot planted on the floor. I remember being amazed at how a muscle feels when you work it hard with weights, how it pumps up with blood, and how the feeling intensifies the more you concentrate on it. Concentration. Turning your attention inward. Creating inner peace for yourself. This is essentially what good exercise turns into- a meditation.
Although I had received a tool, and an idea, to begin weight training from my father, my desire to train, and my commitment to training, was more likely, inspired by my mother. My 31 year old mother, at the time, could have made most grown men cry if they dared to train with her. In the morning, while I was eating my breakfast before school, my mother would be jumping rope. Right in the kitchen. We’re talking about 20-30 minutes straight. Jumping rope. Barefoot. With a jump rope made from clothes line. My mother was never “into” lifting weights, but everything else was fair game. Walking, running, hiking, calisthenics, jazzercise, skiing. A “day of fun” for my mother would typically include a 40-mile bike ride. “Come on, kids! Keep up!”, she would yell back to me and my sister, Christine. It occurs to me now that my mother never missed workouts. She still doesn’t. She still walks at least once daily, with her daily target being 10,000 steps/day (about 5 miles). More important than the activity, is the commitment to do something, consistently.
The training is nothing. The WILL is everything.
Paul Newt has been privately instructing and strength coaching since 1994. He is the founder of both Edge 24 Hour Private Fitness and New Energy & Weight-loss Training Systems.