Friday, May 2, 2014


I haven’t heard the term midlife crisis recently, but back when I was around 35-40, I had one. The conventional wisdom said that men in midlife crisis go out and buy a sports car. I went out and bought a squat rack, a bench, and several hundred pounds of weights.

I set up my gym in the garage and began an unstructured regimen of weight training. Whenever I get interested in a subject, I research it thoroughly, and it wasn't long before I was doing some research on the best way to train with weights. I learned that if you’re going to do bodybuilding exercises targeting specific muscles, you need to be prepared to stay in the gym for hours at a time. If you want to really get strong while expending the minimal amount of time, you want to do exercises that work a large number of muscle groups. For example, you could target your biceps by doing concentration curls with a dumbbell, but that’s all you’d be working. To work other upper body muscles, you’d need another exercise for each muscle. Too time consuming. If, however, you did bent rows with a barbell, you’d work your biceps, back, shoulders, and latissimus dorsi all at the same time. Basically what you wanted to do was an upper body push, an upper body pull, and a lower body exercise.

How many sets and reps do you want to do? Well, the more sets and the more reps you do, the more time you expend. If I remember correctly, I found an article titled “Perpetual Progression” in Iron Man magazine, and I adopted the regimen it suggested. When Peary Rader had the magazine, Iron Man  was an excellent source of good information. I express no opinion on its worth since Rader sold it. Following the routine described in "Perpetual Progression," I did three exercises: benchpress, bent row, and squat; and I began by doing five sets of five repetitions of each exercise. That’s it.

I later found a book by Randall Strossen entitled Super Squats, and changed my squat routine to one set of twenty reps, but the bent row and the benchpress I still did for five sets of five. I worked out three times a week, starting with easily manageable weights and increasing the weight at each succeeding session.

At first I increased the weight by five pounds per session. Eventually I hit a session where I couldn’t do the full five reps with the increased weight. Let’s say I did my five sets on Monday with 200 pounds, and on Wednesday, I couldn’t get 205. On Friday I’d drop back to 200, and on the following Monday I’d go up to 202.5 and begin increasing the weight by 2.5 pounds per session. Let’s say I went like that for a few sessions and hit another wall. The smallest plate that barbell manufacturers make weighs 1.25 pounds. How would I be able to cut the increments to a weight less than 2.5 pounds per session? Washers.

I found some washers which were big enough to fit onto an Olympic barbell, weighed them, and determined that they weighed approximately 1/6 of a pound apiece.   I bought a dozen and started going up in increments of 1/3 of a pound. I never hit a wall going up at 1/3 of a pound per session.

I did one more thing. I read an advertisement which said if you used super thick bars, you would not only increase your grip strength, you would become stronger all over. It should come as no surprise that the advertisement was for the sale of an ultra-expensive 2 inch thick bar. I won’t go into the details of how I improvised a PVC sleeve to increase the diameter of one of my barbells to 2 inches, but I did. I used the thick bar for benchpress and bent row, and I used a bent bar for squats. I got the bent bar second hand. Some gorilla had overloaded a cheap bar doing deadlifts or squats, and it looked something like an unstrung longbow. The bent bar curved quite comfortably across my shoulders and felt much better than a straight bar.  I got the idea of using a bent bar for squats from another advertisement for an ultra-expensive curved squat bar.

I got stronger and my muscles got bigger, but I never got to the point of looking like any kind of a bodybuilder. You’d never notice that I lifted weights at all unless you grabbed my arm. That was fine with me, as I said in an earlier post, I never thought of muscles as ornaments.

I had been training with weights for several years and had built a good bit of muscle when disaster struck. I was trying a murder case in a distant city and living out of a suitcase in a hotel. It wasn't a very complicated murder, so I was trying the case all by myself. One night after supper I decided to go to the county fair rather than going back to my hotel room. As I strolled through the midway, I noticed the old ring-the-bell attraction. There was a long line of muscular young men waiting to take their turn with the sledgehammer trying to ring the bell at the top of the pole. Nobody was even coming close.

I asked myself why not try it. I was a pretty good hand with an axe back in the day, and I felt plenty strong. I got in line, paid my dollar, hoisted the hammer, brought it down with all the force I could muster, and rung the bell. I handed the sledgehammer back to the carney and he told me I had to ring the bell twice to get a prize. I took the hammer and with another mighty swing, I rung the bell again. He gave me a huge stuffed pink elephant that I had no use whatsoever for. As I turned away to leave, I felt a twinge in my stomach.

When I got back to the room, I did an inspection and found a soft, squishy bulge in my stomach wall. No, it wasn't fat. It was a hernia. It took three operations over a period of about a year to finally get my stomach fixed, and by my calculation that pink elephant cost me several thousand dollars. I tried to go back to weight training after the last operation, but it just wasn't the same. I finally sold all my weights in 2005. Now my stomach is again soft and squishy, but not from a hernia.