27 November 2018

The "Perfect Gym" Is All In Your Head

Not too far off from my setup in Beijing.

As I staggered the fifteen steps from my toilet shower to my desk, sweating like a pedophile in an elementary school bathroom, desperate to find another roll of toilet paper, I lamented the fact that dysentery was going to steal yet another day of heaving around some heavy iron from me.  That's not to say I wasn't going to train, but rather that I was going to train light to avoid shitting my pants under a heavy load.  Just five days earlier I had hit an all-time high in bodyweight, 171lbs, which was just about 10lbs heavier than my best bodyweight prior to entering the smog-choked land of the terra cotta soldiers.  Upon turning and seeing the trail of blood I'd left on the floor leading to the small pool forming directly beneath me, I decided that discretion was the better form of valor, because unless I'd been shot in the browneye by an overzealous and underfed Chinese soldier, I should probably not be bleeding from the rectum and a day off from the gym was indeed in order.  After a moment of half-delirious consideration, I washed down enough anti-laduzi (Mandarin for diarrhea and the only word of Chinese my dad ever learned) to prevent a normal person from ever shitting again, I fired up the showerhead over the toilet bowl because my asshole felt like it had spent a weekend with Marsellis Wallace's buddies, a pair of pliers, and a blowtorch, so a shower was vastly preferable to scrubbing my abused asshole with what amounted to sand paper but was alleged to be toilet tissue.

I have no earthly idea how much money my dad spent in sending me Met-Rx in 1998, but it was not an inconsiderable sum.  He was the fucking man.

Unless you're a fecalfeliac, you're likely wondering what the fuck this story has to do with anything lifting related.  The tie-in, rather than another rant about eating to grow, is that I managed to pack on ten or eleven pounds of rip in about six weeks without the aid of supplements beyond a couple of meal replacement shakes and/or protein bars a day, and of those six weeks I had dysentery for at least three.  Not only that, but I accomplished that feat in the most rudimentary gym I've ever seen that wasn't in Uganda, and I'd already been training for five years, so these weren't noob gains.  Add  to that, it was summer in Beijing, so the temperature ranged from 90-100 degrees in the daytime with the smog-choked humidity so thick you had to use a steak knife to cut it before you could take a deep breath, and the gym in which I trained daily didn't even have a fucking fan, nevermind an air conditioner.

If that's your thing, you likely didn't need the explanation behind the intro.  

Nah- this isn't another public service announcement to enjoin you to eat like you're white trash at a shitty buffet.  This is a statement regarding the endless online discussions about finding the right gym to ensure success.  This debate, like the mindset behind it, is entirely wrongheaded.  As it is with choosing a program, the maximization of success with gym selection is far less about the equipment than it is about the effort one expends on the equipment they're using.  To wit:


Herschel Walker built an unbelievable physique with little more than thousands upon thousands of pushups and situps, and a shitload of sprints.  At 51, he almost certainly looked better than you and everyone you know with that routine, and he spent literally nothing on gym memberships beyond an mma school.

Marcy Multi gyms were so basic they should have come with Ugg boots and a pumpkin spice latte.

Bruce Lee built a crazy strong and muscular physique with a routine centered on PHA (peripheral heart action) training that mostly utilized a Marcy trainer, the predecessor to multistation Universal machines.

For his role in Reign of Fire, Matthew McConaughey literally grappled with cows and carried shit around his ranch to bulk up.  His basic weight workouts, like Bruce Lee's and Sonny Chiba's, three days circuit training.  Nothing special, yet the dude looked like a badass in that flick without ever touching a bumper plate.

Big Jim Williams was the first man in history to bench 660lbs and still one of the biggest benchers ever, in spite of the fact that he had to take all of his attempts back to back (he had as much time between attempts as it took to load the weight and count down from 90), and he did almost all of his training in prison.  In spite of what you might think, weight lifting equipment in jails is hardly state of the art, and at the time Williams competed bench presses were notoriously rickety even in high-end gyms.

In case you missed it, there are dudes in Africa who are doing a hell of a lot more with a hell of a lot less than you.

The list of athletes and celebrities who have done amazing things with their physiques in rudimentary gyms or *gasp* on machines is endless and dates back to antiquity, and should provide ample evidence to convince most people that they needn't train at the regional "hardcore," "functional" gym that happens to be the talk of the internet in order for them to maximize their potential.  Though I realize this simple fact should be easy to grasp, I fully realize it isn't because the internet mostly exists to destroy the fabric of reality and replace it with bullshit.  As such, here are a couple of gym anecdotes that might help to drive the point home:

My favorite machine in high school, and one that tragically no longer exists- a weighted dip/pullup/calf raise machine.

My old high school gym was a 1980's special donated by a former student who upgraded his home gym and gave us the stuff he'd bought a decade prior.  It boasted a Marcy multi-gym, a few old Nautilus machines, a squat rack, mismatched dumbbells, and a couple of benches.  Everything was old and fucked up, and we loved it.  In two years, my bench went up 140 lbs and I went from a pudgy kid to a three sport varsity athlete with school records for bodyweight exercises.

World Gym Tucson, which is now a boxing gym, was the best gym in which I have ever trained.  The bodybuilding mecca of southern Arizona in the 1990's, our member rolls included IFBB pro Rusty Jeffers, a couple of Westside transplants, and the most entertaining cornucopia of weightlifting maniacs I've ever seen.  It had no AC, no pussies, and an absolute lunatic for an owner who would physically throw people out of the gym for minor gym rule infractions like leaving a plate leaning against the squat rack.  Powerlifters and bodybuilders trained together (I don't think I even met an Olympic lifter until after 2000, and internet icon Steve Pulcinella was the only person I'd ever met who competed in strongman prior to 2004 or 2005), and all of the serious lifters went to every competition our gym's members entered... mostly because at that time people only competed to win, not to show up and collect a fucking participation trophy.  Every person I knew in that place was jacked and strong, and we'd have non-stop impromptu competitions on everything from squatting for reps to deadlifts to bench to one arm dumbbell rows. 

Top Gym Vienna. With the motto "No Wellness," I knew these were my kind of people.  At the time, I was eating paleo and although prevented by EU law from taking ephedrine, was a ripped-to-fucking-shreds 170lbs when I returned home, after repping 440 on the front squat and doing ballistic pullups as the gym's sole strength athlete.  You don't need to train in a strength oriented gym to be fucking strong- everyone else in that gym was an old school string-tank-top-and-spandex-shorts clad bodybuilder or figure competitor stick figure, yet we all got along famously and killed it in the gym daily.  To say there was a lot of gratuitous high fiving going on between sets is like saying the volleyball scenes in Top Gun are slightly homoerotic, and that kind of rampant positivity and mutual respect made for a badass training environment.

Iron Sport Gym is one of the few strength gyms on the planet I don't despise, and I've made massive gains as a result of training there periodically over the last 20 years.  To give you some idea of how long I've known Stevie P, I found his gym as the result of seeing his ad in the Yellow Pages of the phone book years ago.  If you're unfamiliar with him, he's the progenitor of the DYEL meme, a World's Strongest Man competitor, a Hall of Fame Highland Games competitor, and one of the most hilariously surly people on the planet.  He's one of the most knowledgeable guys in strength sports, and our conversations helped mold my training methodology.  If you're ever in the Philadelphia area, check it out- it's packed with pro bodybuilders, pro strongmen, elite Oly lifters, and a number of powerlifters of varied skill levels (though I've heard their gossip game is on a bean).

24e- This was the gym I trained in to set my world record, in a chrome squat rack with bars that I bent completely out of shape.  It boasted no competitive strength athletes at all, had a perpetually broken homemade platform, nothing but octagonal plates, and a handful of competitive bodybuilders.  Three or four guys in there benched over 500lbs (in spite of the bent, dead bars with collars that wouldn't spin and slippery vinyl benches) and never took a single gym selfie or video of themselves doing so, because they were far more interested with lifting than with posing online as lifters when in reality they'd rather be doing anything else.  This gym was also the birthplace of my supplement company, and generally stands as proof that gyms are built on people, not equipment, and that bodybuilders make a gym, while powerlifters generally ruin them.  That said, "mainstream" obsessed money grubbing dickheads can kill a gym even more quickly than USAPL lifters, and that gym was the victim of on such shitslug.

Renmin University gym.  This is the aforementioned gym in Beijing.  It boasted no fans, no AC, enough rust on the plates to give you tetanus just looking at a photo of the gym, two extremely unsafe squat racks, and a single bench.  This place even lacked dumbbells, and it was so fucking hot in there that I looked like I'd just gone for a swim in my clothes after my second warmup set.  It was in that primeval place that I learned how to pack on mass quickly, lifting heavy as shit on made up exercises and just going nuts the entire time shirtless in rust stained shorts.

Stern's Gym in 1970 and his gym in 2001 were not appreciably different.

I've got plenty more examples, because I've trained all over the place.  I once did a set of 97 reps with 135lbs on the squat, weighing maybe 150, in a squash club's tiny gym; I've done death sets of deadlifts overlooking the Hong Kong skyline in a posh resort's fitness center; threw around some weights with the guitarist from Sworn Vengeance at the awesome hardcore gym 22nd St Barbell in Iowa; partially retore my bicep goofing around with the gym owner of an awesome Ninja Warrior/strongman gym outside of Chicago called Golden Age Strength Club; I've had awesome workouts in innumerable Gold's Gyms, Powerhouses, 24 Hour Fitness around the country,  plus the iconic Golds and Worlds in Venice Beach and Vince Gironda's gym there, Leo Stern's gym in San Diego that was practically a museum piece when I trained there, among many others.  Hell, I've trained in a guido gym in Pittsburgh that even had a fucking shrine, an honest to god shrine, to Robert DeNiro in it, an LA Fitness in North Hills, PA in which the dudes were so juiced up they had to wipe the pus off the benches between sets because their backne would burst, and have seen dudes bench 405 on free weight benches in Planet Fitness.  In short, I've got a pretty good idea of what constitutes a good gym, and what you need to have a good lift... and it's not the facility or the equipment.  It's the people who train there and the people who run the place.

If you can't find someone you want to fuck in a CrossFit gym, you need to get your test levels checked, ladies included.

If you want to dispute that, feel free, because I have one trump card you can't beat- CrossFit gyms.  If the ridiculous performance of CrossFitters in the Games isn't proof of concept enough, consider the following- if you're going to be training half naked with a bunch of people who are trying to outlift and out-hot you, chance are you're going to think twice about skipping workouts or cheating on your diet.  The motivation of others will carry over to you.  Likewise, if you've got an undiscussed competition going on with some bench bro from your gym and you know they're gonna be checking to see how many reps you get on behind the neck press out of the corner of their eye, you might push a little harder when it's time to do your accessory work.  The equipment you're using to achieve the strength you want to display is only an impediment if you're a complete fucking pussy who wants to excuse your weakness with nonsense.  In fact, training on shitty equipment has the benefit of making the same weight on a good bar or a good bench seem light by comparison, so when you hit the platform weights that were a struggle fucking fly up... and it will give you extra reasons to excuse unimpressive training weights when you're typing comments on Instagram (seriously, fucking stop that shit already.  Your every goddamned lift does not need to be filmed).

If only New Orleans Athletic Club would allow people to train in their historic weight room...

Speaking of training on different equipment, much of the online discussion on the subject of choosing a gym seems to come from people with little experience in doing so and even less in lifting.  It's a literal matter of the blind leading the blind, which necessitates one other entreaty- for the love of all that is unholy, hit up some other gyms in your area.  See what is out there.  Get in some workouts on unfamiliar equipment, around unfamiliar people.  Not only will this give you a great deal more perspective on the subject of what actually constitutes a great gym, but you may discover your gym is inferior to other gyms, be they an LA Fitness, a Planet Fitness, or Ryan Cellis's awesome spot in Pittsburgh.  You might find that you have some of the best workouts of your life while travelling, because you will likely feel the need (like I do) to immediately insert yourself into that gym's strength hierarchy... and you might come to find that your gym isn't the local end all, be all of strong motherfuckers in the area.

If the gym in Todd Schorr's mind was open to the public, I would be the first motherfucker on the planet to sign up for a membership.

In short, the perfect gym is likely out there, but it exists between your ears.  Hell, even athletes who own badass gyms like Kansas City Barbell agree- the owner, Jay, told me that his best experiences lifting were not at his own gym but at the old Worlds Gym in Reading, PA, because he was lifting with a pro Highland Games competitor and a dude who played in NFL Europe and every training session was beyond ball-out.  Equipment isn't holding you back when you train- your mind is.  The gym isn't the problem- you are.  Greatness is within your grasp, but you've got to be your own salvation.  Keep an eye out for the people who train fucking hard- not the Instagram dipshits constantly filming every fucking thing for the internet, and not the fuckers who foam roll for an hour before they train (incidentally, I will be gassing those motherfuckers my first day in office as overlord of post-apocalyptic America).  All of that shit is window dressing to disguise the fact they're not there to train, but to preen.  Forge your own path and own your shit rather than placing your destiny in the hands of strangers, whether they be on Facebook or the owners of your gym or anyone else.  And remember, The perfect gym is not a physical location but a mental one, formed out of your mindset, desire, and drive.  Build one worthy of attaching to a drinking hall in Valhalla, because the alternative is dying unremembered. 


  1. Wow that girl must've fell into the mud! Very nice of that fella to wash her off with some pee. Good friend!

  2. "I should probably not be bleeding from the rectum"

    Bet that was a regular problem for you in jail too

    1. County jail is a hell of a lot different upstate, haha, so no. Everyone was fucking terrified of me.

  3. Welcome back Jamie, what's up?

    I haven't been to as many gyms as you, but it seems to me, like the more a gym tries to sell the image of an "elite" facility, the less likely they are to be just that and the less likely they are to attract anybody but posers. So, gyms are like people, basically.

  4. Ha! Excellent point. Tragically, our scene is wall to wall posers at this point.

  5. Welcome back, was bored the last few months without a post to inspire me to do all the crazy fringe ideas to get jacked ass fuck. The road less traveled leaves you lonely sometimes... but the fool on the hill watches the world go by. What you are doing is much appreciated, you sir are a gentleman and a scholar.

    1. What, you got ass fucked? Well done, now you have aids.

    2. Ha, thanks man. And that was an amusing typo. I don't know that I would refer to myself as a gentleman, but I'll definitely take the scholar bit.

  6. As I get older and ever more jaded, looking for a new kind of buzz, I tend to abndon the gym altogether. Physical torment can be found in many places. Do you know they actually pay people to do manual labour!!! Shocking, I know. I have had a few of these physical jobs in my time, and each one has taught me lessons in mind over matter grit your teeth and get it done. There is nothing like the combo of eating a shit ton every day and busting your ass for hours on end earning your repetitive strains and being rewarded with a pay check. I don't care how many plates you lift, your hour or two a day in the gym is not the same as the insanity of money making manual labour. My latest venture is order picking in a warehouse. Hours of walking and pushing a trolley every day.
    Now I still get some barbell work in - two fairly heavy sessions at the week end and a bit of chinning and dipping during the week, but its just icing on the cake. The real deal is hours and hours of physical labour followed by hours and hours of feeding.

    1. Welcome back grandad, you bumbling old inbreed!

    2. There he is! The fucking gang's back together now.

      I almost started to miss your rambling incoherent schizophrenic comments, Steve.

  7. Any idea when the pull up article will be up? looking forward to it