When I’m putting a client through a grueling high intensity
interval session, nausea inducing circuits, and complexes or heavy
low rep training, I sometimes think to myself, “Man, I wish I
could have met me when I was starting out in strength
I say that with no ego whatsoever, I’m not the greatest
strength coach in the world, but in the seven years I’ve been
studying and working in the industry, I’ve learnt a hell of a
lot more than many people who try to give themselves the title of
When I remember the first gym I joined and the instructors who
worked there, I just shake my head. But hey, it wasn’t
really their fault. The only information available to the
average gym instructor in the early 90’s trickled down from
the muscle mags; some of which I still have and flick through for a
laugh from time to time.
Three sets of ten was the order of the day, along with high
volume, single muscle split routines, lots of isolation moves, and
machines, and if I wanted to get lean for the summer, I went for
long runs on the treadmill.
But, as has been mentioned in a couple of the latest Testosterone articles as well as on the forums recently,
sometimes it’s not about the workout. It’s about
the attitude, the intensity, the sheer blood and guts
determination. If you have those qualities and apply them to
your training session, then the most poorly designed workout can
yield fantastic results. I experienced this myself for the
first time when I was 18 years old.
After six months at a commercial gym and making the usual newbie
progress, I was forced to join a cheaper gym that was run out of a
Little did I know this was the best thing that could have
happened to me. Back then I was still impressed by shiny
machines and mirrors, and the first day I slid back the rusty old
roller door and stepped into my new gym, my heart sank.
I was met by decrepit rusty barbells, no machines, and a heavy
punching bag swinging in the middle of a small, windowless
But there was also a guy with more hair on his back than a
mountain gorilla, squatting 240kg ass to the grass for reps while
wearing a pair of flip-flops. I’d never seen a human
being move this kind of weight in my life and I was in awe.
Maybe this gym had something to offer after all.
Over the next few months, I watched and copied everything I
saw. Granted, the guys pedaling the stationary bike with 10
meters of Glad wrap around their stomachs didn’t have much to
teach me…but they were working hard, so I copied that.
A few wrestlers who trained there would warm up by pummeling
each other on the mats for 15 minutes, so I copied that. And
of course, I started squatting in flip-flops.
I made more progress over a few months of training in that
dungeon then I ever had in the past. But one workout in
particular sticks in my mind, and to this day, it was still the
hardest training session I’ve ever done. It wasn’t
the smartest, but it taught me about intensity and how valuable
that quality is.
It was on a day when I didn’t have a planned session, and
was just standing idle in the gym, contemplating a few sets of arms
or something equally useless.
Suddenly I heard the rumble of a very large motorcycle as it
roared up right outside the door. Seconds after the engine
shut off, the roller door slammed back and in walked Rowan.
Rowan was about 6′ 5” with a beard down to his
waist, recently out of jail for reasons unknown, and built like a
brick shit house. He removed his WW I German helmet –
you know, the kind with the big spike on top – and barked
“Who wants to train legs with me!” Everyone in the
gym immediately cast their eyes to the floor and began to shuffle
But I was like a deer caught in the headlights, I couldn’t
move from under the gaze of this guy, and before I knew it, I
squeaked out “Sure, I’m in.”
“Great!” he said, “Let’s get into it! You go
first.’ So we hit the leg press, 20 reps with what was
about a 10RM weight. The 11th to the
20th rep required 2-3 oxygen-sucking breaths to
As I crawled off the seat to let Rowan have his turn, he simply
said, “You’re not finished,” and led me to the leg
extension where I ground out another 20 reps. At the end I
couldn’t lift the pad past the halfway point. As I
looked up with pleading eyes, Rowan pointed at the squat
I actually crawled the first few steps before gaining my
feet. The bar only had a single plate on each side, but right
then it looked as unconquerable as the 200kg I saw on my first
I wedged my self under the bar and began to squat. It was
taking me 5 breaths per rep, but Rowan was relentless.
“Keep going!” he shouted and I did until I ground out
another 20 reps.
Was I done? Not quite. Quickly, Rowan stripped
the plates off and said quietly, “20 with the bar to
Well that was the heaviest Olympic bar I’ve ever stood
under. I’m not ashamed to say that I screamed like a
girl on every single rep. But I did it. And when I was done I
racked the bar and laid on the ground for about 2 minutes before
hobbling up the ramp to the door.
I stepped out into the cool night air, took a deep breath, and
vomited uncontrollably next to Rowan’s Harley
Eventually I was able to get myself under control and support
Rowan through his workout. I felt ashamed of my effort as I
watched him take things to the next level with his focus and
drive. Afterwards when he shook my hand and complemented me
on a good workout, I still hadn’t regained the ability to
speak, so I just nodded.
I never got the chance to work out with Rowan again. In fact I
never saw him again, so maybe he went back to jail, but the guy
taught me more about work ethic than anyone or anything ever
had. It was obviously not the most scientifically designed
workout, but that didn’t matter. It was about the
intensity and working hard next to someone more advanced than
As I write this article and reminisce, I’m thinking about a
couple of young guys that I’ve seen training a little
half-heartedly at the gym. Maybe it’s time to go ask
them if they want to train legs.