Back in the good old days, I was one of the gym outlaws. I'd strap on my lifting belt, chalk up my mitts, crank up my Walkman, and then hammer every muscle fiber for two hours of gut wrenching heavy lifting.
A decade later, I'd become a lifting law abider. I trained for just under an hour, chalk-less and belt-less, with safe "cutting edge" programs that were more complicated than the fancy iPod that had replaced my old Walkman.
Training like a law abider might've been "smarter" or "more advanced," but was all this progress just holding me back?
Law and Order
Laws tell you what you can't do and warn you of the consequences of breaking them. The more laws I learned, the more conservative my training became. My mind started to paralyze my progress, butting in mid-workout to remind my body of the stuff it should or shouldn't do.
After years of corrective exercise, evaluation, planks, band stretching, and gadgets entering into what were once basic training sessions using little more than barbells (and as much weight as I could stuff on them), I now had less muscle and less strength.
I even caught myself watching Desperate Housewives during a "grueling" set of planks. I was obviously in desperate need of desperate measures.
The Powerlifting Gang
This winter while training my NFL Combine athletes, I looked up the state powerlifting records for my age group. Since it would be my last year in the 35-39 year-old category, I wanted to see where I stood.
The records were daunting but I knew, deep down, that with a few months of hard training I could not only reach them, but beat them. I made the commitment right then, although most of the soft-ass people around me thought that I should be committed.
I knew that I was going to have to start working outside of the current conservative training laws. If I was going to break records, I'd have to rejoin the outlaws. I didn't have to do anything illegal, just clear my mind of the clutter and take off the "corrective" emergency brake that was holding me back. I'd have to remember who I was before the Internet and a bunch of people who'd never lifted jack told me that squats are bad and the Swiss Ball would set me free.
I met with the figurative outlaws every day for months. We were like old friends who just lost touch, and like old friends we picked up right where we left off. But instead of reminiscing about old times and how strong we used to be, we belted up, chalked up, and hammered out set after set of basic, heavy lifts.
I didn't exclude all of my "new" friends from my return to old school training. The outlaws didn't mind either, as long as the newbies didn't cut into their face time with me. I foam rolled, used the bands, and followed better nutrition than I did a decade ago.
The result of this union between old and new was seven New Jersey State records in the RAW division, eight new pounds of muscle, and most importantly, the confidence that comes along with being more badass than ever.
It's said that men should question authority. I started wondering why all the spinal health lawmakers I saw usually lacked any backbone themselves when it came down to lifting heavy and getting after it.
Today's laws are always about what you can't do, and injury is the trump card. "Don't do this or you might get injured." "Don't do that, someday you might have a problem." What the laws are really saying is, "Someday, if you stop training like a man, no one will remember you, your Test levels will be nonexistent, and you'll spend your life thinking about what you can't or didn't do."
(Hey, at least you won't get injured training. You might get hit by a car crossing the street because you don't have the strength to sprint, but at least your time spent planking away should leave you unscathed.)
The outlaws proved to me that this doesn't have to be reality – the records I broke are hanging on my wall to prove it – and I'm feeling great.
Look at what you can do, not what you can't. I'm not saying to be crazy, just go a little "nuts" sometimes. What are you saving your body for, anyway? So you can "feel good" at 75 years old in a retirement home?
Lifting with the Outlaws
The Overhead Press
This lift became an outlaw in 1972 when it was dropped from Olympic competition. That was because it was too hard to judge, not because it was "bad." In recent years, I've watched people increasingly jump on the "don't do this exercise" bandwagon, but I'm sure most arrived there from reading someone else's article or blog, not a lifetime of doing overhead presses with poor results.
Watch this video on how I use this "outlaw" in the gym.
The goal for any man is to overhead press his bodyweight for a single. Hit that and your manhood will quickly return.
Dips became an outlaw because the resistance is your body weight instead of some special expensive machine. All the regurgitated "dips hurt the shoulders" articles and blogs also played a role in vilifying it.
To be more manly, the goal would be either to nail 30 clean reps with bodyweight or work up to a set of 10 reps with 100 pounds strapped to your waist. Watch this video of current UFC champ Frankie Edgar busting out 100 dips in three minutes. See if you can top his numbers.
Squats became an outlaw simply because it's exercise perfection and the lawmakers who suck at them had to find something wrong with it. Thanks to false knee concerns, flexibility references, and the growing popularity of the squat's skinny single-legged cousins, the King of Exercises has been reduced to something to be performed when nobody is watching.
My advice: improve hip and ankle flexibility and depth and form will increase. The squat isn't the problem; some just need to fix a few things first.
Here is a video from one of my meets this winter that showed the results of hanging with the Outlaws.
To get your man card punched, a double bodyweight is a nice squat. I say you should nail that for a triple.
The New Laws
Granted, we also did many things "wrong" back in the day. High reps "cut up" the muscle? A zero fat diet is the best way to get lean? Striped Hot Skinz tights are great on leg days? You get the picture.
But what most lifters did right in the good old days was "bring it." Every workout, every set, every rep; if you weren't straining, you weren't gaining. As a result, there were more big, strong, ass kicking men stomping around inside one dingy weight room than there are today in a hundred pristine Planet Fitness locations.
Take off your orange safety vest and matching helmet and start adding some weight to the bar. Make your goal to hit some (or all) of the benchmarks outlined above.
In the end, something is going to kill you. Real men are remembered – and you'll have a better chance of being remembered as a jacked SOB if you run with the outlaws than if you hang with the nerds at the library of "what you can't do."
Train like a man!