I started lifting weights when I was 15 years old. It was the spring of 1986, and football weight lifting had started. Caverna High was a small school and had a very tiny weight room. It was actually a storage closet that they shoved an old multi station nautilus machine in with one squat rack, one Olympic bar, and a few dumbbells. That's were my journey with the iron began. As most high school football weight programs at that time, our "lifting coach" (insert sarcastic voice) would sit in a chair and "B.S." with anyone that came by. We had zero guidance for technique and no program we followed whatsoever. 3 days a week of bench press and curls seemed to be the cool thing to do. A few of us started squatting and I can only imagine what a disaster that looked like. We did our bench press work on the nautilus machine. Looking back at this time I feel grateful. Because of this lack of coaching and mentoring I decided that I would try and find out as much information on training as possible. After high school football I kept lifting and training. Training became my drug, my outlet as a young teen.
Superhero like physiques
In the late 80's there was no Internet or unlimited access to anything like today. I would read every bodybuilding magazine possible, and became so impressed with the superhero like physiques. In 1989 I started lifting in at a small gym in Glasgow Kentucky owned by Brett Underwood. The gym was made of athletes of all types like powerlifters, bodybuilders, and strongmen. There might have been about 40 members. We were a diverse group of people with the same goal, to be the best at whatever we were doing. I decided that I wanted to be a bodybuilder. Brett the owner, and a few other members were bodybuilders. I gained as much knowledge from them as possible.
I was an awful bodybuilder!
As a bodybuilder you need good genetics and I did not have that. The best thing about it though was I learned how to do every lift correctly. Brett was a stickler for form and technique and was not shy about calling you out if you were not doing it right. Looking back now that has had a tremendous effect on how I coach and teach now. Some of the best years of my life, were spent at Active Life Gym. On certain Saturday's we might just do a deadlift day. We would have up to 10 people deadlifting at a time. People were coaching, cheering each other on, and pushing each other to put more weight on the bar.
100 Rep Challenge
Other days would be a truck push challenge or 100 rep challenge on any lift you chose. I remember reading about 100 rep sets and wanting to see if I could do it. A guy at the gym had done the workout with 45s on the hack squat, not to be outdone I added 10 more pounds.
The rules were simple you could not rest at the top of the movement but you could at the bottom. Well, the problem was after about 30 reps it felt like they had volcanic lava in your quads, so resting at bottom trapped all that lactic acid in your legs!! If you rested at the top more than a few seconds then Brett would slap the back of your leg to remind you to keep going. I can remember getting to 80 reps and wanting to stop, but I knew I would disappoint Brett and myself. I finished the set and collapsed on the ground for hours. I missed a day of work because I could not get into the work truck. I also could not fully bend my knees while walking for a couple of days without feeling like I would fall on my face.
Practical jokes and razzing
There were constant practical jokes and razzing between members. My cousin Shane was the biggest jokester of the whole bunch. He would find road kill and tie it to peoples bumper, and throw a cup of cold water on you as you showered. Shane was always getting someone with a practical joke. One day Shane said, "Cuzzie, I think my truck has a leak"? He went on to explain that he kept hearing a hissing sound. I told him, " let's go take a look", we started looking all over the truck to find what was making this noise. We could not find anything that was making this noise. I finally said, "Did you look behind the seat?" He grabs the seat in his little Nissan truck and lays it down. BAM!!! There it was a opossum! Someone had put a live possum in behind Shane's seat. We both jumped back as this critter was hissing and screaming at us!
Classic chess match
Then there was the classic chess match between one of the lawyers in town and a guy who was a butcher at the local grocery store. One of them would go do their set, then come back and make a move while the other would do the same.
The coolest part of being in this group of people was we were all different! People would drive by and look in at us like we were circus freaks. I loved it! I never wanted to be that average person that just followed the rest of the sheep. The group we had in our gym was from all different walks of life. Our diverse group was made of lawyers, nurses, doctors, mechanics, farmers and teachers. You name it we had it at Active Life Gym. I truly believe that being in this diverse group as a young man helped me so much in life. Not just from a training and lifting standpoint, but I learned to be comfortable around any type of person and communicate with people much easier. I never realized that part of my life would be so relevant in my future.