For the love of the iron

I remember when my love for lifting first grew. I remember the first few gyms I was a member at, old training partners, interesting shit that happened in gyms, advice I got, the heat of the old YMCA basement gym in summer, the leaky room of Mid-Atlantic Fitness. I recall training with professional athletes, Highland games competitors, and learning how to lift as if my life depended on it.

The days before we recorded lifts, posted our workouts online, sold training programs, or even talked much about training anywhere else besides the gym.

When I was 20, I worked as a bouncer on the weekends at a club in Reading, PA called Mulligans. That place is a memory in history as the area where it was located is now ripe with big box stores, chain restaurants, and strip malls as the development of Reading, PA extends away from the central hub of the city.

I worked with men who all hit the gym as religiously as I. Big Mike, Chris, Greg. Those are three names I recall immediately and we had a blast working together.

Of everyone I knew from my gym life, very few of us competed but we had some impressively large and strong men amongst us. We trained because we loved it, and I mean we fucking loved it.

Gyms were a social event as much as they were a place to work. We didn’t hang out and talk, but we hung out and lifted. We didn’t have programs to follow, we did what we wanted to do and grew anyway.

We hung out at each other’s house, ate each other’s food, we were invited to each other’s weddings, and eventually we grew apart. That is how life moves forward. We sometimes just grow apart as people move on.

My entire life story can be wrapped around a gym. I can plot it all from when I was 17 all the way to today and parallel it with how strong I was, how big I was, how I almost died, and where I am now.

In my 20’s I would dream of owing a gym, and that day finally came.

That is how deep the love for this shit sinks and it’s a huge reason why I will never let that love fade. I just absolutely love to train.

From that first time I joined a gym to now, I found a way to do it. I would walk 3 miles to a gym in all sorts of weather. I found heavy rocks and boulders for my backyard when I was training for strongman. I didn’t have access to implements so I found heavy random shit to lift hoping it would carry over in someway.

I never found myself poring through science to determine the best methods. I flat out learned everything by doing, experimenting, and asking questions. I read books, oh damn did I ever read books, but I didn’t argue about them, I just tried things and what worked stuck with me.

I recall training with world record holding lifters in dungeon gyms, people who just amazed me with the amount of weight they could push. I lifted with a team of powerlifters in Ohio who pushed each other like schoolyard bullies. I trained with strongmen so intensely that we would almost pass out after workouts. I had bodybuilders as training partners and we shared some workouts where we were screaming in agony, and it was all for the love of it.

Competition never meant much to me. I can barely remember half of where I competed and certainly don’t care about them all that much today. They were a means to extend the fun for me, and that was it.

I pulled 705 at an unsanctioned PL meet in PA many moons ago and didn’t peak for it. Truth be told, at that time I had no goddamn idea what peaking was. My last strongman contest was in 2010 where I finished 2nd and cheered on the 1st place guy as he was beating me. I don’t remember his name, but I remember yelling at him to push as he was passing me on the overhead press part of the event.

I entered an unsanctioned meet last minute just for the hell of it and ended up taking 2nd in class. That was a meet at Iron Chamber Gym in Ohio where some of my friends were competing. I brought my gear down *just in case* and good thing I did.

I squatted 600 ONE TIME in the gym, because my squat fucking sucks and I own that shit. I never saw that weight again after that. I took solace in the fact that I could play the shit out of sports… or at least that is what I always told myself for my shitty squat. That 600 took everything I had, and I specifically worked on the lift to get that, and I never came anywhere near it again because I would never have that single minded focus to attack one lift the way I attacked the squat.

I remember everything about that moment and it was pretty special to me.

God the memories I have to talk about, the lessons I have learned along the way, the amount of training programs I have tried, and the people I have met.

At 44 years old I have led quite a gym life, not as illustrious as some, but I absorbed all of it and it has been a constant source of comfort in my life. I have been a member of dozens and dozens of gyms, from Planet Fitness for the cardio to Bob Nagel’s place above a goddamn machine shop in Reading, PA.

I have dealt with immense stress by way of lifting. I have shared happy moments with my training partners, and I have tried to beat myself into submission to grow and get stronger.

Why?

Because I love it.

It was always as simple as that for me.

Lifting weight is a purely masochistic activity. It is inherently selfish to the core. You build your body, you break yourself down, you sometimes get hurt, and you eat food that isn’t always enjoyable – because let’s face it, a large pizza sure as shit beats the hell out of chicken and rice – but at the heart of it is something people like me truly love.

I will leave you with a simple story that caps off this love affair rather well.

A few months ago I returned to Reading, PA for someone very important. It was always on my bucket list to visit Warhouse if I ever returned home. Warhouse is owned by Dana Linn Bailey and her husband Rob.

My wife and I GPSed the gym from where we were staying, and when I was driving up I said, “holy shit, I didn’t realize she bought the old World Gym.”

The old WG was the place I had some of my best lifting memories and where I started to really propel my strength and build up dramatically. It was also DLB’s old gym.

We pulled up, paid the guest fee, and took in the merchandise selection because one thing DLB knows how to do better than most is market her brand like a boss.

We walked onto the gym floor and I saw someone… I said, “Mike?”

“Jason?” (Jason is my name, Jay is what I go by)

“Holy fucking shit man, how are you??”

And we hugged.

I haven’t seen Big Mike in 14 years and we recognized each other immediately.

I have had a full life and lifting has made it richer.

____


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