The Coolest Stuff | Jim Steel

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The Coolest Stuff

by Jim Steel | December 12, 2023

I’m as guilty of it as anyone, pining for stuff that you think you
have to have. Right now, I am obsessed with buying a hunting blind
for my first year of bow hunting. I could get by without it. I could
create a natural blind with some brush and branches and saw grass.
But that’s not what they do on my favorite hunting shows. They have
the fancy blinds, all camo and with quiet zippers and little stools
to sit on and rangefinders and all the latest gear. You really don’t
need any of it, but it looks so cool.

And then my sons are
asking for all the latest stuff. One “needs” a $350.00 baseball
bat, the other “needs” some shoulder pads because the school’s
shoulder pads that he gets for free aren’t good enough. The food
that I spent $485.00 on in one visit to the grocery store isn’t
good enough, and it goes on and on.

When Chuck Taylor’s
were all the rage in the 1970s, I came home and got all my
gumption up to ask my father for a pair. Miraculously, he said yes.
We climbed into his Ford Falcon station wagon with the “Go Terps!”
bumper stickers on the back and headed to the shoe store. The price
of the shoes there was $12.99 a pair. My father gasped in horror. He
said, “I will never pay $12.99 for a pair of sneakers.” I
remember that this was during the gas shortage under the inept Carter
regime. So what did we do? We drove all around town, going from store
to store, trying to find Chucks for under $10.00. I remember thinking
that we spent $12.99 worth of gas driving all over the place, but of
course, I didn’t say that to my father.

We finally went to an
outlet store where we found a pair for under $10.00. The shoes had a
stamp on the tongue that said, IRREGULAR in big red letters. But I
didn’t care, I had my Chucks. Now, the kids’ shoes are $150.00 a
pair (or more), and they still complain. Somebody somewhere convinced
everyone that you can’t do shit in life without having everything be
so damn special.

I am glad that I grew
up drinking from the garden hose (“But won’t you get worms?”),
exploring in the woods, jumping over ramps on my bike, and walking
everywhere. I swear, my one son got out of football practice the
other day and asked me to drive 20 feet to pick him up instead of
walking over to the car. If I didn’t have a ride, I hitchhiked. I
know you can’t do that anymore because of the crazies in the world
today. But as a family, we had one car, and my mom had to pick up my
dad at work, so either I was walking or hitchhiking.

What does this have to
do with weight training? Well, I look at what’s in the gyms, online
and on YouTube these days, and I see the same attitude of having to
have the latest and greatest equipment or gear, when only barbells
are necessary.

I grew up training in
basement and garage gyms. Usually, there was one Olympic bar, some
Olympic plates, a power rack or free standing squat rack, and a bench
press. And we had some of those dumbbells where you put on standard
plates and tightened the collars with a wrench. I can’t ever remember
using them but for some curls. We got crazy strong without a Power
Squat or Hammer Row or a damn Bosu Ball. I remember that we had a
Behind-the-Neck Stand, for seated behind-the-neck presses. Everyone
did behind-the-neck presses in those days. The Barbarian Brothers and
Ted Arcidi lifted close to 400 pounds in that lift. My training
partner Chris, when we were both sophomores in Junior College, did
315 pounds for a few reps in the seated behind-the-neck. Strong.

He also squatted over
600 in my girlfriend’s basement, and I squatted 550. We had shit as
far as equipment variety, and it didn’t matter. Even gyms back then
didn’t have much in the way of machines besides cables and a leg
press. And nobody had any cardio machines at all. The local
Gold’s Gym where a few of my friends trained had one cardio
machine: a stationary bike that sat in the corner. I never even heard
the word “cardio” before the 90’s. I guess we sprinted hills
and ran sprints for football and played pick-up basketball, but we
didn’t call it “cardio.” Most gyms these days have more cardio
machines than weights and weight machines.

Hell, maybe it was
because it was so damn hard to just use the barbell for stuff that we
got so strong and put on muscle at a fast pace. Our bodies were
forced to adapt or die. You punish your body with a barbell, but in a
good way. Every time you use a barbell, even in the bench press, you
are using your whole body. Think about how hard a max set of 3 in the
press is when you are standing. You are using everything that you
have – muscle and will – to lock out that last rep. All of you is
engaged in that movement. A lot different than a seated machine
press.

Using a barbell is
awfully hard work. And maybe that is why there are so many cardio
machines and weight machines in the gyms now. It’s easy. If you can
look at your phone between sets, it’s too easy. Nobody is looking
at their phones when your next squat set is 700×5.

Of course, you can get
definitely strong on those particular machines. But for sports, and
for life itself, the difficult nature of the barbell is hard to beat.
It’s been around forever. It’s too simple, really. People are like,
“Yeah but… and what’s the catch?” Because everyone wants it
to be so damn exotic and special and gimmicky. What’s the latest
and the greatest? More like the first and reigning king, The Barbell.
The damn thing sits in the corner at some gyms, and in others it
isn’t even allowed. These poor people don’t know that the only true
and very simple magic tool out there for getting strong is sitting
over in the corner, just begging to be picked up.




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