Hero worship in the gym has just gone too damn far. When I first started training at a serious gym, way too damn long ago, there was the “big dude” in the gym. I have to make the distinction of “serious gym” as opposed to the big commercial gyms. I mean, honestly – the strongest guy at Planet Fitness? That’s like having the biggest erection in the retirement village. Anyway, back to the story. I was told by the attendant working behind the desk, in no uncertain terms, that if “Big Tim” wanted the machine I was using, I was to vacate said machine post haste. “Big Tim” was the reigning Mr. Ohio bodybuilding champion or something at the time and he got first dibs on any machines apparently. The owner, a powerlifter and huge son of a bitch in his own right, said “Just stay in the squat rack. He never goes there.” I understood none of this at the time, but decided there to squat more and avoid “Big Tim” whenever possible. Never had any issues with him, though his groupies were annoying as hell. They got upset if you didn’t agree that everything “Big Tim” was the greatest thing ever. And he also seemed to have gotten robbed by the IFBB somewhere along the way, according to them.
Now, this structure wasn’t super unusual as I learned after going to train at other serious gyms. Every serious gym I have made my way through over the years has had a “top dog”. The person in question had usually earned it, though. It was either a reasonably high level powerlifter or bodybuilder who had at least won something fairly impressive, and rarely was the person themselves a douche. Some of the nut huggers would be obnoxious, but the top dog would put them in their place if they started being too annoying to other folks. Still, if you walked in and were big enough and strong enough, the top dog would greet you with the vaunted “head nod of respect” and people pretty much left you alone. For a variety of reason, I eventually stopped training in “serious gyms”, opting instead to train at home. After about 15 years of training in the confines of my garage, I learned that the “top dog of the gym” landscape had changed.
About a year and a half ago, I joined a local gym. It was targeted more towards NARPs (non-athletic regular people), but was well stocked with Texas Power Bars and even had an Olympic platform. They also didn’t mind me dragging in the occasional log or monster bell, which was nice. The “Big Tim” at this place was some half-pint little shit named Clyde. Clyde was not the reigning Mr. Ohio…probably wasn’t even Mr. Obetz. He was just some bodybuilder wannabe who was bigger than the average folks who trained there (i.e. had the biggest erection in the retirement village). He just walked around with ILS (imaginary lat syndrome for the uninitiated), glared at people, never put his fucking weights back, and everyone thought he was God. Shockingly, I was less than convinced of his divinity when I arrived. It started off badly. I walked in, he puffed up and gave me the “I’m the alpha lifter” stare down. I gave him the “I’ve taken shits bigger than you” sneer complete with the one raised eyebrow (I get a lot of practice giving that look at the Arnold expo every year), then proceeded to ignore him while he pouted as got on with my workout. I’d screw with him occasionally by power cleaning his max deadlift after he left it there in the floor and putting it back in the rack where it belonged. Or I’d just have my wife start warming up where he left off. But I could get him to clean up his mess by standing over the bar and yelling “Who the fuck just walked off and left this?” Little did I realize, things would get even stranger.
I genuinely love my current gym and the fact that I can keep all my toys there. Having to carry my stuff in and out of the other gym for each session got old in a hurry. But there is one guy there we’ll call Jimmy. Jimmy is passable strong, but not crazy strong. Maybe he’s crazy good at the crossfit WODs, haven’t paid attention to that. I’m pretty certain he isn’t a national level guy…and probably not even a regional level guy. But my gosh…there seem to have been two lines formed - kneeling and applying your lips either to his front side or his backside, depending on which you find more appealing. They talk about his amazing “old man strength”, despite him being a good 6 or 7 years younger than me. They quote his training advice when he’s not there. “Jimmy said to use more quads…or was that erectors?” They discuss his latest feat of strength at length. Once, after Jimmy hit a new PR deadlift, several of his fan club declared him ready for a strongman competition I was promoting while I was handling early weigh-ins the night before that very show. I was actually about to let him enter, even though I had closed down registration, when my wife told him – quite truthfully – that his max deadlift he just pulled was pretty good in strongman…for a heavyweight woman pulling reps. I have rarely ever had to fight a laughing fit quite like that moment. I love my wife.
So what’s my point in all of this? I really don’t have one. I just wonder what in the hell ever happened to the days of someone actually having to DO something before they got their own fan club in the gym. I need a drink. Probably several.
Random thought: When having a meal out, always bring along someone who is interesting and/or entertaining. One of my favorite dining companions of all time is a woman I know from Eretria. It’s a little country in Africa that is so poor, they could only afford to put a camel with one hump on their national flag. Due to growing up under the linguistic anomalies of that region, she pronounces the word “peanuts” as “penis”. She has a severe peanut allergy. Therefore, she must ALWAYS ask our server if the dish she wants to order has any penis in it. I live for these dining occasions. The lunch at the Chinese restaurant where the server barely spoke any English was the stuff of legends.
Useful advice: A teenager who just got his first car was explaining to his Amish friend how much more awesome his new car was than the Amish kid’s old horse was. “My car is awesome! All I have to do is jump in, turn it on, and go! Put a little gas in it, change the oil every three months, that’s all I need to do. You have to go get the horse, hook it up, make sure it’s fed, you have to rest it every so often. The car is way better.” The Amish kid thought for a second and said with a sly smile, “All this is true. But if I am on a date with a girl, my horse knows the way back home without the use of my two hands…” Moral of the story: Don’t always be so certain that your way is superior to someone else’s. If you listen with an open mind, you might just learn something.
Chris is a strongman promoter and passable masters competitor, having spent his formative years training with Steve Slater. Chris was voted "Whitest Man in South Columbus" for three straight years and was recently named in an injury lawsuit by several Greenpeace