barbells and brussels sprouts

Most gyms do include a few token free weights, but think about where you’ll find them: around the edges of the room, like fresh fruits and vegetables in a supermarket that gives all the prime middle-of-the-store shelf space to Frosted Flakes and frozen cheesecake. Truly indispensable gear — like the good old-fashioned adjustable barbell rack, the sine qua non of any remotely serious gym — has, by contrast, become a downright rarity. — Daniel Duane, “Everything You Know about Fitness is a Lie”

This is as true of the Penn gym as any other, and they’ve actually begun moving the free weights (or at least the squat racks and the Olympic lifting area) to a little satellite weight room away from the main one. I didn’t even know about this room until last week — which is a shame, because I thought the gym only had two squat racks, and there had been another one in there all along.

I would recommend this article to anyone who’s interested in getting fit but hasn’t been clicking with the usual routines. It’s not a comprehensive program, but it’s a sketch of an alternative approach, and some people really need an alternative approach. Running worked for me until it didn’t; I used to be able to do a lot of it, but now it seems like I can’t hit the pavement for more than two weeks running without hurting my knee, calf, or foot. Strength training with free weights has been more motivating for me, and the benefits are more evident in everyday life, helping people move big things or carrying my laptop around all day (as I do). They’re also more evident over training sessions; I can now squat 275 pounds for 5 sets of 5 reps, which isn’t that impressive among people who are even a little bit serious about this stuff, but I can think back to days in grad school when squatting 115 pounds at the same volume would make me sore for days. I use the routines at StrongLifts, which are simple and, at least at first, quick. Even now, when I have to rest a while between sets, total gym time is usually under an hour (minus showering and changing).

The tone of the article is more than a little self-congratulatory, I’ll admit, and like the guys at StrongLifts, this guy is a little bit too focused on the superiority of strength training and getting huge (vs. lean, which I think is most people’s goal, and almost all women’s). And, of course, articles are written by the winners. Anyone who looks at me in January 2011 can tell that seven months of strength training hasn’t made me huge and ripped; I’m stalling at some embarrassing values on my upper-body lifts, and it’s not clear whether that’s down to diet, sleep, genetics, or what. But I’m still stronger than I’ve ever been, and I still like being that strong and working it up. As an academic, especially, where the relationship between effort and outcome is so unpredictable, it’s great to have a practice like this where progress is unambiguous and consistent work yields consistent results.

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