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The Quest for Strength Begins

I do not recall what first sparked my interest in strength training, but I remember having a small at home DP barbell set when I was in Junior high. If you grew up in the 70’s or 80’s you probably remember the weights, I am talking about. DP The concrete filled weights with the plastic cover. The barbell was a hollow pipe. I would lift this off the ground and then overhead up in my bedroom. This was the beginning of a lifelong journey of strength. My parents bought me a bench, incline and leg extension combo for my confirmation present.

This is small town Minnesota in the mid 1980’s we had a weight room at the high school but there was not a formal program that everyone did. Back then only the largest universities has strength coaches and many of those were only working with the football team. I trained at home and by training, I mean I played around with the weights initially. During the school year Mr. Sutherland would open the weight room for people after school but that only worked if you were not in a sport and practicing after school. I was a three-sport athlete so lifting after school would not work for me. In the summer the weight room was not open, so having weights at home was essential. A year or two after my first bench my father found a bigger bench with a squat rack on the back from someone in Bluffton MN. I am not sure where we found it, this was before the internet or craigs list. It was either advertised in the paper or in a wheeler dealer at a local radio flea market.

With that new bench and squat rack combo I was able to progress my training but eventually, I could not get enough weight on the bar for squats. My father filled two gunny sacks with bricks and hung them from each end of the bar. Unstable training long before it was a thing or before I knew anything about it.. Believe me you had to be careful when lifting the bar off the rack and stepping back to squat. This may have led to some of my trunk strength (also helps that I am 5’8”) and my being careful as I rack and unrack the bar. Years late I would use Koji front squats (hanging weights from the end of the bar with a band providing instability as they shake and bounce) with some of my athletes as an unstable stimulus. This is not something I use anymore but it is funny to me that we stumbled upon this in trying to solve a problem of adding more weight to the bar. My father has always been great at solving problems and finding a unique way to accomplish the goal.

As I mentioned this was long before the internet and the vast amounts of training information. The only place I knew to look for strength training information was purchasing Muscle and Fitness or Flex magazine from Pamida. Pamida was the poor man’s Kmart. Wow, I guess I am showing my age, it was like a much smaller Walmart. I remember reading in one article that leg extensions would not help you gain much mass in your legs. I would not believe it because of the incredible pump I always received from doing leg extensions. I would get sore and so I thought they must be working.

I recall seeing an assistant basketball coach (who was not a big guy) bench press 135# and I was so impressed and thought he was so strong. I could not wait until I could put the big plates on. Our school weight room was room about 25x30’ we did not have much by today’s standards but looking back it was not bad for such a small school.

Before our freshman or sophomore year myself and a couple of my buddies asked multiple coaches and teachers if someone would open the weight room for us during the summer months. The basketball coach/PE teacher told me that he had only seen about 3-5 people come through and lift consistently in his time at BHHS so it would be better to get a home gym. (He is now my father-in-law). I would say I lifted consistently since it is 35 years later, and I am still going. I even turned it into a career for 25 years. Strength training caused significant changes in my body, confidence, and social status.

I played basketball through my sophomore year, so I had to lift in the morning during the winter since I had practice after school. I got approval for my dad to supervise me in the weight room as long as one of the coaches was in the school and would let us in. One time I was lifting on a game day and our head basketball coach was in lifting that day and had his daughter (Colleen) in working out with him. She had the 1980 spandex tights on, and I remember noticing her calves and how nice her legs were. Colleen and I just celebrated our 25-year wedding anniversary, so I have been pretty consistent there as well.

In the times between sports and the summer I lifted with Kevin Valley, Erik Mathison, Greg Baron and others. One of my other friends was told by his doctor not to lift until his growth plates had fused. One of the other old myths that persist…wait a minute, he is now 6’6” and I am 5’8” maybe there is something to that Lol.

Mr. Sutherland was our offensive coordinator. He was an old Navy guy and a big Nebraska Cornhuskers fan. He taught us how to lift. We did a modified Bigger Faster Stronger (BFS) program. He mounted a large bell inside the door of the weight room. If you had a great workout, you could ring it on the way out. He would not teach us how to power clean until we were strong enough to use 135# so we would have the big plates. Remember, this is small town Minnesota in the 1980’s we did not have bumper plates that were lighter than 45#. When we did learn the clean he taught us the split clean. I look back on that and appreciate learning that first.

One year our coaches went to a conference with a hammer strength presentation from Tim Krumrie. He was a D lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals who broke his leg in the Super Bowl. Yes, you read that correctly, the Bengals were in the Super bowl. The presentation was about how bad squats were and promoting Hammer strength machines. They came back and had the squat rack cut up and taken out. I wish I had known about front squats or had more ingenuity with using boxes to lift the bar off. Instead, we lay on the floor and put our feet on handles of an old wall mounted Olympic weight stack and used it like a leg press until the school purchased a Hammer Strength leg press. Back in the 1980’s and 90’s Hammer Strength was all about machines and did not have any free weight racks or platforms. It is funny how they had to pivot in order to be stay relevant and successful just 10-15 years later.

When I was a junior, we moved away to another school. This school was in a suburb of the Twin Cities, so they had a slightly larger lifting program but still not much and nothing compared to today’s standards. We did not have any rubber bumper plates, so we lifted off these old 2x2 canvas mats to protect the floor. We used a bungy cord around the back of the squat rack to judge the depth on the squat. The squatters’ hamstrings would touch the bungy and the athlete would know when to come up.

Mr. Dickhudt was our volleyball coach and ran most of our weightlifting program. He had me try a new exercise at one point. Using a trainers’ taping table, he placed a pad in front of my thighs and held down my ankles to do a glute ham raise. He was impressed with my hamstring strength and ability to do the exercise right away.

I remember doing straight or stiff leg dead lifts standing on the bench press. We would go all the way down until the bar would almost touch our feet, I am sure rounding our backs to get that range of motion. We did way too many preacher curls in that weight room.

Strength training is the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth. I feel blessed I found strength training so early in life and began the quest for strength I am still traveling today.

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