The Iron Bug | Jim Steel

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Where I grew up in Maryland, back in
the ’70s and ’80s, football and basketball were king, and baseball
was an afterthought, something you played when it wasn’t football
or basketball season. So my friends and I played baseball for the
Adelphi Boys and Girls Club in the late spring and early summer to
kill some time before the “important” sports were played. We
competed against the towns that were close to us, maybe playing 10
games or so, and it was fun and all, but it was my least favorite
sport to play, for sure.

So when my sons showed interest in
baseball as young kids, I was like, okay, a few games here and there
will be fine at the local fields, a short season, a chance to drink a
few beers sitting in the car before the games – I can survive that.

But then my sons informed me of travel
baseball, and tryouts, and which team was the best to try out for,
and how you travel all over the place to play. I resisted all of it
at first, it just seemed too serious for little kids. But then over
time I actually began to enjoy it all, going to a big tournament in
Tennessee or Pennsylvania or Maryland.

Wherever we travel to overnight
tournaments, I find a place to train. Sometimes it is a local gym,
and sometimes it’s a hotel gym. A few weeks back, my son Max (11)
and I traveled to Ripken Stadium in Maryland for a 3-day tournament.
It’s not that far from where I live in South Jersey, but we got a
hotel room so Max could be with his friends and go swimming and play
wiffle ball and watch a minor league game when his team wasn’t

The hotel gym wasn’t much to look at,
just a few dumbbells and some treadmills and bikes. Fortunately, I
was done with all of my weight training for the week, I just needed
to sweat a little, so I got on a recumbent bike to ride for a while.

It was 5:30 am and there was only one
other person there, a man about 40 years old, about 5’10” and 175
pounds. He had CNN on the TV, and of course I asked him if he minded
if I changed the channel to some sports or anything else but that
drivel. I could tell right away that he was offended as he said to
me, “It’s better than Fox, where they just hate everything.” I
told him that Fox sucked too and they were all part of the same big
propaganda machine and… and then I stopped talking about it. I let
it go. I just wanted to ride the bike, and I did not want to discuss
the state of the world, just wanted to work up a sweat. It all just
makes me so angry anyway, especially when I can’t get someone to
think with some common sense.

So I told him not to worry about it,
and I just kept pedaling. But I noticed that this guy was working
hard. He was working his ass off, moving from exercise to exercise –
goblet squats, one-arm rows, curls, pushups, and dumbbell bench. He
wasn’t resting very much, just going. He didn’t really know what
he was doing, he did his one-arm rows with one leg sticking up in the
air for some reason, and his goblets weren’t deep enough, but I
admired how he was getting after it with some gusto.

I said, “Man, that’s great how hard
you’re working, very good.” He thanked me, and while he was wiping
sweat from his face, I asked him about his training. He told me that
he does the same thing every day in his basement with dumbbells, and
how he doesn’t have time to do any cardio before work so he moves
from exercise to exercise with no rest to get the cardiovascular
benefit also. I told him that the research is strong and that you get
the same benefits from doing what he was doing as running or biking
for cardiovascular fitness. I told him about Bob Gajda in Chicago
many years ago, who espoused the cardiovascular benefits of weight
training by moving from one exercise to another without rest, and how
he called it the PHA system (Peripheral Heart Action).

I didn’t tell him that he would be
better off purchasing a barbell or joining a gym. I figured that
would come on down the road once he researched it or got tired of his
current program. To be honest, I was just impressed that he was
working at such an early hour and was actually serious about what he
was doing, not looking at his phone or even glancing at CNN while he
was training.

After another circuit round, I asked
him more about his training. He started around 6 months ago, he said,
and he had lost 30 pounds and he felt amazing. I asked if there was a
moment, a rock bottom moment when he had decided to lose the weight
and begin exercising. He said, “Yep, I went out to a bar with all
of my friends after work, as usual, and I was drinking a lot and
eating fried bar food. The next morning, I woke up feeling awful and
decided right then and there that I was tired of feeling like shit
every morning. I made a decision to change, and I went down to my
basement and started exercising and I also started dieting.” He
told me that his friends give him a hard time about not eating out
with them and drinking like he used to. I told him to stick to his
guns, to stay strong and he will always be better off than they are.
People get jealous when they see someone with goals like that who
won’t be deterred.

I asked him who influenced him to train
early in the morning and to work so hard. I figured he watched
Youtube and saw Jocko or David Goggins or someone inspiring like
that, but he hadn’t even heard of those guys. When he was done I
told him what websites to look up and who to follow to get
inspiration from if his motivation ever wanes, and he began taking
notes on his phone.

I was just so impressed that this guy
made a decision to change himself all by himself, and that he had
stuck to his makeshift program every day without fail. And once he
began to see results, it made him even more motivated to keep going.

I could tell that when I complimented
him on his work ethic and the gains that he had made, that he was
proud of his progress and that someone had noticed. He had been
toiling away in that basement all by himself day after day to get
better, without a coach or an app or any outside influences. I found
that to be so admirable, and I told him so. When he finished
training, he said that he had to go, and he thanked me for all the
information and that he would look me up on the internet.

I was floored by this guy. Just a
regular citizen who drew a hard line and made up his mind to change.
And that’s the magic of weight training, isn’t it? Even though
his wasn’t the ideal program, it’s a start. And whether he knew
it or not, he had discovered the fountain of youth – training with
weights. While his friends were burning (or eating) the
midnight oil and feeling like shit the next morning, he had found a
new lease on life.

I think about that guy every once in a
while, and I hope that he is still training hard. I bet that he is.
Once you’re bitten by the Iron Bug like he was, there is no turning

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