Jack Donovan’s book, The Way of Men, lists four “masculine virtues”: Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honour. His book is a short read, but a damn fine one at that, and I suppose it’s worth expanding on each of these in turn in various posts.
Strength is something that every man should seek- whether it be a strong mind, a strong body, or a strong frame, strength is at the very core of the masculine identity. Men respect strength, in both good and bad forms. We respect the strength of the man who can lift huge amounts of weight, because we know that such a man has put in hard work and initiative to make himself better. We respect the strength of the visionary CEO who stood apart from everyone else and insisted on doing things his way (even though I personally cannot stand Apple’s technofascist approach towards its users, and am a strong proponent and user of open-source software), to the betterment of society as a whole. We respect the strength of the Founding Fathers, who stood up to an overbearing empire in order to stand up for what they correctly believed to be their natural rights from birth. Strength defines us as men; without strength, no man can truly consider himself to be a man.
Strength starts first and foremost with the body. I have long been a firm believer in the idea that a strong mind can only be supported by a strong body. (There are exceptions, to be sure, but they are few and far between.) The question is, where does one even start? The answer is simple: weight-lifting.
I started lifting weights in my (very) late teens. I’ll readily admit that I didn’t have the first bloody clue what I was doing back then. I mixed up cardio on the rowing machines with weights and cycling, and I got to the point where I thought I was reasonably strong. Yet, when I started working full-time, my body began to get soft and fat. This was partly because of the way I was eating, and partly because of the way I was exercising. I was eating a carbohydrate-heavy diet, and I was hungry quite frequently. I wasn’t really lifting heavy weights, particularly after a nasty shoulder injury about 4 years ago, and I was concentrating on “isolation” exercises of a sort. About the only compound exercise I was doing was chin-ups.
That all changed when I found a website called Stronglifts. Here, at last, was a simple program that seemed to “just work”, and required me to do less exercise than I was doing at the time. I started on it about 18 months ago, and it’s transformed my strength and body. I’m doing things today that I would have considered flatly impossible just 2 years ago. And I’m just getting started.
For any man looking to improve himself, weightlifting is an absolute must. I don’t care how weak or fat or lazy you are. You have no excuses for any of these things except your own lack of motivation and discipline. Get your ass into the gym, and get acquainted with the cold steel Olympic barbell. It is a phenomenal teacher, because it does not forgive and has no time for human weakness. Your whining about your cold, your hangover, or your broken heart will be lost on the emotionless, uncaring steel. It respects only strength, rewards only determination, builds only character and courage. The barbell has one creed-go hard, go heavy, or GO HOME. (First one to point out the double-entendre gets smacked upside the head.) In order to start with weightlifting, here is what you absolutely must do:
- Shut up and squat. And damned well do it right. I don’t care how much weight you think you can squat- if you’re not going down to the point where your knees are parallel to your hips, or lower, then you are not squatting. Full bloody stop. I’m fed up of seeing guys thinking that they can squat 275lbs in the gym when they’re only going down halfway and then bouncing back up. That is not good form, and they WILL injure themselves eventually.
- Warm up correctly. The empty barbell is a fantastic tool, whether you’re warming up for squats, bench presses, rows, power cleans, deadlifts, or overhead presses. Start with an empty bar and warm up with good form and technique. Your body will thank you for it later.
- Do not fear the bench press. This one is perhaps the hardest to take to heart. I’ve had an unhealthy fear of benching to the chest for years, largely because of the way I injured my shoulder. That fear needs to be approached and conquered, just like any other fear. The bar should touch your chest in order to trigger the elbow reflex that shoves the bar right back up. Keep your back arched and KEEP YOUR FEET ON THE FLOOR. The number of times I’ve seen guys stick their feet up on the bench itself is ridiculous, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from giving those idiots lectures about good form.
- Deadlifts are good for you. There is no exercise quite as primal as the deadlift- you are literally hauling vast amounts of weight up off the ground and back down again. There is also no exercise that will build muscle as fast as this. Not even squats are this effective. One might ask which muscle groups the deadlifts work- I ask, which muscle group doesn’t it work?!? Deadlifting is the fastest way to build a strong back, strong arms, strong legs, and an overall feeling of power and confidence. (It also helps that seeing a man deadlift heavy weights triggers a primal attraction reflex in the minds of cute girls at the gym- respect for strength truly is hardwired into the human psyche.)
- Rest. You’ll do yourself an injury if you over-train. Your body doesn’t gain strength from going to the gym. It gains strength from the rest periods after the gym, when your muscles rebuild themselves using the nutrients that you feed them in the form of proteins and amino acids.
- Take care of your lower back. Deadlifting is a phenomenal exercise, but do it wrong and you will enter a world of pain that you never even dreamed existed. There is no injury short of limb amputation that hurts as much as a torn lower back or a herniated disc, and nothing will set your training back as quickly or for as long. Keep your back arched during squats and bench presses; keep it neutral during deadlifts, and for the love of God, don’t round your back when lifting heavy weights.
- Learn how to do chin-ups without assistance. Back in high school, I was fat, lazy, and nerdy. (I’m still lazy and nerdy- fat, though, is a distant and fading memory.) I saw a girl do 11 full chin-ups in the gym, and I was hugely impressed, yet felt strangely emasculated at the time. Over the years I realised that there was nothing “strange” about that feeling. Chin-ups are a sign of serious upper-body strength and the ability to do them is a measure of manliness, pure and simple. If you can pull yourself up under your own power, without assistance, you’re already stronger than about 90% of the guys and 99.999% of the girls who go to any given gym. Learn how to do chin-ups properly, and watch as your arms, shoulders, and back get strong and sculpted.
- Get your woman to do weights. This one is very difficult for most women to accept. Contrary to popular belief, women who lift weights DO NOT become ugly she-beast freaks. They become strong and sculpted, the way God intended them to be. Women who lift weights properly, with good form, are extremely attractive relative to their peers, who tend to be fat and chunky, androgynous and skinny, or top-heavy and bottom-light. Every woman in the gym should be doing squats and deadlifts (NSFW!). (Just do me a favour, ladies, and stay the hell out of my way- I have no time for women who want to work in with me while lifting one-fifth the weight that I am. I suppose it’s fortunate that women in my gym are pretty intimidated by the squat rack, so they don’t use it.)
- Figure out the basics first, THEN worry about complicated technical exercises. That means you need to figure out how to do the squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press before you can even think about more technical exercises like power cleans, clean-and-jerks, and Olympic lifts.
- Ditch the supplements. All you need is whey protein, creatine, multivitamin capsules, and fish oil. You can pick up a good batch of whey protein for under $45. Creatine is great for muscle recovery, I pop two capsules of the stuff every day. Multivitamins are self-explanatory. Fish oil is critical for good health, I recommend at least 3,000mg of the stuff daily. Everything else is a waste of time and money. Ignore the scams.
- Stop wasting your time with isolation exercises. They’re pointless. Concentrate on the big, fundamental compound movements. They’ll build muscle and strength and damn sight faster.
- To hell with the fitness magazines and body-builder trash talk. Tear up your subscription to Men’s Health and other magazines, you’re wasting your money. Those magazines are built around a business model of selling copies on a monthly basis, which means that they benefit if you keep jumping from one “routine of the month” to the next. Ignore the noise, get your butt into the gym, and do some squats.
- Strength and game are one and the same. Game is all about confidence. You cannot have confidence in yourself if you feel weak. If you are strong, and your body shows it, you will look better. You will carry yourself better. You will wear suits better. You will present yourself to the world as a man worthy of respect, honour, and even fear. You will be a man that other men respect and women admire.
I dearly wish my father, an uncle, or an older brother- hell, even just a friend- had told me all of this 10 years ago. I’m strong today, but I always find myself wondering what would have happened if I’d spent my teen years lifting weights instead of watching TV, and my college years doing squats and deadlifts instead of dumbbell presses. As a man ages, his strength wanes. Don’t waste the time that God gave you to make yourself the best man you can be. Use that time to build your strength, and watch as the rest of your life benefits from it.