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SO I ASKED A STRENGTH COACH FOR A WORKOUT

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NEVER POKE A BEAR BECAUSE HE WILL HAND YOU AN EXCEL SPREADSHEET WITH REPS AND DAYS ON IT

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THE AUTHOR, IN 12 WEEKS
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

It started with this:

The problem with Twitter—or the good thing?—is that when you talk about someone on it, there is a pretty decent chance the subject of said talking is on Twitter, too. In this case, he was: Coach Ryan Napoli, late of the North Dakota State University Bison strength and conditioning staff, and now the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Southeast Missouri State University.

He did not decide to kill me after reading this, which was nice. We did get to talking, though, because strength coaches are very entertaining people. This is especially true if you like thinking about posterior chains, multi-joint movements, active recovery, and how to build workouts that build actually strong people, but also leave room for arm workouts because...well, you have to have big nasty arms, even if they’re strictly for vanity? This muscle car needs some pipes to really sing cruising down the street, right?

Anyway, I asked for something very, very stupid. Like, stupid even by my standards, and especially stupid by the standards of someone who turned 40 this year.

I asked for a workout from a strength coach.

I mean...it’s not entirely alien to me, the concept of working out. I’ve been a medium-to-serious runner, albeit with what could only be called natural slows and a big peaks-and-valleys pattern. Running is great for completely obliterating your problems, and awful for changing what you actually look like. Unless you’re naturally lean or running eight miles a day on a vegan diet, you will look and feel a lot like you do normally, just a size or two smaller and feeling the unique condition of being skinny-fat, but with the side effect of serious ligament pain in your legs.

I even spent at least two years in a cult. It rhymes with “boss kit,” and for way too much money a month you can sort of learn a little about weightlifting while courting adrenal failure and ruining perfectly good shoulder joints. There are lots of good things about it! You can take those good things to a cheaper gym after a while, skip the lululemon-libertarian thing, and maybe get out with a good kidney or two. They’re not cheap, and the ones I have are great and fine thank you.

One of those things I did take away from it was big/large weightlifting, which felt great. After a while, you can do fun things like throwing your children into the ceiling on accident, because whoa, I can throw my kids into the ceiling now! Please help me get my son out of the ceiling, because I have just literally thrown him through the ceiling.

Here’s the trick though: especially as you get older, if you want to get stronger, you have to eat more, and often your legs barely work after say, squatting three times a week for heavy reps. Add in a.) a general suspicion of cardio by lifting people b.) legs that feel like they’ve been caned and c.) a general hatred of running, that thing you used to do instead of confronting your problems, and you get to be a very, very plush cat. A very strong, but very winded plush cat who does not have the luxury of napping all day.*

*Remember that to get properly huge-fat as Fat Mac on “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”, Rob McElhenney couldn’t just eat, because that all went to his belly. He had to lift and also eat like an idiot to attain proper size, or otherwise he just looked like a skinny guy with a gut. We did this, but without the incentive of a TV salary because we’re BRILLIANT.

Combine that with age, and a slow but growing realization that you cannot survive on five hours of sleep a night after drinking an entire bottle of red wine while watching wrestling anymore. Shake with the acknowledgement that yes, you only have so long to have a functional body, because being able-bodied is a temporary blessing for all of us, and you have to take advantage of that while you can. Mix with a hint of acceptance that your body, no matter what you do with it, is going to be your body, good and bad. Your legs are short enough to forbid ever looking good on a horse; your abs enjoy working behind the scenes; you will, in middle age, never be able to “just take the stairs at work” and lose fifteen pounds because you stopped drinking beer.

I couldn’t do this to begin with, but Ewan McGregor did for Trainspotting, and that is why fat kids all hate Ewan McGregor including me. (He’s so handsome! Some day I will make him feel my pain by ruining his gut flora with antibiotics and feeding him honeybuns until he’s American-sized.)

It’s not exactly grim, but it’s a rule. Things will hurt more than they did. Your idiot-proof body, slowly but surely, will no longer be safe from the biggest idiot of all: you.

On the upside, I’ll never have to deal with the sorrow of Tom Cruise Coat Hanger Shoulders, and the fat kid calves never went away after adolescence, and the natural slows make me a lousy race horse but a pretty decent pack mule when I move more than twelve feet in a day. (If you don’t move more than twelve feet in a day, things happen, like not finishing a climb up a relatively easy mountain.) Despite abusing my body in every way imaginable, most everything still works, and the things that don’t—see sprinting, being coordinated, or athletic at all—never were much to begin with at all. My pain tolerance ain’t bad, and I’ll write anything down and stick to a routine as long as I’m convinced all that boring routine will become a story.

So after a long period of deep introspection about the body and aging—at least fifteen minutes or so, y’all—I told Coach Nap the following were the goals.

  • be as strong as possible, but while not looking like a sack of dinner rolls and having crap bloodwork numbers
  • be able to move a bit, and have some endurance for running around with kids, hiking, fighting children when they elbow drop me in the morning
  • Rock hard ab. Like, only one of them, because who’s ever done that, really
  • I have as much time as someone with young kids and a busy job has
  • Diet will be what a parent of young children who travels is, which is a step above an actual bear scavenging through a Yellowstone dumpster

He came back and told me two were realistic. (The dream of the MonoAb: dead.)

So: I have something called the Bearded Bear workout in my inbox right now. It looks, as the kids say, pretty extra with it. However, it does look doable? It looks doable, even by bear standards, because it’s made for a human, and not for the people strength coaches work with every day—i.e. athletes, who have to do a ton of conditioning on top of the amount you’ve got, combined with mobility, heavier weights, and some of the test workouts done strictly to see whether you’re a mean enough bastard to do whatever you’re supposed to be doing.

(Remember: the first thing a strength coach will tell you, on surveying you, is that you are not the people they’re used to working with on a daily basis, and that you did not win the genetic lottery.)

Please remind me I said this at the beginning, and then laugh at me when I’m laying in an ice bath in eight weeks and pondering buying new quads on the black market. I’ll write about it every now and then, because the offseason is for personal stuntwork and long essays no one reads.

TL;DR: I asked a strength coach to do what they do, and they did it, and now I’m going to have to live with it.