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Y Workouts
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Gary F. Zeolla

The following message was posted on the Weightlifting Discussion Board.

This post is an update to my Gym woes posts. When I visited the YMCA on Thursday (1/29/04) they gave me a pass for a free day. So I used that on Friday for my first workout there.

When I got there I was the only person in the weight room. Since I was planning on benching, this was “bad.” So rather than starting right away, I went into the Nautilus room to check out what kind of equipment it had. I needed to decide if I would get just the “basic’ membership (which includes the weight room, pool, gym, and general locker room), or the “full” membership (which also includes the Nautilus room, the cardio room, saunas, and the use of the “adult” locker room).

There are a couple of prettily good ab machines in the Nautilus room and a nice seated leg curl machine. The leg curl machine in the weight room is rather crappy, so the Nautilus one might be worthwhile. Also, there is a belt with the “multi-exercise” machine that can be used to do weighted dips, pull-ups, and calf raises. Those would be the only machines I would probably use, but they might make the “extra” money for the full membership worthwhile.

As for cardio, as I posted previously, I’ve only been doing a very limited amount of cardio, but my blood pressure and resting heart rate are just fine (BP: 100/66, RHR: 48). So I was thinking of dropping off the cardio altogether.

But the cardio room does have an area set aside for stretching, which I always do after my workouts. And the cardio room is the only place where I saw any cute females, so it might be worth going into there just for that! So I was figuring I would probably go ahead and get the full membership.

In any case, after wasting this time, I went back to the weight room. I was still the only person there, but a had to get started. It was then that I made a horrifying discovery (the “ugly”). The benches were all covered with a clear, slippery plastic!

I hadn’t checked out the benches carefully when I had visited the day before as I “knew” I could bench there. It was squats and deadlifts I was worried about. The rips I thought I had seen in the padding before were actually in the plastic.

When I laid on one and tried to arch, my shoulders would slip out. Needless to say, I was getting rather upset. So I took off my shirt and ground in as much chalk as I could. And by doing so, I wasn’t slipping, but I still didn’t feel “solid” in my arch.

I started my warm-ups without too many problems, but I was still the only one in the weight room. So I took my time, which through off my normal lifting pace. Meanwhile, I didn’t particularly like the music that was playing. So I figured if I was going to be the only person there I might as well put on music I liked. But it was then I found out the stereo was behind a locked door!

But there was a sign on the door that said you could ask at the front desk to have the station changed. But there was a list of only three stations that you were allowed to put on. But one of these three was a station that played good “lifting music” (R97, a “classic rock” station, playing stuff like Zeppelin and Sabbath). So I went to the front desk to get the station changed, but the lady said she didn’t have the key. So I was still stuck listening to the same music.

After wasting all of this time, I was still the only person in the weight room, but it was time for my work sets. So I went into the Nautilus room, and there was one guy in there. So I asked him if he wouldn’t mind coming over to the weight room to spot me. And he nicely said he would.

For my last bench workout (lifting with no gear), I had done 180/4x2. But on this set I only got three reps with same weight. The problem was that stupid plastic. I just didn’t feel solid and couldn’t “push.” It felt like if I did I would slip out. But at least the guy I had asked to spot me was nice enough to wait around for my second set. For it, I dropped the weight down to 175, but still only got three reps. Needless to say, at this point, I was getting rather upset.

It was then that I noticed that the two free benches in the weight room had the plastic ripped off at one end, just enough for your shoulders (duh, I wonder why?). I also noticed that on the other bench with uprights, the plastic was ripped several inches down from the top.

I was still the only person in the gym, so (shhhhhh!), I ripped it a little bit more, just enough to be able to pull the plastic out of the way of my shoulders. So I moved to that bench for my band benches.

By the time I finished my warm-ups, three teenagers and a 30-something guy had come into the gym. So I asked the 30-something to spot me. As always, I told him to “Give me a handoff on ‘3’ and do not touch the weight unless I holler to ‘take it.’”

I was using 125 plus a pair of “mini-bands.” I did the first four reps nicely and was just started to struggle some on the fifth when the spotter started to grab the weight. I yelled, "Don't touch it!" -- but he took it anyway. When I sat up, I said as nicely as I could to him, “I said, don’t touch the weight unless I …” --but before I could finished, he snapped at me, “IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE WAY I SPOT, FIND SOMEONE ELSE!” Unbelievable!

So for my second set I asked one of the teenagers to spot me. On my fifth rep I really struggled and almost got the weight up, but I just couldn’t lockout my right arm (my right shoulder is still weaker than my left due to a bicycle accident I was in 4-1/2 years ago). But at least the teenager held back from grabbing the weight until I called for help.

I then did a couple of sets of seated presses, which went okay (100/5x2), and then went into the Nautilus room to try out the couple of ab machine I mentioned about above. And I was right that they would be worthwhile to use. But overall, what a rotten workout, and I was feeling really discouraged.

That evening I called one of the powerlifters that had worked out at the gym I had worked out at a year ago. I had left that gym in May of last year as it was becoming obvious that the owner did not want powerlifters around much anymore.

I posted about this back then. This was the gym that I said was thinking of putting in a “power room.” It sounded good, until he showed me the list of “rules” for the proposed room: no music, no yelling, no getting chalk on the floor. And the kicker was that he was going to put in a video camera to keep an eye on us. As someone responded, that was just plain creepy. So it was then that I had left that gym.

As it turned out, a few months later the gym changed locations and names. It moved into a new “sports complex” in my area. And when it moved, the owner got rid of most of the bars and free weights, the deadlift platform, two of the four benches, and just about everything else a powerlifter would want. Half of the gym floor is taken up by a four-lane walking track circling the whole floor.

I know all of this as I visited the place when they had an open house. The atmosphere that day reminded me of the first half of “Rocky 3.” For those who saw this movie, this was when Rocky was working out in the “carnival” atmosphere. He proceeded to get knocked out by “Clubber Lang.” Not exactly a proper workout environment. And needless to say, I was glad I got out when I did.

But I had been wondering what happened to the few powerlifters that had been there. So I called one to find out. He wasn’t working out himself anymore as he was coaching wrestling, and he wasn’t sure what had happened to the other lifters.

The next day, Saturday, I was planning on doing heavy squats with full gear. But to workout at the Y again I would need to join. The Y closes at 4:45 pm on Saturdays. So I would need to start my workout by the early afternoon if I would get finished in time. So I just had the morning to figure out what I would do. So I pulled out the Pittsburgh phonebook and called just about every “health club” listed that was anywhere near me.

I was asking if they had a power rack and if any powerlifters worked out there. Most did not have a power rack while a few had one. None had more than one. Most had none or maybe “a couple” of powerlifters. So it would appear that nowhere in the Pittsburgh area is there a “real” powerlifter’s gym.

Getting desperate, I remembered that the “Power Scene” feature in a recent issue of Powerlifting USA had discussed “Pittsburgh powerlifting” (October 2003, p. 19). So I pulled that out. It had the phone number for the PA state chairman of the APF. So I called him to find out where he worked out. Unfortunately, it was south of Pittsburgh. I’m NE of Pittsburgh, so it would be way too far. But he told me to try calling a gym in Warrendale that he thought might be near me. I wasn’t sure where Warrendale was, but it was worth a try.

The gym sounded perfect. A true powerlifter’s gym, with lots of powerlifters, power racks, benches, deadlift platforms, and even a monolift. But when I checked MapQuest  I found out that the gym would be about an hour’s drive away. I’m dedicated, but driving two hours to workout is just too much. So I had no choice but to go ahead and join the Y.

When I got there, there were a few people in the weight room, but fortunately no one was using the lone power rack. So I put one of the wooden crates I mentioned about previously in the corner by the power rack and got set up. I was even able to get the radio station change to R97.

There is one set of spin type collars in the gym, so I “claimed” those. They’re rather rusty and were hard to turn, but nothing a little WD-40 won’t fix. I already put a can in my gym for my next workout. And while I’m at it, I might use a little on the cable machines that are sticking some as well. I figure it will be quicker to do it myself than to try to get the Y to do so.

In any case, this workout went very well. I was even able to get a couple of guys to spot me on my work sets. When I’m lifting weight full gear I really need help on the walk in. And they helped me just fine.

Lifting at 114s, at my last contest I squatted 365 on my first attempt (2 whites, 1 red), but I then got called for depth with 385 for my second and third attempts (1 white, 2 reds on both). After that near bomb out, I dropped my weights in the gym so I could be sure to sink them more. And I’m still not quite back to handling as much weight as before the contest. But I still managed to double 360 and single 370.

I’ve used full gear for all three lifts in the past couple of weeks. And for each of them I did enough for a single to break all of my records from my last contest. Since my next contest is not until July, my goal for all three lifts is to get them up high enough that I can open with enough to break all of my records. So basically, over the next five months, I need to increase my lifts to where I can at least triple what I am now doing for a single.

In any case, the rest of my workout went good. So I’m feeling a little better than I did after my bench workout. So I’ll be lifting at the Y for now. I’ll probably have to change my workout times when I bench to be sure someone is there to spot me (and, of course, never ask that 30-something guy to spot me again!). And it might work out, as long as no one “fixes” the plastic cover I ripped on the bench.

But I’m going to keep looking for something better. Who knows? Eventually I might get desperate enough to just move to Warrendale.

One problem fixed, for now

I figured out that I can use the power rack at the Y for benching when I'm in the gym by myself. If I put a free bench in the power rack, I can set the safety bars at the correct height. When I am arching, I can just touch my chest with the bar without touching the safety bars. But if I miss a rep, I can set the bar on the safeties, flatten out my arch, and slide out from under the bar. So I won't have to worry if there'll be someone in the gym to spot me. And the free bench already has the stupid plastic ripped off at one end, just enough for my shoulders. So that won't be a problem, again, as long as no one "fixes" it.

So my plans right now are to stay at the Y until I get near the end of the ten week routine I'll be starting tomorrow (see Training Routine - 2/6/04 - ?). Since I just joined the Y, I might as well get my money's worth. But hopefully, before I start my next ten week routine, I'll be able to go to one of the gyms I mentioned about previously. If neither of them will work by then, yesterday I checked out a gym in downtown Pittsburgh ("Exercise Warehouse").

It bills itself as "The only hardcore, free-weight gym in Pittsburgh." And it does look like a good, hardcore gym. But talking to the desk attendant, it doesn't sound like there are any competitive powerlifters there. And the traffic to and from the gym would be a real nightmare, not to mention the potholes! I almost hit a monster of one on my way home. But all that aside, the gym does have everything I would need, so that will be an option. I've haven't made it to the Warrendale gym yet, but I plan on checking it out eventually as well.

Y Workouts - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Copyright 2004 by Gary F. Zeolla.

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