Lessons from the YMCA

I’m a busy guy. In between working with gym clients, online clients, writing for this blog and T-Nation; I also work a full-time job. So, it takes a concerted effort to make quality time with heavy things. Sometimes, I have to make concessions to train. Most recently, I spent time with the iron at my local YMCA. Affectionately known as the Y here in Central Pennsylvania.

 Along the journey to triumphant weight-room dominance, sometimes there are detours into dark forests. For me, the dark forest is the commercial gym.

Let’s start this party by making one thing clear. I LOATHE commercial gyms. Since my brother, our friends and I established our own place; I’d rather put a rabid badger in my underoos than train at commercial gyms.


 There are a lot of coaches that bash commercial gyms on their blogs after impromtu visits. I am not going to be one of those coaches.

Positives bring themselves to light in every situation if we go looking for them. I found some during my Monday night at the Y. Here they are:

1) First and foremost, there were a bunch of high school kids in there working their asses off. Were they doing everything the right way? No.  Were there a lot of bicep curls being done in place of squats and deadlifts? Absolutely. Did I see a staggering amount of Abercrombie t-shirts that were home-made in to trap bearing cloth slings? You bet your sweet ass I did.

So, what’s the positive? THEY WERE TRAINING!

Instead of eating cheetos, sitting on the couch and thinking about why girls won’t go out with them these dudes were moving weight (albeit tiny amounts). As we deal with what seems to be a pandemic of childhood obesity based on lack of activity, it was great to see a bunch of 14, 15 and 16 year old kids breaking the trend. Most of them were listening to iPods, I just hope for their sake they weren’t pumping out Emo or the latest Justin Bieber tune.

2) Let’s stay on the topic of music for our second point. If you’ve never been to a YMCA weight room I’ll give you a taste of what the standard music selection sounds like.

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 This might surprise you, but I don’t find the Flashdance soundtrack especially motivating. I know whodathunkit! But this taught me a lesson about generating your own intensity.

I’m used to training with strong dudes in a warehouse with Lamb of God turned up to 11. It’s an environement that is extremely conducive to rocketing iron off of the earth and/or challenging a Grizzly to fist fight. Testosterone is in surplus.

Creating that kind of external environment at the Juniata Valley YMCA is impossible, so it has to be created internally. My personal favorite way for creating intensity in a mojo draining environment is to focus intensely. I remind myself of my goals for the day, rehearse the movements I am doing over and over again in my head and think about how much fun it would be to drop kick Jillian Michaels (don’t be fooled, that’s a man).

So I don’t really do the Jillian Michaels thing, but I do rehearse, focus and make myself slightly agitated. It works for me, but it may not for you. The real take-home point is this that you shouldn’t need music to generate the intensity to train. Motivation is internally driven. Of course, the environment always helps, but you shouldn’t need it.

3) Spandex and yoga pants on old ladies aren’t cool. I said because it had to be said. To my unfortunate surprise, the Y was full of pre- and post-menopausal women clad in the trendy pants that most 20 year old college girls wear. Is there no one at home that says to them, “Hunny, maybe those pants aren’t the best idea.” If you are the husband or boyfriend of these women, be silent no more! Let your voice be heard and you will be a hero to many!

To avoid having visions of cut off Abercrombie shirts and spandex that is struggling to contain copious amounts of cottage cheese, I decided that I needed to hit my big lifts and get up out that piece!

In reality, it had been a long and stressful day and I knew drilling myself into the ground was a bad idea. I was also off of my normal training schedule and didn’t want to dampen the intensity on my big lifts later in the week. So I hit my mobility work, front squats, RDLs and some core stability work and went home. Call it autoregulation, cybernetic training or whatever you wish. I call it being smart about training and not reverting to meathead status. Pick your training battles wisely.

Remember that there are lessons to be learned in every situation. The lemons into lemonade saying has merit, so don’t be a sour puss when you are thrown out of your routine.

Get Stronger,




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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
Todd Bumgardner

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Todd Bumgardner
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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger

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