Frank was a Barbell Man. Of all things one might discern from a glance, this was undeniable. Even the most ignorant 98 pound weakling could see that Frank had spent the majority of his life moving iron and lifting heavy forks. He was a walking powerhouse that weighed 260 if he weighed an ounce and had that look of indeterminate age that so many men of his disposition often have. If you had told me he was 30 I wouldn’t have been surprised any more than if you had said 50.
I had seen Frank around the gym since my first day there. It was hard to miss him, he had the kind of size that made it hard to breathe when he walked into a room from the sheer displacement of oxygen. Like most people there, I had never spoken to him because I assumed he was a jerk and probably kind of stupid. After all, his training was so simple. He’d do a few heavy sets of big lifts, usually around 5-8 reps, and leave. If he was really pushing it he’d hit 4-5 sets of 10 or 12 reps of a smaller exercise like curls or lateral raises.
Really, I was intimidated.
My first encounter with Frank happened by mistake. I was trying to Jerry-rig a Glute-ham raise out of the lat pulldown seat. I would fall so fast that I’d have concussed myself on the first rep if my arms hadn’t caught me and pushed off. In the middle of performing this circus act I fell right into Frank as he walked by.
“Whoa, careful big guy,” said Frank as he scooped me up like a feather and placed me on my feet.
“Sorry. Did I hurt you?”
“I think I’ll live. You know that works better if you face the other way.”
“Huh?” I said confused from the daze I was still in from falling into the brink wall that was Frank.
“The lat pulldown. Generally you face the other way and, you know, pulldown.”
“Oh. I was trying to do some Glute-ham raises. This set up isn’t ideal but this stupid gym doesn’t have a proper Glute-ham machine.”
Frank thought on this for a moment. “Well. Get after it.”
I went back to cursing the ill-equipped gym between each grotesque rep of raises while Frank headed to the squat rack. He had been working up and finally reached the weight that seemed to be his top set. It looked to be around 505 for 6 smooth reps. He racked the bar and wiped the beads of perspiration that had formed around his forehead. After a short sit to catch his breath, Frank came back my way.
“What’s that for anyway?”
“The glute-ham raise?” I asked, surprised that he didn’t know. “It’s to strengthen the butt and hamstrings. Probably one of the best movements around for that.”
“That’s not what I meant. The name kind of tells you what it does. I meant why are you doing that?”
“Oh I see. I’m trying to get my deadlift up and my hamstrings are my weak link holding that back. By doing this I can strengthen them and drive my deadlift up without getting over trained by it.”
“Hmm,” said Frank, nodding in thought as he went back to the squat rack and hit a few drop down sets of 8 at 430.
Later on, after I completed many rounds of “core” training, I ran into Frank in the locker room.
“I’m Frank by the way,” he said as he gripped my hand like a vice and shook it.
“Shane. Nice to meet you,” I replied, glad that my initial beliefs about Frank were turning out to be false.
“So you’re hamstrings are weak, huh?”
“Yeah. I think so. If I can get those stronger I know my deadlift will go up. I really want to hit three plates.”
“Three plates? You mean 315?”
“I’m so close. I hit 300 two weeks ago and I know if I can just strengthen my weaknesses I’ll hit 315, finally.”
Frank sat silently looking at his locker with a concerned look. He finished packing his bag and started heading for the door.
“You know, I don’t know much about weak links or Glute-ham raises but it seems to me, if you’re deadlifting 300 your weak link isn’t your hamstrings.”
“It isn’t?” I asked excitedly. This is the moment I had been waiting for. I was about to hear the golden ticket to help get my deadlift moving.
“Nope. At that weight, and I don’t want to sound like a dick, your weak link is that you’re weak. You aren’t strong enough to have a weak link because everything is weak. Anyway. Nice to meet you.” Frank turned and left.
I sat on the bench hunched over in the most defeated hangdog posture imaginable. I mustered myself and managed to finish packing up and leave the gym. For the next few days those words echoed around in my head. “…your weak link is that you’re weak. You aren’t strong enough to have a weak link because everything is weak.”