Show ’em (What You’re Made Of): The Struggle on Upper Body Days

When you walk into the weight room, you make a few instant observations. For example, in my gym, I typically see and hear:

  1. ESPN on the TVs
  2. Hip Hop/Rap music over the speakers
  3. Misplaced weights (25 is not 20, read the damn labels)
  4. Jacked dudes
  5. Dudes named Jack
  6. Loud clanking of weights and a grunt following the clank, presumably made by Jack


What/who do I typically not see or hear?

  1. ’90s boyband music (Team Backstreet…ALWAYS)
  2. Girls kicking ass

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Usher or Pitbull when working out, but I also like hitting PRs to “Larger than Life.” And, for all you people, can’t you see…can’t you see, why can’t girls be throwing weights around in the main weight room and intimidating guys? Actually, girls, why don’t we? I don’t believe upper body workouts should be a struggle for women. In fact, they’re my favorite days. In honor of Kobe, I’ll make this my final struggle theorem, for now, #8.

(Get real, I can’t come up with 24 struggles in the gym, too busy cranking out reps to think that hard)

Theorem 8: “Larger than Life” – Larger than Life, Millennium (1999):  It was never a dress.


Corollary 8.1: “We’ve got it goin’ on” – We’ve Got It Goin’ On, Backstreet Boys (1996): It’s intimidating…for all those big guys…when I lift.

Don’t be intimidated, girls. We can lift and, better yet, we can scare people as we lift. You see, men, no matter how loud you grunt, how much space you take up in the weight room, or how badly you can’t read numbers, I will always get a seat on a bench, claim my weights, and lift them over my head as I lipsync to my five guys. The fact that I do it and glare at you, well, my bad, you were encroaching upon my territory.

I had a trainer tell me, when he saw me benching 95lbs one morning, that he had to get his client out of the adjacent bench press. His client was doing 115. If I use my Duke degree and do the math, that’s 20lbs heavier than me. For the ladies who feel it’s intimidating, it appears guys can be as conscientious as we may be about being in the weight room. If they can be bothered by someone who lifts less than them, why should we care about a bunch of people who lift more than us?


OK, sometimes we do lift more

I know, going into the weight room, I’m lifting less than half the people there. It doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t bother me, and nor should it bother anyone else who is trying to improve day in and day out. The only important thing is I know I’m lifting more than I did last week, and the week before, and definitely more than 3 months before or a year before. Personal progress is all that matters, because you can’t control what others do or what they think when they see you pluck weights off the rack. But, you shouldn’t feel their stares mean they’re secretly judging…maybe they’re just trying to mask their fear and awe.

Corollary 8.2: “Am I original? Yeaaa” – Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),  Backstreet’s Back (1997): Be creative, because it increases the intimidation factor.

If I can’t get a bench, it’s a-ok. Because I can do pull ups too. And I’ll do them with weights strapped on to me. Building upper body means having a good balance between your push and pull muscles. Ironically, I started training by not being able to do pull ups and dreading showing my (lack of) capabilities to hang on the bars. Now? I love pull/back days.

Standing low cable crossover fly pulley flies man

This is so going on my future wedding registry.

I also love this contraption at the gym. The Cable Crossover machine with varied grips for pull ups and hangs at the top is extremely versatile and can help with building multiple muscle groups. So, let’s say you want into the weight room on international chest day and all the benches and free weights are taken. Then you see this massive contraption, what can you do and what do you do? Pretty much everything, and you’ll look good while you mix things up.

Some examples:


Chest day fun

For chest day, you can do:

  • Tricep pull downs
  • Standing Cable Flys
  • Tricep Extensions

Back day fun. P.S. if you struggle with pull ups, just hanging in that position on the right will help develop those muscles.

For Back Day:

  • Lat pull downs
  • Low Rows
  • Pull ups

Core, woot woot!

For Core:

  • Hanging leg raises
  • Pailoff Presses
  • Core Rotations

So what if some Hulk is grunting with his 90lb dumbbells for the next 20 min? You can throw any amount of weight on the cable machine and get cranking.

Corollary 8.3:”I should’ve known from the start” – Quit Playin’ Games, Backstreet Boys (1996): Knowledge and guidance is power.

Confidence is key. And, when you want to go into the weight room, you must do what you feel comfortable with to prepare. For some people, knowing what they can do and what they should do will help improve focus and provide guidance when walking into the weight room. I don’t intend for this to be for just women either.


Even demi-gods need trainers.

Having an encouraging trainer who knows how to push you to your limits does wonders for building strength and self esteem. Or, having your workout buddy spot you and give you tips on what they like to use for their routine in the gym also provides structure for future solo sessions. I had both between college and work, and let me tell you, going into the gym with an agenda certainly makes the experience more efficient and rewarding.

Corollary 8.4: “Cuz I want it that way” –I Want It That Way, Millennium (1999): Just do it.


I also really don’t give a s**t what other people think. I’m here to do my business and you’re here to do yours. I know this may not be how everyone thinks when they see the weight room upon entering the gym, but you can break down those mental barriers by considering the following possibilities:

  • Hold your head high and don’t give a f*** about the people around you -mainly because they’re too busy looking at themselves in the mirror to notice you’re there
  • Everyone has goals that they’re working towards, you’re just joining such a community by being in the same area of the gym
  • They may be just as insecure as you are
  • Everyone is smelly, disgusting, and gross. Whatever semi decent first impression you think you’re gonna make? Well, they’re not making the best one themselves, so it’s all a moo point.


Corollary 8.5: “Hey Mr. DJ, keep playin’ this song for me” – Hey Mr. D.J., Backstreet’s Back (1997): Have fun.

Perhaps the most important corollary to remember. It won’t last long if you don’t have fun. If gymming becomes a chore, then something is amiss. I love going to the gym to take my mind off of stressors in life, to work towards new goals, and to take selfies to post on instagram (because who doesn’t love attention?).


I also simply enjoy it, all of it – the process of breaking down complicated movements, of building stronger foundations towards a more impressive goal, of being able to set those goals and to crush them before year end. I love tracking progress and seeing how far I’ve come, and damn I’ve come far.


Benchm max at 120lbs 😀

The best part? It’s mine. No one can touch me or my achievements in the gym, because it’s what I’ve worked on, with help of course. It’s what I can do that within my control, on my time. And, when you fall or fail to do something, nothing is sweeter than getting it done the second time around.

So, enough of me ranting about the gym and what I struggle with on a daily basis. Time to face your own struggles and start knocking them down. Since my gym is nearby, nothing else to day besides, “Going to a place nearby, gotta go!” – The Call, Black and Blue (2000)


BSB’s latest music video, still alive and kickin

Oh yea, Brian is showing us what he’s made of 😛

Show ‘Em (What You’re Made Of), In A World Like This (2013)



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