I remember, as I'm sure you can too, my first day in the gym. For me, it was at my high school buddies house. His parents had (not so) willingly lent us the space after our pleading that the equipment at school sucked, and that with having twenty-four hour access to the gym, we would most definitely come out of the summer being the most competitive kids in our conference. They had no idea, and neither did we, that agreeing to letting us set up shop would lead to countless loud late night Clean and Jerk sessions, a tripling of their grocery budget (all pre and post workout meals were had in their kitchen), and a 4x6 foot dent in their cement garage floor, but they figured it was better than underage drinking and getting girls pregnant, and so our love for the garage gym life was born.
We started out simple. A couple of $60 refurbished powerlifting bars that we broke almost immediately after trying to snatch for the first time (nothing like the Vaughn or other great barbells on the market today), 500lbs of assorted metal plates and rubber bumpers, and a four hundred pound regulation platform we made in shop class out of plywood, glue and lots of nails. Rubber matting would come in a few months after a "scrapping" excursion, but that's a blogpost all in it's self. It wasn't much, but we were "weightlifters" and we were free to lift whenever, so for us it was heaven.
About three weeks into our training I walked in to the gym out of the still cool, Wisconsin midmorning, to a sight that almost demanded PR's. Our squat rack had arrived.
(Our first gym version 2.0)
My friends had already unboxed and set it up on the platform and the sun coming in through the garage door shined down on the rack like a spotlight. A strong and sophisticated design, that promised it would hold up loads that we wouldn't even be able to stand up with (although we would try everyday, we were all about the Bulgarian way), and the simple fact that we would now be able to do even more in our small sanctuary, gave us a high that only athletes have come to know.
The rate I gained strength in those three months, and the nine months that would follow before I graduated was faster than any other time in my training since. We had no coach, no outlined program, and no one to tell us what we were doing was crazy, and so we showed up to the gym everyday ready to work and try our best to out perform one another. Every month that went by some new addition to the gym would be had, chairs, a PR board, foam rollers, and Jerk Blocks all became a part of the home we had built for ourselves. It seemed with every new item came new challenges and new records broken. We felt how artist or musicians must feel after discovering a new way to shape their paintings or weave instrumentals into emotion. Maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but it really was a great time. A time that shaped my future in to what it is today.
To own a squat rack, barbell, plates, and gym is to be free. To have friends to share it with is bliss. I have nothing against group classes, commercial strength and conditioning gyms, or CrossFit boxes, and in their own way every one of those is vitally important to our community. I do think however that there is something certainly unique and truly special about being able to take training in to your own hands, and mold yourself into what you want to become. Like we did, and like most things do, eventually there is always a time for change, and whether that is moving from your garage to a coach and a gym, doing the reverse, or simply starting your journey in to whatever fitness endeavors intrigue you, the opportunity is always there. To own a squat rack is to be free, to live at all you must step into the gym.
(the original training partners)