Training Partners, Part 2

by Jim Steel | October 06, 2021

jim steel training partners

I have had some tremendous folks in my life to train with, starting in junior high school and up until the present day. Today, I was back in the woods behind my house scouting for some geese to shoot and I started thinking about high school and junior college in the 1980s, how much fun I had in the weight room, and training for football during those years. In particular, I was thinking about two of my training partners from those days, Carlo and Chris.

If you grew up in the 80s, you know that it was a more carefree time than today. There was less of everything; fewer people, less traffic, far less helicopter-parenting, zero internet, fewer TV channels, and basically less of the bullshit that people have to deal with today. There was less information about things in general, especially training. But when you cut away all of the YouTube experts and Instagram “coaches” you find that the same stuff that worked back then still works today. I figure that the 1980s was the last of the simple decades, and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

In 1983, I was a junior in high school. Looking back, it was one of my favorite years in my life. We were about to embark on a great football season, where we ended up undefeated in the regular season before eventually losing in the Maryland State Championship game. We had a helluva team, with a bunch of seniors leading the way, including my training partner, Carlo.

Carlo was over 6 feet tall and weighed in over 240 pounds. He was benching in the high 300s and squatting over 450, deep. He played center and I played linebacker, but there was no rivalry there, we had a mutual respect for each other. I have to admit that I had it made as far as class went back then. I believe that I was a library aide, a journalism aide, and get this: both Carlo and I had back to back weight training classes together, spanning over two hours. After training, I even had time to take a shower before going to a “real” class, like English or Math.

We trained hard, and of course, our program consisted of the tried and true basics; the squat, bench press, barbell rows, presses, and some assistance lifts like curls and triceps. What’s strange is that we didn't perform power cleans or deadlifts. I am not sure why, but nobody ever even brought them up in conversation. All we cared about was bench and squat, bench and squat. Our football coach was the “strength coach” which consisted of him sitting on his big old butt in a chair and reading the paper. I think he looked up once in a while, but not too often. This was fine with me and Carlo, because we could train the way we wanted to.

We designed our own program, training four days a week. Mondays and Thursdays were bench, press, and triceps and Tuesday and Friday were squat, bent rows, and biceps. On the first 2 days of the week, we would work up to a few heavy sets of 5 reps in the big lifts, and on the third and fourth days of the week, we would work up in weight to a few heavy sets of 8 reps. On the assistance work, we usually stayed in the 8-rep range. Carlo really only liked to bench and squat, but I was also a bodybuilding fan, so I wanted to do some arm work also. Carlo already had huge arms, but I didn’t, so I’d coax him into the curls and triceps.

On Wednesdays, and also on some days after lifting, we would play basketball or run. When we did our sprints, we would just walk out of the building and go over to the football field. We were totally unsupervised, and if we had wanted to, we could have left school and walked down to Pizza Oven, eaten lunch, and then come back. The security guards liked us – we were the “good kids,” athletes who acted right.

We trained together in the summer also, and that was even more fun, because of course I didn't have any classes to go to. Carlo would pick me up in his brother’s old Ford Escort and all of our teammates would meet at the weight room and lift. Nobody took role on who showed up, everybody just showed up to train. Sometimes after training, we would go to Carlo’s apartment and eat pasta and steak or rice and chicken (his mom was a great cook), and then we would go to the pool in his complex and swim. Later in the day I would head back to my house to get some running in.

We tried to avoid working real jobs as much as possible. I had a few lawns that I cut for money (5-10 dollars a lawn), and most of the others did some odd jobs, but we were on a mission to get bigger and stronger for football and didn't want anything to distract us from our goals. Later on, Carlo received a full scholarship to James Madison University where he garnered a first-team slot on the prestigious Kodak All-America team. We would still train together in the summer when he’d come home and we would pick up right where we left off.

We both worked at the Adelphi Mobil gas station then, but we worked just enough to keep our parents off of our backs, because training was still what was most important to us. I remember him squatting 585 pounds and benching over 400 by the time he graduated college. He’d go back to college at the end of summer and he would break the team records in the leg press, despite only performing squats for his leg strength. He told me that the strength coach would get irritated that Carlo was so strong but wasn’t following the strength coach's program.

After high school, I ended up going to Junior College, as my grades coming out of high school were less than stellar. All of that schoolwork just got in the way of training and football, ya know? In Junior College, I ended up hooking up with one of my favorite training partners ever, Chris. He was an absolute madman in the weight room, and he was a Hall of Famer as an offensive guard on the football team. As a freshman, Chris was 198 pounds soaking wet. He knew that he had to get bigger and stronger to succeed on the field.

Chris would eat nine, yes, nine bowls of Raisin Bran for breakfast every morning. It had to be nine bowls. He ate all day long and would get a little irritated if he missed a meal. One time we were fishing at a farm pond in Southern Maryland and it was past his meal time. He said, “I gotta eat!” and took his rod and reel and went and sat in his old orange Toyota Tercel until I gave in and joined him, and we headed to a local shop to get a few steak and cheese subs.

By his sophomore year, he tipped the scale over 270 pounds and I was weighing around 255 pounds after weighing 235 pounds my freshman year. We were both around 5’10” so we were pretty thick. Chris and I were kindred souls, hitting it off right away, becoming training partners, fishing partners, and beer drinking partners. It seems like all we did back then was train for football and fish for bass. We took trips to the upper Potomac River to fish for smallmouth bass and would sneak into golf courses or small farm ponds, anywhere to wet a hook.

We were like-minded in our approach to training; the basics. The squats and benches were in there, along with heavy, seated behind the neck presses and some cheat curls and triceps. Chris, like Carlo, was stronger than I was, which gave me some goals to shoot for in my training. He was crazy strong. I saw him cheat curl 225 pounds for reps, squat 650 for a single, ass on heels, and seated behind-the-neck press 315 pounds for reps. I was chasing him hard, and was proud of my 275 pound behind-the-neck press for a few reps, but it wasn’t close to Chris’ feats of strength.

We worked out in my girlfriend’s fully equipped basement. By fully equipped, I mean that it had all that we needed: a power rack, a bench, a seated behind-the-neck stand, a lat pull down/push down, some adjustable dumbbells, and a few Olympic barbells. Chris had been training at Gold’s Gym before we met, but it was too far for me to go, and I didn't want to ask my father for the money to join when I had my girlfriend’s basement, so I talked Chris into training with me there. We had a small boombox to play Van Halen and AC/DC, and we had an intensity that came from only caring about getting stronger and more massive.

These were epic, brutal training sessions where our muscles screamed with exertion, where the heavy weights put that pressure on your bones that only heavy weights can, and then, still dripping sweat, we would begin recovering by drinking beer and eating and hanging out, going over our training session, deciding on the weights we would use next time.

Our training also involved sprinting on the football field near my house. We would do mostly consecutive 40-yard sprints, and sometimes we would set off into the woods to run the motocross trails, sprinting up hills and gliding down them. In addition, we would do pass rush drills, full speed without equipment. I was a nose guard and Chris was an offensive guard. We were both in our prime athletically, 19 years old and full of fury and fire. We did these drills often, sometimes for days in a row. We would end up bloodied and bruised but never were we antagonistic towards each other. It was just to get each of us better, and it did.

Sometimes we would go over to one of our coaches' houses the next town over and drag him out to critique us and play quarterback. He was trying to quit drinking, so of course we would always bring him a few beers and tell him that he could have just one beer, that he needed to harden up. I remember one time when Chris and I were done trying to kill each other and we walked down the hill that bordered one of the end zones and went for a swim in the creek at the bottom of the hill. We had read a Sports Illustrated article that was written on one of our heroes, John Riggins, where it described Riggins swimming in a creek after a training camp practice, and we had to do the same. It was cool and refreshing and we felt like we were doing what we were supposed to do.

Damn, it was so much fun back then. Those times were a golden age for me, a carefree time of discovery and of friendship. I think of them often, and sometimes I wish I could go back and relive them all over again.

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