Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

The Essential Tool For Survival

by Inna Koppel, SSC | March 31, 2020

dr jeremy koppel on the front lines

Dr. Jeremy Koppel on the front lines against COVID-19 in New York.

On Monday, March 16th, Woodmere Fitness Club was shuttered by Governor Andrew Cuomo in an attempt to reduce transmission and “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases in New York. Along with every other small business except services deemed essential – supermarkets, hospitals, pharmacies – our business was shut down with little warning. My gym has been open for 10 years this summer. And it hasn’t only been there for fitness and strength gains. We have helped our community through crises like Hurricane Sandy, in which we transformed ourselves into a virtual non-profit, acting as a community hub and supply chain link for everything from groceries to bedding to emergency housing. We have raised funds for multiple charities as well as for many families when they fell on financial hard times. Our mission was expansive, but clear. However, this is the first time that we find ourselves without any certain future, unclear as to when we will reopen, or what we will be when we do. 

With Cuomo’s announcement, panic briefly ensued causing food shortages, basic supplies were flying off of the shelves and disinfectant supplies were sold out. Items that were seen as essential to survival were all grabbed up by people willing to wait in long lines, risking their health fighting through packed supermarkets and grabbing whatever they thought would sustain them through an unknown length of time. Physical altercations over toilet paper were posted on social media. 

At the same time, in our gym, a parallel but rather unique form of desperation was manifesting itself.  As we prepared for mandatory lockdown, members began pulling up to the gym and loading equipment into their cars. I stood at the entrance of my gym, moving barbells and plates to the curb while people in gloves and masks ran eagerly to collect their barbell sets. We did not have a plan in place for loaning equipment, there was no call to action for rental, but people reached out to me on their own, pleading for a barbell to train with. As I stood crestfallen, worried about the future of our facility, I was struck by the way that our members, in this time of crisis, chose to cling to the simple tool they were introduced to only a couple of years ago when we became a Starting Strength affiliate gym. What is it about having the ability to train the barbell that makes all of us so deeply connected to it? 

It struck me that the barbell is just a simple piece of steel. Barbell training makes that piece of steel a complete transformative tool for people eager to get stronger. Those who have been training for any length of time under this method have come to realize that they are capable of much more than they ever knew, growing physically stronger and mentally tougher each session. They have confronted fear over and over as they voluntarily trained under heavy loads in a squat or pushed a heavy barbell overhead, without quitting after a long grind. Every single lifter has battled their way through fatigue on a tough set of deadlifts while still having to maintain their concentration on the skill at hand. The barbell shows you that you are capable of withstanding difficult situations and it rewards you in the battle against gravity itself, every time you lift. You grow stronger, happier, healthier and more able. The barbell is a tool for maintaining health, and the people who came to the gym on the eve of the business shutdown knew their health would be threatened during the pandemic – not necessarily by the virus, but by a forced layoff from training. 

Standing in the doorway of my empty gym after all of the equipment was sent home with our lifters, I felt calm for the first time in two weeks. The gym was alive and with the people where it belongs, I did not need to worry about the fate of our gym or our people. Coaching is a very underrated field: most people do not truly understand how deep its roots go in both the hearts of the coach and their lifters. We dedicate ourselves to helping people better themselves as human beings so that when faced with danger they will be better able to take care of themselves and their families. 

As a coach, I am deeply moved by the actions of my members who want to stay strong during this difficult time. I know that they have discovered something that can not be effectively put into words –  it must be experienced to be understood. They have become more courageous humans, capable of withstanding hardship and overcoming fear. During this trying time, while my business remains shuttered, I am reassured that my members, my greatest investment, have their barbell, the essential tool to survival.

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