How A Gym With Nothing To Offer Taught Me What Bodybuilding And Life Is Really About

There was once a man with a son who didn’t know how to swim. One day the man walked into an exercise building with his son to look at the giant indoor swimming pool.

The facility housed a very nice Olympic sized pool, basketball courts, and a small weight area upstairs.

One of the employees walked the man and his son around the building to show them the pool, basketball courts, and workout equipment housed upstairs.

The man’s first thought was that the place would be suitable for swimming and basketball, but there was no way the weight area would be good enough for him to use. There was limited equipment and nobody in the place looked like they were into bodybuilding.

After a few trips to the pool with his son and a few random days of shooting baskets on the court he would not return to that place for over a year.

Although the pool and basketball area were nice, it looked like the building was full of poor inner city kids who could cause trouble. It looked nothing like the regular gym he frequented that had honest looking adults and lacked rift-raft looking teenagers.

The inexpensive exercise facility that he had signed up for just to use the pool with his son was full of nothing but older people and punk looking teenagers who probably got some free membership through some government assisted program. It was a place that he would feel like he signed up to on a whim and never to return.

After a year of not using the gym/pool he had signed up at, the man would need a surgery.

After his surgery he would not be able to train heavy for several weeks. The more he thought about recovery during this time, the more he thought about going to a gym where nobody knew him.

He thought about how he didn’t feel like explaining his situation to everyone he knew and how it would just be easier to use a gym where nobody spoke to him or bothered him.

So 5 days after surgery the man returned to the gym he didn’t like, to use the swimming pool. If he couldn’t lift heavy weights for awhile then he thought about trying to swim laps in a pool to stay active.

So on a random Tuesday afternoon he drove to the inner city exercise facility he didn’t care for. He got into the swimming pool and began to swim.

After a couple of laps he had to rest minute. Being muscle bound wasn’t exactly ideal for swimming laps in a pool and swimming seemed extremely challenging to him. After a brief rest he swam a couple more laps.

The man started looking around at everyone else using the pool. He couldn’t believe what he saw. People who looked like they weren’t even in shape were swimming like fish!

Lap after lap some of them swam without needing a break. One guy walked up to him as he rested on the edge of the pool and asked if he could share the lane with him.

The man first thought that there was no way the guy asking to share the swimming lane would be able to swim well. The guy looked like he was in his late 60’s to early 70’s and was slightly overweight looking.

His first impression of the guy COULDN’T HAVE BEEN ANY MORE WRONG.

The guy sharing the lane with him swam freestyle stroke for lap after lap. He didn’t stop… his strokes were slow and steady but yet he moved so fast!

The man wanted to ask the guy how long he had been swimming for, but the old man didn’t stop for 2 seconds to get the chance to even ask! He just kept going on and on.

The man then had a brief conversation with a woman who looked overweight and in her mid to late 50’s. She told him that today was a new record for her, she had just swam 60 laps!

She said to him “I’ve been at it everyday for the past 3 months, and today was my personal best ever!”

The man thought to himself “how could this be? I have swam only 20 laps and I’m wiped out, and this middle aged woman who didn’t even look in shape just swam 60 laps!”

He got out of the pool and walked into the locker room. In the locker room there was a guy who introduced himself to him and talked about swimming.

He talked about breathing techniques, ways to get better faster, and what he advised the man to do in order to get better.

For the first time in a long time, instead of being asked for advice in the gym he was learning from someone else. The more people spoke to him the more he listened.

The gym wasn’t like his normal gym. People remembered his name the first time he introduced himself to them, and nobody wore brand new matching clothing and fancy sneakers.

Nobody talked bad about anybody else, and nobody was in there to put on a show, they just wanted to work!

The man left the gym after swimming and drove home extremely humbled. He was eager to go back the next day and try to improve the amount of laps he could swim without needing to take a break.

After he swam he thought that maybe he would try lifting weights but using extremely light weight. So he walked upstairs to lift weights.

He started with 10 lbs on each side of a flat smith machine bench press and did 50 reps. Then he went up to 20 lbs per side and did 50 reps. Then 30 lbs per side for 50 reps, and that is the heaviest he got to that day for his chest work.

He looked around the gym at other people to observe who was there training. The first guy he noticed was sitting on a flat bench sloppily belting out dumbbell curls.

Not necessarily as sloppy as he was just lifting the weights too fast to get much benefit from the exercise. The man thought about walking over to offer the guy some advice on proper technique.

Before he could walk over to the guy doing the curls, the guy set down the dumbbells and stood up. As he stood up he was shaking uncontrollably.

He grabbed a cane and slowly walked to the next exercise, shaking as if he was about to fall over. The guy was shaking so badly it looked like he was going into a walking seizure!

Then after a few minutes it all clicked….the guy was shaking from Parkinson’s disease. His form wasn’t fast and sloppy, it was the only way he could lift with his condition.

The guy with Parkinson’s disease would one day walk out in front of the man from the restroom facility. He struggled to open the door, and it looked like he was about to fall on his face.

The man thought about helping the guy out by holding the door, but he didn’t help the guy.

He refused to help him because he knew the guy probably didn’t want the help. Helping someone like that would only remind them that they have a physical disability.

As the man returned to the weight room his next set was stronger, motivated by watching someone with a physical disability fight as hard as they could to work through it.

The man continued to look around the small workout facility and he noticed that everyone in there was putting in HARD WORK! They weren’t bullshitting around and he saw NOT A SINGLE PERSON on a phone or playing with a phone!

His next set was stronger, and the next set even stronger. The man wasn’t supposed to be in the gym this soon after surgery, but after seeing some of these people and speaking to some of them, his motivation to get back to the weights was growing more powerful by the minute!

Everyone at the workout facility was friendly and those inner city kids he thought were probably punks? They were nothing but respectful kids who didn’t seem to have much.

Maybe their memberships were discounted or even free? Did it really matter? The facility was giving underprivileged kids a place to go and something to do to stay off the streets and out of trouble.

The man drove home that evening and told his wife all about how wrong he was about that place. He was motivated to return the next day and swim more laps and see if he couldn’t do better than the day prior.

He was motivated to get back upstairs to that weight room with so little equipment! If there was a piece of equipment missing it didn’t matter, he would find a way to work out with what he had available!

During that week in the gym with nothing to offer, the man thought more about himself and his preconceived notions. All of a sudden he had grown to hate part of what he’d become and he missed a part of what he once was.

He soon figured out that part of the reason he had learned to enjoy the gym with nothing to offer was because it was what he once came from.

Not that the man came from absolutely nothing, but his first real gym was in the basement of an old YMCA that was built during the Great Depression era.

Half of the place was used to house people who didn’t have a home and the other half was a workout facility. In that old YMCA there was only basic workout equipment in the gym. There was no shake bar, no tanning beds, and 90% of the time the drinking fountain was broken.

In that old gym he started at, he knew of nothing else, so it was the best gym ever and the only gym! He never walked into the gym and said to himself “if only they had a good hack squat machine…”

The strongest and hardest he ever pushed himself through workouts was in that old YMCA.

Those were the days of squatting until he puked, trying to drive his manual shift Jeep home with his foot shaking so badly from a leg day that he could hardly use the clutch, and working arms so hard he could hardly wash shampoo out of his hair from shaking.

Those were the days of using whatever he had available to get better. If it was only oats and hamburger patties for 2 days then he just ate oats and hamburger patties and didn’t dwell on the fact that he didn’t have steak or fish.

Those were the days of wearing his grass stained sneakers to the gym after pushing a lawnmower all day, and not giving a fuck what anyone thought about his shoes. And back then at that place…nobody gave a fuck anyways!

You see, you could run your mouth all you wanted but when it came to watching someone put in work at the gym, you truly knew what they were made of!

After a week of going to the gym with nothing to offer, the man’s son had asked him to go swimming again. He excitedly said to the boy “Absolutely, lets go to that gym we went to awhile back with the giant swimming pool and tiny gym upstairs!”

They went back to the place the man once thought nothing of to go swimming. After they swam the man walked upstairs with his son to lift weights. His son followed him around from set to set as the man went through his workout.

About halfway through the workout, the guy with Parkinson’s disease walked into the gym. He walked around from machine to machine shaking uncontrollably between sets.

The man took his son aside and told him to watch the guy for a minute. Then he said to the boy “You see that guy over there? That’s the strongest guy in the gym.”

The man’s son then asked him “how is that the strongest guy in the gym? He looks small.”

The man then said to his son:

Because he has an illness that makes him shake so badly, but he doesn’t let it stop him. You see how he can hardly walk?

He can hardly walk and he can’t stop shaking, but he is still in here fighting through it all and doing whatever he can. Do you understand why that is the strongest man in the gym now?

The boy acknowledged his father.

The gym that had nothing to offer, that once shitty workout facility he would only use to recover, soon became the place that gave the man back EVERYTHING HE LOST ALONG THE WAY.

The gym that had nothing to offer truly showed the man what bodybuilding and fitness was all about.

Bodybuilding is about fighting through your enemies.

Whether you’re large or small, strong or weak, healthy or sick, bodybuilding is about doing whatever you can to be your very best on that day.

That is life and that is bodybuilding. Push through your limitations and LET NOTHING STAND IN YOUR WAY!


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25 thoughts on “How A Gym With Nothing To Offer Taught Me What Bodybuilding And Life Is Really About”

  1. What a great piece… Thanks for sharing… I am gonna share this with my kids and have my wife that’s a teacher share it with her classes.

  2. “Because he has an illness that makes him shake so badly, but he doesn’t let it stop him. You see how he can hardly walk?

    He can hardly walk and he can’t stop shaking, but he is still in here fighting through it all and doing whatever he can. Do you understand why that is the strongest man in the gym now?”

    No one believed in me because I have shaking hands without cause (Went to doctors,mrt etc) and had Depression for a long time of my life. I fought our government here and people said I was crazy. Not even my mother believed in me. Today I got the money back through hard work with my lawyer. And people tell me every week that I am shaking. I don’t give a fuck anymore. I struggled very hard for everything. Now, my mother,aunt,uncle don’t like me anymore because I stopped changing my personality to be nice. I am now just who I am and they don’t like it. They tell me to get off my high horse. I told them today that I succeeded against the government and that my self-employment is now official. I got nothing back but ooh boy… the revenge of success is the best there is.

    The old man reminds me of myself and that I should never stop fighting whatever happens. I have reached more than 99% of people on this planet. I won against the government, I am self-employed, And one of my idols wrote me back (YOU).

    I am very happy nowadays.

    Thank you for your great articles john.

  3. Great article,the part about the oldman being the strongest man in the gym almost got me in tears, in the middle of the university lab, haha. Powerful message.

  4. I moved to a small town in w Texas and immediately checked out the 2 facilities for working out. One, a pilates spinning whatever they do place definitely was out.

    The other, a small & cramped facility with old Nautilus machines and a some free weights, was it. I joined and have made the best of it.

    And guess what? It’s kicking my ass because dumb bells are dumb bells and 45 lb plates weigh the same here as they did in a very nice facility I used in Denver this week on a trip.

    Preconceived notions are a buzz kill every time.

    Great story JD, thanx.

  5. This article is beautiful!

    Do you have anything coming up for fitness couples? and dads bonding with their sons?

    I feel there are many couples out there who wanna get fit together and could use some tips. I like how you factor in things like relationships and habits alongside lifting & eating

  6. Really enjoyed that. Ever have a moment where you sit down to read something and it ended up being exactly what you needed to hear for the time period in your life?

  7. WOW, Amazing story. sometimes we become to needy and want nothing but the best when in reality all we need is a strong mind set. Motivation and confidence beats anything.

    Thanks for sharing, love reading your articles.


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