Squats and Hills | Jim Steel

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Bobby had just finished up his junior year of high school, and he was
looking forward to summer. For most kids Bobby’s age, summertime
meant going to the beach, hanging out with friends and partying. Not
for Bobby. Oh sure, he went swimming and crabbing in the Choptank
River on Sundays after church let out, but for the other 6 days of
the week, Bobby trained for football.

He had been trained for
football the previous two summers by his Uncle Randy and Randy’s
best friend, Mongo, and he was planning on sticking to that annual
schedule. Both Randy and Mongo had played college football and knew
what it took to get ready for the season. Although they were both in
their 50s, they could still lift heavy weights and still had a few
sprints left in them.

The afternoon that his
junior year of high school ended, Bobby drove to Mongo’s Gym on
Main Street in Bayville, Maryland. He knew that his Uncle Randy would
be in the gym, finishing up his Muay Thai lesson with Ronald, his
teacher. Every Friday, Randy worked Muay Thai for an hour, starting
at 2:30 pm.

It was 3:25 pm when
Bobby walked into the gym and headed back towards the MMA area of the
gym. He saw his Uncle Randy performing kicks on the heavy bag,
focused intently on roundhouse kicks. After a few minutes of non-stop
kicks, alternating right and left legs, Randy was done with the
lesson. When he stopped, he looked over at his nephew. “How many
did you do?” Bobby asked.

“100 kicks every
training day with the right, and with the left. It’s a great
finisher.” Randy answered.

“What’s going on with
you?” Randy asked, as he toweled off his face and head.

“Well, today was the
last day of school of my junior year, and I was hoping you and Mongo
would train me for football again this summer,” Bobby said.

“Ah, I don’t know,”
Randy said, smiling. “I’m pretty busy, you know. Guy like me can’t
just stop and help a kid.” Bobby’s face fell, and then Randy said,
“Of course we’re gonna train you. Mongo and I were just
going over the training schedule this morning.”

“That’s great,”
Bobby said, “When do we start?”

“Be here at 6:00
tomorrow morning. We’ll review the program and then we’ll train.
Saturdays will be our squat days this summer. Then we’ll do a little
conditioning,” Randy said.

“I’m looking
forward to it,” Bobby said, “It’s my senior year.”

“I know,” Randy
said, “You’ll be ready to go just like always, but even better if
you put in the work.”

The morning came soon
for Bobby, and he was glad. Although he did okay in school, with a
few As, and a few Bs and Cs, he loved summer training with
Randy and Mongo more than anything, and he was always glad when the
school year was done and he could get started.

Bobby’s high school
football team had a summer lifting program, but the players didn’t
really train very hard. Bobby did train with the team, “To be a
good teammate” his Uncle had told him, but the sessions were mostly
circuit training. The other players didn’t seem to push themselves.

And not much lower body
work was performed. It was more the “showy” muscles, like biceps
and chest that were trained the most. Bobby knew, through Randy and
Mongo and by his own experience, that power on the field came from
the lower body and was best worked with power cleans and squats and
deadlifts. Those were the exercises that he felt helped him the most
on the field.

He didn’t understand
why other kid’s parents hired expensive personal trainers to train
them with fancy, gimmicky exercises instead of having them perform
basic exercises that made them big and very strong. Bobby asked his
uncle why some kids did the easy stuff and he said, “Because their
parents are always looking for something different, the ‘latest’
training programs and ‘styles’ to set their kids apart from other
kids, like some kind of secret is out there.”

“What they don’t
realize is that there is no secret, it is all about gut-busting work
on the basics that give the most bang for your buck. And nobody who
is relatively ‘normal’ wants to go through the hell that we put you
through. It’s hard, you get lightheaded and dizzy sometimes, and you
get nauseous and may even vomit. Very few people are willing to pay
that kind of price to be great.”

Bobby nodded in
agreement. He loved to push himself. He had noticed how when the
coach had them perform sprints as a team, that some of the players
acted like they were running hard, but they weren’t really trying.
They would save their energy for a big finish, and then they would
run the last few sprints very hard and the coaches would praise them.
Randy always told Bobby to go as hard as he could on every sprint and
to never save himself. And that is what Bobby did and he was proud of
that fact. And in the weight room, some players skipped sets of
exercises or even skipped performing whole exercises. It irritated
him that other players did that, but his uncle told him just to focus
on himself, and that he couldn’t control the other players actions.

When Bobby arrived at
the gym at 5:50 AM the next morning, Uncle Randy and Mongo were
already there, standing at the front counter drinking large cups of
black coffee. They both drank their coffee black, and they drank
Death Wish Coffee, because it had the most caffeine. Randy poured a
cup from his Thermos for Bobby as soon as he saw him and handed it to
him. “A little rocket fuel for ya,” Randy said.

Bobby took the mug of
steaming coffee and took a sip. “Strong,” Bobby said, smiling.
“Just like I like it.”

Randy said, “That’s
right. Now let’s talk about today. Since you have been squatting on
my program for awhile, we’ll continue with it. You have to hit a top
set of 405 for 5 today. If my records are correct, that will be a new
PR for you.”

“Yessir,” Bobby
said, “My best is 395×5.”

“Good,” Mongo said,
“Let’s start the summer off right!”

They set their coffee
cups on the counter. Randy asked, “You ready, son?”

“Yessir,” Bobby
answered, “I am ready.”

They headed towards the
back of the gym to a power rack that they always used. Painted on the
crossbar at the top of the rack were the words, “Will Over Hope”
– Randy’s personal axiom for everything in life. He believed in
making things happen with action, not just sitting around and hoping
stuff gets done.

Randy and Mongo were
also squatting that morning, and training with those two grown men
always gave Bobby extra motivation to do well in his lifting. He
never wanted to let those men down or to show any weakness.

Each of them warmed up,
adding weight each set. Bobby could feel the intensity increase among
them all as they got closer to their top set. Randy and Mongo were
deadly serious. They were not talking much now, just changing plates
and telling each other the weights to put on the bar along with small
coaching points. During each warm up set, Mongo and Randy would
critique each other’s work and Bobby’s, with cues such as “Sit back
more” or “Drive out hard.”

Bobby was in his
element now, at the squat rack, feeling the sweat break and his heart
rate increase with two men who were very serious about getting big
and strong. There was no place for whining or complaining, and no
place for fooling around. None of them had their phones with them
while they trained. It was a welcome respite from the technology that
was always around them. Time to be a Berserker, not scroll through a

Randy and Mongo both
squatted their top sets with 515 for 5. Their sets were tough, but
doable. When they finished their sets, the others patted them on the
back and told them “Good job.”

Now, it was Bobby’s
turn. Randy and Mongo loaded four 45-pound plates on each side.

“Okay, get your mind
right,” advised Randy. “It’s 405. You have to get fired
up for this set. Right now, go over your checklist in your head, the
set up, the stance, where your eyes will be, the whole thing. And
then get fired up, crazy fired up.”

Bobby sat on a bench in
front of the rack and thought about it all, seeing himself get under
the bar, setting up, squatting down, driving up and dominating the
weight. When he was satisfied with his visualization of the upcoming
set, he stood up and positioned himself under the bar. Standing up
with the weight and walking back, he readied himself. With a huge
breath, he descended with the weight. Rep number one was hard, and
when he got back to the top he had some doubts about finishing the
set. But Randy was in his ear. “You can do this! Get mad at it.
Five reps no matter what!”

Those words triggered
something inside of Bobby. He felt a surge of energy and confidence.
Hearing Randy’s voice got him fired up. Reps two through four were
hard, but Bobby completed them. The fourth rep was particularly tough
but Bobby stood up with it. “One more! One more rep!”
Randy yelled.

Bobby went down with
the weight and when he was driving out of the hole, he felt the bar
slow down slightly.

Mongo yelled. And Bobby pushed as hard as he could. He felt the
pressure build up in his head, but he kept pushing. He finished the
last rep with a final burst of energy which came from deep down
inside, locked out the weight, and racked it with relief.

“Great job!” Randy
said, slapping Bobby on the back.

“Yeah man!” Mongo
said, “Great work.”

“How do you feel?”
Randy asked.

“I feel great,”
Bobby said, out of breath and bent over, “I have never tried so
hard at something in my life!”

“That’s what it’s all
about,” Randy said. “That feeling. It’s what we all search for
every workout. I can’t even explain it, but you can only get it from
pushing as hard as you freaking can. Great job. That is just the
beginning for you this summer.”

Bobby said, “Sounds
great. I appreciate you guys helping me out.”

Mongo answered, “We
never mind helping anybody out when they work as hard as you do.”

“But don’t get a
big head about it, because we’re off to The Hill next,” Randy said,
finishing helping Mongo rack the plates. Bobby knew what his uncle
was talking about. Located about a mile from the gym, “the hill”
was a part of an isolated paved road that went up from Crab Creek at
the start and steadily rose until it leveled out at around 60 yards.
It was brutal, and Bobby had become good friends with it the summer

After they had cleaned
up the power rack and grabbed their gym bags, all 3 walked out of the
front door of the gym and piled into Randy’s jacked up Toyota
Tundra. Randy blared death metal music at top volume as they drove to
their destination. Nobody said a word. Bobby was nervous, but excited
at the same time. He knew what was in store for him.

When they arrived at
the bottom of the hill, Randy parked the truck on the side of the
road. “All right, jog around a little bit and get ready,” Randy
said to Bobby. Neither Randy or Mongo warmed up, they just looked
straight up the hill. After a few minutes, Bobby pronounced himself
ready and they lined up behind a line in the road. “Behind the
line, always behind the line,” Randy said to Mongo, who was
creeping over the line to get a head start. Mongo looked at Randy
with fierce determination in his eyes. These guys competed in
everything, from beer drinking to being first in sprints. “Bobby,
you say Go, since you are the slowest,” Randy said.

“3,2,1, go!” Bobby
said, and they all took off. At 20 yards, Bobby was 5 yards ahead of
both of the older men. At 40 yards, he began to falter, and the two
older men gained the lead, both finishing in a dead tie at the end.
Bobby brought up the rear, a good 10 yards behind.

“No rest, turn around
and walk,” Mongo said, panting heavily. After 6 brutal reps on the
hill, and with Bobby finishing last in each sprint, the torture was

“Day 1 of summer
training,” Randy said, walking with his hands clasped behind his
head as they descended down the hill after their last rep.

“Squats and hills,”
Bobby said, walking down the hill on shaky legs. He wasn’t in shape
yet, but he knew that it would come in time.

“Doing those two
things right there,” Mongo said. “Doing those two things will get
you ready for any sport.”

“By the end of the
summer,” Randy said, “you will be up to 20 reps on the hill, and
squatting 455 for 5 reps, at least. That is, if you can make it until

Bobby knew not to say
anything smart back to his uncle. Instead, he took his words as a
challenge, one that he was hell-bent on meeting.  

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