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The Romano Factor

John Romano
John Romano’s name is synonymous with “no bull-crap,” “candid,” and “hardcore.” He’s worked tirelessly to build up an ironclad reputation in the fitness industry through his work as senior editor of Muscular Development magazine and co-founder of Rx Muscle (see also: Heavy Muscle Radio and Muscle Girls Inc.). He’s been consulted as a steroid expert on HBO, ESPN, and ABC’s 20/20, as well as the movie Bigger, Stronger, Faster. Most recently, John worked as director of Internet media at VPX (and host of Shotgun Radio). In his spare time, he is a contributing author for countless blogs, magazines, and articles, including authoring the Muscle Meals cookbook.
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Motivation Zone - Bring your Spotters

It was sometime back in the ‘80s when a dude named Calvin Hancock, fresh off a five-year stretch at Lompoc, eased his way up the steps off Main Street, into World Gym, past Joe Gold (who growled at him), through the gym and outside to the deck. He inhaled deeply and gazed out to the beach and the azure water beyond; there was a just enough breeze to rustle the palm fronds. He exhaled and found himself standing in a realm of incontestable joy. He had finally returned. He looked around the deck and then into the weathering mirrors. They held years of memories, shirtless and sweaty in the southern California sunshine, grinding out grueling sets of old-school iron basics. Calvin was a low-key kind of dude who ran about six feet even, 240 pounds, with that blue-collar kind of muscle, like a longshoreman would have if he didn’t eat three meals a day from the roach coach.

Halfway through a brutal set of dumbbell shrugs, he noticed a dude waiting kind of impatiently for him to finish. He looked like he needed to pee for all the rocking on his feet from side to side with his knees wrapped up. Calvin finished his set and racked the dumbbells. He looked over at the dude standing in front of the squat rack next to him. He had six plates loaded on each side of the bar that Calvin was sure this dude couldn’t even pronounce, let alone squat. “Can I get a spot?” the kid asked.

Calvin looked at the impossible weight and asked if he’d ever hit that before. The kid lied. Reluctantly, Calvin agreed and then listened to the litany of directions. Among them, Calvin was to spot him from under his armpits with his palms on the dude’s chest. Eventually, he got under the bar and backed out of the rack. Calvin got into position behind him, arms up under his, and his feet just outside his. This put them about two inches from sodomy. As the kid started downward, he thrust his hips back and right into Calvin’s junk. Calvin jerked like he’d been stuck with a lobster fork, pushing the kid slightly forward, allowing him to collapse as if an elephant had stepped on his head. On the way down, he flipped the bar off his back, which came crashing down, nearly turning Calvin’s left foot into a bloody stump, and fell forward flat on his face between the rack posts. The kid got up and in Calvin’s face for fucking up his PR. The shouting led to shoving, which led to hands going up, which led to Calvin—a couple of minutes later—doing another set of shrugs unscathed.

A street fight in a gym can be a serious affair. The combatants are generally pretty fit, and there’s a wide assortment of lethal weapons within easy reach. But, I doubt even Don King could have seen this coming. For some reason, the kid felt wronged and reacted badly. Calvin reacted instinctively, and the kid left the gym with a lump the size of a pot roast over one eye. This is perhaps an extreme example; however, it’s nevertheless a strong statement as to what can happen if you do something as stupid as go for a personal record without your own spotter—i.e., the guy you train with regularly. No one climbing into the realm of the unknown should be doing it alone. Partners know how each other works; they know their quirks and how to spot each other. The more miles together, the better and safer the relationship. You can’t possibly find that in a stranger, nor should you even try. It’s just plain stupid. You want to lift heavy? Make sure you have a training partner. It goes both ways, and both benefit. Doing it the other way just pisses people off.

For more stories from John about the good ole days, click here to read his column!