"I am the best three-hundred-pound ping pong player on the planet."

Thanksgiving, Present Day, 2017

"Six serving 17," I said sadly, finding myself on the wrong side of the lopsided ping pong affair. I was playing my eldest son who was home on a college break.

His topspin was a powerful weapon. His velocity off the paddle posed too much of a challenge for my time-diminished reflexes. His serves were weapons as well. My serve was a woefully insufficient mechanism for getting the ball back into play; mine was an avenue to lower self-esteem.

We were celebrating a relaxing Thanksgiving week, hosting extended family visiting from the East Coast. We were enjoying the Texas weather, and although we spent much of the day outside (a luxury that Connecticut does not often afford in late November), we did allocate some time to hit the game room for a little competitive ping pong.

University of Connecticut, 1988-1992

While in college, I made two significant mistakes with my resistance training. Well, that's not entirely true, I probably made dozens of blunders, but there are two that really stick out in retrospect.

Firstly, I trained too frequently, most weeks logging five training sessions in the gym. I wasn’t allowing enough time for proper recovery — and I wasn’t allowing enough time for my studies either. In retrospect, I could have obtained similar, if not better, strength gains by cutting that training time in half (and getting better quality sleep, which is a story in and of itself).

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Secondly, I spent way too much time in commercial gyms. I unnecessarily endured both cost and commute, when there was an ample supply of both weights and training partners in the campus field house. Live and learn.

A collegiate field house is a large building that provides space for a variety of athletic activities; typical amenities include basketball courts, a running track, a swimming pool, and a variety of exercise and training equipment. Given the above, there were several times I was able to train at UConn's field house. The field house, although often crowded, offered the requisite racks and weights to achieve my desired results. Two field house training sessions, in particular, were memorable to me, albeit for different reasons.

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Thanksgiving, Present Day, 2017

"Six serving 18,” I said, as one of his slams careened off the top of the net, yet somehow found its way to the edge of play for yet another point. I was reduced to damage-control mode, a wholly defensive game plan. Sweat began to accumulate on my brow.

Close Grip Bench and a New Acquaintance for Life, 1989

The field house wasn’t too crowded, but there were enough athletes training to keep my adrenaline flowing. I was in the middle of upper body training, working on my close-grip bench pressing. I was always a good presser and, at the time, I utilized an extremely close grip (i.e., with my hands no wider than six inches apart). This made the lift notably challenging (and probably too stressful on the wrists; I’ve reevaluated, and considerably widened that grip to more of a shoulder-width approach in recent years).

As I prepared to significantly increase my training weight, I scanned the field house and noticed a giant of a man working with 325 pounds on flat bench. He looked like a combination of Raven’s NFL linebacker Terrell Suggs and bodybuilder Ronnie Coleman. His arms, massive slabs of meat, hung from his shoulders as they staunchly tested the ability of his T-shirt to contain them. He was an intimidator, to say the least.

Spontaneously, I abandoned my bench and walked over to where he was training. As I approached, I recalled he worked as a bouncer at one of the off-campus bars, The Upper Deck.

"Do you mind if I work in?" I asked.

Immediately, he donned a strange look — it was as though I presented a massive inconvenience. I could tell from his expression, he was thinking he was going to have to break down the bar (i.e., strip off weight for me), and that was the last thing he had wanted to do.

"Fine," he said, subtly shaking his head. "What do you want on the bar?"

“This is good," I said. "Can you give me a spot?"

Based on the interaction, I know he did not think I would be able to bench it, and I know he assumed I was going to perform regular-width grip flat bench. I wish I could have seen the look on his face when I unracked the weight and started knocking-off the close grip repetitions, but I was too focused on the work set to gauge his immediate reaction.

After completing the first set of six reps, as soon as I hopped off the bench, his demeanor changed completely. Suddenly I was a warmly welcomed training partner. After my fourth set of six repetitions, we were almost friends.

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My friend, Chris, also trained in the field house that day. He had been watching the session with my unlikely training partner unfold from afar.

"You're fucking ridiculous," Chris said as we walked from the gym to dinner. “That was crazy.”

After that day, whenever I went to The Upper Deck, I was greeted at the door with a warm welcome, and I knew at least one of the bouncers had my back.

Thanksgiving, Present Day, 2017

"Seven serving 18,” I said, as I managed to score a point when my son committed a rare unforced error on a kill shot. I allowed myself a brief glimpse of optimism. I hoped to obtain a double-digit score at a minimum.

The President of the Ping Pong Club, 1990

I had finished training lower-body at the field house. After collecting my things, I was on my way to dinner with my friend Steve in tote. As we passed a ping pong table, I had the sudden urge to play a game.

“Hey,” I said, to the kid standing next to the table with paddles in hand. “Do you want to play a game?”

This guy gave me the same look Terrell Suggs gave me when I asked him to train with him — an expression of astonished disbelief and inconvenience. The nerve of this sweat-drenched muscle-pig to challenge him at ping pong.

“Okay,” he said reluctantly, and moved to the end of the table to begin warming up.

“Oh, I don’t have a paddle,” I said. “Can I use one of yours?” I was still perspiring profusely from my training session. I must have been a sight at the table. Again, I was met with a look of contempt, but he tossed an old and worn paddle in my direction.

We began to warm-up and, as we volleyed, my opponent mentioned that he was the president of UConn's ping pong club. His declaration helped me redouble my focus.

“Okay, your serve,” I said. “I am ready to play.” My friend Steve took a nearby seat to watch the game. Yes, I have a witness to the story I am about to tell.

The president delivered his first serve, and I was able to unleash a forehand slam he was unable to return for the first point of the game. I handled his second serve similarly. The remainder of the match was a back-and-forth affair of hard serves and even more ferocious returns. My forehand was working flawlessly, and my backhand was equally formidable.

Ultimately, I prevailed — the sweaty, husky, squatter somehow defeated the president of the ping pong club in a hotly contested match. Upon the game’s conclusion, I remember unceremoniously tossing the paddle back to him, purposefully marching out of the field house with Steve, without uttering another word to the president except "thanks for the match."

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Thanksgiving, Present Day, 2017

"Eight serving 20,” I said, and a split second later, the game was over. I had lost to my nineteen-year-old son, 21 to eight for the second of two games, each outcome having the same point differential. My outward demeanor remained calm, but inside, a little voice kept chirping at me. You suck, old man.

My table skills could not outrun father time. My son was playing a game with which I am no longer familiar, and honestly, he may be at a level higher than I had ever attained. I suspect I peaked at nineteen too, where my college schedule, coupled with a dearth of studying, afforded me hours at the table.

That’s my story — a compact tale of ping pong and powerlifting. It’s interesting, whenever I discuss training in college with my eldest son, he often complains about crowded conditions, fully occupied power racks, and a dearth of available equipment in general. I find myself wondering if the concept of working in with (i.e., training with) strangers is a concept that is lost on today’s youth. They seem to all travel in such tight tribes.

If you’re reluctant, I would encourage you to leave your comfort zone and train with strangers from time to time — especially if you can find a group that is stronger than you are. There is much to be gained, not only in increased adrenaline but also in making new acquaintances, some of whom may translate to lifelong friends at best, and regular training partners at minimum.

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