I would like to preface this by saying I do not think I am qualified to give any lifting or life advice, as I’m a 25-year-old business professional with a lot to learn. I decided to write this to reflect on what I have learned the last 12 or so years in the gym, and which of these lessons are applicable to life.

I’ll never forget when I got bit by the iron bug. I hadn’t even touched a weight yet. All I cared and thought about was baseball. I was a 13-year-old awkward skinny fat kid with a meathead older brother who came back from his first semester of college (where he played baseball) and said he wanted to show me something cool. It wasn’t pictures of forgotten nights out with hot girls and new friends like you might be expecting or like I was expecting at the time.

It was a highlight reel of every Ronnie Coleman video we all know: the 800-pound deadlift for two reps, the lunges in the parking lot, the yellow pants, 200-pound dumbbell press for 11 reps, etc. I was enamored with the fact they needed a calculator to add up his 2,300-pound leg press! What a character. He was larger than life. When I saw this, I knew I needed to be jacked and strong as hell.

Habit and Consistency

Naturally, myself and long time friend and first training partner Gaetano knew we needed to get right on it. It led to joining our town’s local rec center. Unfortunately, the equipment looked like it was used in the first Rocky movie. We didn't have a program or even much of an idea what we were doing, but we knew we wanted to max out the chest press machine. We went every day for the rest of that summer. I can't say we made many gains, but we did learn a lot about consistency and hard work. How many 13-year-olds do you know that wake up at 8 AM every day to ride their bikes to the gym? Not many.

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In retrospect, the hard work was the only thing we got right. This continued for a while until another friend (and later training partner) Sal was allowed to use a bench (the skinny kind with the narrow posts that you have to add weight to both sides at the same time to prevent it from flipping) that was in the basement of his apartment building. In that basement, we learned free weights were the key to strength and size. Over these several months without even knowing it, we ingrained the habit of consistency into our routines and lives.

How to Set Clear Goals

After a few months of bench and curls next to the boiler, we made the next logical move: join Planet Fitness. Despite all the rags on it, it opened up our spectrum of equipment. We were able to do more. Here is where I realized lifting weights was my key to achieving my dream of being a college baseball player. I thought I might want to be a pitcher, so legs became a top priority and the chest fell to the back burner. Big legs equal miles per hour on the fastball, right? I pounded away on Smith machine squats and leg press.


This continued through high school with the occasional lift with the football team filled with power cleans and...well, really just a lot of power cleans. For the first time, I really had a goal I could identify: become a college baseball player. I took what I learned about hard work and consistency and instilled them to accomplish that task at hand. Meanwhile, I didn't even realize how important a lesson that was in and of itself: clear and concise goal setting.

Don't Be Discouraged by Failure — Use It as Fuel

I had accomplished my dream and committed to play infield for a small business university in New York. I quickly confirmed when I got to my Division II school in the suburbs of New York City that I was not the most talented, not the fastest, not the most sure-handed defensively, or the best hitter. But unlike a lot of one-year-old freshmen, this wasn’t news to me. I always knew someone out there was better than me. I remember my dad always saying, “If you are working hard, someone is out there working harder.”

I thrive on self-doubt. But what really shocked me was when the 150-pound second basemen out-benched me and my pitiful 175 pounds of bodyweight. What the hell? This couldn't be happening. If I wanted to be a contributing member of this team and ever get off the bench, I needed to get bigger, faster, and stronger. Come winter break, Gaetano and I decided it was time to bench our brains out twice a week, which led to me benching my first 225 pounds. I was so proud of that 225. What I took away from this period was the ability to not be discouraged by failure.

Knowledge Is Power

While all this was happening, I was falling in love with the sport of bodybuilding. I loved the Dorian Yates and Branch Warrens of the world — take-no-shit types of guys who would never be out worked. I would read any Flex Magazine or Muscular Development I could get my hands on. I read all the articles from great competitors and coaches, trying to accumulate as much info and knowledge as I could. I knew if I wanted to get better than these guys on my team, I’d have to be smarter than them. Looking back, this wasn’t necessarily the most reliable and best source of information, but I committed myself to learning as much as possible.

Have Fun, It's Too Short

This led to my next period of training and my second real training partner. Steve was a big fella, at six-feet-five-inches and 230 pounds. He was a fellow bench player on the team at the time due to injury, so we took the liberty of training our brains out every day. After games? Didn't matter, it wasn't like we played. They were some real hardcore sessions. We’d train late so nobody would be in the gym and we could pose down (I’m ashamed of this now) during our rest periods and talk a little extra shit.

This was the period I learned that, although serious, training can be fun at the same time. We’d do bench burnouts until you could only roll off the bench and lay on the floor writhing in pain. The best part of that was that you could laugh at the poor sucker rolling around on the floor gasping for air! It was funny until it was your turn, at least. Were we breaking our asses? Yes. But damn it if we didn't wear stupid outfits and work boots to the gym to try to be like Ronnie! The lesson Steve helped me learn here was that life is too short to let things consume you, take over your life, and bring you down. You can still have fun when working hard and suffering.

Pushing Hard and Becoming Addicted 

Shortly after I graduated college and my dreams of being a big leaguer were trashed (joking here, I’m quite realistic) I found myself lost without some sort of competition. I made a friend whom I was delivering pizza with at the time who was a former powerlifter. He and his younger brother Ross basically taught me the ropes of powerlifting. They came from an equipped background so this is what I learned.


We trained balls-to-the-walls every single session. It was always heavy. We didn't know much of what we were doing but we handled extreme weights under extreme circumstances on a weekly basis. We even bought a rack with monolift attachments and put it in my parent’s basement because commercial gyms were not the happiest with multi-ply powerlifting. I read everything I could about powerlifting and tended to flock towards the Westside side of the fence. We thought we were doing Westside at this point, but we really had no idea what we were doing, besides acting crazy and maxing every week. Things always hurt and nothing was ever ideal, but we got it done. I knew we weren’t doing this the best way, but it was the only way I knew at the time. Besides, you didn’t want to be a pussy, right? This was my first foray into powerlifting as well as a home gym (hopefully not my last). The main lesson I took from this is what hard work really was.

Train Smarter, Not Harder

I was hitting roadblocks while training in this stagnant manner for about a year. Various degrees of gear were worn for sets ranging from one to three, not much more. Lots of yelling, lots of f**k this, f**k that kind of stuff. As much as I had learned about pushing it, there wasn’t a lot of brains behind the system. My unquenchable thirst for knowledge was beginning to turn to better sources, like strength coaches, top-level lifters, and people with "Dr." in front of their name. It didn’t amount to much yet, but I was obtaining as much information as possible.

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At this time I met a Westside Barbell certified trainer, Pete, who owned his own gym. This is where I not only learned how to be a better lifter but also where I discovered that I loved the learning side of strength training as well. He taught me you could just call Westside and talk to Louie! I was shocked. I couldn't believe how open to spreading knowledge some of these top-level people were.

Around this time, the brothers and the crew moved on, stopped lifting, moved away, etc., and I became entrenched in the gym, learning as much as I could and applying it to myself. Volume, intensity, and accommodating resistance all started to add up and make sense to me. With their help, I made a multi-ply 705-pound squat, 363-pound bench, and 573-pound deadlift for a 107-pound PR total while dropping into the 198 weight class. It clicked that I was on the right path and headed for it, full steam ahead. Here I learned to train optimally, not maximally.

Take Out the Trash 

A small quote that I really took to heart is something Louie Simmons said: “You gotta take out the trash.” Taking out the trash means you have to do all those little things you don't want to do. They add up to something much bigger. Abs, upper back, obliques, triceps — it all adds up to big lifts. It wasn’t all about maxing every week. You had to do what YOU as a lifter needed to do to get better, no matter how small or insignificant the work seemed to be. Nobody likes to take out the trash, just like nobody likes to do band pull-aparts. But, if you want to be a big lifter, you need to do them. It all comes with the territory.

This leaves me where I am today, several weeks after doing a raw meet where I PR’d in all three lifts and total. It has been about three years since I started powerlifting and 12 years since I started lifting weights. I'm still training with and learning from Pete. Although his certifications and years far outweigh mine, I think he learns a little from me too. I try to become a better lifter every day and use the lessons learned under the bar in my everyday life to become a better person.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Charlie Galasso is a 25-year-old e-commerce specialist for a nutritional supplement company just outside of New York City. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing from Pace University where he played four years of baseball there, winning two NE-10 division championships. He also led the conference in hits with 73 in his senior season. He now competes in powerlifting, in raw, single-ply and multi-ply competitions. Competing is fun but the science of training is his passion.

Photos courtesy of dolgachov © 123RF.com