Curl Man - Bicep Curl Fanatic
Bicep Curl Fanatic - In red hot pursuit of miniscule arms
I belong to the local YMCA. It is a quarter mile from my house and membership costs a dollar a day. I can join for a month at a time. For $30 a month I gain access to the Y’s fantastic steam room and the dry-as-the-desert sauna. My Y is a nice clean facility staffed with nice people. It has the usual assortment of free weights, strength equipment and cardio equipment.
While I have never been a fan of exercise machines, nor do I enjoy using a cardio device, I am, however, a huge fan of post-workout hydro and/or heat therapy, i.e., steam, sauna, whirlpool, ice baths, ice-cold showers, etc., etc. The wonderful thing about my early morning jaunts to the Y is the facility is virtually deserted.
At 6:15 am, the weight room is empty 97% of the time. No one uses the steam room or sauna at that time of the morning. Fantastic. I train alone. Afterwards I sit alone in the scalding steam using zazen posture and breathing to see how long I can take it before I bolt for the door and immediately douse myself with an ice-shower. I dry off in the sauna.
Over the past six months I have adopted a broadened resistance training strategy. I have expanded my training menu, switching out compound exercises for isolative exercises. I have lowered poundage, upped the reps, and made use of resistance training machines and cable devices I have studiously avoided in the past.
I now go for muscular specificity. I want “feel” and “contraction” in the targeted muscle. Ergo, I am making more use of the resistance machines and cable exercises. These tools produce the focused isolation I now seek. Instead of my usual diet of compound multi-joint exercises that attack groups of muscle simultaneously, I now seek isolative specificity.
I still powertrain with the boys every Sunday morning. During the week, I head over to the Y twice a week. My YMCA strategy is to go super early, thus avoiding contact with other humans. The Y opens at 6 am and on the days I train I try and arrive no later than 6:30.
It takes me less than 30-minutes to get in a kick-ass isolative workout. After training with 102% intensity, exhausted, I engage in 2-3 rounds of being boiled alive alternated with hosing down using freezing water. After 25 minutes of training and 30 minutes of hydrotherapy, I find myself in an exercise and hydro-induced altered bliss state. Done, I am gone by 7 am. I steam and shower longer than I weight train.
Last week after I finished my early morning creative writing session, I headed to the YMCA. The thermometer registered 9-degrees. I wanted a workout. I couldn't get it together to train in the unheated garage. I suited up and was at the Y within five minutes.
I walked through the Y door and headed to the weight room. One guy was already there: he was doing bicep curl exercises. The clock on the wall said 6:25. I walked to the power rack, set up a barbell and began overhead pressing. Today, I would superset overhead barbell presses with lying leg curls.
The Y has a lying leg curl machine that I can adjust. It gives me the upper insertion point hamstring contraction I am looking for. As I loaded a pair of quarters on the Olympic barbell for my first warmup set of overhead presses, I sized up the curler in the gym’s funhouse mirrors.
He was in his late twenties, a good-looking lad with a crisp haircut. He was, no doubt, college educated. Despite it being 9-degree outside, and it being chilly in the Y weight room, he wore a skimpy tank top. I wore two sweatshirts atop my tank top. He was my height, 5-10. He could not have weighed more than 150-pounds. He had the physique of a 2nd string high school gymnast, the guy who is always working towards (but never attains) the Iron Cross.
He was performing a type of bicep curl workout I had never seen; he hooked both hands under one end of a single 25-pound dumbbell. He curled it to his chin and gave the dumbbell an extra squeeze in the completed curl position before lowering. He stood four feet from a mirror and during every set of curls he would stare wide-eyed, as if trying to hypnotize himself.
I alternated overhead barbell presses with lying leg curls, five sets of each, adding a bit of poundage on each high rep (for me) set. I noted that, prior to my arrival, Curl Man had mysteriously positioned an exercise bench parallel to the dumbbell rack, the bench no more than one foot from the rack of bells along a mirrored wall.
Atop the weight bench he had placed a selection of dumbbells, one each, a 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25-pound bell, five in all. He was timing his curl attempts. The instant a set was completed he looked at his watch. I wondered about the bench. What was the purpose? Did it save valuable curl strength by not having to haul out and replace the 25-pound bell back into the dumbbell rack between sets? Perhaps not having to set the dumbbell on the floor and pick it up again to commence the next set proved too taxing? His dumbbells, arrayed like surgeon tools on an exercise bench (why???) puzzled me no end.
On the minute, every minute, he did a 10-rep set of his lone-bell iso-tension curl. At the top of every bicep curl rep, he would freeze in the topmost position, bell under chin. This final contraction on the 10th rep of every set lasted a full 5-seconds. His eyeballs buldged and his face turned red. He appeared to be trying to crush the dumbbell.
He appeared enthralled, enchanted, fixated, he stared with manic eyes at the impressive striations he exhibited on his pecs, delts and biceps when he contracted at the top of each rep. I would guess his body fat was likely 6%. His arm were 14-inches, all biceps, and highly defined. His triceps were nonexistent.
After overhead press and leg curl, I shifted to spider curls and single-dumbbell overhead tricep extensions. Which was a bit problematic because Curl Man’s bench full of dumbbells was directly in front of the 50 thru 75-pound dumbbells I needed access to. He dealt with the situation by walking out of the gym. I pulled out the 60 and did my set – right there, in Curl Boy’s sacred space. I was not going to drag a dumbbell across the gym to do my set.
He magically reappeared when I walked back across the gym floor to the spider curl bench. He blasted out another bicep curl set with the 25-pounder. I wanted to be a dick and ask if he wanted a spot. Instead, when it was time for me wrestle the 70-pounder we went through the same fandango: as I walked across the floor to the dumbbells, he skittered away.
Finished after four super sets, I checked the clock as I walked out: I had done 18 sets in 25 minutes, not rushing. Curl Man was bicep curling before I got there - and he was still curling as I left. He had done 25 sets in my presence.
I thought about this strange person as I steamed, showered, and later sat in the sauna. I wondered how he had devised this strange approach. Had someone taught it to him? Had he invented it? To me, the stripping down in freezing weather, the mirror-staring, it all indicated some sort of serious mental disorder. I shrugged it off, dressed and exited the locker room. As I walked down the long hallway next to the basketball court, I happened to glance left.
Bouncing a basketball on the court, rather expertly, was the newest 2022 YMCA master instructor. Immaculate in pressed pants, expensive shoes, a perfectly fitted YMCA Izod shirt complete, with lanyard and whistle – was Curl Man. He was the newest YMCA Mac Daddy fitness instructor. I wondered what pearls of wisdom he would pass along to the impressionable.
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.