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Archive for the 'Rants By Ross' Category

The Homeless Bodybuilder – Jacques Sayagh

It has been a few days since the video below went viral. In case you missed it, you’ll see a 50 year old homeless man who exercises on the street and competes as an amateur bodybuilder. He trains primarily with resistance bands and a variety of bodyweight exercises.

When I first saw the video, I knew there would be mixed reactions. Some people would be inspired by the man’s ability to exercise without a gym, while others would question his place in life. What I didn’t expect to see were so many insults directed towards a man who is homeless. I’ve seen this man called everything from a bum to a steroid abusing piece of crap.

When I read these comments, I can’t help but wonder if a homeless poet or artist would elicit such strong reactions. Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing that the haters would have skipped over the story and instead found someone else to bash. For some reason, strong reactions are the norm when discussing a man or woman who exercises. Maybe the haters are jealous that a homeless man has developed an admirable physique. Perhaps they’d rather see him drinking alcohol on the corner rather than buying supplements and exercising. I honestly don’t know. Regardless of the reasons, I’ll never understand why certain people waste so much energy arguing about a man whose life is different from their own.

Focus on your own shit

I make these comments not to suggest that you should be inspired by Jacques Sayagh. I hardly know anything about the man. I don’t know his life story and I’m not here to judge. I do however know some hard working adults who ended up homeless. It wasn’t by choice. Life isn’t always fair or easy. It’s certainly easier to sit behind a keyboard and cast stones without knowing the full story. But once again, what’s the point of criticizing the man? No one benefits.

I actually know a homeless professional boxer. If you’ve ever been to a boxing event in the northeast, you may have seen him. He’s fought on a few of the cards that I’ve worked at in Connecticut. We even shared a dressing room with him a few years ago. He lost that night, but he fought hard and earned the crowd’s respect. He scored a knockdown in the first round against an unbeaten prospect, but eventually lost a decision.

Afterwards, I saw him shaking hands with people in the crowd. I even saw a few kids ask for a picture. He may have lost the fight, but he won over the crowd. No one knew he was homeless, but even if they did, there wouldn’t have been any insults. Most people who insult others online have very little to say when that person is standing in front of them.

In summary, rather than criticize a man like Jacques Sayagh, why not instead use that time to better yourself and others around you. All I take from his story is that it is possible to stay in shape without a fully functional gym. I already knew that to be true, but Jacques certainly provides a unique reminder. As for whether or not he takes steroids, I don’t know and don’t care. Regardless of what he does or doesn’t do, he has clearly developed his physique with minimal equipment. Criticizing other parts of his life won’t benefit anyone, so why bother? How does insulting a man prove to be any more worthwhile than what you have insulted?

Time is limited for us all so don’t waste it stepping on a man or woman who is already down.


Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own. – Bruce Lee


Hand Warm-up With Pushups

The video below includes a brief sequence of pushups that I use to prep my hands and wrists for more rigorous work. I typically perform a few sets before progressing towards more difficult hand or wrist training activities. I have used this sequence along with a few others for several years and have always found it useful for stretching and warm-up purposes.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was a young fighter who was sidelined with hand and wrist injuries. At the time, I didn’t know anything about hand training so it wasn’t something I did. As a result, wrapping my hands became a complex process. My trainer would always need extra time to perform the job. Once they were wrapped and taped, I still had to be cautious with my hands. With all the fractures and sprains, I always felt like I was rolling the dice when I punched.

Twenty years later and my hands have never felt better. I now take hand and wrist training seriously; not only for myself but more importantly for the fighters I train. If I can prevent even one athlete from making the same mistakes I made, I will be grateful beyond words.

Ironically, since posting the brief demonstration above, I don’t think I’ve ever read so many emails that have questioned the safety of an exercise. I’ve read everything from jokes that my wrists will snap to statements that it is irresponsible to recommend these exercises. Based on the volume of such comments, I believe it is a useful topic to discuss. The last thing I want is for someone to be dissuaded from an exercise based on an uninformed opinion.

To begin, it is difficult to comment on an exercise that you have never attempted or are unable to perform. Following this brief pushup demonstration, I read several comments about what would happen if someone were to attempt these pushups. Essentially, opinions were formed without hands on experience.

Contrary to what some may believe at first glance, these pushup variations are not very difficult. Knuckle pushups are obviously the easiest of the three. Finger pushups may be difficult to those who have never tried them, but certainly aren’t a high level skill. With a consistent and patient approach, most athletes can perform them with relative ease. As for the wrist pushups, they may look intimidating at first, but are really just a display of flexibility. Wrist flexibility often develops rapidly. By simply starting from the knees (and bending at the waist if necessary), it is not difficult to progress to this variation.

Unfortunately, many athletes neglect wrist strength and flexibility entirely. I couldn’t tell you how many fighters I’ve seen jam and injure their wrists by landing a hook slightly off target. Such injuries would be much less frequent if more athletes took the time to adequately develop the hands and wrists.

Many years ago, I needed a precise wrap and tape job before I’d even think about hitting the bag. Today, I can hit a heavy bag without wraps and have absolutely no problems. And while these pushup variations are just a small part of my hand training, to suggest that they are dangerous does nothing but add to the abundance of misinformation that taints the internet today.

Rather than worrying about what would be dangerous if you tried it, perhaps you should focus your safety concerns towards more pressing matters. For example, texting about the dangers of exercise while driving could likely benefit from your attention.

Be safe out there!


What you don’t understand you can make mean anything. – Chuck Palahniuk


Low-Tech Training Origins

One of the motivators behind this blog is my desire to prove that it’s possible to get in shape with little or nothing. As a result, I’ve shared countless stories of athletes who have thrived despite training in less than ideal environments. Whether it was boxers in Brazil, wrestlers in India, or athletes in Russia, the common denominator between them is their ability to succeed without the so-called necessities that the fitness industry so heavily markets.

Unfortunately, there appears to be confusion in regards to some of my previous entries. For example, one reader of the site asked why I continue to share so many stories of underprivileged athletes.

He wrote the following:

You’ve made your point, it’s time to move on.

Another reader of the site asked what’s the relevance of an athlete who lives in poverty to those who are more fortunate.

In his words:

Are you suggesting that we need to live in poverty to be successful? How ironic…

Based on comments such as these, I feel it is important to clarify a few points.

1. Not An Exception, It’s The Rule

First and foremost, I will continue to share stories of underprivileged athletes to silence those who would otherwise suggest that one successful case is the exception not the rule. It is with conscious thought and intent that I have shared stories from athletes around the world. For example, I’ve highlighted success stories from boxers in lands such as Ghana, Brazil, and Uganda (just to name a few). Not only do these boxers not know each other, there’s a good chance that they don’t know of each other. There is no relationship or sharing of information between them. These are unique stories. Once again, the common theme between them is success despite lack of equipment, supplementation, and nutritional options outside of simply trying to survive.

boxing gym in Ghana, Africa

2. Raw Footage

What’s nice about observing these athletes in action is everything you see is raw and real. There is no marketing nonsense to sift through. These athletes don’t know we are watching. We wouldn’t even know what they were doing if it wasn’t for the journalists who traveled to those lands to document their stories. That alone is significant.

These athletes are not training to impress us. They are literally training for their lives. They have dreams of escaping the poverty that surrounds them. They train how they do because it has been successful. They don’t do so with hopes of converting others to follow their approach. Such realness is rarely captured in the fitness industry today.

boxing gym in Brazil

3. Observation Is A Powerful Tool

I don’t share these stories with hopes of converting an army of blind followers. You don’t need to copy what you see to benefit from these examples. Instead, use observation as the powerful tool that it can be. Simply observe the various athletes in action and make note of what they’ve done to become successful. You can then apply Bruce Lee’s timeless wisdom to absorb what is useful and discard what is not. For example, just because the wrestlers in India may train without a floor doesn’t mean that you need to as well. You can however learn from the work ethic and desire that they so clearly display.

Wrestling training in India

4. Honesty

Whether you choose to admit it or not, fitness is a hustle. The fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar machine with no signs of slowing down. Yes, there are good and bad apples within any industry, but we all know that the fitness world is filled with deception. I don’t have a problem with anyone earning an honest living, but many fitness marketers make used car salesmen look as honest as a young child.

Not a day passes without a marketer spamming my inbox with false promises of improved fitness. There is no shame in their game. They are relentless and extremely manipulative. It’s these modern fitness gurus who tell us what’s needed to get in shape. Meanwhile, there are countless stories from poverty-stricken lands that suggest otherwise. Whose story should we believe? The marketing powers who dictate trends in the name of revenue or those who succeed with little or nothing?

Hopefully we won’t need Captain Obvious to save the day and answer this question.

It’s comical that a fitness marketer will tell others what is needed when 99 percent of them wouldn’t last a day in the gym with athletes in distant lands such as Uganda or India. Perhaps what the industry tells us we need isn’t as important as previously thought.

Boxing training in Uganda

5. I’ve Lived It

The stories that I’ve shared highlight the significance of intangible qualities that cannot be sold. The fitness marketers cannot sell you attributes such as hard work, dedication, sacrifice, consistency, or perseverance. As a result, these qualities will never receive as much attention as those items that can fatten the wallets of the fitness regime.

Fortunately, there are still some of us who have walked the walk and understand the significance of the intangibles. I don’t simply write about low-tech environments because it interests me. I have lived it. Below you can see me training in the basement of a housing project back in the 1990′s.

Boxing training at an old school gym

Our gym consisted of nothing but cement walls, a few punching bags, and several fighters who were hungry to succeed. It wasn’t Ghana or Uganda, but we didn’t have much more in terms of equipment. Lack of equipment didn’t stop us however. Everyone who was there was in shape. We worked hard, we challenged each other, and we encouraged each other. We thrived heavily on the basics. We worked hard with calisthenics. We ran hard. We hit the bags hard. We sparred hard and we fought regularly. The approach was simple yet effective. None of us knew anything about nutrition and no one took any supplements. That didn’t stop us from getting in shape. When in doubt, we always relied on more work and harder work. It never failed.

6. More Than Boxing

My experience is clearly rooted in the sport of boxing. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a boxer to learn from these examples. Instead, recognize that if high level fighters can thrive on the basics, you can too. The Average Joe or Jane needs much less fitness than a competitive fighter. To suggest that they cannot succeed with a similar low-tech approach is beyond ignorant.

The fitness marketers would certainly like you to believe otherwise so it’s my hope that the stories above will help some see through their rampant deception. If you wish to get in shape, you have everything you need to get in shape. Almost anything works if you are willing to work. The only legitimate secret is that there aren’t any secrets.

Get up, get busy, and the results will follow. If athletes in distant lands can succeed with this approach, you can too. It isn’t as complicated as many would like us to believe.


Effort is between you, and you, and nobody else. – Ray Lewis


We All Fail

No matter how strong you are, you aren’t stronger than you are. There will always be an exercise or weight that is beyond even the strongest man’s ability. Anyone who has ever lifted any meaningful weight has failed. The strongest person you know has failed. We all have failed.

Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. – Winston Churchill

No one is ever too good to fail. Often times we must fail in order to succeed. The greatest athletes you’ve ever seen have failed and will fail again. And while these words may appear depressing at first glance, the opposite is actually true. A bad day in the gym does not signify that something is wrong. It simply reaffirms that you are human.

Unfortunately, many young athletes have been fooled to believe otherwise. They falsely assume that success brings with it immunity to failure. I hear from these athletes regularly. They write to me out of frustration whenever they miss a lift or have a bad day in the gym.

Just last night I received an email from an aspiring athlete who asked the following:

Ross, I am trying to reach your level, but I occasionally have a bad day in the gym. What did you used to do when you had bad days? Did you push through it or train something else?

This question was asked with a built in assumption that I no longer have bad days. I receive questions like this all the time. These athletes believe that something is wrong if they aren’t hitting personal bests every time they step in the gym. It doesn’t work that way. Let me remind you again. We all fail.

The ambitious often fail more than anyone else. I certainly do. I am very passionate about my training and always want more. Whatever I can lift, I want to lift more. Whatever I can do, I want to do more. If I’m not willing to go too far on occasion, I won’t know how far I can go.

Earlier this week, I posted a video to Instagram of me performing dips with 225 pounds (see below).

After posting the clip, I received several positive comments. A few people even suggested it looked easy. They don’t realize that I viewed that set as a failure. Instagram only allows for 15 second videos so no one saw what happened next. I had my heart set on hitting 5 reps. I failed on the 5th. I’m lucky the video cut off so no one could hear me afterward. I may have contended with CT Fletcher for the most F-bombs in a minute.

Fortunately, I am experienced enough to know that failure isn’t fatal. It’s part of the process. Anyone who knows how much they can lift also knows an amount that they can’t. It comes with the territory. I know I am close. Sure, I’ll get pissed off when I’m caught up in the moment, but it only takes a few minutes to get over it.

It was sometime last year that I did my first dip with 225 pounds. I was so excited when it happened. I had my eyes set on 225 for months. I’d made several attempts before and had always come up short. When I finally hit my first rep, I knew I had won. My previous failures were stepping stones. They were an integral part of the process. They were always there to let me know where I stood. Without an attempt, I wouldn’t have known.

Now that I am working towards 5 reps, my experience has been almost identical. I don’t fail all the time, as I certainly don’t set out to fail. It happens though. It’s part of the process. When I filmed the video above, I thought I had it in me. That’s why I tried. I was wrong. It wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last.

If you are a young athlete, please heed this advice. You will never be too good for a bad day. It happens to the best of the best. We all have bad days. I have been in training camps with some of the best fighters in the world and even they have an occasional off day. They don’t panic though because they understand it comes with the territory.

In summary, please don’t misconstrue the message. I am not suggesting that you set out to fail. I don’t plan it in advance. I am ambitious however so there are times when I need to know what I can do. There is no formula in the world that is as accurate as trying. If I want to know what I can lift, I don’t reach for a calculator. I reach for the weights.

If an occasional bad days pops up out of nowhere, I don’t lose sleep over it. I hop back on the saddle and come back the next day. As I’ve said many times before, real strength requires an investment in time. There are no shortcuts. A few weeks or months is a blink of an eye. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a lift or have a bad day. We are all human. Bad days are part of life. Don’t ever assume you are too good for them. Instead, stare them in the eye and keep on working. Consistent, diligent work is the best formula you’ll ever find for success. It isn’t easy though and you will fail. Accept it, deal with it, and keep on grinding.


There is no failure except in no longer trying. – Elbert Hubbard


Separating Yourself From The Majority

The following video was recently passed along by a reader of the site (be aware of foul language). It’s focused on power lifting which I’ve never pursued but the narration resonates with me clearly. The mentality discussed is applicable to athletes from many sports.

The message will likely appear harsh or extreme to many exercise enthusiasts. That’s okay. I am not sharing this video in hopes of creating an army of maniacal followers. Clearly, you must pursue goals that matter to you. Those goals could be casual or extreme. The choice is yours.

More importantly, I am sharing the video as a reminder to promising athletes of any sport. Rarely does one achieve greatness by playing it safe. There will be times when you must take risks if you wish to separate yourself from the majority. No, I’m not suggesting that you seek out injuries or hardship, but you can’t live in fear of them either.

It’s also worth noting that such decisions will often lead to criticism from those around you. Many people in this world do not understand why others live and train with the intention of becoming everything but average. They do not understand the sacrifice, dedication, or work that is required. They will not understand what you do and why you do it.

That’s also okay. They don’t need to understand. Don’t waste time justifying the passion you have to someone who doesn’t share it.

Regardless of how or why you train, there will always be those who disagree with your approach. A week rarely passes without someone asking me why I train as hard as I do. I even have people suggest that something must be missing in my life. They assume that anyone who works harder than them has no life outside the gym.

I am here to suggest otherwise. It is quite possible to live a rewarding life despite training like a beast. I live a regular life outside the gym, but I’m everything but normal inside. Normal is boring. It’s the last thing I want to be.

We all have the right to push ourselves as hard and often as we wish. The critics of the world don’t need to understand why someone opts to be different. There is nothing worse than living your life constantly seeking approval from others around you. If your goal is to become a special athlete, don’t let others dissuade you.

Unfortunately, such words are rarely heard in the industry today. The fitness industry is one that thrives on deception. Supplement companies want you to believe that you just need to pop their pills. Trainers want you to believe that you just need to follow their routines. Equipment manufacturers want you to believe that you just need to use their gear.

It doesn’t work that way. If it was easy, everyone would do it. You can’t train like everyone else and expect to be different. There will be times when you need to train or compete despite pain or fatigue. There will be times when the only decision that makes sense is a decision that doesn’t make sense on paper. Don’t expect to separate yourself if you aren’t willing to separate yourself. At some point, you must be willing to raise the bar to surpass those around you.

Be different, do more, do better, and ignore the haters. When in doubt, follow your passion. It may take you down a bumpy road, but the journey promises to be everything but boring. It’s clearly an individual choice, but I’ll take a few bumps and bruises over a life of mediocrity any day.


Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind. – Bernard M. Baruch


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