Gut Check
by Aggression

Another journey to Columbus, Ohio is in the books. This was my second year at the annual Arnold Classic Expo. It was also my second time working at the Animal booth, The Cage. To put it bluntly, I would refuse to be a part of any other booth at that expo. It's as simple as that.

On Thursday, I sat in the terminal at Newark Airport waiting to board my plane. As I took a quick glance around the area, it was easy to pick out who was going to the expo. Broad shoulders and XXL shirts represented the population headed to Columbus. The coolers at their sides were also dead giveaways.

After a few minutes a man walked up to me and asked if I was headed to Columbus. After I told him I was headed to The Arnold, he asked if I was a competitor. Wouldn't that be nice? Someday... We ended up talking for half an hour. It was his first trip to The Arnold, so I gave him all the ins and outs. I told him the hot spot at the expo was The Cage, and that he should be sure to get there nice and early. That guy did end up showing up at The Cage, and guess what? He walked away with an experience in his heart and an Animal Gym Bag and Wrist Wraps in his hands.

Since I was in Ohio for The Arnold last year, I sort of knew what was coming my way. The entire 2009 weekend was definitely a shock and awe experience. This year, I was prepared for what I knew lay ahead.

When I got to the hotel, I quickly dropped my stuff off in my room and headed right down to get in a meal. Arnold weekend or not, ya gotta get your meals in. I met up with Enforcer and his buddy and we took down a 12 oz. steak and baked potato in seconds. As we were finishing up, Big Al and Big Ant came strolling through. Big Al was wearing a bright yellow polo shirt and he looked like a giant school bus coming through the crowd. We sat there shooting the shit for a while before calling it a night. We had to get to bed. Tomorrow was day one.

You have to respect the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the official show hotel, for catering their buffet to the likes of us bodybuilders. Eggs, egg whites, chicken breast, oatmeal and fresh fruit filled my breakfast plate. A quick meal and then it was off to The Cage to start the weekend-long festivities. On my way to the booth, I spotted some familiar faces rockin' the Animal uniform. It may have been a whole year since I've last seen them, but we picked up right where we left off. It's just like seeing family. We all keep in touch as the year goes on, and when we meet up every year at The Arnold, we make memories.

This year I got to spend more time in The Cage than I did last year, which gave me a chance to bullshit with all the athletes and pick their brains. Animal has an incredible amount of young talent and being able to talk with the likes of Ox, The House and Kuclo is invaluable. I scooped up some very solid advice from them about dieting and supplementation.

Since I was able to spend more time in The Cage this year, I got to see all the events firsthand. The open benching contest, “Bench your body weight for reps” was really popular. Some of the guys that enter this contest are straight up strong... Others, not so much. One stud walked away thinking he pressed 405 for 2 reps-in reality, The House got in a quick bicep workout. I also loaded the bar for Snookie's new man as Ox gave him a spot from above. Yes, I said Snookie.

One of the most impressive things over the course of the weekend is the exhibitions put on by our athletes. These guys come in ready to work and they always seem to up the ante. Year after year they seem to push the limits even further. Some of the most impressive things my eyes have seen were done this past weekend. Kuclo squatted 405 for 30 reps and Higa Monster wasn't too far behind with 24 reps. Nick Winters dead lifted 800lb with nothing but straps. And, by far the most impressive event of the weekend was Big Byrd's record-setting 765lb raw squat. It was incredible. These guys really set the bar when it comes to drive, focus and determination. If you want to model you're training and mentality after someone, turn to any of these guys and you can't possibly go wrong.

The National ABC Event is another thing that never ceases to amaze me. In 2009, we had roughly 100+ people show up. Twelve months later the total doubled. The Animal Barbell Club movement is strong. For the second year straight, LittleMan55 and I hit a solid workout, destroying our shoulders and triceps. We started off with a Hammer Strength Press, working in with Big Al and G Diesel.

The workouts always take a bit longer when at the National ABC Event, but I'm OK with that. Everywhere you turn you run into someone and conversation starts. It's hard to catch up with 200 people, but you fit 'em in where you can. After the workout, we grubbed on the catered food while sitting atop the exercise bikes. Then we all parted ways and strolled through the streets of Columbus back to our hotels.

Before I knew it, it was the final day. The Henchman/Watchman breakfast was a great time on Sunday morning. It was a very comfortable setting and I'm grateful that corporate set it up. After breakfast we headed to the expo for the last day. The Shop was not as crowded as the first two days, so I spent most of my time in The Cage.

Watching the crew from Skiba's Gym put on their exhibition was really exciting. These young, talented guys are so intense in their training. They seem to have found the perfect balance between life and powerlifting, which can sometimes be the most difficult aspect of this sport. Next up was the last segment of “Pros. vs. Bros”. My boy treetrunklegs was up against Hola Bola. Bola knocked out some ridiculous squats with 315lb while treetrunklegs manhandled the same weight on the deadlift.

Next up was the event that I've been salivating over. A few months ago Scals17 called me out on the FORVM, saying that he was going to take my crown. Back in August, I deadlifted 225lb for 37 reps, and he laid it out there stating that he can best me. This was going to be a grudge match.

I lost the coin toss and pulled first. I got 42 reps. Scals pulled an impressive 50 reps, and he won a crisp $100 bill from Rage, who had offered to put up that cash for hitting 50 reps. Lifting in The Cage with a huge audience watching was a surreal experience, one that I will never forget. Don't get too excited, Scals… I'm coming for you next year.

When reading between the lines, the Arnold Classic represents a serious gut check for me. Being the biggest/strongest dude in your hometown gym is all fine and dandy and being the thickest in your group of friends is pretty damn cool, but when you come to The Arnold to strut your stuff in The Cage, you find out where you really fit in the food chain.

Every year I leave Columbus, I leave with a new drive. Each year represents an opportunity to show up better than the last. Since the last Arnold, I've put on 20lb, and cut a total of 50lb for my first contest. I came back to Ohio weighing the same as I did last year. The number on the scale might have been the same, but the type of weight was far different. More muscle, less fat, more strength. My goal for next year is to come back yet again with plenty of progress behind me. 365 days left…


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