T Nation

A little inspiration


What inspires you to lift ? To break yor PB ? Here's one of my favorites and I would like feedback from other people if they've ever come across this... or other articles that fire them up every time they read them...I found it in my early 20's leafing through Details magazine (yes, I thought it was a cool mag at the time) Here it is:

IRON, from Details Magazine
By Henry Rollins

"I believe that the definition of definition is reinvention. To not be like your parents. To not be like your friends. To be yourself.

When I was young I had no sense of myself. All I was, was a product of all the fear and humiliation I suffered. Fear of my parents. The humiliation of teachers calling me "garbage can" and telling me I'd be mowing lawns for a living. And the very real terror of my fellow students. I was threatened and beaten up for the color of my skin and my size. I was skinny and clumsy, and when others would tease me I didn't run home crying, wondering why. I knew all too well. I was there to be antagonized. In sports I was laughed at. A spaz. I was pretty good at boxing but only because the rage that filled my every waking moment made me wild and unpredictable. I fought with some strange fury. The other boys thought I was crazy.

I hated myself all the time. As stupid at it seems now, I wanted to talk like them, dress like them, carry myself with the ease of knowing that I wasn't going to get pounded in the hallway between classes. Years passed and I learned to keep it all inside. I only talked to a few boys in my grade. Other losers. Some of them are to this day the greatest people I have ever known. Hang out with a guy who has had his head flushed down a toilet a few times, treat him with respect, and you'll find a faithful friend forever. But even with friends, school sucked. Teachers gave me hard time. I didn't think much of them either.

Then came Mr. Pepperman, my advisor. He was a powerfully built Vietnam veteran, and he was scary. No one ever talked out of turn in his class.Once one kid did and Mr. P. lifted him off the ground and pinned him to the blackboard. Mr. P. could see that I was in bad shape, and one Friday in October he asked me if I had ever worked out with weights. I told him no. He told me that I was going to take some of the money that I had saved and buy a hundred-pound set of weights at Sears. As I left his office, I started to think of things I would say to him on Monday when he asked about the weights that I was not going to buy. Still, it made me feel special. My father never really got that close to caring. On Saturday I bought the weights, but I couldn't even drag them to my mom's car. An attendant laughed at me as he put them on a dolly.

Monday came and I was called into Mr. P.'s office after school. He said that he was going to show me how to work out. He was going to put me on a program and start hitting me in the solar plexus in the hallway when I wasn't looking. When I could take the punch we would know that we were getting somewhere. At no time was I to look at myself in the mirror or tell anyone at school what I was doing. In the gym he showed me ten basic exercises. I paid more attention than I ever did in any of my classes. I didn't want to blow it. I went home that night and started right in.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn't know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn't say shit to me.

It took me years to fully appreciate the value of the lessons I have learned from the Iron. I used to think that it was my adversary, that I was trying to lift that which does not want to be lifted. I was wrong. When the Iron doesn't want to come off the mat, it's the kindest thing it can do for you. If it flew up and went through the ceiling, it wouldn't teach you anything. That's the way the Iron talks to you. It tells you that the material you work with is that which you will come to resemble. That which you work against will always work against you.

It wasn't until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can't be as bad as that workout.

I used to fight the pain, but recently this became clear to me: pain is not my enemy; it is my call to greatness. But when dealing with the Iron, one must be careful to interpret the pain correctly. Most injuries involving the Iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn't ready for and spent a few months not picking up anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you're not prepared to and the Iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.

I have never met a truly strong person who didn't have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone's shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character. It is the difference between bouncers who get off strong-arming people and Mr.Pepperman.

Muscle mass does not always equal strength. Strength is kindness and sensitivity. Strength is understanding that your power is both physical and emotional. That it comes from the body and the mind. And the heart.

Yukio Mishima said that he could not entertain the idea of romance if he was not strong. Romance is such a strong and overwhelming passion, a weakened body cannot sustain it for long. I have some of my most romantic thoughts when I am with the Iron. Once I was in love with a woman. I thought about her the most when the pain from a workout was racing through my body.

Everything in me wanted her. So much so that sex was only a fraction of my total desire. It was the single most intense love I have ever felt, but she lived far away and I didn't see her very often. Working out was a healthy way of dealing with the loneliness. To this day, when I work out I usually listen to ballads.

I prefer to work out alone. It enables me to concentrate on the lessons that the Iron has for me. Learning about what you're made of is always time well spent, and I have found no better teacher. The Iron had taught me how to live. Life is capable of driving you out of your mind. The way it all comes down these days, it's some kind of miracle if you're not insane. People have become separated from their bodies. They are no longer whole.

I see them move from their offices to their cars and on to their suburban homes. They stress out constantly, they lose sleep, they eat badly. And they behave badly. Their egos run wild; they become motivated by that which will eventually give them a massive stroke. They need the Iron Mind.

Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind.

The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it's impossible to turn back.

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you're a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs. Friends may come and go. But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds."

Personally, I think it's a *^@&# beautiful article that stuck in my mind amidst the detritus that usually resides up in my cranium... Other intellectuals among you will dismiss it as a bit of pap and fluff...

Somehow, though, it got to me and I read it (now posted on my wall in my office) every so often before I go lay a hurting on the steel... I love the puzzled looks on my co-workers faces when they pass by and skim the article... "?" "Uh, never mind..."

Anybody got any other contributions ? I'd love to read them.



Nice, I like that not looking in the mirror, i do that for myself too.


I was going to skip this one due to the length, then I noticed who it was written by. It seems pretty typical of his fascinating/funny/inspirational anecdotes. If anyone has the chance to see him speak in person I stongly suggest you go! It's bizarre to hear such articulate, thought provoking, and well informed opinions coming from a muscular heavily tattooed man.:slightly_smiling:

Great post!


Holy Crap!! That's some good stuff!

Cut and pasted into a work doc for printing. Thank you very much.

I used a label maker to print on my training log:

"Do today what others won't, so that tomorrow you can do what others can't"

I don't know who said it, but it's da bomb. When pump-jockies are doing their smith machine shoulder presses, and I'm snatching or deadlifting or plate curling and they ask
"What are you doing?"
I just tell them,
"Gettin' stronger."

That's what it's about.

BTW, jaybvee is fishing for soldier of the week.


Haha Billy! Yer busted, jay! Still, excellent post. I like the label saying, too, BB. That's cool.

I work in a laboratory in Tallahassee. Most (98%) of my co-workers are pretty much overweight, out-of-shape folks, you know, the typical American lifestyle kind of people. Anyway, when they ask me in the morning (I work midnight shift) what I'm going to do after work I always say "The gym. I'm gonna get big and BE somebody!" They always used to laugh and shake their heads like I was crazy. A few days ago, I wore a tight-fitting sweatshirt to work instead of the pajama-like scrubs that are the standard lab tech uniform. Y'all should have seen them that morning. Funny. One of them said "my God, David, did you get a new body for Christmas?" They all took turns poking me in the abs, and wondering why their husbands couldn't look like me. I thanked them for their compliments, but I was thinking "That's right, bitches. Who's crazy for spending all that time in the gym? Who's weird because he always refuses the donuts and other sugary shit that y'all stuff in your mouths?" It was strangely gratifying in a sad kind of way. I mean, how hard is it really to stop being a big, lazy, fat-ass? And yet, so many people in our country are literally killing themselves slowly by living the lifestyle that the TV tells us to. A few of them told me the next day that they were going to go "back to the gym" soon, but I know they probably won't. I just kept thinking about the "Merry Christmas, Bob" article, and that gets my vote for being inspirational.

Holy shit what a long sappy post. Sorry everybody, I'll throw in some big purple vein dick jokes next time...


great find of a great article. can't wait to hit the gym with these thoughts in mind.


that is some great reading. if it earns him soldier honors, then more power to him.


For the longest time my drive was to prove neysayers wrong. Being a 5'5" 130 sprinter leaving high school, I always found myself wanting to prove the big guys wrong about me. They said I couldn't do something in different sports and I busted tale to show them I could. Maybe I did have some of that "little man syndrome", but I just felt like I had to do the 'impossible' to gain respect from bigger, stronger guys.

Recently, a dear friend pointed out that I had 30 years of anger built up because of this approach to sports. She said I needed to let it go in order to fulfill my true potential and break free of self imposed restraints that had been carved out by anger and cynicism.

With this surgery coming up I am looking at the post op period as my new start. I want to have a drive based on a positive outlook of my competitive life and all around fitness. I want to increase my size, strength and health for me. To improve my personal goals, not trying to match someone elses.

So that when it is all said and done, I can look back and be proud of what I did. Regardless if anyone else notices.


great article, a very good read indeed, another article to go alongside christmas bob and a few others that i have




If anyone is interested, Rollins will be in NYC doing spoken word on Jan 30 @ Town Hall.


I dont have any particular movies, books, or articles that motivate me. This is what motivates me (I posted this somewhere else): A few years ago I had a roomate who was 6'4, very big, and extremely strong. He was an attorney during the day and a bouncer on the weekends, and an all around great guy. He had cancer, and eventually died as a result.

I work out because he cant. That motivates me.


Thats a good article. I think I read it in one of his books. I recommend his books and spoken word stuff to everyone. A lot of it is very introspective and somtimes dark and brooding and a lot is funny, and some very inspiring. He was on Howard Stern awhile back and was talking about a lot of things, working out one of them, and Howard was asking him what he does and whining about how he works out hard and doesn't ever look any different. It was pretty good and worth checking out. His song "Shine" is also pretty inspiring.


this sounds like Henry Rollins story.


I am smoking crack, disregard my last post.


Pretzel logic, that is a good tune. A Lot of Rollins songs talk about pain. "Tearing Me Apart"


Awesome thread...




I started working out because the health of my grandma was declining fast. Seeing her like that made me realize that I don't want to die like that. That was 5 years ago and on the tuesday before Thanksgiving my grandpa died and that thursday my grandma died. So, in the beginning I was doing this to keep myself healthy, but now I am doing this because I want to set myself apart from everyone else in the gym by being stronger than most people in the gym. Oh yeah, good article.