RIP Frank Engel (Nov 2, 1961 – Jan 7, 2020)
You wouldn’t be reading this were it not for Frank Engel.
Back in 2004… it would have had to be around fall… my hockey coach, Rocky Trottier, told us that we were old enough to start lifting weights. So many of us did.
I had spent countless hours of my youth hurling hockey pucks at garages, nets, brick walls. I had a piece of plastic fake ice. I liked playing with a longer stick because I could really confuse attackers when they came through. I liked taking slap shots because I wasn’t good at wrist shots. I practiced stick handling fast, but never learned how to do it without looking down at the puck. And I spent my other free time playing hockey video games.
I wanted to be a professional hockey player, and I knew that I would need to practice — to get better — if I were going to get there.
So when Rocky recommended we start lifting weights, I was on board. That’s something that athletes do, so I should do that.
I remember walking in the first day. There’s lots of commotion. I’m not a loud guy, but I at least knew a few of the people around. I had no idea how to do any of the lifts I was about to do.
So I walk up to this hulking, scruffy dude who tells me the workout is on the whiteboard. I think he even gave me a notebook to track my workout. He gave me all the weights, told me to walk around to the different pieces and just do the workout. The last one was a trap bar deadlift: 150lbs for 10 reps. “That one’s gonna kick your ass,” he told me.
The workout had one set of a ton of different exercises. Every body part you could imagine. It worked really well for us.
Well, it worked really well for me in particular. That was because I was consistent. I made it in three days a week. Every week. Time to get better.
I started to ask more and more questions. Frank told me about the workout we were doing. It was called High Intensity Training (HIT). Those terms means nearly nothing now with the onslaught of marketing we’ve all traversed the last sixteen years, but to me they represent a particular type of training: one set to total failure of each body part. This requires extreme focus and was great for building my willpower muscle.
Once I could drive on my own, I would go in, lift for about an hour or hour and a half… then good luck getting rid of me, Frank. I would stick around, chat with friends who came in. Tried out new exercises. Chatted with Frank about Arthur Jones, Ellington Darden, Mike Mentzer, Casey Viator, and Ken Hutchins.
We talked about how crazy Arthur Jones was. And how that transitioned into some excellent thoughts on varying resistance throughout a rep for the purposes of building your muscles.
We talked about the gorilla in the Nautilus pullover machine.
We talked about doing reps that last twenty seconds.
We talked about my ridiculous workout attire from Goodwill.
I read a book he got a lot of other workouts from: The New Rules of Lifting by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.
We talked about steroids, how everyone uses them, and how what Arnold used to use and NOTHING compared to what they use now.
He rode my motorcyle. Got the front wheel up in third gear, he said… Which is ridiculously fast.
And taught me that I can be strong and that it’s still important to be gentle and care about art. I remember him defending our friend whom we ridiculed for liking “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Kids are terrible, but we grow up.
We talked about Bob at the supplement shop and what a great salesman he is.
We even went over to Columbus, OH to see the craziness that is the Arnold Sports Festival.
When Frank would finally kick me out of the gym, I went home and read about these people. And others.
In fact, this is what set me on the path that brings us here to this website today.
Ellington Darden had at least one article on T-Nation that I came across in a Google search. I would like to think it was this one about some bodybuilding history, but knowing me it was probably this one about getting big arms. I’m sure I read all of them.
I loved that site. It was bookmarked in my browser — Firefox maybe? — and I came back to it all the time. It was there I first started reading articles by Eric Cressey, Mike Robertson, Bill Hartman, John Berardi, Nate Green, and others. When I got the chance to train at Mike and Bill’s new gym, I took it. And when they asked if I wanted to model in their video, I of course said yes. And when they asked if I wanted to clean the bathrooms, answer the phones, intern, and coach for them… I also said yes.
And now we’re here.
I haven’t seen Frank in probably close to ten years with one exception.
Right before I left Indianapolis for Mountain View, California, I ran into him during one of our Saturday lunches at Red Habanero. He looked yoked as ever. Energetic, charismatic. All smiles.
I hadn’t seen him in close to eight years. We chatted briefly. I wanted to say more, but didn’t even know where to begin. He had heard a little about what I had been doing and he told me, “I’m really proud of you, Lance.”
Don’t leave people on bad terms. You never know what will be the last thing you say to someone. I’m just glad to remember that last moment I had with Frank Engel.
Thank you Frank, for putting me on this path.
Read a great summary of Frank in his obituary.
I hope you have a mentor who impacts you in the same way.