As I sit to pen this piece about how barbell training saved my life, I have just completed a barbell training workout session and the oxygenated blood is flowing to my brain. It has been almost two years since I completed radiation treatment to destroy the cancerous tumor in my neck. I can honestly say that, without my coaches and the strength training program I underwent, I might not be here today.  

Barbell Training Squat Rack
Barbell Training Saved the Author’s Life

Matt Reynolds and the Barbell Logic Online Coaching Barbell Training Program


In January of 2017, I was extremely fortunate to be invited to attend a strength training seminar put on by James Yeager at his school, Tactical Response, in Tennessee. James brought in Matt Reynolds, a world class strength trainer. Matt put us through a 2 day seminar and coached us in his Barbell Logic program. 

We learned to perform the 4 basic barbell lifts properly; squat, deadlift, overhead/military press, and bench press. Mr. Reynolds also discussed proper diet, cardiovascular training as well as some supplemental exercises. 

I am not a novice to physical exercise, having played football in high school and being a United States Marine. However, I had never been given the level or quality of instruction regarding barbell strength training that Matt Reynolds gave me. I might mention that I was 49 years old at the time.  

…despite my world turning upside down, I continued to train in the gym and work with my Barbell Logic coach.

Dedication and Coaching

When I returned home from the seminar in Tennessee, I dedicated myself to practicing what I had been taught. Thanks to modern technology, I was able to record my workout sessions in video format and send them to my Barbell Logic coach for him to critique. Keep in mind, when it comes to learning how to do any skill, you cannot coach or teach yourself. You don’t see what the eyes of an experienced instructor sees.

For two years, I dedicated myself to improving and getting stronger. There were naturally some ups and downs. Nonetheless, at just shy of 52 years old, I was demonstrably stronger than I had ever been in my life. I’m not talking cardio or “core” strength, I am talking about measurable strength, the ability to exert force. I know this because I tracked my workouts and the weight I moved meticulously from the very beginning.    

Barbell Training Deadlift
Barbell Training is not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

El Cancer 

In February of 2019, I received the diagnosis that I had a cancerous tumor in my neck. The treatment for such cancer was direct radiation oncology and I would be getting a minimum of six weeks of treatments, five times a week for a total of 30. Naturally, there would be innumerable other doctor visits and consultations. My wife and I’s lives were turned upside down. 

The day I got the news I knew that I had a lump in my neck, but I did not feel weak or sick. That day was also a scheduled training day, so I went down to my gym, got under the bar and did the work. I was not lifting weights for vanity, I was doing it to save my life.  

Barbell Training Coach Matt Reynolds with Paul Markel and Jarrad Markel
Matt Reynolds (center) with the author (left) and his son, Jarrad (right) at Strength Seminar

Barbell Training Saved My Life

From the time I was given my diagnosis, put through numerous screenings and tests, had a dozen consultations with as many doctors, it was two months before I actually started the radiation treatments. 

During that time, despite my world turning upside down, I continued barbell training in the gym and worked with my Barbell Logic coach. Matt Reynolds and James Yeager both gave me constant encouragement as did my good friend Dr. Dan Olesnicky, owner of SWAT Fuel. Jeff Kirkham, CEO of Readyman, not only was my go to friend, he gave me access to his personal gym as my wife and I had to move from our home in Wyoming to Salt Lake City, Utah.

For those who do not know, the treatment for cancer often kills the patient before the actual cancer does. Chemotherapy is poison and your body does not want to be irradiated. One of the primary concerns during cancer treatment is weight loss, specifically the loss of muscle mass, for the patients. The treatment kills the cancer cells but it also punishes the body. The weaker the body becomes, the harder it is to fight off other infections and maladies that come along with cancer.

Fentanyl is like hospital heroin.

But How?

All during my treatments and consultations the doctors, nurses, and specialists would tell me that they wanted me to keep up my weight and my muscle. However, not one of them ever said HOW I was supposed to do that. One dietician wanted me to eat a lot of potatoes, peanut butter and tofu. Yes, seriously. Not one time did one medical person, other than my personal friends Dr. Dan, Matt and Jeff, ever suggest that I should maintain muscle mass by actually lifting weights and exercising.

To make a long story short, I continued barbell training until week four of my treatment when I became so sick that I was put in the hospital for seven days. I lost my ability to eat and drink and had a feeding tube put in my stomach. The pain from the treatment and infections in my throat caused them to put me on heavy narcotic pain medicine. I lost over 50 pounds during a period of just two months.

My body was put through more physical trauma than it had ever experienced, but I came through on the other side. I was declared cancer free on September 11, 2019. The pain doctor said he had never had a patient wean off of narcotic pain medicine as quickly as I did. Let me tell you that was a bitch. Fentanyl is like hospital heroin. 

I’m Back 

One of the prime inspirations for me to share this story with you is that today I hit a milestone. My overhead press workout today was the heaviest that it has been since I got sick. Although I am two years older now, my workout numbers are coming back to where they were before I was hit by el Cancer. I will be eternally grateful to James Yeager for introducing me to Matt Reynolds and for Matt pairing me up with Graham Schallar, my personal strength coach.   

Fighting Solves Everything - Destroying Cancer with Faith, Nutrition, and Science Front Cover

Fighting Solves Everything

The author of this article, Paul Markel, shares his trials and triumphs in the book; Fighting Solves Everything: Destroying Cancer with Faith, Nutrition and Science. Please share this story with those who need motivation and inspiration.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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