Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Carlin Venus Interview - Bob Green

Carlin Venus Speaks on Training with Ahrens, Davis, Reeves and Others.
Interview by Bob Green

As luck would have it, I ran into an old friend of mine, Carlin Venus. Carlin is a ‘tiny’ little fellow who around 270 pounds to this day. A former bodybuilding champ, weightlifter and pro wrestler, he had forsaken the posing dais for the pulpit and gone into the ministry. Meanwhile he had become a physical therapist and a health educator. Quite a variety pack. Make no mistake, this man of letters is a man of iron. I’ll never forget what happened last year at my gym. We had a guy in there that was big, had awesome power to go with it and was quite a sports buff, but you never met a more rapacious cynic. This fellow had overheard Carlin and I talking about some of the old-timers we had known in the game and had trained with. This guy kept circling the area between sets and scoffing at the stories – bulling his way around the gym expressing his ‘doubts’ about the truth of these tales openly.

One day Carlin drove up to the gym after a business meeting and had just walked in when our friend started cranking on him again about some of HIS accomplishments. Carlin laughed good-naturedly and then eyeballed a pair of old 135-pound bells stashed under the dumbell rack. He smiled at our friend and asked him if he could lift one of them with one hand. Before the guy could even get out another smart remark, Carlin cleaned one of the bells to his shoulder and began nonchalantly pressing it all over the place while carrying on a conversation with me. People in the gym stopped what they were doing and stared in disbelief. He hadn’t even warmed up and here he was, wandering around in his street clothes talking to me while he pressed the old bell over and over, like it was nothing. Needless to say, the gym cynic let us be after that.

Carlin: Remember Bomber Kokavich – Sandor Szabo? Argentine Rocca? I wrestled them. Lord Blears, Baron Leone ( I could still see him jogging along the beach when I was a kid). We did pretty good. I eventually got out of it, but my brother kept at the wrestling game for some time afterwards. I went into the ministry and he kept travelling all over the U.S.A. During our wrestling days we often could only train intermittently due to all the travel. But we had developed a good foundation and when we trained we would follow the idea that Grimek projected, the 6-3-1 rep scheme with increasingly heavy weights. This kept our power and size up. That way you only had to workout once a week to stay in some semblance of condition. Years later, at 36, I decided to make a comeback in my training and got into the best shape of my life. Isn’t that wild? 36! You see, if you have the foundation it lies dormant waiting to be rekindled. It must have been a wrong era for me, because personal commitments once again precluded my entering any real big contests. I’m kind of sad I didn’t, but I know what it is to win a contest and I know what it is to lose. When I was younger I entered a lot. Leo Stern got me into plenty of contests. Yet it was all fun.

Bob Green: When you were at Bruce Conner’s gym in West L.A. you didn’t see anybody using steroids, did you?

Carlin: Oh, nobody did over there back then. This was the early to mid-sixties, so we knew about them, but none of the animals there were taking them. Far from it. These guys were healthier than anything you could imagine. The way Charlie (Chuck Ahrens, Carlin’s training partner) and I felt, if you wanted more steroids . . . just eat more meat! After all, the beef was so loaded down with that junk for breeding and raising. Hahaha, we determined one time just how much was being pumped into chickens and beef at the time and it blew our minds. I guess you could say that we were on steroids. Indirectly. I mean, we got a big laugh out of that, but there was something to it. Now I feed my family only meats and poultry I know isn’t tampered with. The only thing that got to Charlie, I think, was all that paint thinner. He was a house painter, you know.

You know, another thing Charlie and a lot of the really big, powerful guys I knew really believed in was the power of sleep. In fact, it was a real crack-up with Charlie. He’d even sleep right in the middle of the gym if it was time! Can you imagine? Hahaha . . . I’ll never forget. Guys like Sidney Sheldon and other movie producers and moguls would come into the gym and have to step over Charlie who might have decided to take a noon nap near the door. I mean, if it was time for a nap, it was time. Everybody was cool, though. They respected Charlie and didn’t disturb him. After awhile no one thought anything of it.

Bruce was one of those rare gym owners: he loved strength so much he allowed Charlie and I to do some stuff, you know . . . try things with heavy weights and drop them if we couldn’t get the lift. Of course, we had an area to do this in, but a lot of gym owners go nuts if you drop weights. Sometimes you couldn’t even hold the weight because there wasn’t anyplace to grab it. For instance – we would have 325 lbs. on a dumbell. We did a lot of heavy dumbell work. But 325 on this dumbell and it took two guys to hand it to him! In some lifts he would say that he couldn’t do it if two guys handed it to him, so I’d have to hand it to him by myself!

It was one thing getting the weight to him to start, but at the end of the set he would yell for me to grab it. Forget it! It was freaky just getting the weight in position to start, let alone spot him!!! I’d have to do a cheat-clean to my knee, then set it on a bench, get it ready and ask him if he was ready for one big concentrated effort on my part to get this darn thing in position so he could do a lousy set. Can you imagine how hard it was finding guys to spot us?

So after jockeying the weight in position I’d yell, “You got it?” and this is what would blow your mind – he’d yell, “Yeah!” and then proceed to press this 325 lbs. with one arm for 3 or 4 good, clean reps!!!

I thought I could get up there, too. I mean, I trained with John Davis years before in San Diego at Leo Stern’s and now in L.A. with Ahrens and I was always hitting it with these super strong guys. I never did max out with my one-arm DB press, but I could do reps, seated, with 210 pounds, which I thought was pretty good. I did a side press with 265. The 265, by the way, was not a bent press so it became a world record. I had actually beaten the world’s record by 15 lbs. in the side press and it was notarized in front of witnesses. The bad thing about practicing the side press is it gives you obliques which you don’t need for the V-shape in bodybuilding.

Bob Green: Yeah. In a way, it’s almost like doing heavy side bends. Yet, for lifting, the powerful obliques really help!

Carlin: I had never had large obliques and once you get them they are very hard to get rid of. Lot of power though.

Bob Green: Tell me more about your early training at the beach in San Diego with Leo Stern.

Carlin: My brother had actually started out as a boxer and used weights to help him there. That was unheard of at the time. He became the heavyweight champ in the San Diego area as well as that part of Southern California. I was younger and more into weights. He weighed between 190-200 pounds at the time and I could press him overhead with one arm on any given day.

I learned to do stunts like that from some of the old time weightmen around the area. Frank Shofer taught me that particular trick. He was a great big guy and was a tailor. He had to be! I studied muscle control from the time I was 11 years old. I’d spend hours every day on that. I won a contest that Clancy Ross and Leo put on and even beat Ed Jubinville.

Another guy that would come into the gym was the great Isaac Berger. One of the premier weightlifters of all time. So I could press 210 ten times with one arm – so what! Here was a guy who was pressing double bodyweight, and he looked like a muscular, little guy. Front squats with 400 for endless reps. He weighed 132 and would press 265! I looked at this guy’s body and wondered what he had. Well, he had big glutes, thighs and traps, but his arms were small . . . huge traps and very heavy back development. Other than that you’d swear he couldn’t lift a thing. A great guy, too.

It seemed that all through my training career I was surrounded by guys who were super-human. Of course, that spurs you on to greater heights. During tough times I actually lived in Stern’s gym. One day John Davis came in and ended up living down there too. John Davis was the strongest lifter in the world at that time. Funny thing, he had small hands, but was able to lift the Cyr bell and do many other phenomenal stunts.

So here I am training with the strongest guy in the weight game. I was just a 19-year old kid. Training with Davis got my squat up to 500 for reps. Milo Steinborn had the record at the time at 550 pounds, so I was getting close. Of course, John Davis worked up to 550 just in his training, but didn’t specialize on the squat.

Another guy that trained with us was Bill Lorantz, the featherweight lifting champion. George Eiferman would come into the gym, too, and he was super strong: 250-300 seated press behind neck and the whole bit. In those days, if you weren’t strong, there was no use in having a body. That’s just the way it was. All the top guys had a claim to fame in the strength area or in an endurance feat that involved above average strength. Even Steve Reeves was stronger than people gave him credit for. I know. I trained with him. During lean times he slept in the gym too.

I think the guys that live in cold weather climes, or states that have real winters appreciate this more. We were originally from Michigan and usually had to have heavy clothes on; at least long-sleeved shirts. So, the strength was more important most of the year. I hadn’t seen many great physiques until we moved to California. Just in the magazines. What good was it for sports and work if you didn’t have any power?

I remember even in high school, the coach really frowned on weights and would actually lecture my brother and I on getting muscle-bound. And I would ask him why I had just won the 440? And I’m throwing the shot put at the same time. He used to brag about me to the coaches at other schools. “Hey, I’ve got a shot putter that runs the 440.” I even ran the hurdles regularly. I would at least try to compete in every track and field event. He would tell me I was doing pretty good and I would tell him it was the weights. Boy, his ears would burn. He hated weights, I don’t know why, but most coaches did until the late 60’s.

He would harp on the old bit that I was going to get muscle-bound and ruin his chances at a winning track team. Finally I got so ticked-off I practiced muscle control ten times as much and gave an exhibition at my school. The coaches wanted to know how I could be so flexible!! “Weights,” I told them, over and over. I then went out for wrestling and wrestled the Pacific Coast champion, and finally the coaches left me alone. I beat the champ once and he beat me twice. His name was Jimmy Hansen.

You know, it’s funny. I’m 52 now and I did that one arm press for six reps with the 135-pound dumbell and can do 6-8 reps with 300 in the bentover row, and I hardly have a chance to train these days. The weights give you a heck of a foundation. I don’t think any of us have ever reached our maximum potential.

A prime example was John Davis. If he’d been able to compete against Alexeev or Rachmanov he would’ve kept going. But he was a very encouraging guy; always a good word for one of us in the gym, and he really kept me going with encouragement. Never negative. That was one of the keys to his success. One time I told him I felt really rotten and didn’t feel like training. He told me he didn’t feel like training half the time anyway, laughed, and we proceeded to have one of the best all-time workouts. He told me he had to psych himself up for almost every workout, but once he got going he loved it.

Davis would always warm up very lightly; never lifting heavy to start and not until the last few sets of a given exercise. He would always start with 135 on the Olympic bar. By the way, he never had injuries. At least not when I knew him. He would take this “light” bar do some high pulls, cleans, squats and all kinds of stuff. You thought he was never going to get into his real workout. Then, and here’s the mind blower, after this extensive warmup he’d go over and take a nap! He’d go to sleep! He’d go over to the ab board and crash.

While he was relaxing he’d psych up and picture the next lift in his mind. Visual imagery. He would picture the lift completed in his mind. He would start with a weight he could get 6 reps with and then add weight each set while dropping the reps down to singles. After each heavy or near-maximum lift he would go lie down again. Charles Ahrens would do almost the same thing. I understand Nubret does too. I got to thinking – there must be a common denominator here. Something to do with the endorphins produced by the brain.

Something was happening with these guys, because there strength was almost inhuman. Davis once told me that if I ever watched Olympic lifting champions they were always leaning against a wall or lying down with their feet propped up. The policy is: you never stand if you can sit – and you never sit when you can lie down. You never should lie down unless you can go to sleep. I asked him why and he said it was very simple. You need to conserve your energy for those tremendous lifts.

Bob Green: what was the most significant form of supplementation that worked the best for you guys back in those days?

Carlin: We had the old Hoffman proteins and a couple of other brands. Sometimes I would take a third of a can a day to bulk up. If I didn’t have my regular supply of goodies and my protein drink, I would try something that turned out to give me better gains than anything else I ever tried – grapefruit juice and around 200 brewers yeast tabs a day. My weight shot up, energy was max and I made solid size gains. The grapefruit acted as a catalyst.

I was hardly eating at the time and the brewer’s yeast gave me enough calories and protein (combined with the one or two meals a day I was eating). After about four weeks of trying this my bodyweight dropped down to 212 pounds from about 235, but my size was up and that’s when I started all these lifts that I did so well. Of course, my one main meal a day was a smorgasbord and we’d clean out the joint. As big as Charlie and I got, you’d think we ate all day long. Charlie would eat three squares a day and hit the raw milk, but no more than that. Me? It was the smorg or two regular meals and those yeast tabs with grapefruit or grapefruit juice. Man, I made terrific gains then.

We told the poor owner of the Smorgy that we were only ‘training down’ and it was a good thing we weren’t trying to get bigger. I think he thought about giving us passes to the little cafe across the street. Charlie was tipping the scales then at a trim 325. You know, my brother and I wrestled a lot of guys in our time and for several years were the tag-team champs of North America (the Venus Brothers), but when he met Charlie he couldn’t believe it. My brother said Charlie was the biggest, widest ‘mass of humanity’ he’d ever seen. Bar none. And we’d been all over the country and in every little nook and cranny where some big boys come out of the mountains.

It’s funny how incentive works. I was working at Bruce Conner’s as a therapist when I saw Charlie doing these 180-pound concentration curls and side lateral with the 150’s. That ‘s what got me going again. I hadn’t trained in years. This was around 1965. It’s amazing what your environment can do. The funny thing was that Charlie had been inspired by some lifting exhibitions I had given when he was just in high school. Now he was the one getting me going.

I kept asking him how he did it, maxing out with such awesome power. He said, “Think it.” I’m convinced that the most powerful tool is THE MIND. You see? Davis said the same thing. Of course, heredity plays an important part, gut you still have to work for it.

Bob Green: Before I sign off I would like to list some of the accomplishments this unsung hero of the weight game accomplished. Many of these feats were done at age 36 after a layoff of more than ten years due to Carlin’s ministerial duties and such. Carlin feels that auto-suggestion, more so than self-hypnosis, and a positive outlook are the real keys to progress. Here is a partial list of his accomplishments:

Situps with 320 pounds behind the neck for several reps.

Good mornings with 395.

Deadlift – 625 for 12 reps.

One-legged squat with 305.

One-arm dumbell press with 210 for 10 reps, either hand.

Full squat with 705 for 2 reps, 765 for a single.

Press from the racks with 475 for 2 reps.

Strict barbell curls with back against the wall with 245.

Reverse curl with 205.

Handstand presses with 175 pounds around the waist for 6 reps.

Walked one half mile on his hands.

78 strict dips done cold, off the street when Bruce and Al Hinds were having a contest one day. 43 dead-hang chins immediately after.

Ran the mile at a 212 pound bodyweight, after a workout in 5 minutes, 25 seconds.

All of the above were done at age 36 and notarized in front of witnesses at Bruce Conner’s gym.

Here’s a guy who says the above lifts were nothing when compared to Chuck Ahrens – who could do this stuff, according to Carlin, “cold.” He’s humble. I had to really draw this stuff out of him. An old article by late, great writer Ray Van Cleef tipped me off. I had known Carlin for years and had no idea he was the same guy Van Cleef touted as being the next Mr. America in the mid-50’s. At that time he’d won the Mr. San Diego, Mr. YMCA, World’s Greatest Muscle Control Artist awarded by Leo Stern and Clancy Ross, winner of the Symphony of Strength in 1949, the guy you would have read about in Strength & Health that did the one-fingered chin, the guy that did bent-arm pullover and presses with 440 while entering the high jump and getting a clean six-foot jump in competition while still in high school. I could go on and on.

Before I finish I must relate a bit I left out earlier in the story when his coach had admonished Carlin for lifting weights. He went out to the track and ran a 100-yard dash BACKWARDS in 11.2 seconds.

Muscle bound, eh?

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