Monday, June 16, 2008

Going Back To The 1950's - Reg Park

Going Back To The 1950’s
by Reg Park

I recall quite clearly my first weight workout. It was in September, 1945, at which time I was 17 years old and weighed 165 pounds at 6’ 1”. Up to that time I had excelled in both athletics and soccer and I possessed a lean, athletic body. I met Dave Cohen, who was some six years older than me, at the City of Leeds Rowndlay Park open air swimming pool, where all the lads and lasses congregated over the weekends and holidays. Most of the fellows were body-conscious but it was not until I saw Dave, who was then 24 years old, that I saw a real physique. Dave was 5’ 8”, weighed 185 pounds with a 47” chest, 31” waist and arms, neck and calves all measuring 17 ½ inches. There is no doubt in my mind that at that time he had the best physique in Great Britain, although I never recall him showing any interest in entering a “Mr.” contest. The first workout I had under Dave’s guidance consisted of barbell press with 40 lbs., press on back on floor (at that time we didn’t know about bench presses) with 60 lbs. barbell, curls with 40 lbs., straight-arm barbell pullover on floor with 30 lbs., barbell triceps pushaway behind the legs and that was about it. All the exercises were performed with descending repetitions, 10-8-6. Three sets per exercise.

These workouts were performed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in a bare wooden floored room made available by the parents of one of Dave’s friends. I did not really enjoy the workouts, the most appealing thing being the cups of tea and cakes which Dave’s friend’s mother laid on after our evening workouts. Nevertheless I persisted with training until about May, 1946, some eight months when Rowndlay Pool opened for the English summer (don’t laugh - when I spent all my free time at the pool checking out the chicks my workouts became very infrequent). Looking back I recognize the fact that my early poundages were very inferior by today’s standard. Even considering I was a total beginner, they would be a joke. Barbell press with 40 pounds? My wife can do that! So I obviously started off with little or no latent strength.

The first eight months of training were just functionary. I was not into it and had very little awareness as to what weight training was all about, other than to be aware that I wanted to look like Dave. Nevertheless, when I was conscripted into the army in August, 1948, I was doing repetition presses with 80 pounds and did a pullover on the floor (more like a rollover, flipping the bar with a sharp wrist action until it rested across the chest with the upper arm resting on the floor and the forearm perpendicular) and a press on back with 205 pounds for one rep. No big deal, but at least 100% improvement from my starting poundages. My eight months training must have done me some good, without my realizing it, because when I went into the army I was still 6’ 1” but weighed 185 pounds. The next two years were spent in the army where I ended up as a physical training instructor in Singapore during which time, I suppose, I had about 20 workouts in two years.

By the time I got out of the army my parents had erected a chinning bar in our back garden and I bought a secondhand barbell set which I kept under a tarpaulin next to the chinning bar, which had a clamp light attached to it via a cable from my bedroom, enabling me to workout at night. I trained outdoors through the winter often wearing as many as three sweat suits and pulling the snow covered tarp off the weights in order to workout. Gradually, I moved the equipment I had assembled (a fixed incline bench, a flat bench, squat stands, hand loading lat machine and my weights) into a one-car garage located behind the local shopping plaza. During that time I read all the English Health and Strength, Vigor, and American Strength & Health and Weider magazines (which were then small in the format of a Readers Digest) that I could find in the book shops. Fortunately, I soon realized that if I wanted to have the best physique in the world (a decision I made in London whilst watching the 1948 Mr. Universe) I would also have to be the strongest bodybuilder in the world.

From then on I started to push the poundages. My decision to push myself to training with heavier poundages paid off when I won the 1949 Mr. Britain contest in, I think it was, September of October of that year when I weighed 226 pounds. By now I could clean and press two 100-pound dumbells, which I did backstage at the Leeds Empire in the dressing room of the “Trois des Milles” made up of Reuben Martin, Rusty Sellars and Len Talbot, who were touring the U. K. with the British version of the Folies Bergere. I also did a straight-arm pullover with top man, Rusty Sellars, doing a handstand on the palms of my hands, a feat which Reub told me only one man other than himself had ever done, and that man was 250-pound, 5’8” Bert Assirati who was without doubt the strongest British wrestler around.

From 1949 right up to the late 1950’s I was without doubt Britain’s strongest bodybuilder. I did a full squat, 2 reps with 600 pounds, with only the late Buster McShane spotting me in his gym in Belfast. At a show in Bristol I bench pressed 500 pounds (and was second in world after Doug Hepburn to succeed with this poundage), and pressed 300 pounds at the British Amateur Weightlifting championships. At various times I also repetition presses behind the neck with 250 pounds, and regularly did reps and sets with two 185-pound dumbells on the incline and flat bench, which was all the weight I could get on the bars. The only other bodybuilder at that time who could give me a go was a bull named Marvin Eder and I recall him and I doing bentover barbell rows with 400 pounds in 1951. At Ed Yarick’s gym in Oakland, California, also in 1951, I remember doing seated dumbell curls for 5 reps with the 120’s with someone, I think it was Art Jones, holding my knees.

At this time I also broke several British professional weightlifting records, some of which had been set by Ronald Walker, whom I believe had previously placed 2nd or 3rd in the World weightlifting championships on the then three Olympic lifts.

I could do squats with 500 pounds, bench presses with 400, curls with 200 pounds, clean and press two 100-pound dumbells – all for repetitions at any time of the day without bothering to warm up. I remember doing bentover peak contraction curls with a 100-pound dumbell for the fellows in our warehouse in Leeds. At that time I was not only considered the best built bodybuilder in the world but also the strongest. I weighed between 225 to 230 pounds. In December of 1960 (I was then into the gym business in Johannesburg) I received a phone call from Rome to star in the Italian Hercules films and it was neither the producer nor the director who wanted me as the star but the man who put up the money. Apparently he had seen photos of me and said, “He is Hercules.” Such had been the effect on my physique from all the heavy training I had done for 10 to 12 years.

From 1962 onwards the pressure of running a chain of health studios and a mail order business took up a great deal of my time and energy and although I entered and won the 1965 Mr. Universe, my training at this period was a joke compared to how I had trained throughout the 50’s. More often than not my workouts would be interrupted by visitors and endless telephone calls. I experienced more injuries, to my sacro, knees, elbows, biceps insertions and one shoulder injury that persisted continuously for five years – yes, five years. Consciously, I trained less intensively and lighter and the only reason I retained any semblance of size and shape was due to the heavy workouts I put in from 1949 until 1962.

From 1962 to 1982 I gave exhibitions all over the world, when injuries limited my training to Mickey Mouse poundages and my physique showed considerably lighter development.

In 1980 I sold all my gyms. I am now into the manufacture and sale of bodybuilding equipment and I work as a consultant for Centrol Gyms in Johannesburg and give seminars and exhibitions. I have slowly recovered my enthusiasm for training and apply my experience and trial and error. I know which exercises I can do and which I must avoid, the latter being regular and full squats, deadlifts and bentover barbell rows, all of which cause considerable pain in my sacro region; chins and parallel bar dips which tear my shoulder ball-and-socket joint. In the middle of 1982 I made a decision to train progressively heavier as I did in the 50’s.

The exercises I am able to do are in slightly higher reps than the past, 8-10 generally, but every exercise is performed with maximum poundage in the last set and I endeavor to add reps whenever possible.

Most important of all, I’m enjoying my workouts like I have not in a long time. I’m enjoying striving to handle heavier and heavier poundage. My wife Marion is a great cook and baker. I eat and drink as I wish – homemade bread, biscuits, cakes and ice cream, lots of fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and poultry. with a bottle of wine nightly – I eat as I like, as I did when a competitor.

After all, isn’t that what life and training are all about?

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