Saturday, October 8, 2011

Joe DiMarco - Armand Tanny / Dave Yarnell

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Joe DiMarco by Armand Tanny (1967)
* with additional material from Dave Yarnell.

Dave’s intro to the Muscle Builder magazine article, from the book
“Forgotten Secrets of The Culver City Westside Barbell Club” --

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The physique photo is one of Joe DiMarco at the tender age of 18, circa 1948. As of this writing, Joe is alive and well and currently 80 years of age. He is still training and, believe it or not, still competing, and still in the A.A.U. Joe holds World Records for the A.A.U. in the 75-79 and now 80-84 year old Master’s classes, across the 198, 220 and 242-lb. classes, with the 220-lb. class being Joe’s “normal” class. Mr. DiMarco trains at Dave Fisher’s Powerhouse Gym in Torrance, California.

Joe met Bill “Peanuts” West at the famous Vic Tanny’s gym, a.k.a. The Dungeon. Here is a brief excerpt from the Oldetimestrongman website about the gym:

Just a stone’s throw from the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, California, was Vic Tanny’s Gym. Shortly after World War II, Tanny converted a 7,000-square-foot USO center, which was located in a basement on 4th Street, into the best-equipped gym in the United States. It was huge, with 15-foot ceilings and, as you can see (photo in book), all kinds of training equipment. Vic Tanny’s was affectionately known as “The Dungeon” and was THE place to train during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Regular members included Steve Reeves, George Eiferman, Joe Gold (of Gold’s Gym fame) and Arthur Jones, Bill McArdle, Zabo Koszewski , Olympic lifting greats Tommy Kono and Dave Shephard, one of the stars of “Wagon Train’ along with a whole host of others.

It was where Bob Hoffman and the York gang trained on West Coast trips.

The following article from Muscle Builder magazine by Armand Tanny featured Joe and a few photos. The article gives a good overview of some of his philosophies, some of which he has reiterated pretty much verbatim, from memory, in our recent conversations, so the info in this particular article is the real deal with no exaggerations, B.S. or things added by the editors to spice things up, as does sometimes happen. There are a few corrections that Joe offered. For example, he said he never was above the 230’s in bodyweight and never competed in the 242-lb. class. Also, Joe said he was doing a touch-and-go bench press with 505, not 450, at that time and that the length of the back injury recuperation was only a couple of weeks. The back extension bench seen in the photo was actually built by Bill West for Joe.

Joe started training in 1945 at the age of 15, and was 5’ 10” at that time, but was compressed down to 5’ 8” during the time frame of the article. A couple of these details were off a bit. Joe pointed out that upright rows are not a lat developing exercise like the article stated, and he felt the need to expound on the “belly toss” bench press that was more or less glossed over in the article. Details on this will be discussed further on in this chapter (of Dave Yarnell’s latest book). The upright row in the picture was not a typical Westside exercise, and the picture depicting the use of pads on the bench press was for loosely performed standard benches (not the belly toss here), and you’ll notice there is somewhere around 500 lbs. on the bar.

You can see by this article that Joe was one of the more innovative members of the Culver City Westside crew, yet somehow he seems to get bypassed in many a modern day article or story about this club. His good friends Bill West and George Frenn get far more attention, and even Pat Casey, who was a latecomer to the club, is far more well known to the current lifting public than Joe is. Of course, Pat was the first 600-lb. bencher and first to total 2,000-plus, so his recognition is well-deserved, but I have to wonder if Bill, George, Pat and the rest of the crew would have made the stellar accomplishments they were famous for if Joe had not been part of the gang.

Muscle Builder Article by Armand Tanny

There is a twilight zone full of lost souls who used to be junkies, vice-presidents or power lifters who let their bodyweight go past 200. The latter group was beyond salvation unless they zoomed up to 300, a condition few of them had the structure or appetite for. Recently established, the 242-lb. class becomes an oasis on that barren stretch between 200 and 300 pound behemoths who wait around licking their chops for any panting hopeful who thinks he is safe at home.

Joe DiMarco became a permanent resident of this limbo early in his career. When he bulked up to 270, he was gasping for breath; when he went down to 210 he was merely an onlooker. But today, at 230, DiMarco becomes a different kind of cat. The cat is out of the bag and has taken with him a few of his tricks, like a bench press, touch-and-go, with 450. Plagued with a bad back for a long time he had cooled it on the heavy squats and deadlifts. Through the use of a specially contrived bench he keeps at home, he has regained full back power, and his lifts are beginning to zoom. In practice at the West Side Barbell Club in Culver City, with playmates like Bill West, Pat Casey, Len Ingro, Bill Thurber, George Frenn and Dave Davis, he does repetition squats with 520 and deadlifts with 550. He has no doubt of his ability to soon make a 600-plus squat and a 700 deadlift. At his present bodyweight at 5’10” he has massive development, big arms, and thighs that measure 27”. He had them up to 31½” when he was heavier.

No novice, Joe has been with the weights since 1947, when at 17, at height of 5’10” and weighing 127, he took up bodybuilding at Al Stephan’s gym in Minneapolis. The 1946 Mr. America exerted strong influence on Joe so that by the time he was introduced to power lifting in Los Angeles by Bill West in ’58, he was a powerful heavyweight. He entered a couple of contests at that time, then dropped into obscurity. His love for the weights persisted, however, and he continued training, always in the background, frightening Pat Casey on occasions with his bench press, and constantly experimenting with new ways of doing things. In time he returned a training favor by showing Bill West (now 1966 National Champion at 198 lbs.) the value of incline bench pressing. Joe was the first weightlifter to exploit the incline press and led the way for a long time with 380.

With a certain stubbornness and a belief in his convictions, and although he trained with the group, his natural curiosity led him in other directions. When the others were pressing off the bench, he was lying on the floor pressing off blocks. The power rack bench press as Casey developed it could have been the outcome of this early method. Joe, himself, has made a 440 bench press off the power rack with a 32” grip. Dead starts like that strike at sticking points, and sectional development becomes possible.

Then came the belly toss. This movement was the opposite of dead starts pressing off the blocks. He worked on this cheating style until he was using uncontrollably heavy weight, 600 lbs. for 6 reps, and 660 for a single. All these efforts, undisguised dedication to a cause, still. largely undisclosed, made for the great power Joe possesses today. Though he may bull around a heavy weight on the belly toss, he subscribes to perfection of movement. A machinist by trade, working with close tolerances, he may have developed a high sense of perfection and prefers to train with a thick, recoilless bar so that he doesn’t come to depend on external help. With a “dead” bar he fells in full control. The heavy traffic in bench press technique disturbs him somewhat, and he wishes the incline press could be adopted as the official press movement of powerlifting. As an exercise he prefers it to the flat bench press in both feeling and muscle building. There little chance of cheating on the incline press, no springy rib box, no arch and less influence of bench width. He has a point there.

To ensure that no area of development can escape detection, he works a wide range of motions. Along with inclines he does declines to supplement the regular bench press. Consistent with this “three-way” development idea he does three different movements for the upper back, whose development he finds makes an effective bench press launching pad. Joe estimates that lat development adds 40 pounds to his bench press and he integrates it with extensive lat work: (1) chins behind neck; (2) upright row; (3) long incline pulley. The upright row thickens the rear deltoid, a smart addendum to high back work. Nor does he reserve punishment on these exercises. On the long pulley he works with 500 pounds for 5 reps. He mournfully guesses that he is a natural puller rather than a pusher, and by pure prolonged effort he has made himself into an exceptional presser.

Joe always hated squats, which is actually quite normal. He hated Bill West for making him do them. But good sense and ambition prevailed, and he finds himself following a steady squat routine. From George Frenn he got the “head up” idea, the labyrinthine principle that somehow connects the balance mechanism of the ear with the firing mechanism of the muscle along the spine. He has squatted with impunity lately, and his lift is soaring.

He has a private belief regarding reps – and it works for him – as he approaches a limit lift. 10 pounds = 1 rep. If Joe can do 2 reps on a near limit weight, his limit will be twenty pounds more. Or, expressed differently: 3-rep weight + 30 pounds = single rep weight. Though he believes in Bill West’s forced singles method, he inclines a few degrees to his own equation and practices his own heavy reps.

His next deviation from established procedure produced an innovation he refers to as the “static system.” In a sense it closely parallels isometric exercise. Joe does a static bench press whereby he lowers the bar to within an inch of the chest, holds it for a count between four and eight seconds, then presses it back to arms’ length. The feeling goes deep as the effort probes untouched levels of nerve stimuli. He may do only two of these lifts following his regular heavy singles. Joe carefully times each effort, starting at four seconds then increasing gradually to eight as he grows stronger. His workout partner verbally ticks off the time, and since no two men count alike, he must depend on one particular person, which, in this case, happens to be omnipresent Bill West.

Where most lifters are glad to get a lift past their sticking point, Joe does his static dance right ON the point. Like on the deadlift. He pulls the weight to his sticking point – which in his case is fairly low because he has a powerful high pull – holds it for the count, then finishes the lift. Any sticking point should retreat in the face of a barrage like that. As a result his lifts have the smooth airiness of an outside elevator.

He attributes much of his recent squatting and deadlifting progress to a bench he built for doing body extensions. Commonly performed, the upper body extends off a horizontal bench for this exercise. His bench inclines about 30 degrees so that the hips rest on the peak higher than the strapped down feet. This setup permits a perfect range of motion, one full of feeling, that allows him to arch high and back consistent with the demands of both deadlifting and squatting. The movement is free of the pressures that go with heavy lifting from the standing position, while at the same time flushing out injuries and building strength and muscle. He does 5 sets of 12 with 65 lbs. behind the neck. A private device he keeps at home, should he care to air his brainchild, this bench could have important consequences.

A family man with a job and a night school schedule, Joe is forced into regularity. He tries for nine hours sleep. He eats fish, chicken, seldom beef and take vitamin B complex, vitamin C and pure wheat germ oil, not the oil mixture types. A keen observer of his own functions, he found his early morning heart beat was six less, from 60 to 54, when he was taking wheat germ oil. This certainly adds up to extra energy for workouts. Before a contest he takes hot tea and honey.

The time demand of work, school and family life force him to spread his workout schedule to four-a-week, two upper, two lower. He must have one day of rest between. Joe believes in two workouts a week and plans to return to that schedule when he can. He believes two hours should be the maximum for a power lift workout. Beyond that, alertness ebbs.

He questions, “Why should the 32-inch bench press grip rule apply to both featherweights and heavyweights when they are so vastly different in size?”

This raises other questions, like the width of the bench. Where’s the equality between a heavyweight with a 26-inch shoulder width and a featherweight with 18 pressing off the same bench 10 or 12 inches wide? Maybe different benches for different classes?

Joe DiMarco’s Basic Workout

Tuesday and Saturday

Bench Press
425x five singles.

Incline Press
350x five singles

5 sets of 10-15 reps with bodyweight.

Thursday and Sunday

465x five singles

Front Squat
5 singles with 300 to 375.

335x 5 singles
525x 5 singles

With the advent of the 242-pound class DiMarco should be right in the van making an assault on its records. But most of all he is a strong man with a simple love for what he does and a searching mind to go with it. He is one of power lifting’s natural resources. He merely has to be mined.

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