Monday, March 27, 2017

Harold Poole, Legendary Delts - Tony Estrada (2017)

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At 18 Years of Age

In January of 2002, an elderly giant walked into Club Fit Pembroke Pines in south Florida and turned nearly every head in the facility. He had a shoulder-length ponytail and the complexion of Ovaltine. I was working as the fitness manager, and he told me he recently celebrated his 60th birthday. After having been a professional bodybuilder back in the day, he was ready to fulfill another dream: becoming a personal trainer. I asked him to come do a workout with me as an informal interview.

It turns out, I was in the presence of greatness. Harold Poole is a member of the IFBB Hall of Fame and still holds the record for being the youngest athlete to compete in a Mr. Olympia. He won Mr. Universe when he was 19 years old . . . 

Mr. Universe 1963


. . . and became the first African American to be crowned Mr. America . . . 



1964 Mr. Universe

Harold was half African American and half German - a combination he credited for his great genetics. In 1965, at the age of 21, he competed in the very first Mr. Olympia. Harold was the only bodybuilder to compete in the first three Olympia contests, placing second all three times. 



Olympia 1966


1967 WBBG Mr. America

In his prime, Harold had the kind of physique that has come back in style today. If a 22-year old Harold Poole entered a Classic Physique competition in 2017 nobody could touch him.

During our introductory workout it was obvious Harold knew his stuff. We traded ideas and switched back and forth on who called the next exercise. He loved the overhead press, while I preferred pressing with the dumbbells. It was old school meets new school, at least for that time.

I helped Harold complete his certification through IPFA, and we immediately hired him. We were friends for two years, and I would drive him home from work at least three days a week. It's during these trips that he would tell me the most extravagant stories about his life.

Harold had a good heart but was plagued by demons of his own. He battled chemical addiction and mental illness, and was on the wrong side of the law more than once in his life. But he was a protector, and he treated his friends and clients like they were his family. My fondest memory of him happened one afternoon at the gym. I had recently undergone surgery on my knee and was sitting at my desk. One of our trainers had an issue with his paycheck, and rather than discussing it he tried to turn it into a physical altercation. Harold was on the opposite side of our gym, and within seconds he crossed the floor and had the trainer's throat engulfed in his palm. He damn near lifted a 200 pound man off the floor like that.

What was most impressive about Harold was his level of determination. He did not let the fact that he was an African American athlete in a small-minded era stop him from achieving his dreams as a bodybuilder. He came to me determined to become a personal trainer at the age of 60 . . . and he did it. His determination to complete whatever he set out to do made him a champion.

In 2014, Harold Poole passed away from pancreatitis. I think of him often and that first workout we did together, which I have listed here. 

To me, he represents a simpler time when bodybuilders trained for the pure enjoyment.

He reminded me that fitness is not just about counting reps or seconds, timing micros, taking pills. 

Fitness is about being the best you, and savoring your road to the goal. 

Rest in Peace, my Brother in Iron. 

Big THANKS to Tony Estrada for getting this article on Harold Poole published!

This is the workout that Iron Man writer Tony Estrada, a 20-year veteran of the fitness industry did on the first day he met Harold Poole. It utilizes the classic-era bodybuilding techniques such as drop sets and going to failure, as well as plenty of volume and a reliance on relatively high-rep schemes. New school meets old school with some modern wisdom on warming up and a few smart pre-hab exercises.

Note: Here's a typical Golden Era bodybuilding routine, graciously put together by the late Bill Luttrell for posting on Dave Draper's website and forum []: 

Now, on to the routine!


Far too many lifters skip a proper warm-up and miss out on many benefits, as well as put themselves at risk of injury. A moderate amount of light cardio stimulates and invigorates the body at a cellular level while creating elasticity in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It increases the range of motion (ROM) and allows the recruitment of more muscle fibers. 

10 minutes of moderate cardio.
High Row with Triceps Rope - 2 sets of 20-25, light
External Rotation with Cables - 2 x 15 each side, light
High Shoulder Rotation with Cable 2 x 15 each side, light.


 - Seated Barbell Press - 3 x 20, 6-8*, 2-4* 25, [60, 75% of 1 Rep Maximum]
*If you can perform more than the prescribed reps go to failure. This is the biggest compound exercise for the muscles responsible for a pushing motion. The first set will be the only of the three that is not performed to muscular failure. Seated on a straight back bench, bring the bar down in front of your face. As you go through the eccentric (lowering) phase, stop at approximately chin level before returning to the top overhead.

 - Seated Two Dumbbell Press - 2 x 6-8 to failure 60, 75% 1RM]
Switching to dumbbells increases range of motion and will slightly redirect stress to the medial (side) deltoids. Small muscles are recruited for stability and synergy, and are thus exhausted as well. For this dumbbell version of the overhead press allow your elbows to go just below 90 degrees.

 - Seated Dumbbell Lateral Raise - 2 x 10-15 [30, 35% 1RM]
 - To keep the stress on the medial deltoid while performing this exercise with free weights, raise your arms from your sides until they're parallel with the ground. As they are returned to the lower position stop at approximately 15 degrees from the hip. By keeping the tension on the delts with this style you may have to use less weight but the burn will be incredible.

 - Seated Front Delt Press - 2 x 10-15 [30, 35% 1RM]
Having exhausted the lateral deltoids, it's time to direct more attention to the anterior delts. Reps are increased, and weight is modified if necessary to accommodate a higher rep range and to move safely through full range of motion. Starting with the dumbbells at your chin, palms facing you, forcefully press the weights together and bring them overhead. Make sure the ends of the dumbbells are touching the entire time.

 - Supine Anterior Cable Raise - 2 x 10-15 to failure [50, 75%**]
**On the second set perform a drop set to failure, reduce the weight by 15% for the drop.

Set the pulley at the lowest setting. Sit on the floor facing the machine and attach an EZ Curl bar attachment. Hold the bar with straight arms and lie flat on your back. Lower your arms until they are about four inches from the thighs. With straight arms, raise the bar until your hands are just beyond eye level. Perform the first set until failure and rest. The second set is a drop set to failure with no rest in between drops.  
 - Unassisted Dips - 2 x failure with bodyweight.
At this point I could do no more, but Harold insisted. To Harold, one more meant three. He made his point and had already secured the job, but he wanted to show that there was a level of determination and ambition that separated him from the rest of the crowd. It was long, slow, and deep reps to failure and a memory that will last forever. 

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