"Comrades, let's do morning exercises!"
"I wanna get big!" the young man exuded within seconds of sitting down in front of my desk When folks came into my gym I always asked them, naturally, what their goals were and then would go on to explain how we could on to explain how we could go about it . . . using the facilities of the club, diet, etc. This was a typical kid of 18 who had done a little lifting at school and at home, but now he had seen some muscular marvels on TV and wanted to emulate them.
The trouble was . . . he wanted to emulate them at all costs! How many of us felt the same way at 18 or 19? The hero-worship still burning in our veins. Of course, in our day it was a Steve Reeves movie or a cover shot of John Grimek that spurred us on. Today there are more muscle mags, more information but ironically more confusion.
The kid went on, "Look, Mr. Green, I've got all the stuff -- syringes, Deca-Durabolin, Dianabol, and thousands of tablets of every supplement you can get!"
I asked him how long he'd been training. "A year," he replied. "With all this and training in a good gym I just know I can look like those guys in another year."
"Whoa now, hold on a minute," I answered. "How tall are you and what do you weigh now?"
The young man beamed, "I'm six feet tall and weigh 165 . . . up from 158," was his reply. "I wanna go up to 250!"
Keeping a straight face and popping off with a diatribe of humor and facts is not one of my better suits. I asked him if you like to suit up and take a workout. First of all, so I could check him out and what he'd been doing and second, so he could check me out; to see if I hadn't been cramming Eucalyptus leaves down my throat and hanging by branches all my life. After all, I could've been a Koala bear or some sort of gorilla in disguise.
The kid vanished without a further word. Moments later he reappeared in a workout suit that looked like something out of a rummage sale held by Peter Pan. Oh well, you can't size people up by their appearance. Those that try are simply fools. Salesmen are pretty good at it, but even they blow it sometimes. I asked him to tell me what his present routine was, and to give it a shot in the gym. I would observe and make suggestions.
Enthusiasm and sincerity were not the kid's problems.
Misguided concepts and sloppy style were. Coupled with a distorted feeling that if he lifted certain poundages in his training . . . ones he'd read so-and-so used in such-and-such magazine . . . he'd make it like a bandit!
He huffed and puffed, jerked and screamed, bent like a twig under his curls . . . and ended up missing half the muscles he wanted to work. If I'd have hooked him up to a generator he would've provided enough electricity to light up the gym for 24 hours!
But build any muscle . . . no.
When he was done tearing down his joints, getting at some muscle and actually lifting some pretty decent poundages, I, well, I had a little chat with him. First I pointed out a "little" guy, Ron, whomping himself on our long pulley row. As soon as he was done with the rows he went right over to the chinning bar and whomped out rep after rep until he could only
could only hang there . . . the guy couldn't do another rep so he hung, stretched the lats and dislocated his scapula for more width and that last little drop of work.
The kid was impressed. "Yeah, I was noticing him during my workout. He's huge. But I'm stronger."
I went on to tell him that the young guy he was observing was training for the development of size, shape and deep muscularity. You know, the density bit. Furthermore, the bodybuilder in question did lift heavy as well, when the cycle and/ore mood dictated itself.
"Those aren't just puffy muscles. That guy you're watching has won powerlifting meets in his weight class. Sometimes he still enters 'em, but right now his main goal is that attainment of hard muscular bulk . . . period."
When I mentioned some of Ron's best lifts I thought the kid's jaw would hit the floor. Just then Dr. Carlin Venus came in.
You talk about good timing. Carlin was around 53 at the time and just getting back into training after a 12 year layoff. Carlin warmed up . . . walked over to a press machine and started doing reps with 400 pounds . . . with one arm! Before the kid could justify his case, I beat him to it and told him to just wait and watch.
Carlin was just "checking himself out." He then went over to the pulleys and began a long, but unusual workout with light to moderate weights for reps. Lots of reps!
I went on to try and explain to the kid that he was only getting 4 reps of less per set in his own workout. Sometimes he would only do 3 or 4 reps while at other times he'd try maybe 6 reps, but still only get 3 or 4 really "good" ones. The rest were heave-tossed, jerked, strangled, wobbled up or thrown. Style was definitely lacking. Form was generally non-existent. Concentration? His only level of visual imagery was more suited for a lifter: his mind's eye view was to get that barbell or dumbbell up over his head or other parts of his anatomy before returning it to its original resting place.
Next came a show-and-tell trick I learned from Don Howorth. I was having trouble with my lat development at the time; my upper back was coming along fine, but no V-shape was imparted by the lats. No wonder! i came from the ol' heave & toss school. Get it up at all costs and stay up with the big guys. Of course, I was impetuous, high string, pretty strong for my age and size and had just come from the Muscle Beach area.
I hate to digress, but I must make a point and to chronicle history as accurately as I can . . . to get the point across to the reader that this isn't just another "Billy Big Body" from Waco, Burbank writing about it. Au contraire. I was from Hard Gainer City High. Former captain of the team.
Oh yeah! Me, too. Heave & Toss . . . Heave & Toss.
Something had brought me to Vince's Gym. Not that everybody training in the Santa Monica area was just pushing iron. No, no. There were some stylists. Some of the world's best. It's just that there were so many weightlifters as well as bodybuilders. And I loved lifting weights: power lifting, stunts, the Olympic lifts . . . and naturally I wanted to build a body. Trouble was . . . One thing at a time!
Too many sets gets you way ahead of yourself. Mentally, your out of the moment per set . . . thinking about the next one coming up. Too much weight (for you. To hell with the other guys). We're talkin' training here. To develop your physique.
Thought I forgot about the Howorth bit , eh? Don't skip over stuff. It's those damnable little details that seem so simplistic at the time. Add 'em all up. Then those little details can total major efforts.
Read Bob Kennedy's Hardcore Bodybuilding, Beef It, and other books for a lot of those "little details." Not one guy's opinion alone. A compendium of observation of all the modern greats, a touch of the aesthetic and the research and development a Harvard Law Prof would put into his doctor's thesis. You need plenty of books for reference . . . but you still gotta GO OUT AND DO!
Okay, Howorth and lats.
Anyway, he catches me in the giy doing sets of Bentover Rows. My God! I was doing 5 sets working up to the last two with 250. I was strong in the pulling stuff. Draper taught me that: correct a weakness and then make it strong. Or maybe I should say "correct a weakness and then make it strong," emphasizing the "then."
Of course I had . . . corrected the weakness. Then made it somewhat stronger. Trouble was, I kept on trying just to make it stronger . . . not better. "Better" here meant more lats . . . width and fill in the middle. Yeah, I had the two top cases: no width and no middle or lower back depth. Narrow, shallow. A narrow shallow guy with good biceps and these trapular things whipping into my rhomboids. Fine, fine, fine.
"Let me show you what you're doing," said Don. "The first part -- you're raising your upper body upward. Going out of the parallel to floor position. Working your lumbars. Then you're squinching your shoulder blades up and together and pulling midway with your upper back. See? But there's no lat action!"
He was right. I was using the Bentover BB Row as a pulling exercise, but only thickening the upper back and getting some lower back from the initial raising of my upper body from the bent over position; no matter how slight -- it was like the first third of a good morning or hyperextension.
Moreover, because I was pulling a lot of weight up, I'd go faster, only getting the benefits of the last third of the exercise (barely). Super Speed reps have a purpose: for strength, power, moving bigger weights, but not for filling in the blanks!
Don's solution. First he went and got the 110-lb. barbell from Vince's barbell rack.
"But what about the Olympic set?" I asked.
Don turned toward me in mid-stride and only gave me a look that resembled a kind smirk. I knew I was going to get a real lesson.
We went over to Vince's Spider Curl bench, because it was the right height for me -- about waist high.
"Get into position, bend forward and place your head on the edge of the bench. Brace it there and keep it there. It'll cut down on your cheating. Grab the barbell with a collar-to-collar grip the first two sets. Pull the weight up to your lower chest and pull it up with a gradual even speed. Feel it! Lower it a bit slower and think about stretching and flaring the lats (almost a slow negative rep).
"On the last set use a medium grip and pull the weight to mid-stomach. That'll hit more middle and lower lat. You'll get mic-back throughout due to the style. The main thing is . . . you'll get more lats and upper back/mid back fill-in. Oh, and do 6 sets of front chins at the beginning of your back workout."
The point was that I was bypassing the very areas I wanted to hit. Vince later showed me how I was using almost all arms in the Seated Long Pulley Row. Very little back action there, too. There are various ways of cheating. Cheating yourself of gains at times. Oh yes . . . later on I added more weight each set to the head-braced bentover rows. Howorth taught me, but it was nifty that he had me only do 3 or 4 sets of that exercise. Not too many sets. You don't need too many if you do a bodybuilding exercise right.
I hope you're getting the point. "Feel" the exercise and use the best form possible while mentally thinking about -- visualizing -- the area as it is being worked.
Don't just load the damn bars, machines, dumbbells up and go helter skelter. Cheating has a purpose: you do that on your last 2 or 3 reps, as forced reps . . . but you fight the weight down with as much control as possible.
I could say the same thing about nutrition. I will in a future article. Don't just take in copious amounts of supplements and hope for the best. Get stuff that is highly absorbable, balanced and so forth. The shotgun method was for the old days. Today we have much better products.
A final remark re: diet. It seems the pendulum has swung back and forth again on the protein question. First, it was you needed more. Recently, it was you need less No, it's more often. The last one is what I believe to be the closest. Quality and timing are the most important.
Use your diet for the main source of proteins and use the supplements for just the -- supplementing. Protein powders are fine, provided they are used as a supplement; to use in place of one or two meals per day if you're trying to lose weight, or in addition to regular meals to make up for skipped meals on busy days.
I must add that to build muscle if you are skinny, and this is from over 20 years of observation . . . if you're not gaining chances are you're not eating enough. Even though you think you are.