Sunday, October 20, 2019

How I Began and How I Did It - John Grimek (1988)

In 1988, John Grimek wrote a Q & A column for IronMan magazine, titled "Yesterday and Today". I found this one especially interesting. 

John Grimek at age 18.
About 16 months after he started training. 

Q: How did you get into weight training? What motivated you to start, and at what age did you begin? 

A: First, I must admit that I was always interested in strength, even before I became a teenager. During this time (the 1920s), we lived in a 14-family apartment complex, and the families living there all had offspring, so playmates were plentiful and competition was everywhere - jumping, running, climbing trees, etc. My primary interest was power, so I tried to get my playmates to lift large rocks, lumber or anything that was movable. Most tried but lost interest when it demanded so much effort. 

Once into my mid teens, I was eager to train, but I didn't have the equipment or means to purchase any, so I began practicing handstands and walking on my hands. Then, my older brother started reading Strength magazine, a magazine devoted to sports and some weight training. Two of his friends suggested he join them in buying a train-you-by-mail system, exchange these systems among themselves and test which one was better.

My brother ordered Liederman's cable training system, one of his friends bough the Atlas course and his other friend ordered the Professor Titus training course which consisted of springs that could be attached to a floor board and then to a wooden pole (used as a barbell). Each man worked by himself and after 30 to 60 days, they exchanged training systems until they all had tested each training course.

George Grimek, John's Older Brother

After testing the Titus springs, my brother decided to order a barbell set, but he didn't want his friends to know. He decided on the Milo Duplex set, a 225-pound outfit. It was costly, something over $80 - by today's standards (1988), that figures to around $500. [Over $1,000 today]

It wasn't long before his friends found out that he had weights; they immediately came over to join him. I also wanted to join them but was promptly shoved off. In those days, no one under 21 was permitted to train with weights - that fact was emphasized in the instructions.

To prevent me from sneaking in a workout, my brother chained all the equipment together after he trained. One day, however, he forgot to chain the kettlebells, which weighed 30 pounds each. That day after school, I had a ball pressing those bells for at least an hour before my brother came home from work. I was fairly pooped from all that pressing, but at the same time, I tingled with exuberance. 

The next day, my whole upper body ached. I got worried, especially when it continued for another couple of days. I thought I might have torn something. But then the aches eased up, and I was myself and very eager to try again. However, my chance didn't come until a few years later. 

My brother accepted a job in Canada as a lumberjack, and since he would be away for a year or more, he gave me permission to use the training equipment. I wasted no time in getting into it, and, of course, didn't read the instructions closely. I was 17 and attacked my exercise with vigor. For the first week or two, I felt like a million. I saw results, but shortly after that I began dragging. I couldn't figure out why I was so tired, but I continued to train. 

By the third of fourth week, my desire to train was gone. In fact, I actually dreaded the time to train and began skipping days because my energy was below par. I was ready to get rid of the weights when my brother happened to come home for a weekend. 

The first question he asked was: "How's the training?" I explained my dilemma, and he jumped all over me and told me that I wasn't supposed to train every day but to train one day and rest the next. That made sense but I was still too beat to continue, so I rested another few days.   

Being so dedicated, I never missed a training session. Even when I had an appointment with friends, they either had to wait until I trained or they went off without me. Eventually a couple of them got interested and joined me. Not for long, however. They found it too demanding. But as I reflect back on those years, I'm glad I stuck with it. I'd certainly do it all over again.     

Q: What leg exercises did you employ, and how often did you work your legs? 

A: From the beginning, leg work always fascinated me. The thing I remember best is reading about famous sports figures who, when they were beaten, the writer always mentioned that "he was beaten because his legs went out." 

And those weren't just words. That's why in athletic endeavors, emphasis is placed on strong underpinnings: once your legs go, that's the beginning of the end.

During this time, my legs were strong and springy and I wanted to keep them that way so I did leg training every exercise day. I continued to follow the Milo instructions that suggested all lower body work be started with 20 repetitions, and every third workout, increase the reps by adding two more until 40 reps were achieved. Then, 5-10 pounds were added and reps were reduced back to 20. 

Later, I devised my own leg plan. I used a warmup poundage and did 15-20 reps. I kept increasing the weight and decreasing the reps as I continued this routine until I reached near maximum poundage and could only perform the squat for a triple. 

With all said and done, I would have done 58 to 70 repetitions and worked up to a near maximum. However, between each set of squats, I employed a chest expanding exercise as a way of supplementing oxygen and to expand the rib cage for greater efficiency and endurance. 

Eventually my legs grew out of proportion.

 This photo of Grimek was taken after about two years of serious weight training. At 19, he had tremendous thighs and calves, which created a balance problem he later remedied.

I also favored the straddle lift during this time since it was easier to get the weight into position. I tried doing the leg press, but since I trained alone in our basement, I had trouble getting the weight onto my feet. Eventually, some weight training friends in a nearby city built a leg press machine. The first time I tried it, I could press all the weight they could get on it - something near a thousand pounds. Not having to worry about balancing the weight meant much higher poundages. All I had to do was push.

I also had an apparatus my brother bought that could be used for hand-and-thigh lifting, as well as hip lifting. You lifted it only a couple of inches, but it gave the legs and hips plenty of work. However, it was designed to handle 2,000 pounds. In time, I was able to triple that amount if the calculations were true. But the belt I used tore repeatedly and the bruises it left around my hips and sides were awesome. It looked like I had been whipped with a chain. Eventually the belt broke and couldn't be fixed or replaced, so I discontinued that part of my training. 

Grimek demonstrated the hip lift with over 1,000 pounds.
A poundage only one-sixth of his reported best. 

Iron boots were not yet available to do extension movements, but I strapped plates to my feet and did leg raises for the abdomen and to work the legs slightly. For the hamstring area I did heavy stiff-legged deadlifts off a bench. One day, Bob Hoffman saw me doing a heavy lift and bending low enough to touch the floor. He cautioned me not to go to that extreme with such a load. I listened and gave up this exercise; sometimes I regret it. For me it was a super movement.

Q: How much bench pressing did you do, and how much weight could you push above your chest? 

A: I never practiced the bench press. Most people don't believe me. They can't believe that someone doesn't practice this lift. I did practice what was then called the "prone press," a misnomer, since prone actually means "face down." 

To do the old prone press, you simply pull the weight over your head onto the chest and push it up without any impetus. My supine presses were done with dumbbells, which I thought were harder to do but were more effective as an exercise than the ordinary bench press.

A couple of times I was coaxed into seeing how much I could do. I think I pressed around 480 pounds after some warmups with lighter weights, but the bench lift never held a fascination for me.

Q: What exercises do you recommend to develop the arms? 

A: From experience, I know that arm development has always been the bodybuilder's favorite topic, and everyone who trains does have a strong desire to acquire an impressive pair of arms. When visitors came to York, and they didn't see me do any direct biceps exercises, they felt I was hiding my arm training secrets. 

The real facts are that for the last 26 to 30 years I haven't done many curls because I always did enough various rowing exercises, pulldowns and cleaning movements. These all work the biceps. Regular curls were unnecessary and I got to the point where I avoided curls except on the rarest of occasions. Nevertheless, when I did do curls, I always favored dumbbells. Dumbbells have played the main role in my training for the last 45 to 50 years (I've been training for the past 60 years of so). But for lower body work and the low back, I used a barbell. It fit the situation better. 

At one time when I was strongly into biceps curling, I devised a special barbell curl. You begin just like you do any other two-arm curl, elbows fixed at the sides. As the bar is curled and reaches the chest and shoulders, you allow the elbows to leave the sides and raise forward and upward until the weight rests upon the shoulders and the elbows point upward. At this point, you contract the biceps forcibly before lowering the weight to repeat the exercise. This causes the arms to congest very rapidly and does not require endless exercises or sets - it is very effective. But when not done precisely as explained, the results are not as striking or as effective - that I learned from experience. 

In spite of this, I still maintain that curling with dumbbells does produce better results than using a barbell. Moreover, there is a larger variety of arm exercises available with dumbbells than with a barbell. 

Back when I was training with Steve Stanko, we had a rack of dumbbells from 5 to 100 pounds. Steve and I occasionally would begin curling the 15 pounders, doing 3 reps with each until we reached the 50s. Then from there up to the 100s, we would do single reps. However, by the time we reached the 90s we would give some impetus to complete the curls because no rest was permitted on the way up or down. By the time we got back to the 25 pounders, our arms were swollen from the congestion and even the 25s felt heavy. This routine is not considered a good arm routine by any means but we did it only to see how it felt upon completion. For this reason, we would try it only on rare occasions and not as a regular part of our training.

However, while we are on the subject of arms, let me add that good arm development is more than just curling for the biceps. The triceps, which makes up most of the upper arm mass, is far more important for size and overall shape. For the triceps, various forms of pressing exercises should be employed. 

Also, don't depend solely on extension movements to develop the full triceps mass. For most, these exercises only affect the upper section of the triceps and leaves the elbow region lacking in fullness. Employ the extension movements to sharpen the detail, but use full triceps action for more complete development in this area. It's important, however, to give all the muscles ample stimulation but never to the point of overdoing it. Overtraining can impede muscular progress yet the proper amount can be your ticket to success. Let your instincts tell you when you've had enough, and when it might be better to do more. Learn to listen to these clues and you should achieve better progress. 

Q: Why haven't you entered any contests. 

I hear a lot from men who are nearing retirement and from those already retired. Many are into the masters contests and those about to retire are eagerly awaiting the time when they can participate. Why haven't I entered any masters contests? 

The truth is, I have been in all sorts of iron game competition, and I feel I have had enough. I began training around 60 years ago, and I've done everything that I ever wanted to do. Now I'm content to do some exercises just to remain in reasonably good shaspe. 

Also, I can't see myself struggling with some miserable weight that formerly was nothing more than a toy. Let those who haven't been that active enjoy these events, and let them have a chance to enjoy such competition. I certainly applaud their efforts and wish them every success, but I would like to caution them not to go all out until they have been thoroughly conditioned. 

Which brings to mind a longtime acquaintance of mine. He was always a barbell man but due to his profession, he could not find the time to participate in any activity. When he finally retired at the age of 90 he decided to get into hard training and try some of those masters contests. And he's done very well. He posted all new records for his age and bodyweight category, and when he does succeed, he's the happiest man around. He's more enthusiastic than ever and today, at 92, he's in tremendous shape.

Just think, those men who have been lucky and reached this age may be bed-fast or in wheelchairs. Yet this individual not only exercises with the iron pills, but he has the energy and ambition to go out and compete against other men younger than he is. He had training most of his life but this is the first time he got the chance to express himself to justify the reason why he kept in shape for all these years, and now he feels that this is the time of expression and he's truly ENJOYING it . . . 

and that's what counts.    



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