By John Hansen, Natural Bodybuilding Editor
I saw a great photo of Clint Eastwood on Facebook the other day with the quote, “I miss the ole days when everybody wasn’t such a pussy”. Although I’m not quite as old as Clint, I can relate to his brash opinion of the diminishing state of manhood when it comes to the modern day gym scene.
Back in the old days, before corporate America decided to cash in on the burgeoning fitness boom by creating massive fitness centers that cater to everyone (from your grandparents to your adolescent child), the gym was a hardcore sweat shop filled with tough, serious BIG men. It was an atmosphere that demanded HARD TRAINING.
As I watch today’s gym member workout, I cringe at what I’m seeing. I realize that not everyone wants be a competitive bodybuilder but, can’t we assume that nearly everyone who is spending their quality time in the gym wants to change the way they look. Otherwise, why would they be there?
What I’m witnessing is a bunch of mostly young men who are training with ridiculously light weights, utilizing poor form, demonstrating little intensity and choosing exercises that will do very little in the way of building any muscle or strength. Before I pass harsh judgement on these individuals like Mr. Eastwood, I have to remember that the gym scene today is much different than it was 30 years ago. Most of these new converts to the gym don’t have any good role models to teach them the proper way to train.
In the 1970’s and ’80’s, before professional bodybuilders morphed into “Gigantic” mode, the path to a muscular physique was through extremely hard training. Steroids were part of the game back then but the drugs worked best in association with high intensity, ball-busting workouts. There were no mega-dosing, artificial growth hormone, insulin, and sight injections around to pump up the body to oversized proportions. If you wanted to grow, you had to earn it!
As a young, aspiring bodybuilder, I read stories in MuscleBuilder magazine of Arnold training 3 hours a day, 6 days a week and how he “bombed and blitzed” his muscles in preparation for the Mr. Olympia contest each year. Arnold would require as many as three training partners to keep up with his high volume, high intensity training sessions. The tales of Arnold burning out any bodybuilder who tried to keep up with him were legendary.
Before Arnold won the Mr. Olympia, he was a contender for the throne held by “The Myth” Sergio Oliva. To better figure out his opponent, Arnold traveled to Sergio’s hometown of Chicago in 1969 to personally train with him. To say that he was impressed by the reigning Mr. Olympia’s work ethic is an understatement. Arnold watched Sergio begin the workout with 10 sets of 20 reps of Behind the Neck Chins and this was just his warm-up! After working out with Sergio for a week, Arnold knew he would have to dramatically change his game if he had any hope of defeating him onstage.
Perhaps the most respected, hard training bodybuilder in the sport was Tom Platz. Known for his legendary leg development, Platz developed his wheels by mastering the hardest exercise in existence, the Barbell Squat. Tom approached each leg workout with a religious reverence. He would visualize each workout for hours or even days before the actual event. He even went so far as to wear clothing that would make his legs appear shorter so when he looked at his image in the mirror, it appeared as if he had a shorter distance to squat during the movement.
After developing incredible strength in the squat exercise, Platz pushed the intensity even further by incorporating workouts in which he squatted with more moderate poundages, but extremely high reps. One leg training session would see Platz squatting with up to 600 pounds. His next leg workout, however, might involve 20 reps with 405 pounds or 40 reps with 315 pounds. In one legendary squat workout, Platz reached insane levels of intensity by squatting with 225 pounds for over 5 minutes straight. After one of these crazy sets, Platz would literally collapse on the gym floor, completely exhausted and drained from giving his set everything he had!
These were our bodybuilding heroes when I was growing up. All the aspiring, young bodybuilders training in the hardcore gyms might never develop their chest or arms like Arnold or legs like Platz, but there was nothing stopping us from training with all out intensity in an effort to try. This is what bodybuilding was all about! It wasn’t about having huge, bloated arms or weighing 300 pounds. It’s also not about being ripped with six pack abs and taking selfies in the mirror on a daily basis. The true spirit of Bodybuilding is in the training – Pushing your mind, body and spirit to go where you’ve never gone before is what develops the character and mental fortitude that defines a real bodybuilder.
Do me a favor. For your next workout, leave your cell phone in the car and stop relying on the motivational song in your iPhone. Visualize the magnificent physiques of Schwarzenegger, Oliva, Mentzer and Platz and approach your workout with the mindset of a true warrior, not some pussy wannabe who is more concerned with posting faux photos or videos or half ass cable movements with a weight that most 110 pound females could use. Tap into your inner spirit. It’s down there somewhere. Let’s not let the true meaning of Bodybuilding fade away with the memories of the legendary bodybuilders of the past. Create your own personal legacy by shutting off the devices, releasing your inner desire, and training like a true Bodybuilding Warrior.
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A three-time Natural Mr. Universe and the first Natural Mr. Olympia champion, John is the author of the book Natural Bodybuilding (2005, Human Kinetics). A 14 year columnist for Ironman Magazine, John is the founder of FloridaPhysique.com where he covers the NPC Florida Bodybuilding scene and interviews legendary bodybuilders. John is also the promoter of the NPC Natural Suncoast Classic and offers consultations on training, nutrition and posing – in person and online.