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It’s Not Just About Muscle


Most nonbodybuilders think of bodybuilding—the use of progressive-resistance training—as being simply about muscle and strength. The process does have the unique ability to transform anyone physically, but besides being a portal to physical transformation, bodybuilding is also a portal to friendship.

When you start working out seriously, you make a determination that you are different. You make a decision that bodybuilding is an important part of your life, and the friends who stay and the new ones you make will mostly share your interest. Your self-determined direction is also a pathway to a different culture, one that puts a premium on exercise and nutrition as a part of a well lived life. One of the pleasures of being a bodybuilder is that you belong to a special club—you are a doer, not a spectator.

Bodybuilding is for doers. Look around at any bodybuilding event, and you will see not just an audience of fans but a brotherhood of a shared love of the feel of iron exerting its force against muscle.  They appreciate what it takes to mount the stage even if they don’t want to compete with anyone but themselves.

When I read my first issue of Iron Man in March 1956, I knew I wanted to be a part of that group. I felt that the publisher, Peary Rader, was speaking directly to me. Very few people worked out with weights then. The gyms were mostly at YMCAs, which were also the venues for weightlifting and bodybuilding competitions. I discovered that bodybuilders were a generous group, always responding to a training question in a positive way. They were all evangelists for the secret transformative power of the barbell. They bubbled over with the need to share their love of the iron.

In 1962 I was in the front row at a YMCA event and happened to be siting next to Bob Gajda, then an outstanding Chicago bodybuilder on his way to becoming Mr. America in 1966. I didn’t realize who he was as I watched him bound onto the stage to pose and win! Our short conversation led to our working out together, first at the Division Street YMCA and then at the Duncan YMCA, as Bob transformed the empty spaces he was given into caldrons of lifting enthusiasm. He is a friend to this day. Bob introduced me to Sergio Oliva at the Division Street Y, and that was really the beginning of my journey.

Everyone who has trained at commercial gyms and/or YMCAs over a period of time has made lifelong friendships. In many ways, its all about the people.  IM

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