Sitting at the bus stop organizing my gym bag, I’m once again reminded how glad I am I’m not running for president this year. Hard training, smart eating and the basic truths go right out the window. Strategy meetings, fund-raisers and basic deceptions take their places. Not that I couldn’t fix the mess, but the stress…and resulting catabolism.
I note mouse-size tooth marks on the edge of a faded meal-replacement wrapper, the content of which is rock-hard and long past its 1999 expiration date. While contemplating whether to keep, discard or eat the relic, a vaguely familiar voice from behind me asks if we might continue the conversation we started months ago.
It’s the guy who journeys biweekly to the unemployment office to negotiate his compensation, as old and satisfying as my mousey energy bar. “Anybody sitting here, Mr. Draper?” Referring to me as Mr. Draper does not win him points.
Sitting back and crossing his legs, he asks his first of a series of aimless questions:
Q: What were the popular training methods used back in the ’60s?
A: The basic movements were applied with good order, repetition, force and regularity. The methods were not yet analyzed, overintellectualized and named. I guess the popular training MO among the original Gold’s champs was volume training: three exercises per muscle group, reps in the 12, 10, 8, 6 range, with max-power reps thrown in when the urge was unstoppable. Each muscle group was trained compatibly twice a week and the gym visited at least five of the seven days. Squats and deadlifts counted big time, and supersets were plentiful. Heavy dumbbells had a special place in our hearts.
One generally amped his training in the spring and summer and powered it in the fall and winter.
Q: Describe the diet you used back in those days.
A: If you sat down with us after a workout at our favorite Marina cafe, you’d see us order hamburger patties and eggs, home fries and whole-wheat toast. Our diets were high protein with an accent on meat and milk products, medium carbs with plenty of salad and fresh fruits and medium fats with no fried food or junk.
With me, some things never change.
Q: How long would bodybuilders train back then?
A: There was a season for hard training and a season for harder training. The average time in the gym was 90 to 120 minutes, five days a week. When contest preparation loomed (spring, summer and early fall), training twice a day was a common practice for the guys. That added another hour to the total.
Q: Today people say you risk overtraining if you train beyond one hour, but back then guys routinely lifted for two hours or more, yet got amazing results. How would you explain the progress that was made under these circumstances?
A: I don’t see how a competitor can make progress with much less. Overtraining can be a problem, and it must be monitored closely. Training to the edge isn’t the most healthful method of training, but it is the only method for a superior championship physique.
Q: Was cardio used as often as it is today?
A: You hardly ever saw cardio training in our neighborhood. There was no stationary bike to mount at the gym, no treadmill for miles and miles, and the other swell gadgets (ellipticals, steppers, goofy gofers) were yet to be invented.
Q: How did people respond to Arnold when he arrived at Gold’s for the first time?
A: People in Venice in the ’60s weren’t easily excited. The kicked-back nature of the stony beach community influenced our reception of Arnold. Besides, bodybuilding was yet a novelty, an anomaly, remember? A half-pint in a rolled-up brown paper bag.
“Arnold, he’s the big kid with muscles and an odd accent from Europe. He won bodybuilding contests over there, Germany, I think, and dresses funny. Looks like he learned to lift at Camp Munich.” We liked him, helped him, taught him by not teaching him and watched him grow and grow.
The rumble you heard in the background was bodybuilding in its early stages of takeoff…five, four, three, two, one…
Q: I have seen some great photos of you and Arnold training together. How influential was Arnold in your training and bodybuilding progress?
A: Arnold was impressive then, almost as impressive as now. I was a loner who, like a wolf, knew and trusted and tended his own territory. I could live beside a good man without doubt, envy or antagonism. Arnold was a strong force, and his energy and drive were infectious. His training at first was clumsy—nothing to emulate—and gained grace and meaning day by day.
He and I and the rest of the small mob fed on each other generously. Our unity was evident, as were our developing training styles and individuality. Intensity begets intensity, and our wills to win rose to the surface like helium-filled life preservers.
Q: What was life in general like for bodybuilders back then?
A: I never thought of myself as a bodybuilder. The term never rolled off my lips with affection. The early lifters from Muscle Beach were no fonder of the term than I. We were, we are, weight lifters—people who lift weights. Bodybuilder has a connotation as likable as mercenary when speaking of soldiers, or camper when referring to explorers or star-gazing when discussing astronomy.
Who knows? Maybe they hung at the beach and waited for life to happen. You’d have to be one to know. I trained hard and slipped out the back door, applied myself to forming wood and lived a simple life.
Q: What kind of clothing did you wear in the gym and on the street? Was there a specific dress style for bodybuilders?
A: Few of us were fancy dressers on the street and certainly not in the gym. Think T-shirt, tank top, sweatshirt and flannel shirt and jeans. We wore our clothes hard and adjusted them to fit as needed and for comfort. The gear came later as the industry expanded.
We wore layers in the winter and shed them as the workouts warmed up; sweatshirts and T-shirts often lost their sleeves in the middle of a workout if needed. It was cool to see the bulk and muscle bulging through the well-worn clothes, but it was not the main source of entertainment. There was work to do.
Speaking of which, this is my stop, and you should get a job. Come to think of it, I should get a job.
A job? Is that anything like work? And when would I take off, fly, soar and glide?
If anybody asks, you haven’t seen me lately…better yet, tell ’em I’m busy…
Editor’s note: For more from Dave Draper, visit www.DaveDraper.com and sign up for his free newsletter. You can also check out his amazing Top Squat training tool, classic photos, workout Q&A and forum.