Uncle Buddy and Eva had driven down from Boston, where they’d rendezvoused that morning. She’d flown in from London, and Uncle Buddy’s ship had docked in Boston Harbor. Eva owned a rare-books shop in the British capital and was taking a vacation. Uncle Buddy was on furlough. A journeyman seaman, he’d work without taking any leave for six months and save all his pay, and then spend the following six months traveling around some part of the globe with one of his lady friends.
They planned on visiting for a couple of days before going south to Key West, then out to the West Coast. But their itinerary was flexible. If they came to a place they really liked, they’d stay as long as they desired. I’d always envied my uncle. His lifestyle seemed absolutely wonderful.
I’d met Eva on a previous visit, and she was my favorite of all of his ladies. A stunning beauty who reminded me of Ali Landry, she had the brains to match her flawless face and figure. She spoke four languages and was the only person I knew who’d read the complete works of William Shakespeare, along with all the classics and countless other books I’d never heard of.
How my uncle attracted such magnificent females was a mystery to me. While he was well built, he had a stevedore’s physique. He shaved his head bald and had the face of a fighter who’d lost more bouts than he’d won. I was aware, however, that he possessed many qualities that women appreciate more than good looks. Uncle Buddy respected women, treated them like royalty, thoroughly enjoyed their company and was extremely generous. He could also charm a monkey out of his last banana when he set his mind to it.
Over a late supper of crab cakes and cold Millers at Grumpy’s he asked if I knew of a gym close by where he could take Eva. Whenever Uncle Buddy came to town, we generally trained at the Harford Barbell in the old Aberdeen High School building, but that was an all-male club. I told him a friend of mine was the manager of a new fitness facility only a half hour away and that he’d given me four passes.
‘And it’s co-ed?’
I laughed. ‘Sure, all the big gyms are now. That’s what brings in the customers. Gyms are like nightclubs’meeting places to check out the opposite sex.’
‘Good. Eva thinks her butt’s getting too flabby. I want to show her some exercises to help her tighten it up.’ Eva only smiled and blushed.
Later, when she got up to go to the bathroom, I watched her walk away and commented, ‘She doesn’t look like she needs to worry about her glutes.’
‘She don’t,’ Uncle Buddy grunted. ‘Her butt’s as tight as a teenager’s, but you know how women are. Once they get a notion in their heads, you might as well go ahead and deal with it.’
Which was the truth, and I also understood that the people who really need to get in a gym and shed some blubber never bother. They just keep stuffing in the calories until they’re eligible for an extreme makeover. It’s the men and women who are already in decent shape who support the fitness centers across the country.
They were staying at the Holiday Inn. Knowing that mornings didn’t exist in my world, Uncle Buddy said they’d do some sightseeing early, then hook up with me around noon. We decided to hit the gym in midafternoon, when it would be less crowded. Uncle Buddy hated to go to a busy facility and have to wait around to use some piece of equipment. ALL Patience was not his long suit, especially in the weight room.
‘We need a place to squat, and do they have a Smith machine?’
‘They have two squat racks and a Smith machine. My friend talked the owners into putting in the squat racks and two platforms so they could attract high school and college athletes.’
‘Smart. That’s an untapped market.’
When we arrived at the gym, we were delighted to see that there were only two young men working out. My friend Rich was out running errands. We presented our passes to the older man behind the counter, who accepted them and asked us to sign in.
Eva peeled off her sweats right in front of me, and my mouth dropped open. I had no idea that she was so fit. Her skimpy white shorts looked as if they had been spray-painted on, and I hadn’t seen glutes that impressive since the last time a photo of Amy Fadhli appeared in IRON MAN. The rest of Eva’s body was equally imposing. Her short yellow tank top revealed a taut midsection, ample breasts and firm shoulders and upper arms. Long, muscular legs supported the nicely put-together package.
I noticed that the two members had stopped what they were doing to ogle. I sure couldn’t blame them. I was doing some serious ogling myself and decided that this was going to be a super workout. Uncle Buddy instructed Eva to do a set of situps and a set of back extensions. We followed her, since those were the warmup exercises we both did.
Then we moved to one of the staircase squat racks. ‘The first exercise you’re going to do is full squats,’ he said. ‘They’re the best single exercise for building strength and also toning the glutes. Have you ever done them?’
She nodded. ‘But it’s been a while.’
‘Did you go low?’
‘What do you mean by low?’
‘Low enough so that the tops of your thighs are below parallel. Like this.’ He demonstrated.
‘No, not that low. My trainer said going low was bad for my knees.’
‘He’s an idiot!’ blurted Uncle Buddy. ‘Going low transfers the stress from the knees to the hips and legs. The lower you go, the more you involve the glutes, hips and muscles of the legs. Do some reps with just the bar so I can check out your form.’
After the second rep, he suggested, ‘Move your stance in just a bit and see if that helps you go lower.’
She did as instructed and was able to go six inches lower. He made a few more form adjustments, and by the 10th rep her technique was perfect. The two young men had gravitated closer to the squat racks. They wanted a better look at Eva, and they were interested in hearing what Uncle Buddy was saying. The taller of the two stepped up to Buddy and introduced himself as Pat and his training partner as Chris. ‘We heard what you said about the glutes. Do you think they’re important for us? I’m going to be playing lacrosse at Towson University next year, and Chris wants to enter a bodybuilding show in Ocean City this summer.’
Uncle Buddy asked Eva to add 10 pounds to each side of the bar, then turned to the boys. ‘Glutes are important to every athlete. Just look at the top players in any sport from football to baseball to tennis. The good ones all have powerful glutes. They’re part of the power pack, along with the hips, legs and lower back. That’s where the power originates for nearly every physical activity’throwing and hitting a baseball, serving in tennis, blocking and tackling, sprinting and laying a hit on your opponent in lacrosse.’ ‘And doing full squats the way she’s doing is the way to get stronger glutes?’
‘One of the ways. Other exercises hit the glutes as well. I’ll show them to you if you’re interested.’
They looked at one another, and Pat replied for both of them: ‘Sure, we’d like that.’
I got the impression that what they really liked was being able to train at the same station as Eva.
While Eva did a second set of squats, the boys went to their gym bags to get their lifting belts. When they returned, Chris said to Uncle Buddy, ‘I read an article by a bodybuilder, and he said he never went low in the squat because that would give him a wide butt.’
I could see my uncle’s face darken as he grumbled, ‘Nonsense. Sure, if you gain a ton of bodyweight, your butt’s going to get bigger, but if you only pack on muscle, it will all be in proportion. Here, let me show you some photos.’ Uncle Buddy always carried muscle mags in his gym bag. He grabbed some, came back, flipped open some pages and showed the picture to the waiting boys. ‘This is John C. Grimek, whom I consider the greatest bodybuilder ever. He always went deep on his squats, plus he did front squats when he was competing in Olympic lifting. Think he has a wide butt?’
They shook their heads. ‘He’s amazing,’ said Chris, ‘and he don’t look like the bodybuilders in magazines now.’
‘That’s because he trained for balance. Everything is in proportion’from his neck to his upper arms to his calves. His glutes fit perfectly as well. Nowadays all that matters is size. Symmetry has gotten lost in the quest for bulk. I’d hazard a guess that you’re fans of Arnold.’
‘Sure, he’s the greatest ever in our book.’
‘Well, look at this shot of him squatting. Think he believed that going low built a wide butt?’
I knew the photo. In it, Arnold is nearly sitting on his calves at the bottom of the squat. Uncle Buddy had made his point. When Eva completed her third and final set, the boys did two sets so Uncle Buddy could help them with their form. He continued his impromptu clinic as they squatted: ‘The glutes are made up of three muscle groups: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. All three are involved in the squat’much more so when you go low. Okay, that’s enough. I just want to show you what to do, and you’ll need to save some energy for the other exercises. Let’s go over to the Smith machine.’
I tagged along because I always learn something from my uncle when he gives a lecture on training. ‘You’ll do squats a bit differently in the Smith machine than you did with the free weights,’ he told Eva, Pat and Chris. ‘I want you to sit back on your heels so that you’re pushing the weight backward when you come up with it. Set your feet out in front of the bar and experiment with your foot stance until you find the one that lets you go the deepest. For most, this is a narrow stance. Do 20 reps.’
Eva went first, followed by Pat, then Chris. When they finished, Chris asked, ‘Why not do all the squats in the machine? I mean, I was able to go a lot lower, and you said that was important. And I could feel my glutes contract more when I did them in the Smith machine.’
‘You need to do full squats off the rack because having to balance the weight forces your tendons and ligaments to work more than when you use a machine. Those attachments are the sources of strength, so the full squats need to be your primary exercise, with the Smith-machine squats added as an auxiliary movement. Do a couple of high-rep sets in the machine right after your squat workout. Use them as back-off sets. ‘Another good exercise for the glutes is the lunge. Eva, have you ever done them?’
‘Not since I took gymnastics, and that was a long time ago. And we never used any weight.’
‘Show me how you did them.’
She placed her hands on her hips, lunged into a deep split, stepped up, lunged and continued across the gym in a fluid, continuous motion. ‘And that, boys, is why female gymnasts have the finest glute development in all of athletics.’
‘No argument here,’ said Pat, grinning widely. ‘Notice how she climbs high on her front toes when she comes out of the deep split. That’s the key to being able to move through the reps smoothly. And see how she always keeps her trailing leg perfectly straight?’
They nodded, and he went on: ‘In most magazines the model will be dipping his rear leg to the floor, and it will be bent. That’s not nearly as effective as keeping it straight.’
‘Those can be done with dumbbells, can’t they?’ asked Chris.
‘They can, and I’ve had 500-pound squatters crumble after going across a weight room using only 20-pound dumbbells.’
Eva came back, and Uncle Buddy gushed, ‘That was perfect. One of the great things about walking lunges is you can do them almost anywhere. I’ve done them in hallways of hotels and on the beach. Let’s go back to the rack, and I’ll show you how to do them with a bar.’
All three of his pupils did them to his satisfaction. ‘It’s best to alternate legs for more equal development. If you find that one leg is a lot weaker than the other, do two or three extra reps on that leg at the end of each set. You do six reps per leg on each set, and when the weight gets heavy, take as many small steps as you need to recover. Do lunges on your light day in place of squats.’
‘That it?’ asked Pat.
‘No, you should include a specific exercise for your lower back. Actually, any exercise that works your lumbars also hits your glutes, as well as your hamstrings. The two best are good mornings and straight-legged deadlifts. You boys do either of them?’
‘We were doing them,’ Chris said, ‘but Rich saw us standing on a bench and went shitcakes, and we haven’t done them since.’
‘Well, if you did them off a bench in my gym, I’d go shitcakes too. Drop the bar, and there goes several hundred dollars. It’s not necessary to stand on anything. Use 25-pound plates and stand on the platform. That’s just as effective and safer.
‘Eva, do some reps with the empty bar. There are two main form points: Keep the bar tight to your body going both up and down, and bend your knees slightly. As Bill always writes, the exercise should be called the almost-straight-legged deadlift. Never lock your knees when doing any lower-back exercise, and that includes hyperextensions. It’s potentially harmful to your lower back and lumbars. Since bending your knees doesn’t change the benefits, it doesn’t make any sense to lock them.’
While Eva did a set, Pat announced, ‘We gotta run. We got tickets for tonight’s Orioles game. Thanks for your help.’ Quick farewells were exchanged, and the boys left.
Eva was looking weary, so Uncle Buddy only had her do one set of good mornings with just the bar. ‘Again, make sure your knees’re bent slightly, and go as low as you can. The lower you go, the more your glutes get into the act. That’s enough lower-body work for one day.’
‘Good, my legs are shaky,’ she admitted. ‘Are there some exercises I can do in my flat? I can’t always get to the gym.’
‘Sure. You can stand, hold on to something for balance, and kick back with one leg. You should be able to feel it in your glute. Do lots of reps, like a hundred, then switch over to the other leg. You can also contract your glutes while you’re sitting in a chair, driving a car, or even lying in bed. And if you can find something solid to lie on, you can do reverse hyperextensions. I’ve done them on desks and countertops where I could grip the sides. Let’s do a few bench presses. Then we’ll go.’
I saw Rick come in and went over to thank him for the passes. His eyes were glued to Eva. ‘Where in the world did you find that fox?’
‘She’s not with me. She’s with my uncle. You met him at Aberdeen.’
‘Yeah, I remember him. Uncle Buddy. You write about him all the time. You’re shitting me’he’s with her? She looks like a fitness model, and he’s old enough to be her father. What’s his secret?’ ‘I wish I knew,’ I mumbled honestly, certain I never would know.
The Workout Uncle Buddy Gave Eva for her Glutes
Free-weight squats 4 x 12
Smith-machine squats 2 x 20
Lunges (per leg) 4 x 6
or good mornings* 4 x 10
Free-weight squats 3 x 15
Smith-machine squats 2 x 20
At the beginning of every workout in the gym:
Crunches or situps 1 x 100
Hyperextensions 1 x 50
At the end of every workout in the gym:
Leg raises or other
lower-ab exercise 1 x 100
On the days you don’t go to the gym:**
Leg kickbacks (per leg) 2 x 100
Reverse hyperextensions 2 x 50
*You can alternate the two exercises every other week.
**Try to do these at least three times a week even if you go to the gym.
Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive and Defying Gravity. IM