I started working out in a friend’s basement and my family’s garage in 1956, when I was 14, and when it comes to bodybuilding and weight training, I was very fortunate to have been in the right places at the right times over the next 50-plus years. I say fortunate because my own interest—my obsession, as I acknowledge it—exposed me to a cast of characters who became icons, outsized personalities who changed the bodybuilding landscape. They were—and are—truly a Runyonesque crew.
I had the good luck to train at both the Division and Duncan Street YMCAs in Chicago when Bob Gajda and Sergio Oliva were numbers one and two in amateur bodybuilding. I trained at the Sayre Park Weightlifting Club, and because of that I got to know Bill Seno, one of the best powerlifter-bodybuilders of all time.
That’s how the weightlifting-bodybuilding-and-powerlifting community was in Chicago during the early to middle ’60s—a special club united by the barbell and the quest to become bigger and stronger. We didn’t do it “for our health”; we did it because we enjoyed the feel of the iron and the comradeship of people who shared our interest.
In my editorial on Sergio Oliva [February ’13] I mentioned the joy that he brought to the gym and how infectious it was. While Sergio’s presence was special, in fact he added to what was already present—the joy of doing, of belonging and of accomplishing. That’s the way it felt.
More right place, right time: After graduating from college, I moved to Los Angeles just as Joe Gold was opening the doors of the gym that became the birthing pod for so much greatness and fostered a group of bodybuilders who matched the joy of my Chicago comrades. I am a charter member of that gym.
Back then bodybuilding had a different feel from today’s version. Each gym was a reflection of its owner—a brick and mortar declaration of the owner’s personality and, often, his training philosophy. Unlike many of today’s gyms, which are membership mills, they were clubhouses run by barbell evangelists—Joe Gold, Vince Gironda and Bill Pearl—legendary gyms run by legendary men.
In the late ’60s I managed Vince’s Gym in Studio City on the weekends and also belonged to Gold’s—my charter membership was $40 per year. No two gyms were more different in atmosphere, but each was capable of creating a pool of champions.
As with the gyms, the founders of bodybuilding’s great magazines were passionate about spreading the word of the magic of the barbell. The magazines reflected the individuals as much as the ideas themselves—and none of the publishers were more altruistically driven than Peary and Mabel Rader, the founders of Iron Man magazine. The Weider brothers, Ben and Joe, combined their passion for bodybuilding and a lifetime of focus to expand its horizons. Bob Kennedy expressed his passion as well as his aesthetic sense through MuscleMag International, and Muscular Development was resurrected by another passionate bodybuilding entrepreneur, Steve Blechman. I know I have overused the word passion here, but it is the cornerstone of bodybuilding itself. It’s what made me want to be a part of it—and what has kept me involved and in the gym all these years.
Be well, and enjoy your workouts. IM