DY: There’s something to be said about having the right conditions and support team. Tell us about your training at that time.
JM: I did make great progress during those two years, but you must remember when I arrived at Pearl’s the year before in ’69 I had one national title, (Jr. USA), one state title (New York) and several regional titles. So the groundwork had been laid. My symmetry was in place as was the overall size.
Bill added the finishing touches and refinements to my physique. Bill’s workouts reflected that in that they were very balanced. Not emphasizing or specializing on any particular bodyparts. They were two basic formats. Doing one routine on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the second on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The other format was three routines done on Monday and Thursday, Tuesday and Friday and Wednesday and Saturday, sets of four or five, reps from eight to 10. Usually three to four exercises per bodypart.
For example, Monday/Thursday would be chest and back, Tuesday/ Friday shoulders and arms and Wednesday/Saturday legs and abs. Bill allowed me to choose my weights and never criticized me for not working heavy enough or hard enough.
DY: Something else was going on in bodybuilding at that time. Arthur Jones started writing in Iron Man in 1970. He was advocating short, full-body training three times a week as being superior to split, high-volume routines. Casey Viator, who won the AAU Mr. America in 1971, was Jones’ star pupil and the showcase for Jones’ training ideas. I know that Pete Grymkowski had gone to Deland and trained with Arthur and so did Steve Michalik. Both Pete and Steve incorporated Arthur’s ideas about intensity and some of his mutiexercise supersets, tri-sets and giant sets for various bodyparts, but they both stayed with high-volume split routines. How was it that you never bought into Jones’ HIT methodologies?
JM: At the 1970 Mr. America here in Culver City in which I competed, Jones was setting up his pullover machine in the lobby as I was walking through on my way to the prejudging. It was June and I was in a tank top. He called out to me very loudly, challenging me not to come over. "Hey, you. You think you’re strong? You think you know how to train? Come over here and I will show you how to train." Partly out of ego and partly stupidity I went over. It was plate loaded, and he had not brought the plates in yet, so he had his son stand on the platform the weights were supposed to go on. Then he told me to do as many as I could to failure. With him and the crowd urging me on like an idiot I went to failure. At the prejudging not only could I not flex my lats, I could not even feel them. At the evening show they were so sore I could hardly move.
I read all of his articles in Iron Man and all of Ellington Darden’s, but I was doing so well with Pearl and I was so comfortable with his methods and philosophy that there was no need to change. There is a grain of truth to some of Jones’ principles, but the system as he wants it done will tear you apart. The human body was never intended to take the stresses modern athletics demands, and I was always reluctant to ask of it more than I felt comfortable handling. There was always a point at which my body told me, enough. I really credit that to the fact that now, at 71, I have absolutely no joint problems or discomfort. I do not take any medication at all for anything.
DY: I know that Pearl and others felt that Jones’ idea of training to failure on a set was incorrect. Jones came to this "principle" because he concluded that there was a direct relationship between the all-or-nothing principle and muscle growth. He said that muscle fibers contract, or they don’t depending on whether it’s your first rep in a set or your last. Thus his idea of intensity was train a set until absolute failure. Others felt that there are other routes to intensity. I know that when I trained with Samir Bannout, he taught me to hold back a rep or two and my muscle growth exploded. This poses the next logical question: If you don’t go to failure, what is the proper time to end a set? ALL JM: I train to stimulate the body to grow, not to beat it into submission. It has never occurred to me to push my body to its limits. Even when I was competing in the Olympic lifts, I never went balls out. In 1955 I was doing bench squats and took a weight I was comfortable I could do. I was more concerned about doing that poundage than about how the set would make my body feel. I hit the bench and relaxed and demolished the disc and vertebra of my lower back. It laid me up in the hospital for two weeks. The doctors wanted to go in and clean it up and fuse the rest together "as best they could" as they put it. I never had the operation—and I never again pushed my body beyond what felt good.
I feel that I have a very different awareness of my body than most people. My guess would be that most athletes do. For me the workout is achieving a certain feeling. Not wiped out, exhausted and shaking, but really good and alive. I suspect others reach that at different points in their workouts. Overtraining is the most common condition in bodybuilding and it shows. The body looks tortured and unhealthy. So, to answer your question, I stop at 10. If I’m not getting the feeling I want I adjust the poundage until I do. On large muscle groups like legs and chest and lats I do a light warm up, a medium and then three heavy sets. On arms, delts one light and four heavy, making the first set of the heavy kinda easy and the fourth real hard. I don’t do abs and haven’t in probably 25 years.
DY: Okay, let’s back up. For the past 37 years people have been told to train to failure on every set. I know Vince Gironda thought this was a mistake. Did Bill Pearl feel the same way?
JM: Yes. I have never known anyone of the name competitors in the last 37 years who consistently trained to failure. Actually I take that back. Don Ross. He died at 49 of a heart attack about an hour after leaving the gym.
DY: Hmm. Interesting observation! Okay, now I know that cardio wasn’t as large a part of contest preparation during those years. What role did cardio play in your contest preparations at that time?
JM: My workouts were pure cardio. I would train with a partner and we would go at it set for set with no more rest in between than it took us to get into position. When I would get up to do my set there would be a puddle of sweat on the floor. All of the way through the workout I would be panting, with mouth open, gulping for air. I loved it. During the off season I would train with two guys which slowed it down to tolerable.
DY: I know when I train fast like that, bodyfat drops off and my resting pulse rate improves dramatically. Do you still have your gym on Santa Monica Blvd.?
JM: No, I sold the gym years ago and now make my living from my Web site Gymmorris.com and personal training. Thanks for allowing me to get in a shameless plug.
DY: Absolutely, Jim. Were you friends with Joe Gold?
JM: I first met Joe in 1961 on a stopover as I was going from tech school at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas to my permanent duty station at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage, Alaska. I was in uniform, and he welcomed me and allowed me to train free for the week I was in L.A. When I moved to L.A. in 1969, he continued to allow me to train free. He was totally against private trainers, but he relented and allowed me to be the first ever at his gym. He never required me to have insurance, which he did of all the other trainers. He never charged me to have clients at the gym, which he did to the other trainers.
When he died, he left three dogs. The two male pedigree Australian Sheep dogs were taken by Lee Priest but no one wanted the mixed breed female, Hope, so she came to live with me and my dog James as a companion for James. James passed away last year, and now she is the joy of my life. Joe’s outstanding characteristic was loyalty. Once Joe liked you, you could count on him for life. I always felt I could go to Joe for help if the need arose. Joe always treated me as though I was very special to him, and I miss him very much. Feeling the end was near, I threw a birthday party for him at the gym only months before he passed. He was 82. DY: He certainly left a legacy in the eyes of many people in the industry. I know that Rory Leidelmeyer trained at your gym and also at Bill Pearl’s for some time. Rory had a reputation for helping guys bring out their aesthetic lines. I trained under Rory guidance for about a year in the mid-’80s, and my physique really improved from the experience. I’m wondering now if you had some influence on Rory’s base of knowledge.
JM: Actually, I spent more time with Rory at Pearl’s gym than mine, and at one time Dr. Don Wong bought a gym in Montebello and asked me to run it. I hired Rory to work some of the hours with me. So we have a fairly good history together. Over the years we would get together for talks, but I do not have any idea whether I had any influence on him. He and his wife spent one Thanksgiving with me and Jim Brown at my home. I think it was mostly a personal friendship.
DY: I have a funny story that I’ve posted Ironage.us about how I read an article by you when I was just starting out as a teenager. You talked about tuna shakes with desiccated liver powder, so into the kitchen I went and mixed one up. I chugged it down and about three seconds later I projectile vomited the whole mess all over my parents kitchen.
JM: Ah yes, my famous tuna drink. I think that drink will be my legacy in the minds of most whenever my name is mentioned. One day I found myself unable to swallow a mouthful of tuna, after years and years and can after can of tuna. It just would not go down. Some years before I had mastered the art of pouring a quart of milk down my throat without actually swallowing as many college students can with beer. Determined to get that tuna down, I put it in the blender. The rest is history. The drink went through many transformations in the years following, finally ending up with peanut flour replacing the tuna and raw fruits and veggies replacing the liver as I became a vegan. Although I must admit I do have the ability to stomach things most people cannot. I do not use any seasoning at all on my foods now. No salt, pepper, nothing. My taste buds have readjusted to where I enjoy the taste of the food itself with no flavoring.
DY: Well the tuna shake thing was certainly memorable. It did give me a good understanding about the level of commitment it takes to become a champion. [Both laugh]
JM: Did you take it because you were competing?
DY: No I was just starting out and was reading everything there was. All I knew at that point was to follow what the guys in the magazines were doing and the tuna shake idea caught my attention. I did go on to compete later on for a few years.
JM: Why did you quit competing?
DY: I starting taking steroids after a few years of competing, and I was not willing to push the dosage level up to the competitive level. I never got into bodybuilding to win contests. I got into it to achieve a certain look. When my bodyfat is under control, I get compliments on my physique from people on the street, from people in the gym, etc. I knew what I wanted to look like. And I’ve met and trained with many pro bodybuilders who were broke or struggling financially. So when you add up the fact that I get positive reinforcement from people on the stree, in the gym—women and men—I decided I didn’t need a set of judges to determine my value in life. For so many guys and girls who compete, the judges’ opinions of them become more important than their own opinion of themselves. I was more interested in achieving an aesthetic physique rather than a contest physique—competing would have caused me to compromise that look.
JM: You speak for the vast majority of the population. There is no doubt in my mind that most of the people in gyms are interested in achieving a more aesthetic look than competing. I would love to see more information directed toward that large segment of the bodybuilding field. It’s only a fraction of trainees who really want to compete.