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Weight Training - Bodybuilding - Nutrition - Motivation

Arnold is Classic
February 19, 2003

Long live the King.

The Arnold Classic and Expo is a week away and a migration of bodybuilders is commencing around the world. They are the eager and curious assortment of guys and gals who will be roaming the streets and hotels of Columbus checking out the scene, an exhibition of its own. Chattering, posed, flexed and gaping crowds pressed tightly together move as one, displaying bare skin, short skirts, leather vests, tights and baggies, tattoos and ring things and a swath of blue denim and Ts with logos that say “I love my gym so much I could scream.”

Like Bogart said to Bacall in Posedown in Las Vegas, “If you’ve seen one bodybuilding show, you’ve seen ‘em all.” To me the main feature is the Expo, the largest and most awesome extravaganza of its kind. Shawn Ray leans on a quivering tabletop as he signs yet another autograph, a roar goes up somewhere in the distance to exalt a 65-year-old master who just benched 605 pounds and five aisles over (might as well be in Rhode Island) Arnold and his entourage march across the minefields of the hall setting off occasional explosions.

The 118,000 square foot exhibition arena presenting the stuff of the muscle world is 10,000 performances at once and we’re part of the act. I’ll be, like, exactly in the middle somewhere with Torque; that is, Odis and his team of equipment-engineering specialists, Torque Athletic. Amidst their featured gear you will find me demonstrating the Top Squat within a prototype of the Draper Dungeon, a heavy duty home training cage of many monstrous uses.

Look for me. I’ll be wearing a red beanie with a propeller on top, very sharp.


Let’s see, what were we talking about last week? Had something to do with the honors and privileges of growing older, whether you’re a kid or an adult version of the same. I never met a bigger bunch of kids than those who congregate at a nifty, swell gym, no matter how old they are. It’s the company they keep, the gifts they possess and the best-kept secrets they share: training, eating right and attitude.

What can we do as the years accumulate, forming a small mound of time on our calendar, when the first chill of age sends a slight shiver -- brrrr -- down our spine and we notice a fondness for the couch, not so long ago an obstacle between us and the front door, which led to the bike in the garage that took us downtown to THE GYM?

First of all, don’t make a mountain out of a mound. Second, hold off on getting another sweatshirt (and vow you will not buy a cardigan sweater) and finally, consider the couch as a secret training apparatus to be wisely utilized for muscle recuperation and power visualizing. How we doin’ so far?

The bent-over barbell row, as you recall, has been by insistence and friendly persuasion successfully reintroduced to my training regimen. I am most pleased. I accomplished the same patient reincorporation with the bench press, that beastly exercise that is to man like a woman, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. Ha. Joke, girls. Thought it appropriate to steal a line from Arnold in Total Recall. Funny me.

The bench press is notorious for presenting stumbling blocks to the muscle-builder because of his inherent need to set ego-driven personal power records, which slows down his training, leads to shoulder injury, falsely promises balanced muscle growth and accounts for endless plateaus and disappointment and despair. Yes, it is a cool movement and we love it and occasionally thrill to the one-rep maximum we achieve on those hallmark days, but too often it leads to our undoing.

I put the bench press aside many years ago -- 10-plus -- ‘cuz it wasn’t treating me right, all of the above negatives having settled on my wilting shoulders. Now, today, having gleaned through the benefits and consequences of the bench, I longed for its original rewards, clean and unencumbered. You place your favorite bar on your favorite bench, load it with heavy, noisy and cold iron, chalk up (careful not to make a mess) and take your position. When the moment is right, you’re down and settling yourself under the bar, grasping and tugging till all parts fit and you’re ready; up it goes and from the hoist off the rack to the overhead position you know if it’s gonna be a good day. What you do from there, where you go and what you accomplish is up in the air -- or, is that down on the chest? Here’s where we get into trouble.

The all-consuming goal becomes moving the weight from the top to the bottom and to the top again. Whether its power or technique or muscle activity, good form or bad; abusive, painful, bone-crunching or ligament tearing, it doesn’t matter. Point A to point B matters, the primitive sport of squash.

Those dark aspects of the nostalgic and fundamental exercise I withdrew. “Whatever happened to muscle building, health and long life?” I asked myself. I removed the claws and incisors from the beast and made him my friend.

From my bag of tricks I issued a hollow thick bar, the Apollon Axle from; its diameter two inches (inside diameter of standard Olympic plate), length 84 inches, weight 33 pounds. The easy roundness of the bar fits the hand agreeably after a few diligent workouts and provides comfort for many whose hands are battered after serious years of hanging in there. Due to the physics of the wideness of the grip, the bar’s center of gravity and its tendency to rotate, an adjustment is required in the groove as the bar descends and ascends. This is part of the beauty of the Axle. Less control is experienced and more attention is demanded. The matter of moving from A to B is now accomplished by muscle and good form, focus and movement appreciation. Tonnage that once chewed up and devoured my shoulder is eliminated. A kinder and more intelligent bench press, a work-horse that builds rather than destroys, replaces the dinosaur.

Muscle building and that good old loving feeling come home at last.

I’m benching again with renewed spirit and capability. It feels powerful and is the perfect exercise to complement my rediscovered bent-over barbell row. Once a week the two brutes are matched in superset harmony. My favorite workout is showing promise. (5-6 sets x 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2) This is followed by 20-degree incline flies supersetted with close-grip pulldowns and rear-delt lateral raises. (4-5 sets x 10 plus or minus). I throw in four sets of cable crossovers (x 10) and finish off with five sets of Farmer’s Walks. Feed me.

Within the above workout I’ve included Farmer’s Walks, a new one on me, and low incline flies, and old one I have never practiced till now.

Lightweight dumbbell flies I ignored in the early years of my training, asking myself why bother with the puny exercise when heavy pressing was so much fun. Now they come in handy because heavy pressing went out with bellbottoms and my long hair. What once seemed dumb is now fun, one of the few exercises not yet compromised by wear, tear and time, another pocket of oxygen, life extension.

A milk crate goes under the end of a flat bench to create an incline. The dumbbells go overhead and my feet are placed on the bench’s end. I slowly extend the DBs outwardly and away from the body with the arms in an almost straight-arm position. At the end of the extension with the arms parallel to the ground I hold tight for a count of three and return to the starting place. 10 to 12 reps seem to be most effective to gain a maximum of overload from an exercise with these light weight and reaching mechanics. Focus the effort on the pecs to reduce the recruitment of the biceps. Superset with a contrasting pulling movement for fun and games and growth.

The Farmer’s Walk is a brutish exercise I include at the conclusion of my workout. I’m basically done yet chose to add one final slap on the back to the staggering victor. Job well done, warrior, yet, lest you fall victim to pride, you must walk the iron till you drop. Four to five sets of 100 feet with dumbbells of such weight that allow you no more, that is the requirement.

This stuff is downright heavyweight fun and adds practical strength to the body from head to toe. The might of the grip is the first to be tried. Your shoulders and upper back squeal with the final 20 feet and the hips and thighs submit eventually, causing you to take stumbling little steps as you reach the finish line. That night, while others watch sitcoms and eat potato chips, you contemplate the superior pain of growth and goodness in the glutes and lower back. Life is dreamy.

In short, wrist curls with a thick bar are delightful, like working a sledge hammer to a pile of rocks. Ladies, I’m sure you can relate to that.

And so we come to the end of another meeting of minds and joining of forces. Beware of the enemy and rejoice in your friends. We’ve got our good work cut out for us. Muscles, health and long life, like peace, aren’t free.

Hit it hard, take it up, God’s speed...

Dave Draper


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