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Travels with Zane

 

Embarrassment. We nearly give up life, liberty and limb to avoid this wrenching exposure of our raw and delicate ego. Also known as humiliation, this cruelest of feelings I endure regularly and find extraordinarily educational. Kind of like a training injury; gets your attention, causes you to focus and guides you on to repair and rehabilitation. Hopefully, makes you a stronger person. Hmmph.

I have one such memory that's clear and still causes me to shudder. We met at the Paris Central Train Station at 7 one downcast autumn morning to continue our tour of Europe. It was a busy mid-week workday and Europeans use the rails like we use our precious cars to get around; up-town, cross-town, and out of the country. Frank Zane, his dear wife Christine and I were destined to arrive in Brugge, Belgium by early afternoon. Our 8:30 express was packed with solemn commuters subject to another day of mundane travel, newspaper folded, thermos underarm, briefcase in hand.

As if in a black and white segment of life we ever-so-slowly lurched forward: the collective metal of 17 passenger cars and freight carriers creaked, groaned and stretched. I looked across endless acres of track, side by side and intertwined, a scattering of switching poles and signal towers, distant corrugated factories, bleak and gray. There were engines of crushing size and power moving incredible mass and solid iron and impossibly thick wheels and axles of steel. Smoke and steam idly drifted and belched from the leaky, Gothic landscape.

Frank looked uneasy, Christine smiled agreeably (everything about Christine is agreeable), and I sought to capture the moment. The London Mr. Universe was behind us, a rather sloppy performance on my part. I got a late start, grabbed the wrong bottle and wound up smearing wheat germ oil on myself backstage. Thick, gooey stuff like glue that smelled rancid and got a lot of attention. Barely got through that night and that's not even "the embarrassment". Frank won the amateur Mr. Universe, Arnold, the pro Mr. U. and I came in third after Reg Park. I'm using lighter fluid to remove the organic oil as the celebrations begin. Don't come near me with that match.

Next day I made a quick return to Ohio for an Olympia sortie with Arnold and Sergio, another hysterical blitz. And now, here I am with the Zanes' for a brisk tour of Europe, just to say we did, and back to New York City for the Mr. Universe, Mr. America, Mr. World competitions. Give me the "here and now", win or lose. I began to settle down and see what I could see. Soon we'd be traversing the romantic countryside of France. Sights and sounds of a very different place, perspectives of very different people.

Frank raised his window suddenly and stuck his head out as if he knew where we were and where we were going. The clanging, shiny and angular abstract of tracks told me nothing. Frank declared we were on the wrong train, going in the wrong direction. Christine's smile broke into something like laughter and my sweet reverie bristled to alarm. We conferred like The Three Stooges as our fellow commuters mildly looked on... Entertaining. Americans. A troublesome yet comical lot. They act as if their pants are on fire. Wish they'd stay home... The train picked up speed, the clacking increased and the dense railway yard thinned out.

Frank, AKA Mr. Universe, leaped over me, hit the center aisle and in two strides reached the box marked, "Emergency Only." He shattered its glass covering with the tiny hammer and pulled the handle with the thrust of a heavy one arm lat row. The train screeched as if tortured, all wheels locked and inestimable tons of mechanized iron slid forever to a pronounced halt. The side door automatically unlatched and partially opened. Our escape.

Once stopped, we dragged the door open. At a time like this you pretend nobody else exists, just you and your two invincible buddies. If only we could stop time, step out of the picture and watch from a safe place as the action resumed. All three of us looked down at once to discover we were six feet from the tracks and 500 yards from the station. The commotion behind us was building and beginning to organize. As if catapulted by an unseen force, Frank and I were airborne with Christine close behind, still genuinely enjoying herself.

Heads were out the windows, hundreds of them. Necks straining, expressions of shock, fright, confusion, anger and relief. Hundreds of animated faces shouting and glaring at us. With no composure, no grace, no brains, we grabbed our luggage and made a run for it. A sad and desperate trio staggering as we balanced suitcases and gym bags over slick tracks and railroad ties with conductors, security police and a half dozen furious passengers in hot pursuit. Tell me I'm dreamin'... I don't think so. Frank did it. It was him.

I was tired and not up to the long walk back to the station. The conductors were prompt and serious. So were the police. By the time we reached the concrete loading ramps of the station a rather sizeable crowed had gathered. Nobody asked for an autograph or a most muscular pose. There was an interrogation through an interpreter, phone calls paperwork, apologies, a fine and we were in Brugge by early evening. Gentle old Europe of cobblestone streets and tiny back yards where gates hang crooked on rusting hinges.

We received awards there for our contributions to physical culture. My award was engraved on a six inch brass plate, Frank's was a gold cup on black marble standing 18 inches tall. I should have pulled the emergency cord. You see, it's that kind of directness and determination and oneness of purpose that enables one to win Mr. Olympia three times in a row.

*****

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