Muscleheads: Here, There and Everywhere

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Goodbye, April ’09, we’ll miss you. You’ve taught us a thing or two, brought us pleasure and pain. You’ve given and taken. But we must move on, ours not to waver or choose. May is before us with all its surprises.

No matter what lies ahead, we greet it; we engage and confront it with more courage, more passion and cool when the heft of the iron is fresh in our hands. How much better we are, how much more, when our backs, hearts and souls are made strong and ready by the steel.

We push on when others pull back.


Interview with Dave Draper for Iron World, Russia, February of ’09, Sergey Tyshchenko, Part 2 of 2
(If you missed part one, click here to read it first.)

Q) What’s your ideal environment for good training? Dungeon-like gym or palace-like gym? Music or silence? Crowd or no crowd?

A) I train in the perfect gym. Laree and I built it in 1989, World Gym, and sold it to friends a few years ago. Running the gym day to day gets old, exhausting and wearisome in about five minutes. Yet, training in this gym is supreme. It’s simple and basic and complete: no crowd, no jerks, no dirt or disorder; high ceilings, lots of fresh air and natural light and outdoor availability, the best of the best machines, no sparkle and glitter, but enough clanking and clanging to accompany the background music and soothe the soul. Not a salesman in sight. Instead, there’s a lifting platform and every kind of bar and handle you could imagine. Thick rubber mats and responsible behavior keep the crashing steel to a gratifying thud.

Across the unhurried street is a wooded park, not a high-rise or gas station or boulevard boutique. You can get a smoothie or espresso at the front counter. Paradise. A modern, well-equipped, spic-and-span, low-wattage Dungeon.

Q) You and your peers looked like some antique statues while modern day athletes are more like comic book characters. Despite this they continue their scary progress along with the industry itself. What's the future of bodybuilding: Will it grow even bigger or will it burst? What has been gained and what’s lost by our sport as a result of this growing?

A) By ‘antique statues’ I’m assuming you mean graceful, yet rugged works of art chiseled out of granite, or carved from mahogany or teak. I, of course, was etched by laser beam from a block of Titanium 90.

How can we not be impressed by the unbelievable hugeness and incredible muscularity displayed by the bodybuilding champions of this era. Some have sought size and symmetry and achieved a certain degree of beauty, or interpretation thereof. But so many have packed, stuffed and piled on as much muscle as they can with the wares at hand and have become odd bundles of ad hoc flesh, veins and bone. Measured by outrageous size, they win; measured by authentic beauty, they don’t.

They are rare creatures, indeed, and I don’t mean that derogatorily. God bless them and their friends, but they have achieved such proportions as to set them apart from the rest of mankind. They are a subculture within a subculture to be awed. And we are in awe. Inspired, thrilled? Not so much.

I think the mega-bodies will continue, as long as they survive, and as long as they have an audience; like NASCARs coming around the turn and into the straightaway. Cars and spectators roar... until they crash, run out of fuel or lose their spark.

Natural bodybuilders should think of themselves as musclebuilders, healthy, strong and fit; down to earth, real and naturally passionate men and women with purpose, sensibility and commonsense. Add courage, perseverance and honor to the list.

Today’s bodybuilders, like 90 percent of mankind, are the sorry products of our excessive times. More is better, now is too late. I don’t subscribe to the philosophy, I suspect you don’t and I hope our friends, the readers, do not.

It’ll all sift itself out in time. That one-liner sounds like a copout, but it’s my best guess. Life is getting real weird lately. One more rep...

Q) You watched so many Olympia competitions. When was the last time that you were clearly and genuinely stunned?

A) You’d be surprised and, perhaps, disappointed by how few I’ve seen. The last contest I truly enjoyed was a Mr. California contest in the mid-1960s. The audience was small, personal and enthusiastic, and the contestants were hard-working guys who strained for every vein and every tanned muscle on their healthy, vibrant bodies. The black contestants had it easy; they not only had naturally better structure and genetics, but they didn’t have to spend their precious spare time in the sun to get color.

The contest was real; it was short, there were no vendors and no crowds to fear and fight. We yelled and applauded and it counted; it wasn’t lost in 20-some speakers the size of recreational vehicles booming across a stadium.

The last time I saw the Mr. Olympia I left, because from where I sat the contestants all looked the same. I was bored to tears and so were the handful of muscleheads with me.

I’m the happiest bodybuilding fan when I have a pair of dumbbells in my hand.

Larry Scott stunned me at the very first Mr. Olympia at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1966. I was backstage as a competitor of the Mr. Universe, and stealthily slithered into the audience to see the man approach the posing platform like he was ushering mankind to victory. Anyone there that September night will never forget it. That’s the last time I was clearly and genuinely stunned.

Q) Did you take steroids during your competitive years; what results and what side effects it brought?

A) In the mid-60s we discovered a tiny blue pill called Dianabol. It gave us a good pump during the six-day-a-week, year-round heavy training scheme that was accompanied a 3,500-calorie diet of red meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk products and fresh produce throughout the day. Cute.

Q) What strikes me most about your books and your articles is that there are not only wise tips in them but also strong literary qualities: wit, clearness and style. What's an easier task: building body or building texts?

A) That’s an interesting comparison. Moreover, it’s a great compliment. They both sort of happened out of a good struggle and no schooling, and not by preplanning or ambition. Day by day, little by little, and here I am conversing with you and your readers in Russia via the internet. The writing, such as it is, is a great alternate form of expression now that the weights have gotten heavier with the passing time.

Though I have modified my output, I lift regularly with as much passion and drive as ever. Better yet, I enjoy a good workout more than ever. This quality is more important than the quantity I lift.

Q) After so many years of lifting haven’t you started taking iron as something, well, animated? Something that waits for you when you come to it...

A) Of course, I know what you mean. As much vital time as I have spent with the weights, as much blood and sweat and tears as I have lost over the cold metal, as much as I have given and gained amid the stacks of steel, they are but that, mere stacks of steel, piles of lifeless iron.

Thoughtless, mindless, emotionless, heartless little rascals, they don’t care if you show up to train, or if you had a hard day, or if your bills are paid, or your girl left you for another guy. No, the mean buggers just want to lifted and groaned over, and, oh, don’t drop me or I’ll clang and rattle all over the place.

They’re not all bad -- one of my favorites is a 50-pounder. I don’t know why, probably its desirable shape and the tightness of its handle. I call it Little Thunder. Be careful what you say in the gym; there might be a few lose plates. You know how dumbbells can be.... frustrating, demanding and resistant, and downright cold.

Q) Please finish this interview with a few words for those Russian musclebuilders who are reading it.

A) Lift for yourself, love it, even when you hate it, and never give up. We’re all different and have different training needs. Consider personality, metabolism and body chemistry, genetics, structure and goals. You’ll discover yours through patient and attentive trial and experience. There’s no failing when you lift weights sensibly, only lifting, learning, living and growing. Press on always. Be consistent.

You’re building more than strength and muscle, ladies and gentlemen; you’re building strong character -- courage, discipline, perseverance, patience and understanding -- which exhibits itself daily and commends you highly to the world around you. You are more than surviving, you are aspiring.

Remember, part of your training is to eat right (no junk, no gorging, no skimpy meals), live a moderate lifestyle (have fun, don’t beat yourself up) and get your rest and relaxation. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll burn out. I’m not saying slow down; I’m saying you cannot hurry.

I encourage you to visit, and subscribe to IronOnline, our free weekly newsletter. Much like this interview, the newsletter will serve as a weekly companion to your musclebuilding and weight training efforts. We need continual encouragement and motivation and information.

Thank God! You’re lifting the iron and choose to lift it. Not every one can or will. That is their loss.

Be strong and courageous, bombitskis. Fly high.

Your friend,

Dave Draper


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