First Things First

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Back to the '60s Again

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We meet again in the middle of an interview reprint, which Laree feels confident you haven’t seen, and because it’s nice to take a break from all the meanderings of “Draper here…”

If you missed Part One, click here.

And now for Part Two.

Q: What were the popular training methods used back in the ’60s?

The basic movements were applied with good order, repetition, force, and regularity. The methods were not yet analyzed and overly intellectualized. I guess the most popular training MO among the original Gold’s champs was volume training: three exercises a muscle group, reps in the 12, 10, 8, 6 range, with max-power reps thrown in when the urge was unstoppable. Each muscle group was trained compatibly twice a week, and the gym was visited at least five of the seven days.

Squats and deadlifts counted big time, and supersets were plentiful. Heavy dumbbells had a special place in our hearts.

We generally amped our training in the spring and summer, and powered it in the fall and winter.

Q: Describe the diet you used back in those days.

If you sat down with us at our favorite Marina cafe after a workout, you’d see us order hamburger patties and eggs, home fries and whole wheat toast. Our diets were high protein with an accent on meat and milk products, medium carbs with plenty of salad and fresh fruits, and medium fats with no fried food or junk.

With me, some things never change.

Q: How long would bodybuilders train?

There was a season for hard training, and a season for harder training. The average time in the gym was 90 to 120 minutes, five days a week. When contest preparation loomed (spring, summer and early fall), training twice a day was a common practice for many of us. This added another hour to the total.

Q: Today people say you risk overtraining if you train beyond one hour, but back then you routinely lifted for two hours or more and got amazing results. How would you explain the progress that was made under these circumstances?

I don’t see how one can make progress with much less. Overtraining can be a problem, and it must be monitored closely. Training to the edge is not the healthiest method of training, but it’s the only method for superior championship.

Q: Was cardio used as often as it is today?

We hardly saw cardio training in our neighborhood. There was no stationary bike to mount at the gym, no treadmill for miles and miles, and the other swell gadgets like ellipticals, stairmasters, goofy gofers were yet to be invented.

Q: Back in the 1970s, bodybuilders at Gold’s seemed to encourage one another more and camaraderie between the athletes was more evident than it is today. How would you explain this different mentality?

The activity has become extraordinarily popular and busy, the sport sharply competitive and crowded, the diversion commercialized and usurped. The world in general is swifter and tighter, more jaded and impersonal. Today, it’s not who you are; it’s who you are compared to him or her. It’s not who you are; it’s what you’re worth.

Q: What were some of the problems you encountered as a bodybuilder back in those times? Was it harder to be a top bodybuilder then?

There was no problem in identity. I was impervious to the misunderstandings from the average folks around me. I, in fact, enjoyed the distinction from those to my right and left. There were so few top names in the ’60s, I knew them all: Howorth, Pearl, Scott, Gironda, Zane, Yorton, Zabe, the local guys and Ortiz, Poole, Ferrigno, Abbenda, Boyer. Each was a mystery, each an inspiration, each a friend.

Being a top bodybuilder was easier once I got past discovering the sport, becoming fascinated with it, and engaging it with passion and zeal long enough to understand it and achieve some muscle and might. The rest was hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, time, patience, commonsense and luck.

Q: Who were some of the more entertaining Gold’s members and why?

Each lifter was a character upon which a book could be written. That includes the mild nutsos no one ever heard about, the Joe, Bob ’n Amys.

Zabo, his workout complete by dawn, sat in his shorts and flip flops with the sun on his back as he read an important paperback. “What’s it all mean?” was his philosophy and answer to all questions. No one got past the Chief without a terse comment that summarized the day. Shut up and train.

Superstar Wayne Coleman strode into the gym with no bones to pick or bodies to toss. He specialized in heavy bench presses, dumbbell presses at the far end of the rack and an attitude as soothing a Tupelo honey. He was like quiet distant thunder.

Arnold and Franco were a pair, two restless race horses in the starting block with an absolutely fundamental approach to training and life. They seemed to ride their own wave, the crest really, and they a pair of  European descent. Come on in, that water’s fine. In fact, it’s fantastic.

Frank Zane slipped in at daybreak, and we supported each other with pullovers and presses and endless gut work. We spoke silently and incessantly, and the communication was ideal. What went on between our ears and minds is anyone’s guess. We never missed a workout, seldom missed a set or rep.

Joe Gold cruised the gym -- his creation, his humble palace, his emerging empire -- spoke little and said a lot. He observed the muscleheads in their passionate and aimless activities, devising ways to make them more productive and palpable. Bigger pulleys, deeper racks, thicker handles… whadaya think?

Q: How did the existing cliental respond to Arnold when he arrived at Gold’s for the first time?

People in Venice in the ’60s were not easily excited. The kicked-back nature of the stony beach community in a time of questioning and doubts influenced our reception of Arnold. And bodybuilding was yet a novelty, an anomaly, remember, a half-pint in a rolled-up brown paper bag.

“Arnold, he’s the big kid from Europe with muscles and an odd accent. He won bodybuilding contests over there, Germany, I think, and dresses funny. Looks like he learned to lift at Camp Munich.”

We liked him, helped him, taught him by not teaching him, and watched him grow and grow.

The rumble you heard in the background was bodybuilding in its early stages of take-off… Five, Four, Three, Two, One …

Q: What was Joe Gold like as a gym owner? Was he influenced much by the bodybuilders who trained at his gym?

Joe was 20 years my senior. The odd combo of hard work and the beach-life styled his activities. He lifted and played volleyball in the sun, and went out to sea as a merchant marine first mate when too much fun was too much fun. He was a leader in Speedos, an engineer in sandals and a solver of problems, personal and mechanical, wherever they sprang. The Gold was not a social hound; he stuck by his true friends and didn’t take crap from anyone. He watched and listened, scored and toured, improvised and learned. Joe was smart and authentic and tough.

Q: I have seen some great photos of you and Arnold training together. How influential was Arnold on your training and bodybuilding progress?

Arnold was impressive then, almost as impressive as now. I was a loner who, like a wolf, knew and trusted and attended his own territory. I could live beside a good man without doubt, envy or antagonism. Arnold was a strong force and his energy and drive were infectious. His training at first was clumsy -- nothing to emulate -- and gained grace and meaning day by day.

He and I and the rest of the small mob fed upon each other generously. Our unity was evident, as were our developing training styles and individuality. Intensity begets intensity, and our wills to win rose to the surface like helium-filled life preservers.

Q: Given that bodybuilding was more of a lifestyle than a career in those times, how did the guys finance their gym efforts? How did you balance a job with your bodybuilding endeavors?  

Not very well, sir. Making a buck was as hit and miss as clamming off the shoals of Nova Scotia. There were rare jobs in the film industry, cheapie jobs in the sparse neighborhood gyms, promises from pushy musclebuilding magazine tycoons and occasional miracles. I resorted to crafting furniture (beats starving), Frank Zane taught high school science (serves intelligently), some guys delivered mail (gotta eat) and some guys had real jobs (engineer) or slept in their cars. Some guys had mysterious financiers.

Q: What was life like as a bodybuilder back in those times.

I never thought of myself as a bodybuilder, as if that was something to be. The term never rolled off my lips with affection. The early lifters from Muscle Beach were no fonder of the term than I. We were, we are, weight lifters -- people who lift weights. Bodybuilder has a connotation as likeable as “mercenary” when speaking of soldiers, or “camper” when referring to explorers or “star-gazing” when discussing astronomy.

Who knows? Maybe they hung at the beach and waited for life to happen. You’d have to be one to know. I trained hard and slipped out the back door, applied myself to forming wood and lived a simple life. Arnold would know better than I. He was engaged as a bodybuilder and sought it professionally and positioned himself advantageously amid its simultaneously occurring crescendo.

Q: What would bodybuilders do for fun after training? What was the social life like back then?

Though there were a dozen parties that brought us together over a two- or three-year period -- fun occasions with laughter, promise and cheer, good food and no drink -- we mostly went our own way. I was married, Frank was married and busy, Arnold and Franco had their interests and enjoyed the bodybuilding life as Joe Weider provided for their basic needs.

We crossed paths for lunch and breakfast or trips abroad for competition or exhibition and promotion. Life’s a blur as you recall it 40 years later. It was fun, tough, heart-breaking, alive, fulfilling, energizing and exhausting. Some things never change.

Q: What was the training equipment like back then? Did it have many limitations compared to what is on offer today?

Joe Gold did a great deal to improve the then-current musclebuilding equipment: designing, engineering, enlarging, beefing up, broadening and thickening. Barbells and dumbbells did the trick and various improvisations of the basic benches and racks filled our needs.

Necessity is the mother of invention and where there’s a will there’s a way. The earnest lifter will get where he’s going, especially when it’s over, around and through the limitations before him. Nothing like small obstacles to overcome the mountain.

Today we could do with less nonsense and more guts and hard work and spontaneous invention.

Q: Did you sometimes have to improvise to get the most out of a piece of equipment?

I have always found myself modifying my training groove and exercise performance regularly to accommodate age and injury or specific muscle engagement. If I’m not adjusting my set and rep, I’m not focused and in tune.

Q: What kind of clothing did you wear in the gym and on the street? Was there a specific dress style for bodybuilders back then?

Few of us were fancy dressers on the street and certainly not in the gym. Think t-shirt, tanktop, sweatshirt and flannel shirt and jeans. We wore our clothes hard and adjusted them to fit as needed and for comfort. The gear came later as fitness expanded.

Q: Nowadays clients of many commercial gyms seem to spend more time focusing on their appearance and what they are wearing. Was this the case to any extent at Gold’s in the 1970s?

We wore layers in the winter and shed them as the workouts warmed up. Sweatshirts and t-shirts often lost their sleeves in the middle of a workout if needed. It was cool to see the bulk and muscle bulging through the well-worn clothes, but it was not the main source of entertainment.

There was work to do.



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