I remember it like it was yesterday… the first time I saw the dungeon.
I was about 14 years old and I had just joined the YMCA. My parents thought it would be a great place for me, since there was a pool, billiards, ping pong and many other things to do. Lots of classes going on etc. however, I had other ideas. It was the first time I saw Roger DeCarlis.
Roger was a Mr. America caliber bodybuilder with a phenomenal physique. To me, a mere youngster, he looked larger than life.
The weight room at the Y could be considered a dungeon. No heat in the winter and no air in the summer. Temperatures reached close to 100 degrees on some summer days and it was wise to get in and out early.
You had to walk down a flight of cement stairs and would enter a 14 x 14 room. The room’s walls were block… painted yellow. Connected to the first room was another room that was about 20 x 14 in which there was additional equipment. This was a power lifting gym by rights and all you saw was 100 pound plates, Olympic bars, power racks, squat racks, benches and a host of dumbbells with absolutely no visual value… again, it looked like a dungeon. Along with that was a plate loaded leg extension machine that doubled as a leg curl. There was a cable pull down, a leg press machine, not a sled… and a set of dipping bars. All were dressed in rust. That was the extent of it. The windows, on just one wall… three I think, were about shoulder level, showing out to the street where passerby would peek in. There they would observe the screaming, grunting, clanging, chalk everywhere and the smell of ammonia capsules just before a record squat, deadlift or bench press was to be performed. This wasn’t some namby pamby gym you would find today that has alarms if you grunt! No Way! This was serious stuff!
In those days, we were considered another culture of sorts, hardly understood on why we would put our bodies through that sort of physical stress. Little did they know we were competing against ourselves in the deepest parts of our souls.
Roger got up off of the leg extension machine and I could hardly believe my eyes. He looked like superman to me. The first thing I saw was a huge chest, thick shoulders and massive arms. His tiny waist added to the symmetry of his physique and made everything appear even bigger.
Roger normally weighed about 190 at 5’7 but was always rock hard. About a 30 inch waist with arms close to 19 (yes I saw them measured) he was amazing. His legs were large but not as developed and with the muscular separation of his upper body but certainly not by reason of not working them hard. I have witnessed him do 20 reps with 640 pounds on the squat below parallel each rep. Think about that for a bodybuilder weighing 190! His entire bodybuilding career Roger would go literally through hell in trying to bring his legs up to the development of his upper body. His back was a sight to see also, huge thick erectors and a thick wide lat spread and squared of traps. Roger was all business as I would soon find out. He would not say a word while in the gym in any social way and his focus was of a man possessed. You always thought he was just plain mad but the funny thing is that he really didn’t care what you thought… the only thing that mattered was his mission that day… the workout! I learned focus and discipline from this man.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this was no social ritual. I must have been a real pest in those days because Roger finally got tired of all my questions and hanging around and agreed to allow me to train with him. Our workouts were just like I witnessed in first meeting Roger… all business. There was absolutely no screwing around while training. Each rep was deliberate, without momentum and I learned to focus each rep with my mind, to visualize and feel the rep. Roger moved with very little rest despite using poundage on exercises that was almost ridiculous, he was extremely strong. He built his entire physique with barbells and dumbbells but attributes his edge being his mind and focus.
Fast forward a few years… it is no longer circa 1971 but approximately 1977. Roger and I although no longer training together are still great friends… as we are today. By now I have been introduced to High Intensity Training by the likes of Mike Mentzer hitting the bodybuilding scene by storm. He called his version Heavy Duty and that it was. Mike, after working with Arthur Jones, turned bodybuilding up side down. He showed bodybuilders how to use their ability to critically think while proving that the more is better theory does not apply to bodybuilding. Further proving that we do not need to be our own scientists as the muscle magazine imply… searching in the dark for what works for us. His theory of High Intensity Training, lives on today and his rational approach to bodybuilding is a guide for all. He was considered the thinking man’s bodybuilder.
Although I did not know about the theory of High Intensity Training prior to that, my training was brief, infrequent and intense by necessity. At the time, my goal was to get the biggest and strongest I could. The only way to do that was to rid my workout of all the fluff exercises that got in the way and robbed my energy and focus and just perform the movements that made me strong. And strong I got.
It was and is all about focus! I only performed one work set… i.e. one set to failure for each exercise. I only performed the basics… bench presses, squats, rows, deadlifts, leg presses, close grip benches, dips and partials. I removed completely from my workouts any direct bicep exercises, shoulder exercises, calve exercises, chins, dumbbell movements like flies etc. I only did what would assist me to get stronger. And in knowing that strength and muscle size is relative… what do you think happened? You got it! I grew and became my all time strongest and in doing so my biggest ever. At the time I was training maybe three days a week… sometimes two… which I learned later on was still too much. I was doing about three sets a workout… period… but with immense focus… it was all business as I had learned early on in my career.
Oh yes, others came in the gym and went through the motions without the mental focus… true… but they never changed, they lacked that same focus and vision that would lead them to their goals… it was a social ritual for them. They enjoyed being there. Maybe their goals and purpose did not exist or maybe they did not know how to zero in on them… I guess we will never know, it doesn’t matter.
My preparation for each workout was like a planned mission. I would focus and actually see what I was going to do. I would keep a log book and go over the weights. I would perform a self hypnosis visualization routine each day in preparation for the next workout, this alone helped in an amazing way in reprogramming my mind for success. When I hit the gym, it was all business. I never spoke with anyone and everyone knew it. It was like the movie “Over the Top” with Sylvester Stallone when he is ready to arm wrestle and turns his cap around with the visor facing his back, like flipping a switch, which was his indication it was time to do business. In fact, I still have a shirt given to me 35 years ago with the Tasmanian Devil on it… you know, that Looney Tunes character that spins around! The twin brothers that gave it to me told me that this is what I resembled when I walked into the gym and began my workout… like a person possessed.
I still train this way today. It is all business and certainly not a social ritual. Of course I have a keen understanding these days of anaerobic exercise and understand now that training is only a stimulus and always a negative in the equation because it takes away from growth reserves. In looking back like a wise man in a movie I think to myself… “If I knew then what I know now”, I would have trained more infrequently with more rest.
My own personal workouts today last about 7 – 15 minutes… performed once every 6-8 days, thanks again, to the wisdom of Mike Mentzer and his work regarding the theory of High Intensity Training.
I often see trainers (not all) waste precious time with clients in the gym… burning an hour easy… probably because that is how they charge. The sad thing is that it is truly a social ritual. They have them doing dumbbell curls while balancing on a ball (just half exaggerating)… standing on their heads while talking about what the weekend was like, as they throw the weight up and down. Their understanding of anaerobic exercise is so limited and their focus passed on to their clients is less than desirable to reach their intended goal. My clients train for no more than 7-15 minutes because it is impossible to train more than that.
As Greg (Anderson, another HIT Trainer and colleague in Seattle) said in his article, High Intensity Strength Training: More Aerobic than Aerobics… “it usually takes a few workouts before the client understands the depth and magnitude of cardiovascular involvement possible from strength training. As one of my trainees remarked recently (after a set of squats to complete failure followed by 20 seconds of effort against the bar in the bottom position): “My God! (gasp, gasp…) this is more aerobic than aerobics…”
In fact, when we spoke just a couple of weeks ago, we were chuckling at how little exercise it takes when you are focused and working hard rather than long. One particular was about another athlete out in Seattle I believe… a HIT die hard who trains for minutes every 9 days.
Muscle building is nothing more than a stimulus. Stimulate muscle with intense training and then get out of the gym to allow the adaptation to occur… i.e., all the body to lay down additional muscle for the next assault. This takes focus and vision and it is the farthest thing from a social ritual there is. And most important to remember, because the body has the ability to increase strength by some 300% while its ability to recover increases at most 50%, then as you get stronger you must reduce both volume and frequency to continue to progress to your genetic potential. There is never a need to take a layoff due to overtraining as there is never overtraining if it is managed properly.
If you R Serious about your progress, H I T it hard, 7-15 minutes is all (H)IT takes! And don’t forget to focus and prepare for you mission!
Muscle Building is Not a Social Ritual by Bill Sahli