The Never-Ending Quest to Find the Workout Shortcut

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Back when I first started bodybuilding in the early 70s, there was much more mysticism surrounding the exact process that resulted in getting your body to grow big muscles than there is today. Working out in a gym, weightlifting, body consciousness, etc., are cemented into our society on all levels today.

It’s just understood that big muscles are found in the gym. What you actually do once you’re in there to locate them in any large amount is a matter of great conjecture, but that’s another discussion. However, the conjecture element is germane to this discussion. While much conjecture indeed lies in the methodology that would most effectively and efficiently lead to muscle hypertrophy, I think we can all agree that such debate is still centered around a common belief. Unfortunately, there’s a band of devout capitalists gorging off the fitness industry’s ample teat, promising, in one form or another, a good enough-to-buy sounding workaround to what lies at the heart of the aforementioned group. In essence, they’re marketing the “easy button.” and this is nothing new.

I first discovered that I wanted/ had to get jacked when I was 12 years old. The Mr. Olympia contest was on ABC’s Wide World Of Sports. My dad just happened to be watching it and called me into the den, “you have to see this!” I came sliding around the corner in my socks on the hardwood floor and immediately came face to face with Sergio Oliva hitting a crab shot, and his ears nearly disappearing under his traps. Next to a gang of Hell’s Angels, that was the coolest thing I ever saw. Now, in addition to a Harley, I also needed to build me some muscles! As it turned out, it was easier to build a custom Harley – several of them over my lifetime in fact – than it was to build a custom physique.

The concept of building a bike is a fairly well-conceived and straightforward notion; cut up a bunch of metal and bolt it together. But building muscle? In 1972 in upstate New York? How do you do that? How do you even find out? (remember, no Instagram back then).

So there were these things called “magazines” that we used to read in an actual building called a library. Not completely extinct, you can find some old relics still in print on the checkout line at the grocery store. One of the big ones, when I was a kid, was called Boy’s Life (imagine trying to get away with such a title today!). In the back of the mags, there were all kinds of ads for all kinds of guy stuff from camping to hunting and fishing, woodworking plans, various camps, building project stuff, and quite naturally that included your physique. Joe Weider of course advertised in there, and so did several bodybuilders selling programs and weight sets.

Other contraptions too. One of the gimmicks I fell for was this pulley thing with two ropes that you hung on a door knob. The ropes went from each hand, through the pulleys, and to a stirrup into which you’d put each foot. You’d lie on the floor, start with one arm over your head, and pull it down as your corresponding foot rose up. As you lowered your foot, you pulled down with the other hand and your other leg would pass the downward-moving leg on its way up. Kind of like a flat scissoring motion. Doing this for five minutes a day was supposed to somehow result in “washboard abs.” (That never happened). And, of course, Charles Atlas was turning the 95-pound weakling, who got sand kicked in the face, into a jacked-up MMA fighter, using a weightless system he invented called dynamic tension. And other stuff too…

It was all confusing. What was true? Who’s program worked? Who’s muscle-building drink? Which brand of equipment? Weight sets? No weights? In reality, none of that shit worked. Boys all over America spent dimes and quarters like mad searching for the answer to a question we were all not even comfortable asking, nor even complaining about getting ripped off trying to find out. How do you make your muscles bigger? Man if that ain’t the $64,000 question at the heart of nearly every boy’s passage into manhood. Or at least it should be.

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