I remember it like it was yesterday … the first time I saw the dungeon.
I was about 14 years old and had just joined the YMCA. My parents thought it would be a great place for me as there was billiards, billiards, ping pong and many other things to do. There are many classes, etc. however, he 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 young man, he seemed larger than life.
The weight room of the Y could be considered a dungeon. There is no heat in winter and no air in summer. Temperatures reached close to 100 degrees on some summer days and it was advisable to get in and out early.
You had to go down a flight of concrete stairs and into a 14 x 14 room. The room’s walls were blocky … painted yellow. Connected to the first room was another room of approximately 20 x 14 in which there was additional equipment. This was a powerlifting gym in its own right and all you saw were 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 like a leg curl. There was a cable for lowering, a leg press machine, not a sled … and a set of dip bars. They were all dressed in rust. That was the scope of it. The windows, on a single wall … I think three, were at shoulder height, showing the street through which passers-by peeked out. There they would observe the screaming, grunting, hitting, chalk everywhere, and the smell of ammonia capsules just before performing a record squat, deadlift, or bench press. This was not a pamby namby gym you would find today that has alarms if you growl! No way! This was serious!
In those days, we were considered another kind of culture, and it was hardly understood why we subjected our bodies to that kind of physical stress. Little did they know that we were competing against ourselves in the depths of our souls.
Roger got up from the leg extension machine and could hardly believe his eyes. He looked like a superman to me. The first thing I saw was a huge chest, thick shoulders, and huge arms. Her small waist added to the symmetry of her physique and made everything seem even bigger.
Roger normally weighed around 190 to 5’7 but he was always rock hard. Around 30 inches waist with arms close to 19 (yes, I saw them measured) was amazing. His legs were big but not that developed and with the muscular separation of his upper body, but certainly not because he had not worked them hard. I’ve seen him do 20 reps with 640 pounds squat below parallel on each rep. Think of that for a bodybuilder who weighs 190! His entire career as a bodybuilder Roger would literally go through hell trying to bring his legs to upper body development. His back was worth seeing too, huge thick erectors and a thick expanse of broad, square lat of traps. Roger was quite a business, as he would soon discover. He wouldn’t say a word while in the gym in any social way and his approach was that of a possessed man. You always thought he was just crazy, but the funny thing is, he really didn’t care what you think … the only thing that mattered was his mission that day … the training! I learned concentration and discipline from this man.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that this was not a social ritual. I must have been a real plague in those days because Roger finally got tired of all my questions and agreed to let me train with him. Our trainings were like the ones I witnessed in the first meeting with Roger … all business. There was absolutely nothing to fuck around during training. Each repetition was deliberate, without momentum and I learned to focus each repetition with my mind, to visualize and feel the repetition. Roger moved with very little rest despite using the weight in the exercises that was almost ridiculous, he was extremely strong. He built his entire physique with weights and dumbbells, but attributes his advantage to his mind and concentration.
Fast forward a few years … it’s not around 1971 anymore but around 1977. Roger and I, although we no longer train together, we are still great friends … as we are today. By now, people like Mike Mentzer have introduced me to high intensity training and stormed the bodybuilding scene. He called his version Heavy Duty and it was. Mike, after working with Arthur Jones, turned bodybuilding upside down. He showed bodybuilders how to use their ability to think critically while showing that more is better, the theory does not apply to bodybuilding. Further proving that we don’t need to be our own scientists as the muscle magazine implies … searching in the dark for what works for us. His theory of high intensity training lives on and his rational approach to bodybuilding is everyone’s guide. He was considered the thinking man’s bodybuilder.
Although I did not know the theory of High Intensity Training before that, my training was brief, infrequent and intense out of necessity. At the time, my goal was to get as big and strong as I could. The only way to do that was to get rid of my training of all the fluff exercises that got in the way and robbed me of energy and focus and just performed the movements that made me stronger. And I got strong.
It was and is about concentration! I only did one series of work … that is, one series of failures for each exercise. I just did the basics … bench presses, squats, rows, deadlifts, leg presses, close-grip benches, dips, and partials. I completely eliminated from my workouts any direct bicep exercises, shoulder exercises, calf exercises, chin, dumbbell movements like flies, etc. I only did what would help me to be stronger. And knowing that muscle strength and size are relative … what do you think happened? You got it! I grew up and became the strongest of all time and, in doing so, the greatest of my life. At that time I was training maybe three days a week … sometimes two … what I learned later was still too much. I was doing about three sets per workout … period … but with immense focus … it was all a business, as I had learned early in my career.
Oh yes, others came to the gym and followed the movements 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 event. ritual for them. They enjoyed being there. Maybe their goals and purposes didn’t exist or maybe they didn’t know how to focus on them … I guess we’ll never know, never mind.
My preparation for each training was like a planned mission. I would focus and really see what I was going to do. I’d keep a log book and go over the weights. I was going through a self-hypnosis visualization routine every day in preparation for the next workout, this just helped me in an amazing way to reprogram my mind for success. When I got to the gym, everything was business. I never spoke to anyone and everyone knew it. It was like the movie “Over the Top” with Sylvester Stallone when he is ready to fight and he turns his cap with the brim towards his back, as if he flipped a switch, which was his indication that it was time to do business. In fact, I still have a T-shirt that I was given 35 years ago featuring the Tasmanian Devil … you know, that spinning Looney Tunes character! The twin brothers who gave it to me told me that’s how it looked to me when I walked into the gym and started my training … like a possessed person.
I still train this way today. Everything is a business and certainly not a social ritual. Of course, these days I have a great knowledge of anaerobic exercise and I understand now that training is just a stimulus and it is always negative in the equation because it takes away the growth reserves. Looking back like a sage in a movie, I think to myself … “If I had known then what I know now,” I would have trained less often with more rest.
My personal workouts today are around 7 to 15 minutes long … done once every 6 to 8 days, thanks again, to the wisdom of Mike Mentzer and his work regarding High Intensity Training theory.
I often see coaches (not all) wasting precious time with clients in the gym … burning an hour easily … probably because that’s how they charge. The sad thing is that it is truly a social ritual. They have them doing dumbbell pushups while balancing on a ball (just exaggerating half) … standing on their heads as they talk about how the weekend was, while throwing the weight up and down. His understanding of anaerobic exercise is very limited and his approach passed on to his clients is less than desirable in reaching his 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 coach and colleague in Seattle) said in his article, High Intensity Strength Training: More Aerobics Than Aerobics … “Usually some workouts are needed before the client understands depth. and magnitude of possible cardiovascular involvement from Strength Training As one of my trainees recently commented (after a series of squats to complete failure followed by 20 seconds of effort against the bar in the lower position): “OMG! (gasp, gasp …) this is more aerobic than aerobic … “
In fact, when we spoke a couple of weeks ago, we chuckled at how little it takes when you’re focused and working hard instead of long. One in particular was about another athlete in Seattle, I think … a tough HIT who trains for minutes every 9 days.
Building muscle is nothing more than a stimulus. Stimulate the muscles with an intense workout and then step out of the gym to allow adaptation to occur … that is, the whole body to deposit extra muscle for the next round. This requires focus and vision and is the furthest thing from a social ritual there is. And the most important thing to remember, because the body has the ability to increase strength by 300%, while its recovery capacity increases at most by 50%, so as you get stronger, you should reduce both the volume as the frequency to continue progressing towards your genetic potential. . It is never necessary to take a break due to overtraining, as there is never overtraining if it is managed correctly.
If you’re serious about your progress, hit it hard – 7-15 minutes is all it (H) takes! And don’t forget to focus and prepare for your mission!