You are going to come to a crossroad in our game where you are going to have to decide whether you want to be a bodybuilder or a weightlifter. A bodybuilder sculpts the body to make each and every muscle stand out. If Vince Gironda’s method is used, all four heads are worked to really make the muscle take shape, have definition, and aesthetics. A weightlifter (tugger, swinger, puller…you know what I mean) endeavours to have a large ego as well as large muscles. To my way of thinking, weightlifting exercises are a conglomeration of cheating movements.
For instance, a bench press is a cheating exercise where you use about six (6) muscles. Plant you feet on the floor, arch your back, and immediately you are using the terrous major muscle. You also put your thumbs around the bar (this should never be done — you should always use a palm grip) and immediately you use the forearms. Now you’re using your back and your forearms as well. Once you arch your back and get your feet in a planted position, primarily the exercise is inner deltoid. When you do this, you are using your biceps and triceps. So you’re using roughly six muscles including the pectorals to so-called lift the weight, never really developing any muscle, never shaping or sculpting it.
As I said earlier, you should never put your thumbs around the bar. When you do, in any exercise, you will bring your forearms into play. As an example when working your biceps, half of the exercise will be forearms and the other half is biceps. That’s why people say to me, “Every time I do curls, I feel it in my forearms.” That’s right, because you are wrapping your thumbs under the bar, which is called a palm grip, or a false grip.
Of course, if you do want to be a weightlifter, tugger, and what not, you will have to realize that sooner or later you are going to injure every joint, muscle, ligament, and tendon in your body. All for sake of saying, “I’m a power lifter and I can lift 400 pounds.” It’s not going to get you any muscle shape. It will, however, cause you lots of pain, and it will only get worse as you age.
With most power lifters, diet is thrown to the wind because they eat anything and everything. Technically, the more you weigh the more you can lift. You will have to ask yourself if that’s how you want to look, or do you want to look like a bodybuilder? This is the ultimate decision that you’re going to have to make.
When I first got into the game, I was a member of a YMCA. I would go there to swim and shoot pool once in a while. Occasionally, I would see these really big fellows come in. They were huge. I soon found out that they were weightlifters. I went to the weightlifting room to observe and was just standing around and one of them said to me, “Come on in, we’ll show you how to lift.” I thought, “Oh boy!!! This looks good to me.”
Most people who lift weights have some sort of an inadequacy complex. I won’t say inferiority complex, but they feel inadequate and their self-esteem is low. I knew mine was. I had always been extremely slender. They showed me all of these exercises and I was thrilled. Naturally, I couldn’t lift the amount that they were lifting because they were much older than I, but I made an attempt. I thought this was how you attained a decent body because I had seen pictures of Steve Reeves. I never knew how he worked out. I had seen some pictures of the old-time bodybuilders and I thought bodybuilders and weightlifters were one in the same. I had no idea they were that different. I recalled seeing bodybuilding magazines with the type of physique I liked.
After I worked out my first night, everyone hit the showers. I was looking around at these guys and said to myself, “Holy smokes, I don’t want to look like that!” They all had big guts and large rear-ends. These guys were big and strong, but they were not impressive at all. They didn’t have the look of a bodybuilder. That is when I found out that there was a huge difference, but since I was a kid, I just didn’t know. At the YMCA at that time if you were a bodybuilder you were considered a little funny. They would hold a bodybuilding contest, but it would be in the basement. A man posing, shaving his body — this was unheard of. So, the weightlifters got all the attention.
I used to go to some of the weightlifting meets. When I first walked in, I saw all of these guys with bandaged shoulders, wrist, and knees. I could smell the liniment. It was horrible. I could hear them saying, “I ruined my knee, sprained my ankle, hurt my back, etc.” I thought to myself, “This sure as hell isn’t something that I want to get into.” After observing that, I knew right away that I didn’t want to be a weightlifter. As an older guy today, I don’t have many injuries except for some scar tissue in my left shoulder and left knee when I tried to prove I could lift a weight that I couldn’t. When scar tissue forms, it never goes away. If you try and lift weight that Mother Nature never intended for you to lift in the first place, you are going to injure yourself. Most of my life being a bodybuilder, I never taxed the scar tissue in my shoulder or knee, so I have never had any injuries. I never tore anything. I have never injured ligaments or tendons. Most power lifters, weightlifters and bodybuilders today take steroids. The simple fact is, and most people don’t understand, that steroids will certainly make you bigger, absolutely. They will make you tremendously stronger. They will anesthetize you. You will feel great when you take them. One thing that steroids can’t do is make your ligaments, tendons, and joints stronger. That’s one reason they’re so many injuries in sports in general. Some professional athletes are on steroids, either to get bigger and stronger or to recuperate from the strenuous, almost-yearlong endeavour of preparing for their jobs. My teacher, Vince Gironda, hated them, and he accused them of destroying the game that we partake in. When steroids first came into prominence in 1963, all meaningful advancement in natural bodybuilding ceased, which was tragic. Of course, it broke Vince’s heart. He hated steroids and he made it known and he stood alone.
At the YMCA, someone had posted a sign down in the dungeon, where the bodybuilders used to train, that the western YMCA was holding a bodybuilding contest. There were going to be ten (10) contestants. So, I got on the bus and went to the contest. The minute I saw those guys I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to look good. I wanted to have shape, definition and aesthetics.
Most power lifters look down on bodybuilders as not strong people. This is simply not true. I try to explain (if people listen) there are two types of strength. There is individual muscle strength and there is group strength. Let’s say you lift 200 pounds in a standard bench press. I bet that you couldn’t do 200 pounds in a Vince Gironda neck press. What’s the difference? A neck press is where you lie on the bench with feet crossed and knees as close to your chest as you can. Your back is flat now. Take the weight off the rack and use a 90-degree grip between your forearm and your bicep. That’s your set position. Your back is flat and your chin is up. You start out with the weight elevated as high as you can get it and then slowly bring the bar down to the sternoclavicle, or your Adam’s apple, and then draw your elbows back.
In a standard bench press, you bring the bar down to the lower pectoral line, which now becomes an inner-deltoid exercise. When you bring the bar down to the sternoclavicle and pull your elbows back, you are getting a tremendous stretch between the top of the pectorals and the bottom. It is a tremendous exercise, but I bet you will cut your weight almost in half. Now you’re lifting 100 pounds with one muscle instead of 200 with six (6) muscles. That’s the difference between a weightlifter and a bodybuilder. You have to decide whether you want to impress people with how much weight you can cheat up or how you look.
When Larry Scott entered a bodybuilding contest, do you think the judges cared if he could do a 300-pound bench press? They didn’t care how much he could lift. They were concerned about how he looked. Did he have shape, definition, and aesthetics? People who do individual exercises have individual strength. Those who do group exercise have group strength. I cannot workout the way a weightlifter can but in turn he can’t workout the way I do.
I had a Canadian weightlifter come into my office (Detroit is just across the border from Canada) and he wanted to get liver and protein. We talked about Vince Gironda’s methods and he kind of scoffed at them. I said, “Marcel, what do you do in a curl. Do you ever do dumbbell curls?” He said that he used 60-75 pounds for dumbbell curls. I said, “I have two (2) 25 dumbbells here. Do you think you could do 8 sets of 8 repetitions?” He laughed at me. He thought it was funny. But I told him we were going to do it my way, not his way. “Put your heels together and toes apart. Bend your knees and hunch forward and put your chin to your chest. Grab the dumbbell with a palm grip and straighten your arm out. Start with the dumbbell on your fingertips. As you curl both weights you lock your elbows into your side. Hunch over so the weight at the bottom will have the same resistance when you contract at the top. You’re not leaning back and cheating the weight from a half movement to a full movement. Close your eyes and feel the weight. Feel the positives. Touch your deltoids and squeeze them as hard as you can for six (6) seconds, then feel the weight on the way down. Do a full set. Don’t drop the weight. Let it go down on your fingertips. Put the weight on the floor and hyperventilate for 15 seconds. Grab the weight again and do another set.” It was a joke. On the second set, sixth rep, he couldn’t even lift the weight. Then I took the 25-pound dumbbells and I cranked out 6 sets of 8 reps and said, “See, technically I am stronger than you when I do an isolation exercise. But when you do a weightlifting exercise, you’re stronger than I am. That’s not to say I can’t be as strong as you. If I had the capabilities, I could not do as much weight, but I could increase my weight a lot.”
The reason that Vince Gironda called the squat a sissy squat is because he would make sissies out of weightlifters when they would come in and do squats. Weightlifting squats are not basically a leg exercise. Certainly, you get big thighs but you ruin the proportion between your thighs, hips, abdomen, and lower back. As Vince had said, weightlifting squats do many things that you don’t want your body to be accustomed to like increase the size of your stomach because you push it out, widen your lower back, and get a big rear-end. Vince said he could tell an eastern bodybuilder when he came into his gym by the size of his rear-end. Vince would always warn people, and I have advocated this and told people at the Powerhouse Gym people, when I owned it, once you develop your glutes, you can never reduce them. They are the densest muscles in your body. People used to laugh at me, but many years later they now say they wish they would have listened.
Look at all the modern-day squatters who call themselves bodybuilders. They have rear-ends that proportionately are bigger than their legs. They look horrible. They walk like ducks. That’s the first thing I noticed at the YMCA. I want to warn all you bodybuilders. If you start to do squats, you will get a large rear-end that will never, never go away. I’d like a weightlifter to duplicate this. I saw Vince Gironda on a hack-slide/hack-squat machine that he invented. He went up on his toes with heels together, both knees would be pointed towards opposite walls (like a frog). I saw the man crank out 8 sets of 8 reps with 15 seconds of rest in between. I think the bar was around 225 pounds. Now that is strong! Most people do weightlifting squats because it’s easy to do. It’s much easier to bend over and use a group of muscles. When you isolate the thigh in hack slide versus a squat, you have one muscle lifting 225 pounds versus five (5) muscles lifting 400, which is a cheating exercise to begin with.
Now you ask the question, is it possible to be a bodybuilder and weightlifter? Well, unless you are a genetic superior like Vince Gironda always talked about, the answer is no. I have only seen two people in my life that were capable of doing both. One was an old-time bodybuilder/weightlifter who was on the U.S. Olympic team. His name was Tommy Kono and he represented York Barbell. He had a terrific physique. There are some people who can do squats because they have small hips and small glutes to begin with, but 95% of people can’t. He entered weightlifting and physique contests. Sergio Oliva, who defected from Cuba in the late 50s to early 60s, was a member of the Cuban weightlifting team. He didn’t look like a weightlifter, he looked like a bodybuilder, but he was blessed. When I watched him work out at the YMCA in Chicago, he had such a small waist and small hips and no rear-end to speak of so weightlifting squats didn’t affect him that much, if at all. When he started in bodybuilding, he was very successful, but he didn’t pay very much attention to his diet. When I watched him work out, he was eating some kind of pie and drinking a Coke. He didn’t look like he knew that much about nutrition, and that’s why when he competed against Larry Scott in 1966, Larry just blew him away. Vince once said, “If I ever trained Oliva nobody could touch him.” He was such a genetic superior. He rivalled Don Howorth in bodybuilding proportions. I always thought Don had more potential, but Sergio just never practiced good nutrition. I guess he felt that he didn’t have to. When Scott beat him in the 1966 Olympia (I was there), Sergio was just dripping with oil. He put so much oil on his body to try to bring his definition out, and it really made him look worse. Because of his genetic superiority and the fact he was blessed, he went on to win many, many titles. One time I was at a seminar in Minneapolis, he was bragging that he beat everybody. I cleared my throat and said, “Sergio you never beat Larry Scott.” He was quite embarrassed about that.