Back Specialization, Part I
There is a young man named Terry who lives in a badly cluttered one-bedroom apartment overlooking the beach. The apartment looks like it received a direct hit during a civil war. The guarantee of free rent for five years wouldn’t have dragged a Trappist Monk eight feet off a rock ledge.
In the disaster area known as the kitchen, one is treated to a panoramic vista of moldy egg shells, empty milk cartons, bones form which the steak has long since been gnawed and a grease-covered stove, one burner of which holds a pot filled with a greenish, cotton-like substance which has started working its way slowly down the outside.
The bedroom, which would have registered about a 8.2 on the open-ended Richter, contains a full-length mirror and enough clothing on the floor to stock a small boutique.
The area known laughingly as the living room contains a collection of furniture that might be catalogued as Early Canadian Castoff, covered with old muscle magazines and three inches of dust. There are sliding doors on the end wall leading to a small balcony. Any time the temperature rises significantly above the freezing point, Terry stands on the balcony in his bathing suit hoping for a sun tan. Terry is twenty-six years old. He stands five feet ten inches tall except when he is lying down which is most of the time. He weighs about 220 pounds of solid muscle and wants to weight thirty pounds more.
Terry spends two hours a day, four days of the week, working out in a small commercial gym. He spends half an hour a day, seven days of the week, standing in front of the mirror in his bedroom wishing he looked like Lee Haney.
Early one Monday morning, Terry squeezed into his tightest muscle shirt and went down to the gym where he trained. He walked into the owner’s office and spread his lats in front of the mirror on the wall. The gym owner looked up from his desk and smiled pleasantly.
“Morning, Terry,” he said. “How’s it going?
Terry turned sideways to the mirror, flexed his arm, and studied his image silently and intently.
“Always nice to have these cheery morning chats with the clientele,” the gym owner said. “I’m just fine, thanks.”
Terry turned his back to the mirror and craned his head around to look over his shoulder. “Can’t you get double mirrors in here?”
“That’s a tailor’s mirror,” the gym owner told him. “You’re supposed to look into it when you’re fully dressed.”
Terry turned to face the mirror again.
“Why would anyone want to do that?”
“In here they wouldn’t,” the gym owner muttered. “It’s something I’ve never fully understood.”
Terry looked critically at his reflection. “Do you think I’m big enough?”
The gym owner pursed his lips. “For a mountain gorilla, yes.
For Mr. Olympia, maybe no.”
“That’s the problem,” Terry said. “You’ve hit it right on the head.”
The gym owner beamed. “Naturally,’ he said. “That’s where my years of experience and my blinding intellect come in to . . .”
Terry walked over to the gym owner’s desk and hammered the top of it with his fist.
“Then how do I get bigger?”
The gym owner picked the calendar off the floor and set it back on the desk.
“Did you do the leg specialization program?”
“Yes,” said Terry. “I did.” He walked back to the mirror and peered at his legs.
“The trouble with leg muscles,” he said, “is you can’t see them through your pants.”
The gym owner looked at him for thirty seconds.
“You could sell your pants.”
“Sell my pants?” Terry repeated.
“And wear panty hose on the street.”
Terry frowned and then turned to face the gym owner.
“That would look funny, wouldn’t it?”
The gym owner closed his eyes for a moment and thought about joining the navy.
“If you did the leg specialization, then you’re ready for the back specialization.”
Terry peered at the gym owner.
“The next of the growth stimulation areas.”
Terry wrinkled his forehead.
“Growth stimulation areas?”
The gym owner looked at the ceiling. What is this, he thought to himself, a ventriloquist act? “We talked about it,” he said. “Remember? Now you specialize on your back for three months.”
“I think my back is big enough,” Terry said. “I want my arms to be as big as Lee Haney’s.”
The gym owner beckoned him over.
“Sit down, Terry,” he said. “Watch my lips. For you arms to be as big as Lee Haney’s, you’ve got to have that kind of growth potential. So what do you do?”
Terry opened his mouth but the gym owner lifted a finger.
“What you do,” he said, “is increase your growth potential with specialized work on the growth stimulation areas. Your legs, your back, and your rib cage. Specialize properly on those areas and then, when you go back to regular training, you’ll grow to the limit of your new potential.” He smiled pleasantly. “Doesn’t that sound like fun?”
“It sounds like a lot of hard work,” Terry muttered.
“It is, indeed,” the gym owner said. “But think of all the money you’ll make when you’re Mr. Olympia.”
“And think how happy I’ll be,” the gym owner said. “You can pay your dues on time..
But enough of this little chit-chat,” the gym owner said. He dug a workout sheet out of a drawer and scribbled on it. “Here,” he said, “Do this on Mondays and Thursdays:
Bench Press – 3 x 15
Curl – 2 x 10
Seated Press Behind Neck – 2 x 12
Squats – 1 x 20
Light Pullovers – 1 x 20
Crunches – 2 x 20
“Use all the weight you can in first four exercises. Do the squats in puff and pant style. Three huge breaths after each rep. Try to add weight every workout.”
“Now, he said, “the back work is the important part of the program. Do it on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“Start off with prone hyperextensions,” he said. “Do one warmup set of fifteen reps with just bodyweight and then jump into the heaviest weight you can handle for one set of fifteen reps. Add some weight and do another set of ten reps. Then add more weight and do one set of six reps.
“I’ve never been really crazy about hyperextensions,” Terry said.
“Then get crazy about them,” the gym told him. “They were a favorite with Reg Park and if you ever look anything remotely like him you won’t have anything to complain about.
“Next, he said, “warm up with a very light set of fifteen wide grip pulldowns to the back of your neck on the lat machine. Then use all the weight you can for another three sets of fifteen reps. Drop the weight each set so you can keep the reps up.”
He smiled at Terry. “How does it grab you so far?”
“I can handle it,” Terry beamed.
“Good,” the gym owner said. “There’s a little more.”
“When you finish on the lat machine do five sets of twelve reps on the regular bent-over rowing exercise. Take a close grip on the bar, thumbs about six inches apart, and pull the weight to your lower abdomen. Don’t set the weight down between reps. Round your back when the bar is at rock bottom and arch it when the bar is touching your abdomen.
“Finally,” he said, “you do stiff-legged deadlifts. Three sets of eighteen reps. Use all the weight you can handle on the first set and drop the weight each succeeding set so you can get the full number of reps.
“Do the deadlifts standing on a good solid block so you can lower the bar down near your toes. Don’t put the bar down right away when you finish the set. Hold on to it and do shrugs until you do another set or you can’t hold the bar any longer whichever comes first. Then set the bar down.”
The gym owner leaned back in his chair. “And that’s the routine for the first month. It doesn’t sound so tough, does it.”
Terry frowned,” It sounds tough enough.”
The gym owner leaned forward and slapped him on the shoulder.
“Nonsense, my boy. Nonsense,” he chortled. “When I was your age I worked twice that hard for the sheer joy of it.”
The gym owner rose out of his chair and walked over to the mirror.
“And look at the results,” he boomed. He took a deep breath and flexed both arms.
“Sterling craftsmanship,” he murmured. “Grown fine and mellow with age.”
Terry got to his feet.
“Which?” he said.
“You or the mirror?”
Back Specialization, Part II
Early one morning, the radio announced the weather at 12 C, with a brisk wind and a cold rain falling. A mean day, as the old Newfie trawlermen used to say. The kind of day when only graduates of Fantasy Island Secondary School and advanced bodybuilders go out without a coat and normal people don’t go out at all if they can help it. In the rubble of his bachelor apartment, a young man named Terry slipped on his designer jeans and cowboy boots, struggled into his tightest T-shirt and headed downtown to work out.
Terry passed up two spaces in front of the gym and parked three blocks down the street. He headed back on foot, remembering to keep his lats spread and his triceps tightly flexed. At the first corner he passed a group of teenage girls huddled together under umbrellas. They stared open-mouthed as Terry paraded by and then giggled little fantasies that would have horrified their mothers.
In the next block he passed three old men standing in a doorway assuring themselves that, when they were young, they looked exactly like Terry only more so, and an elderly lady who gawked with bulging eyes at Terry for a full minute and then blushed for the first time in forty-seven years.
In the final block, Terry smiled politely at a young woman in a nurse’s uniform. The young woman stared at Terry’s chest and walked into a parking meter.
Terry wheeled into the gym. His body was turning blue from the cold and his face was turning purple from holding his breath. He walked into the gym owner’s office.
The gym owner was standing by the window looking gloomily out at the rain. He threw a crumpled sheet of paper to the floor. “Do you know what that is?” he snapped.
Terry coughed nervously. “Not really,” he said. “Perhaps a . . .”
“It’s a tax increase,” the gym owner snarled. “A great big, goddam, totally unreasonable, seventeen percent tax increase.”
Terry picked the paper off the floor and laid it on the desk.
“Why me? A simple, honest, God-fearing businessman who never cheated anyone except perhaps the government.”
He hammered the window ledge with his fist. The plaster cracked under the ledge and an autographed picture of Reg Park fell off the wall.
“Maybe I’ll come back later,” Terry said.
The gym owner turned around and looked at Terry for a long minute.
Then he sighed. “It’s not your fault” He walked over to his desk and sat down.
“I’m ready for the next step in the back program,’ Terry told him. “And I gotta admit I’m gaining weight and my strength is increasing.”
“Good,” the gym owner said. “How much?”
“About seventeen percent.”
The gym owner leaped to his feet.
“Are you making fun of me?” he screamed. “Are you so goddam totally insensitive to the plight of a kindly, poverty-stricken old . . .”
“Wait,” Terry said. “Wait. It’s just a coincidence. Sit down, please.”
The gym owner held a trembling hand to his forehead and eased himself back into his chair. “OK.” he said. “Where were we?”
“We’re in your office,” Terry told him.
“I don’t mean that, you idiot. I mean where did we leave off?”
“My back program,” Terry said. “I’m ready for the second step.”
“Right,” the gym owner said. “The second step.”
He pulled two sheets of paper out of the desk drawer and scribbled on the first one.
“Here’s your Monday and Thursday routine,” he said. He handed it to Terry.
Incline Bench Press – 3 x 12
Upright Row – 2 x 12
Incline Dumbell Curl – 2 x 10
Standing Triceps Extension – 2 x 10
Puff and Pant Squats – 1 x 20
Light Pullover – 1 x 20
Crunches – 1 x 25
“That’s a simple program,” he said. “In isolation, it’d outlive its usefulness pretty quick. But, coupled with the back specialization routine, it’ll keep your body growing while you’re increasing your growth potential.”
Terry glanced at the paper.
“Don’t try for maximum poundage,” the gym owner told him. “Just feel the weight and get a little pump.”
Terry laid the paper on the desk. “It doesn’t look too taxing.”
The pen snapped in the gym owner’s hand. His face turned blue and he lurched to his feet.
“Wait!” Terry yelled. “Hold it!” He patted the desk. “I didn’t mean that.” He held up a hand. “Take it easy. Please.”
The gym owner clutched at his chest. “I think I’m having a heart attack.”
“You’re not,” Terry said. “You’re just upset. Anyone would be.”
The gym owner sat down again.
“You think so?”
“Of course,” Terry said. “Why don’t you write them a nasty letter?”
“I was thinking of hanging myself in the mayor’s office,” the gym owner said. “That’d be nasty.”
“No,” said Terry. “That wouldn’t . . .”
“Or maybe hang the mayor,” the gym owner muttered. “That’d be even nastier.”
He wrote carefully on the second piece of paper.
“Here,” he said. “Your back routine.”
Long Pulley Row – 5 x 12
Lat Pulldowns – 5 x 12
Prone Hyper-extensions – 3 x 15
Power Cleans –
1 x 12
1 x 10
1 x 8
1 x 5
1 x 3
Stiff-Legged Deadlift and Shrug – 3 x 12
“Lean well forward on the pulley rows,” he said. “Get a good stretch. Pull the handles into your lower abdomen at the contraction end of the movement. Pull them hard against your skin. Drop the weight each set and keep the reps up to twelve.
“Take a fairly close grip on the pulley chins. Hands about eight inches apart. Work through the full range of the movement. Try to pull the bar down to your upper chest area.
“Start working hard on the hyper-extensions. You should be holding a light bar behind your neck by now. Keep trying to add weight to the bar.
“The power cleans are very important in this routine,” he said. “The higher rep sets should leave you gasping and the lower rep sets should take everything you’ve got. Don’t set the bar down between reps. Stand upright and hang on to the bar while you take a couple of deep breaths. Then lower the bar almost to the floor, give a huge pull and clean it again. Don’t split or squat when you’re cleaning the bar. Don’t move your feet at all. Just power it up as fast and as hard as you can.”
He looked at Terry.
“Are you getting all this?”
“Of course,” Terry said. “I’m hanging on every word.”
The gym owner pushed his chair back.
“Listening to every word,” Terry said. “Sir.”
“Good,” the gym owner said. “Now pay attention. The last exercise is stiff-legged deadlifts. Do them the same way as last month. Stand on a block and let the bar down to the tops of your feet. Pull it up smoothly and arch your back at the top. Don’t set the bar down at the end of the set. Stand up straight and do shrugs with it until your hands or your traps give out. Drop the weight each set so you can keep the reps up.
“The deadlifts are a key exercise,” the gym owner said. “But they really pay off if you work hard enough at them.”
“How hard is that?” Terry asked him.
“I know a guy who used 425 for eighteen reps years before you were born,” the gym owner told him. “His name is Maurice Jones. He was five-foot-eight, weighed about 240, and was unquestionably the best-built man in the world at that time.”
Terry frowned, “I never heard of him.”
“They didn’t have the contests or the media in those days,” the gym owner said. “And it’s too bad. Maury had the most Herculean body I’ve ever seen. There weren’t any drugs or supplements and they didn’t worry too much about definition in those days, but for sheer, awesome, shapely muscular bulk and incredible power, he was in a class by himself.”
“He was my idol,” the gym owner said. “Someday I’ll tell you all about him.”
Terry looked at the paper.
“Anyway,” he said, “I’ll make good progress on this program, eh?”
The gym owner nodded.
“You can’t fail,” the gym owner said. “It’s as sure as . . . As . . .”
He searched his mind.
“Death and taxes?” Terry suggested.
The gym owner sprang to his feet and his chair crashed against the floor. He pointed to the door. “Out!” he screamed. “OUT!”
Back Specialization, Part III
One cold Monday morning Terry put on the cleanest of his dirty shirts and drove down to the gym. He parked his car, walked through the main door and into the gym owner’s office.
The owner was tilted back in his chair with his feet on the desk, looking at an old Playboy
which he had inserted between the pages of the current MuscleMag.
He closed the magazine quickly and tossed it on to the desk so that only the MuscleMag showed.
“Great magazine,” he said.
“Inspirational,” Terry agreed.
Terry walked over to the mirror.
“Terrific,” the gym owner echoed. He stole a glance at the MuscleMag to see if the Playboy was showing.
Terry took a deep breath and spread his lats. “Great bodies in there.”
“Great bodies,” the gym owner agreed. He scooped the magazines off the desk and tossed them into a drawer.
“Indeed,” Terry said. “Thought-provoking.”
The gym owner pressed his fingers to his temples. “I’m getting a feeling of deja-vu,” he muttered. “Shall we run through it again?”
Terry studied himself in the mirror.
The gym owner waited.
Terry swung into a side chest pose.
“What the hell are you doing?” the gym owner said. “You’ll wear out the mirror. Aren’t you supposed to be working out?”
“I’m going to,” Terry told him. “But I got a problem.”
Terry peered at his reflection. “Who do you think I look like?”
“You look like Godzilla on his day off,” the gym owner told him. “Who did you think you looked like?”
“I was hoping for Lee Haney,” Terry said.
“My boy,” the gym owner said in his most fatherly tone, “you’ve got a long way to go.” He smiled. “On the other hand, you’re making great progress. And when you finish the back specialization program and go back to regular training, you can expect some big gains.”
“Will I look like Lee Haney?”
The gym owner closed his eyes.
“My son, you may never look like Lee Haney. But you’ll have increased your potential for growth. And someday, who knows, you may look like him.”
Terry walked over to the desk and sat down. “Just one month to go on the back routine.”
“I know,” the gym owner said. “And I’ve got a program all ready.”
He handed a sheet of paper to Terry.
“There’s your Monday and Thursday workout.
Terry studied the paper.
Parallel Bar Dips – 5 x 12
Lateral Raise – 3 x 15
Curl – 3 x 10
Pulley Triceps Extension – 3 x 12
Puff-and-Pant Squats – 1 x 20
Light Pullovers – 1 x 20
Crunches – 2 x 20
“It looks like hard work,” he said.
“It is,” the gym owner told him. “But don’t forget that’s the key to success. All great men know the secret of hard work.”
Terry cocked an eyebrow. “Like who?”
“Like my uncle Freddie,” the gym owner said. “A truly remarkable man.”
“Was he a bodybuilder?”
“No,” the gym owner said. “He was an accountant.”
Terry sneered. “That doesn’t sound like hard work.”
“Normally it wouldn’t be,” the gym owner sighed. “But they found his other set of books and gave him three to five on the rock pile. That’s hard work.”
He handed Terry another sheet of paper.
“Here’s your Tuesday and Friday back specialization workout.”
Long Pulley Rowing – 5 x 12
Bent-Over Rowing – 5 x 10
Prone Hyperextension – 3 x 10
Stiff-Legged Deadlift – 3 x 10
Power Cleans –
2 x 8
3 x 6
High Pulls – 5 x 5
1 x 8
2 x 6
5 x 3
“This is the last month of the growth area specialization,” the gym owner said, “so give it all you’ve got. All your future progress could depend on how hard you work this month.”
Terry nodded. “When I’m Mr. Olympia, I’ll see that you get free tickets to all the shows. Would you like an autograph now or later?”
“Later,” the gym owner told him.
“Now,” he said, “do the pulley rowing the same way as last month, but try to add weight every workout. Go to the absolute limit. Let the weight pull your arms straight out and round your back. Pull the handles hard against your lower abdomen and arch your back. Drop the weight each set and keep the reps up.
“Rowing is the basic lat exercise. Do it much like the pulley rowing – a good stretch at the bottom, then pull the bar to your lower abdomen and arch your back at the top.
“You should be getting pretty good at prone hypers by now. Don’t forget, you gotta add weight whenever you can. The Russian lifters work hard at hypers as a major supplementary exercise.”
Terry mulled it over.
“I wouldn’t want to look like a Russian weight lifter, you know.”
“Neither would I,” the gym owner told him.
“But I wouldn’t want to argue with one either.”
“Now, he said, “we come to another of the great basic exercises – stiff-legged deadlifts. They’ll build muscle from the back of your neck to the back of your ankles. Drop the poundage each set and keep the reps up to ten.
“And finally,” he said, “we come to the cream of the crop – the really hard work.”
“Just a minute,” Terry said. “Just a minute. What do you mean, the really hard work? What in hell have we been doing up to this point?”
“Coasting, my boy.” The gym owner beamed his friendliest smile.
Terry got to his feet.
“Of course, the gym owner said, “you’ll also generate bigger gains than you ever have in your life.”
Terry sat down again.
“This is where we really separate the wheat from the chaff,” the gym owner said. “This is where we build the growth potential to be a champion.”
“The first two sets of power cleans are sort of a warm-up. Go all out on the last three sets. Don’t set the weight down between reps and don’t move your feet during the cleans. When you finish, you should be puffing and panting like a circus calliope.
“Do the high pulls in much the same way, but don’t clean the weight. Pull the bar up to your lower chest area. Again, don’t set the weight down between reps and don’t move your feet. Drop the poundage each set and keep the reps at five.
“The final exercise is the deadlift – probably the most basic exercise of them all. Very few bodybuilders do them because they’re such hard work, but, if you’re willing to work hard enough, they’ll do phenomenal things for your growth potential.
“Do a fairly light set of eight reps. Then add weight and do two sets of six reps with a medium weight. Then add more weight and do five sets of three reps as heavy as you can. Try to add weight each set. Don’t set the weight down between reps. Keep your back flat and work up to very heavy weights.”
Terry looked carefully at the gym owner.
“That’s one helluva pile of work.”
The gym owner nodded.
“And hard work is the secret of the whole thing. Don’t forget what I told you about Louis Abele’s teeth aching from the heavy breathing and tearing calluses from his hands in the deadlifts. Years ago one of the biggest guys I ever worked out with split the palm of his hand doing high pulls. He finished the set with blood oozing between his fingers.”
Terry leaned forward in his chair.
“It could be a lot worse.”
“It could be me doing it,” the gym owner chortled.
“Hilarious,” Terry snarled. “Did you ever try it?”
“Years ago, my boy,” the gym owner said. “Years and years ago. Fortunately, I have now reached the jolly state of mature perfection and no longer find it necessary.”
“So you tell guys like me to do it?”
“Right,” the gym owner said. “And that’s the jolliest state of them all.”
“I’ll give it a good shot,” Terry said.
He got up and left the office.
The gym owner pulled the MuscleMag and the Playboy out of the desk drawer. He leaned back in his chair, put his feet on the desk, and opened the Playboy.
Terry stuck his head in the door.
“Forgot my workout sheets.”
The gym owner pulled his feet off the desk and fumbled with the magazines. The Playboy dropped to the floor.
Terry walked over to the desk and looked down at the Playboy.
The gym owner smiled sheepishly.
“Great magazine,” he said.
“Inspirational,” Terry agreed.
The gym owner closed his eyes and laid his head on the desk.
“And thought-provoking,” he muttered.
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