I’ve been a competitive bodybuilder for almost three decades. But, even before that, I began learning about exercise as a means to change the look and the functional strength of my body. My first exposure to fitness came from my dad.
My dad is a retired U.S. Marine. Although he was never a competitive bodybuilder himself, his own passion for physical culture was inspired by the physique heroes of his day. Individuals such as Steve Reeves, Vince Gironda, Dave Draper, and other pioneers of that generation gave my father a direction and an outlet for his drive for physical perfection. His passion was underscored by the regular physical training that was a part of life in the Marine Corps.
My father took great pride in sharing stories of his own pursuit of physical perfection, and his careful attention to balanced, proportionate development. He would often tell me, “The Marine Corps loved my physique, son, because they never had to alter my uniforms. They used to tell me that my proportions were nearly perfect.”
His pride in his physique and his attention to aesthetic development were to a large extent what initially inspired me to become a competitive bodybuilder myself. Now, after years in the gym and on the competition stage, I still smile when I remember those painful nights and weekends with dad, in the garage, with his limited selection of bars and plates, working on our bodies together.
He taught me many values that I practice today, and pass on to my personal training clients. Here are four.
1. Lift with your muscles, not your ego. Weight is not everything, son; the “squeeze” is everything. The weight is just a tool. When my dad would exercise, he’d use a single adjustable dumbbell, because we did not have an abundance of random equipment in our garage gym. My dad had a modest collection of weights and plates, but we only had a single short bar with which he would assemble his one dumbbell. His form was always impeccable. When I would watch him training biceps for example, his form would be so slow, deliberate, and direct, that my own biceps would often begin to feel an empathetic “pump.”