Tuesday, September 18, 2018

My Personal Journey of Training - By Burt Gam

When I was a kid I remember reading my first issues of Strength and Health, which was published by Bob Hoffman. I was simply captivated by the muscular looking dudes on the cover and within the pages, and Bob Hoffman himself was pictured at times, particularly in the ads of the products Bob was selling. Inside the magazine were also published results of regional weightlifting contests with the contestants poundage lifted. I was a skinny young teenager and these guys were my heroes. I wanted to be like them and I wanted it bad. My father knew this very well. He was a lifter of sorts himself, and he taught me the basics. Nutritionally I needed help too, and since I wanted to gain weight my father purchased Hoffman's products from the neighborhood health food store. Soon enough I was making milkshakes with Bob's Weight Gain Formula,taking Energol and Dessicated Liver pills. Being pre-pubescent the gains came slow until later on. Bob was my go to guy for years ahead.

I remember my first 200 pound bench press in my garage and how proud I felt. Lacking self confidence, this was exactly the remedy I needed. Even so, I still had not filled out much and graduated high school at a whopping 140 pounds. Off to Florida State University I went. They had a gym for students and a small weight set in a dungeon like room in my dorm building. I tried to hit the weights 2-3 times a week, mostly bench presses .Bench pressing was about all I knew about lifting with a few supplemental exercises back then. My break out was the next summer at my home in Miami. That summer I hit it hard in my garage gym, again mostly bench presses and accessory work. But I was also eating a lot and drinking Hoffman's Weight Gain Formula religiously.I was weighing 150 pounds,10 more than after high school. By the end of the summer I got on my bathroom scale at 190. Not to say it was all muscle, but for sure I was noticeably bigger. People were a bit startled and I got a bit of attention due to my abrupt change in appearance. The hormones had kicked in and I guess my body was finally ready to grow. 

Here I realized my greatest single phase of bulking, but the refinement of physique was needed. At that point, I decided to chuck college for awhile and join the Air Force. When I discovered the base gym I thought I had found heaven. Squat racks, sturdy benches, machines, all kinds of equipment. I met up and began training with some more seasoned lifters and bodybuilders, drawing on their education and experience. Still loving benching, I hit my first 300 lb. bench. But I also discovered what later became my favorite by far, the deadlift. I also began training my lower body and added more assistance work. My chest got larger and I put on another 20 pounds of bodyweight. The Air Force used to weigh us annually, and we had to do a mile and a half within a prescribed time. They wanted to put me on the "Fat Boy Program" but I was actually pretty damn solid. I ran the mile and a half in 11:30and the Air Force ended up giving me a waiver for technically being 20 pounds overweight. Around that time I also began reading about lifting and trying to apply some of that knowledge. I read Terry Todd's "Inside Powerlifting"and Bill Starr's "The Strongest Shall Survive". I tried everything I could, my body was my lab experiment. Power cleans and push presses were added to the program. I deadlifted my first 400 lbs. I tried everything to get bigger and stronger along the way. I even sent away for Charles Atlas's course just out of curiosity. 

There was a system of training published by some unknown author called the "Tri Contractional System". The system called for hard work on a handful of basic compound exercises using 3 continuous sets each; A heavy set say on dips with added weight, quickly followed by a reduction in weight,in this case bodyweight for as many reps as possible, then finally a third set of as many partial reps as possible! Very much like a "Heavy Duty Routine". Looked easy on paper but brutally hard. Neither of these routines worked out very well for me. Later on I tried to get inspired by reading up on Arther Jones and Ellington Darden's Nautilus inspired routines. I did that one set to failure on Nautilus machines in my university gym while studying Physical Education. Did that for a year and a half until I decided to test myself in the free weight bench press. I was so weak I could hardly steady the bar. That was when I realized the superiority of free weights over machines, no matter how state of the art. But I read, lifted and learned.  I read articles, became certified as a trainer. I tried different programs. I wanted to know what worked and what did not.Eventually, I learned what my body responded to and how to design my own programs for what worked for me, not for someone else.

Today at age 62 I stick with a simple and basic 3 day a week program, utilizing basic powerlifting and compound exercises performed first in the workout using moderate reps for strength. Following this with higher rep assistance and isolation work for fewer. sets. I use my off lift days to swim, stretch and rest. After this long journey of trial and error, I came back to simple and basic. I am an average guy with average genetics and a thirst for knowledge. I train at home in my home gym with my own equipment. I set lofty goals for myself. I reached some, others I didn't. I never competed, nor did I ever desire to. I realized at some point long ago I would never be the guys in the magazines. I achieved something much more. I have a wonderful life with a wonderful family, wife, daughter grand daughter, friends.I have had a career. I have seen beautiful places and marveled at the bounties of nature.Lifting is part of life, but it is just one part. The body, mind and spirit make up the total person. Balance is the key. We all can achieve greatness in our own way. Life is a journey. Lift, love and be happy.

Editor's Note: Great article Burt. I'm just a few years older than you and can relate to a lot of what you wrote. I got an Air Force waiver too. :) Good job on this.
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me: bobwhelan@naturalstrength.com

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