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Fall was coming to New England. With the change of seasons meant a new girlfriend for my friend Randy, whose makeup artist had gotten back together with some guy she had been seeing off and on since high school. Then again, I think the girl Randy was dating now was one he had dated around the time we first started training. It's hard to say.
The kid goes through so many females I doubt even he can keep track. I often wonder if he meets girls sometimes and has to ask, "Hey, have we ever gone out before?" Some guys use the cheesy pick-up line, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" I think in Randy's case he's being sincere.
Spectator Instead Of Spectacle
We had gone to a big regional bodybuilding contest over the weekend. These are always fun affairs, especially on the rare occasions like this when I am not competing. It's just a lot easier to enjoy yourself when you aren't dehydrated, exhausted, and stinking of Pro Tan and oil.
I must admit that it felt strange being a spectator and not part of the spectacle. Then again, at these shows, everyone is part of the spectacle. That's the funny thing about bodybuilding - the fans are also participants in the sport.
Contrast this with baseball, for instance. You don't have everyone in the ballparks aspiring to play like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. Instead, they are perfectly content to watch these incredibly talented players do their thing out there on the field.
But bodybuilding is quite different. Nearly everyone out in the audience at a bodybuilding show, unless we are talking about the worried moms ("Don't overdo it, honey!") either has been up on stage, or wants to be.
We even have magazines every month which cater to the idea that anyone can look just like Ronnie Coleman and friends if they only can mimic his training exactly.
To the outside world, this is pretty ludicrous. I mean, I have yet to see Sports Illustrated run a single article about how you too can throw a football just like Tom Brady. That's because we all know that Tom Brady's prowess as a quarterback is the result of not only many years of practice, but also thanks to an odd genetic anomaly that gives his throwing arm such inhuman power and accuracy.
Top bodybuilders are also endowed with rare genetics, yet the rank and file bodybuilders tend to ignore this fact. You know, De Nile (denial) ain't just a river in Egypt!
Carl Versus Rick
But I digress. This amateur show was a good one, with plenty of bodybuilders in shape and flexing their hearts out. Still, there was no doubt in anyone's mind as to who was going to win, once we knew he was in the contest.
'Carl,' as I will call him, was purely doing this show to re-qualify for the Nationals, which would take place eight weeks later. He had been to the USA and Nationals a half-dozen times, finishing around seventh or eighth as a light-heavyweight on each occasion. If that doesn't sound too impressive, then you must not know how tough the light-heavy class at any pro qualifier is.
Carl was loaded with muscle, a walking tank at 5-6 and 198 pounds shredded to the bone. But when the class took the stage, it was clear that it was not exactly going to be like shooting fish in a barrel for Carl, as we had all thought. First he was going to have to get through a guy making his competitive debut named Rick.
I knew who Rick was because he had backed out of a couple shows already over the last year and a half after announcing his intent to compete on the message boards. Rick was loaded with potential, but I had written him off as just another flaky guy who talked the big talk, but when it came down to dieting all the way down and getting on stage, would never follow through.
Boy, did Rick prove me wrong. Here he was, the only guy out of almost twenty light-heavies to really challenge Carl. Rick had mammoth delts, chest, and arms, a tiny waist, and sweeping quads. And like Carl, he was in great condition.
It was only when they turned around that I saw Carl was going to sweep the class easily after all. Rick's back just wasn't that impressive. Not to say it didn't have some width and thickness to it, but it didn't match the rest of his phenomenal body at all. Carl's looked like a craggy mountain range, popping with bulges and ridges when he hit his rear double biceps pose.
He's Going To Beat You
Before the night show began, I was sitting up front with my wife while the Indian food I had just eaten roiled around in my belly and sent early warning signs of the distress I was to feel later on that night (I had picked a bad time to experiment with new cuisine).
Rick approached me. Because I write for the bodybuilding magazines and have a web site, people often assume I know a thing or two and seek out my opinion. Shhh! Let's just let them keep thinking that, okay? After Rick introduced himself and we exchanged pleasantries, he got right to it.
"Ron, what do you think about my chances?" Rick asked me.
"He's going to beat you," I deadpanned.
"Oh," Rick looked a bit shocked that I had come right out and said it so quickly.
"Do you know why? And I mean, aside from the fact that Carl has been competing since you were in kindergarten. He's more seasoned than a family bucket of KFC."
"It's your back. It needs a lot of work to match the rest of you."
Rick Needs A Little More Iron
I then proceeded to inquire what he did for his back, and learned it was mainly a lot of cable rows and pulldowns, along with some Hammer Strength machines. When I chastised him for the lack of free weights, he reminded me that his back routine was nearly identical to that of Ronnie Coleman's in his latest DVD.
"Yes," I agreed, "But that's Ronnie's second back workout of the week! In his other training video, you see him do deadlifts, T-bar rows, and barbell rows. Machines and cables have their place, but you will never max out the density of your back muscles without some heavy doses of raw iron."
"Maybe I should have bought the other video, too," he said.
It turned out that Rick had never liked training back, and had never really devoted himself to the tough free weight movements like weighted chins, barbell rows, dumbbell rows, and deadlifts. Once I made it clear that he could have taken out one of the best bodybuilders in our part of the country in his first contest if only his back had been better developed, his attitude about training back changed immediately.
"Back day is going to become your favorite workout of the week," I explained. "And you are going to set goals with each exercise to increase the weight, the reps, or both on a regular basis." Rick nodded in agreement. He planned to compete again at the same show next year, and to blow it away the way Carl was doing on this day.
By the time Carl was handed his trophy for the Overall a couple hours later, I knew something was dreadfully wrong down in my guts. I would spend the next couple days visiting the toilet and making frequent deposits from both ends, but at least I could take solace in knowing that somewhere Rick was building himself a bigger and better back. And the next time I was offered anything with the words curry or Tandoori in it, I would pass.Recommended Articles
About The Author:
Ron Harris is the author of "Real Bodybuilding: Muscle Truth from 25 Years in the Trenches," available at www.ronharrismuscle.com.
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