Talking with Dave Draper is getting an inside personal history of a sport that progressed from basements and garages to center stage. Dave was easy to spot in the cafe because he doesn't look much different from the guy who burst into national bodybuilding prominence in the early '60s, even if he currently spends most of his time on several business projects.
Dave Draper has had four fundamentally different looks during his career. In the early '60s, it was massive size with good shape and symmetry. In the mid-60s, Dave uncorked a surprise when he took all the elements in his original formula and added cuts few people would have dreamed possible. This is what garnered his 1965 Mr. America title and his 1966 Mr. Universe title, ushering in the era of the "Blonde Bomber."
He continued to mold himself until he appeared with another ingredient - density - that led to his 1970 Mr. World victory. But wait, He's still evolving: Dave popped another surprise on the physique world just last year, showing a level of vascularity that nobody would have predicted back in his early days.
IronMan: You were the very image of the blond California bodybuilder, but you're originally from New Jersey, right?
Dave Draper: I was born and raised in New Jersey, just outside of New York City - just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. I used to deliver produce for a grocery store in Hoboken when I was about 14. I would visit the Weider offices in nearby Union City to pick up some weights. On a few occasions, I bumped into Joe as he came through the back office area. He would stop and shake my hand.
Later, I was invited to work there for a couple of weeks, just to help with the stock room. That was about the same time that a Mr. New Jersey contest was coming up, which I prepared for, entered and won. This was in 1963 and Joe had opened an office in Santa Monica. He suggested I come out, spend a couple of weeks and if I liked it, he would arrange to help me move out.
IM: Pretty different from the bright lights down the road. Over the next few years, did you sense that bodybuilding was about to explode?
DD: Bodybuilding still hadn't gotten it's momentum. Then it took off. It was just that right timing in the early '70s when it started to click.
IM: What was in vogue when you arrived in California?
DD: The thing was high protein and zero carbohydrates. This is nearly the opposite of today's thinking. I was a big, smooth, but shapely bodybuilder and because of my size, I won the Mr. New Jersey title. I was around 230-235.
When I came to Venice and noticed the high protein-zero carbohydrates diet, I started eating mostly tuna, hamburger patties, eggs, some fruits and vegetable. I consumed these foods in high volume, trying to go from 235 to 240-250. I eventually went to 250. I held that for about six months prior to the Mr. America contest.
IM: You were always known as a big bencher. What was your top bench?
DD: Around 450-460 - no record, but not bad. I never went for powerlifting, but I always included some low reps along with high reps. That was a true bench press. We had some strong guys back in those days. We would take 150-pound dumbbells that were already two-feet long, all welded together five and 10 and 7 1/2 pound plates, and stretch a piece of rubber inner tube around both ends, so we could stick one more five-pound Olympic plate on each end to get 160s.
We'd clean them and press them, getting a spotter on each side, but actually press them for reps. You had to hold them way out here (Dave demonstrating a very wide grip) because they were so long. That was the training style back then.
IM: And it worked, because when you won Mr. America in 1965, that was a big upset: There was Dave Draper, big and cut up who surprised everyone and walked away with the title. In some of the magazines there was a lot of hype about secret training, how you had kept your sweats on all the time and nobody knew what you looked like.
DD: When I first came to California, I trained that way; out of self-consciousness, I always kept heavily clothed. This was kind of common among the really top guys on the way up, to remain sort of mysterious. I didn't mean to play a game or a trick; it was our trademark and became part of my nature.
IM: What is your diet now?
DD: I'm still into high protein, but I'm in my mid-40's. It's not like 25 years ago when I was putting down 500 grams of protein and had some skeleton carbohydrate intake. Now, I have to deal with another metabolism, an aging process - your body responds differently. I have a little more carbohydrate, but I still like to stay with the meat, just not nearly so much, maybe 200 grams of protein. I get lean on poultry and more so on fish.
IM: The current movement includes the branched chain amino acids, peptide bonded aminos, free form aminos. What do you think about all this?
DD: They're doing so much research on it now, and it's becoming very salable and fashionable information because bodybuilders are looking for faster ways to become more incredible. There's a lot to be said for these things, but until there's a clear and concise answer, I think it might take away from really paying attention to your training, being intense about it, and staying with the basics, with a desire that lasts for years, not just weeks or months. That's what I talk about in my book, Get Serious.
IM: How do you fine-tune your diet?
DD: I cut out milk products completely and the yolk of the egg and include a lot of supplementation - vitamins and minerals, balanced aminos and electrolytes. My training will intensify when I want to get leaner and tighter and my bodyweight will be altered by the quantity of food.
IM: And what about training?
DD: I have to make some compromises as a result of past injuries, but this can be as much a learning experience as a setback. I've had some operations (pointing to his shoulder and elbows) and that slows you down. I have to keep my training in a state of flux, altering it a little bit here, a little bit there, depending on each day, so you come into the gym with that feeling of, "How do I deal with this workout, this day." Not consciously, but unconsciously, try to make your workout "lead" solid. And you can get that without lifting tonnage... with lower weights, by putting your heart into it, by concentrating, by allowing no interruptions.
IM: What do you do on the days when you just don't feel like being in the gym?
DD: Some of my most spirited workouts are when I've come to the gym and was on the verge of leaving. I do some wrist curls and a few reverse curls and you start to build momentum and start to clear your mind and you notice, "This is going to work if I just stick with it." Soon, you start to fall into a pattern of exercises you haven't tried before, based on your instincts.
You find something creative, get enthusiasm via your training, and you walk out of the gym with a workout that was far more fulfilling than you had expected when you walked in.
IM: How about sets and reps?
DD: I'll do, probably, four supersets, with the reps between 15 to 20 on the wrist curl, always getting a good pump going and then I'll do eight, 10 or 12 in Zottmans or reverse curls and just keep that back-and-forth rhythm through all my training. So after I've completed one set, I move to the next piece of equipment, pause, and during that pause, I'm psyching up and preparing for my next set. I've always used this style.
IM: Is there anything you don't superset?
DD: There are a few movements that I do singly. If I am going heavy on curls, I'll do one heavy set and recuperate, followed by another heavy set. But I find single set training boring and not nearly as productive as supersets.
Usually, I prefer to do a heavy set of curls and then go to a heavy set of triceps work - it's a good aerobic activity and I have good cardiovascular fitness, good recuperative powers and endurance, so I can train like that. And because I train like that, it enhances those things: the endurance and aerobic capacity. The only thing I rarely superset is squats. They're pretty exhausting and you need to take your time.
IM: What's a typical arm workout for you?
DD: I'll usually choose three different exercises for biceps and four for triceps and superset them back and forth and the reps will usually be eights, 10s or 12s. And depending upon what's coming up - whether I'm training for something or if it's off-season - it will be done three times a week or twice a week. I have to sense whether I'm overtraining or training within my capacity.
IM: Here's our obligatory drug question: I was wondering if you had a teenage son who wanted to be a competitive bodybuilder or weightlifter...?
DD: It's a delicate subject, obviously, and it's gotten a lot of media attention, but that's a very good was of putting the question because it makes you think in another way. I would encourage him to stay with the natural style of training and not get hooked on the physical addiction or the psychological addiction and avoid the damage they can lead to.
The sad thing is youngsters start taking steroids for some immediate gains, for the immediate glory of having a handsome physique, but what happens is that they don't really participate in the activity, they don't discover the qualities of discipline, or perseverance, of consistency, or the need to grow through plateaus under their own efforts without always relying on some sort of chemical enhancer. The dope diminishes the intensity of the training and the quality of the muscles and (afterwards) you're left bewildered and not having developed those inner qualities. You just don't get any heart and soul out of it.
IM: Thank you for the time and information!
DD: Anytime. God Bless!