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Schedules had not been meshing well lately between Randy and I. Him being a car salesman, and me being a parent in the year 2005 meant that we had very little free time. When I was a kid, keeping myself amused was my responsibility. Anything requiring money or me being driven anywhere was out of the question. As far as my mom and dad were concerned, I had food and a roof over my head, so their job was done.
I recall desperately wanting to enroll in a local karate school, but my parents were too cheap to pay the ten dollars a month. Oh, how times have changed! We think nothing today of paying for any and all manner of classes, lessons, and sports after school and on weekends. Kids today are so busy they actually need palm pilots and little schedule books to keep all their activities straight. You can see them earnestly going over these on their cel phones while they try to coordinate meetings to trade Yu-gi-Oh cards.
"Tuesday? No good, I have CCD, then art class. Thursday? Ooh, boy, I'm totally booked - play practice, Tae Kwan Do, and don't even mention Friday because that's gymnastics from four to seven. We're looking at middle of next week at the earliest. I'll have to get back to you on that." I even had to make an appointment with my ten-year-old daughter's assistant to tuck her into bed one night.
Yes, we have to keep our kids very busy because we can't possibly let them play outside anymore. When I was a kid we would be gone for hours riding our bikes over into the next zip code, but now we fear that if we lose sight of Junior for two minutes he'll wind up on the side of a milk carton.
When I was a kid, milk cartons were just for drinking milk out of, and then we would stomp the cartons to send the remnants squirting across the floor and onto each other's sneakers and pants, so the other guy would have to walk around with wet, sour-smelling feet until he got home. Those were carefree, innocent times.
Randy and I barely met to train together anymore, as he worked out at six in the morning, an hour before I rolled out of bed to serve a sugar-packed breakfast to the kids. Sometimes I think it would just be easier to hook up an IV drip sending straight glucose into their bloodstream. But the New England was coming up in ten weeks, and he still needed a lot of work on his posing.
Hitting shots between sets was one thing, nailing your quarter turns and finding exactly the right way to position yourself in the mandatory poses to highlight your strengths and draw attention from your flaws was quite another. So at least once a week, usually around nine o'clock, we met for posing practice. As so often happens with first-time competitors, Randy was seriously considering bailing out of the show. And wouldn't you know it, it was once again a matter of feeling too small.
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Women will ask, do I look like I'm getting fatter? Bodybuilders have the opposite concern. We are forever worried that we're shrinking. I suppose eventually we would be battling ants over crumbs of food that fell from normal-sized humans' mouths, and using matchsticks to build a little log cabin to live in.
"I'm already down to 199, what the hell!" he wailed, waiting for my sympathy. He should have known better. If he wanted nurturing, he should have had Oprah be his coach.
"Yeah, and look - you're already showing a good six-pack, some serratus, and very respectable separation for ten weeks to go," I pointed out. "Right on schedule to be in killer shape."
"What am I going to be onstage, 185?" he desperately wailed.
"Maybe, so what?" he stopped posing for a minute to grab a quick drink and wipe his sweaty brow with a black gym towel that probably hadn't been washed in quite some time. The dried white salt stains from his sweat reminded me a little of the Shroud of Turin.
"So that's too small. I knew I should have waited until I was bigger to do a show."
"How big would you have to be, then, huh? 220? 260? 300 pounds ripped? Bigger is always better, right, is that what you think?" Randy shrugged.
"Look at Ronnie Coleman. He's almost 300 pounds ripped, and he's the best in the world," Randy offered.
"Best in the world according to a few guys in blue blazers that judge the Mr. Olympia every year, sure. But if you asked a lot of fans which body they preferred, 300-pound Ronnie or smaller, more sculpted guys like Dexter Jackson, Darrem Charles, or Ahmed Haidar, you'd be surprised how many people don't find the mass monster, 'freakazoid' look attractive. Shawn Ray put it best in a recent conversation I had with him, the first time we had talked since the early Nineties, as a matter of fact. He took a lot of flak for not putting on much size in the thirteen years he competed as a pro, only about ten pounds.
Pro Bodybuilding Interviews:
- An Interview With 7-Time Mr. Olympia, Ronnie Coleman - Unedited!
- An Interview With Dexter 'The Blade' Jackson.
- A Conversation With IFBB Pro Darrem Charles.
- An Interview With One Of Professional BodybuildingÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Greatest, Shawn Ray.
I ought to know, I was one of his critics. But in those thirteen years he was top five in the Mr. Olympia contest twelve times in a row, and was runner-up on three different occasions to men who outweighed him by forty to fifty pounds, Lee Haney and Dorian Yates, in very controversial close calls each time. Even though he was often pressured to put on more size, he always remained true to the ideals he had for physical perfection. Shawn's belief was that bigger wasn't better, better was better."
We ended every session with one-minute holds of each of the quarter turns and the seven mandatory poses. It was grueling, and Randy was usually shaking like a leaf and gritting his teeth with effort to maintain the poses. But it was a very effective technique a friend of mine named Rob Fleischman had put me through for a recent show. Once you had gone through it a few times, you were able to stand onstage and make it all look effortless while everyone around you was grunting, grimacing, and in general looking painfully constipated while you smiled with smooth confidence. We were at that point in the practice session right now.
"Quarter turn to the right," I called out, and Randy obeyed. "Legs," I reminded him, as he had the very common novice habit of tensing the upper body but letting the legs relax.
"So what, Ron, are you telling me not to train for size?" I was impressed at how he could even talk at this time, since he had to be exhausted.
"Of course not, you definitely need to train for size, but not just for the sake of sheer size. You want to have an aesthetic physique, with a small waist, a nice taper, good overall shape and proportion. I know right now you want to be a pro bodybuilder, but you might very well change your mind soon. Things have really changed. We used to have men like Steve Reeves, Arnold, Serge Nubret, Frank Zane, Lee Labrada, and Bob Paris, with physiques that even the average person could appreciate and admire.
The guys now are just too big. They don't even look real anymore. And the size for the sake of size mentality has resulted in big guts, giant butts, bodies that sometimes look more like big mutated lumps of meat than a thing of beauty. People wonder why bodybuilding is a small cult sport compared to football and baseball. They don't realize it's turned into a freakshow. Front double biceps." He went into the pose.
"But the thing is, I know I'm going to look small compared to the other light-heavies at the show. It's embarrassing, that's all."
"You're still not getting it. I've told you many times, your shape and overall proportion are very good. I would give my left nut for a waist and hips as small as yours. My hips look more suited to childbirth than bodybuilding. You might stand next to some guy who is technically bigger and thicker because he weighs the same or more at a shorter height, but he might have a big old belly, a wide waist, clunky joints, etc. If it was only about size, we could diet down a lot of powerlifters and World's Strongest Men competitors and have them winning all the bodybuilding shows. But bigger does not mean better."
Randy stared at me. "Hello?"
"What?" I responded casually.
"Next pose?" and he started going into a front lat spread.
"Hey! Stay in the front double biceps. We're going to hold the poses for two mintues from now on so you can really make it look effortless."
"You're such an a-hole," he sputtered, shaking and probably about to cramp up.
"Now you sound like my wife," I laughed.
"Do you tell her bigger isn't better, too?"
"Three minutes each pose!" I shouted. I know Luke Skywalker wasn't such a wise-ass with Yoda. "And if you mouth off like that again," I reached down in my bag and started snapping pics with my digital camera, "I will post these on Muscle Madness as a thread called 'My boy Randy is gonna kick all your sorry asses at the New England.' Okay, front lat spread."
The cramp hit just as he was going into it. It was his calf, oddly enough. "You wouldn't dare," he whimpered. I smiled my impish smile.
"You know I would. I would find it quite hilarious, actually."
"What kind of coach are you?" he accused.
"You'll thank me someday," I assured him. "Hopefully with a nice new car or something. Either that or you'll come looking for me with a shotgun. I'll probably be retired in Miami Beach by then anyway."
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