An Interview With The Blond Bomber Dave Draper.

As evidenced in the following interview, Dave is an articulate and personable advocate of weight-training. His passion for the sport is, at once, contagious and heartening.

Dave Draper has carved for himself a unique place in bodybuilding history. As a "golden era" bodybuilder, Dave was instrumental in helping to popularize bodybuilding which was, at the time, a fringe sport. But for Dave, however, bodybuilding was something he did primarily for self improvement - more for the intrinsic satisfaction which comes from reaching physical targets, not for the promotion of self.

In fact, well before the age of 10, Dave was regularly completing chin-ups and press-ups. As his programs became more sophisticated, his knowledge base broader, weight-training was increasingly becoming an inextricable part of his identity.

After winning the Mr. New Jersey title in 1963 Dave made his way to Santa Monica after securing a job with the Weider Barbell Company. It was at this time Dave forged his tremendous work ethic, one which would help him to win the 1965 Mr America and 1966 Mr universe titles. "During those years the various training principles were set down and stand distinctly today - sound, tried and true," Dave recalls. Indeed, today, at 62, Dave trains with the passion and conviction of one half his age. He is still in great shape and is profoundly knowledgeable in most aspects of health and fitness.

Today, Dave enjoys sharing his knowledge with the world, via his website "Through my site I hope to pass on some thoughts that are basic and simple; thoughts that have occurred to me before, during and after my 40+ years of training sessions", says Dave.

As evidenced in the following interview, Dave is an articulate and personable advocate of weight-training. His passion for the sport is, at once, contagious and heartening.

The Interview

Howdy, David. Thanks for the opportunity to appear before your audience. This is a bit long, but brevity can sound terse, leave things unsaid and offer no entertainment. Truth is, I talk too much when I write. And away we go...

[ Q ] Hi Dave. You are one of bodybuilding's greats. When you began bodybuilding, did you have any idea, at the time, that you would go on to win the Mr. America Mr. World and Mr. Universe titles and essentially set the standard for the Arnold's and Ronnie's of this world? What were your intentions at the time?

      Me? Mr. America and a "standard setter?" In a word, no. To elaborate, I hadn't a clue. I was a 20-year-old welder in a factory snuggled in the swampy meadows of New Jersey 30 minutes from cozy Newark. Swell place to swat mosquitoes in the summer and un bury your car from snow in the winter and raise my then-six-month-old daughter.

Dave at the 1965 Mr. America.

One day, while picking up a pair of 45-pound plates at Weider Barbell Company, at 801 Palisades Avenue in neighboring Union City, Joe Weider offered me a job at his new California outlet in Santa Monica. Visions of bright sunshine and blue skies and clean, clear water filled my imagination. Six weeks later my imagination became a reality.

My intentions were to make it from one day to the next, train and work and learn and grow and grow up with my family. Ambition wasn't absent. It was wrapped up in survival and always has been. Thank God for hard work, determination and perseverance. Thank God for God. My life mostly happened. I learned how to put one step before the other by noticing with acumen where the last step had been. Still do. I call this singular methodology "learning from my mistakes."

[ Q ] What year did you begin training and, at the time, was there anything, or anyone, that inspired you to make this decision?

I was chinning and dipping and doing push-ups way before I was 10. I had a small heap of weights that I kept under my bed before I was a teen. The set grew in size as my interest increased and my back strengthened and widened.

In recollection it is clear that absolutely no one inspired me and there was no decision. One day I was lifting weights, or whatever you might call the vicious little battles in which the iron and I engaged.

Like riding a bike, my skill developed day to day. Presto change-o!

[ Q ] At the peak of your career, what was you bodyweight and what were your measurements?

I was 235 pounds at six feet. These are the only measurements that interested me. The rest I considered troublesome, pointless, distracting and excessively attentive.

[ Q ] What do you weight now? What sort of shape do you consider yourself to be in?

I weigh between 220 and 225, and, training as wisely and intensely as I can, am as fit as I can be. Squinting and in good lighting, I might lie and say I look the same as ever. Age climbs over one's body like a bulldozer.

[ Q ] Describe your competition diet. How does this diet compare/differ to what you eat today?

Here I shine, as brightly as a tarnished relic might. I follow the high-protein, medium-carb, medium-fat, no-fad bodybuilding diet. I ingest large quantities of lean red meat, followed by fish and poultry and backed sufficiently by milk products and eggs. I fortify the menu with lots of fresh vegetables and enough fruit for all the good reasons - carbs, vitamins and minerals, phyto-nutrients, enzymes and roughage. I add grains and nuts for some fun and nutritional needs, and avoid sugar and salt and weird chemicals. The eating is divided into six agreeable meals throughout the day, as needed. Lots of water and plenty of supplements fill in the spaces. This has been my year-round eating scheme for over 40 years. And the last 10 years, I've observed, are tighter and more in-tune than ever. Thanks to habit, preference and the fact that it works, sprinkled with discipline and fear. Pre-contest would have me tuning in training and food choices and quantities the last weeks. For example: The milk goes first, then fish takes a primary position over the red meat, and the high-glycemic carbs leave the table.

[ Q ] Describe your current training program. How does this differ/compare to your 50s and 60s regime?

Fortunately, I love to train and it holds a primary place in my weekly activities. Muscle building and weight training has, after all, defined my life and, on occasion, saved my life. I don't doubt some of you who have worked out with weights for 10 years or so understand. They are dandy companions. I train as intensely and with as much focus as I did when I was younger, full of vigor and fully intact. The only difference is I'm wiser (a neat way of saying less dumb) and train to accommodate my achieved development, age, injuries and ability to repair. The mind is there -- ready, willing and able; my body meets me, like, much more than half way. In short, I trained six days a week for years (till 55), working each body part two and three times a week with volume and supersets, interwoven with low-rep and one-rep-max power-lifting methodologies. This effort was reduced to five days a week till age 60. Today (62) I train four days a week, two hours at a clip, with the same overall scheme. I lean on the basics, as I always have, for solid and steady workouts. My routines are orderly and my movements meticulously performed with maximum focus. Yet, within this rigidness there are feelings and common sense guiding me through my daily and weekly plans. Thus, I look like an astute old hound dog as I sniff my way around the gym floor in pursuit of the right exercises to uncover my workout. 70 percent of my workout unfolds as planned; 30 percent is discovered along the way. There's method in my madness. I also seek maximum intensity within each set using a variety of wraps, and governed by wisdom -- that is, I take it to the ragged near-edge, being sure I don't fall into a pile of broken pieces below. I like it that way, though my mother, rest her soul, would rather I didn't play on steep cliffs.

[ Q ] Your arms were particularly massive and symmetrical. Did you place a special emphasis on arm training or were you genetically gifted in this area?

The only genetic gifts to which I am predisposed is that I am not under six feet tall nor of a narrow shoulder or wide hip structure. My arms were buggy whips before the Iron-age, my chest a peanut shell.

Hint: Two favorite biceps exercises for impressive size and to achieve the fullest shape defined by one's structural blueprint (bone length and placement of attachments):

Standing Barbell Curls - straight and bent bar - using moderate weight to heavy weight and allowing a legitimate body thrust (a thrust of a poetic nature, not a major cheat) to enable one to put a heavier weight in motion for maximum muscle overload. Biceps hypertrophy is the eventual result.

Start the curling action with the arms in a fully hanging and extended position -- that is, resist a bent-arm starting position - and pull the bar up high and toward the nose. This assures a full range of motion and guarantees lower-biceps involvement and peak concentration. The added work and muscle engagement demanded by the focused thrust contributes to the power of the body as a system and its solid growth in mass.

Seated Dumbbell Alternates - sitting at the end of a bench, let the dumbbells hang fully. Treat each curling motion as a separate exercise; that is, from start to finish, one dumbbell moves with total attention only, while the other remains hanging by your side.

The full-range action complimented by a minor thrust is similar to that of the standing barbell curl. Back and forth, one dumbbell at a time. Dig in, get huge.

Most of my exercises and supersets are performed for five sets of descending reps, ascending weight (5 X 12, 10, 8, 6, 6).

Triceps: May I suggest weighted dips, lying and upright triceps extensions and pulley pushdowns in their infinite variety as determined by body positioning before the cable apparatus and the chosen groove of action. Nice and smart, I always thought, to superset biceps and triceps, triceps are the second exercise of the combination. Triceps can handle higher reps. (5 X 10, 15 - 20)

[ Q ] Are you still a big fan of bodybuilding? What is your involvement in bodybuilding today? In what ways do you feel it has changed since the 50's 60's and 70's?

Please forgive me when I make the following odd admission. Better yet, understand from whence I come... I have a hunch I'm not entirely alone. I've never been a fan of bodybuilding. In 1960, when I was seventeen, I picked up my first muscle magazine and was introduced to the term "bodybuilder." I already had a 16 and-three-quarter almost 17-inch arm at 175. I cringed. I was a weightlifter, a builder of muscle and strength for everyday function, for respect, for challenge and for fun. Sweeping muscles in briefs on stage before gapping eyes was of no interest to me. "Good for them, not for me," I thought. Furthermore, talking about muscles, I thought, was absurd. Building muscle and might was something you did, not read about, gossiped about or studied. Where's the weights? I was an ironhead, a musclehead, but not a bodybuilder. Girls are bodybuilders. I became part of the bodybuilding scene - secretly known to me as the weightlifting scene - during the '60s, when it was a raw and roaring young lion. Gee whiz; the music, the lights, the posing, the oil, the pumping up, the enthusiastic crowd beyond the front row, the winning and losing was an enormous experience, and the guys were the best. We were cowboys. The magazines and the gossip and the covers and the tall stories and legitimate fame in a sub-culture were and still are terrific. I was visitor, an honorary citizen, who exited the same way he came in, via an unlocked but slightly jammed side door, down the dark and littered alley of a crumbling red-brick building. I won my first contest, Mr. New Jersey, over 40 years ago in 1963 and have lifted steadily since, missing time only for injury repair or illness here and there along the way. My wife, Laree and I sold our World Gym in California only months ago after 15 years on the floor, behind the counter and under the iron. Gym ownership and management is an enlightening mission to an innocent musclehead, I must say.

Dave and Laree Draper at the 2004 Arnold Classic.

We started a web-site,, dedicated to health and fitness and muscles in 1999 and have developed it over the past five years. It's large and very active with my free weekly e-newsletter and a passionate, well-versed discussion group, all of which requires a great deal of time and tender loving care.

In the past five years I've written weekly columns on health for local newspapers, numerous articles for the muscle magazines and two books, "Brother Iron Sister Steel" and "Your Body Revival," devoted to muscle building through weight training and nutrition.

Oh, yes! There's the Top Squat, my unique and humble invention for heavy squatting in spite of shoulder disability, The Tri Blaster thick-handle triceps handle for mean triceps building and, last but not least, the world's greatest protein powder, Bomber Blend. These books, along with our new book, West Coast Bodybuilding Scene, are available.

Laree and I also attend several large bodybuilding expos - The Arnold Classic, The Olympia, The Ironman - for fun, rubber-necking, shoulder-rubbing and the usual shenanigans.

[ Q ] In reading your biography you seemed to have become a very busy man, as bodybuilding increasingly gained in popularity. At separate times you toured with Elvis Presley and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Describe, if you will, your experiences of touring with these iconic figures. What were they like to tour with?

I am proud of both occasions to come alongside such phenomenal characters in contemporary history, two unlikely kings ruling vastly popular domains with charismatic magnificence.

Can you imagine attending 20 Elvis Presley concerts in 20 different towns in 21 days? Many of you are thinking, "Are you nuts?" These are spectacular sold-out events at large auditoriums with people - mostly gals -- literally climbing the wall to get closer to the action.

Of course, there I am, assisting the producer of an Elvis documentary ("On Tour with Elvis," later to win an award), backstage, onstage and shooting up close, at major airports and remote airfields, chasing the Elvis crew on their bus in a rental car like the infamous paparazzi, cops frantically chasing the rental car full of amateur paparazzi frantically chasing the Elvis crew on their bus, getting releases from the local color and making sure everyone in the documentary crew was alive and awake each morning to go to destinations often unknown till we arrived.

Alas, Elvis was kept apart from the concert's backup crews and roadies and managers. He flew on his own jet and arrived each night at the venue's secret-private-hidden-clandestine and well-guarded subterranean entrance by a limo brigade. The King was quickly escorted to safe accommodations until he leapt on stage 30 minutes later.

The rest was a wild, crazy and often moving ride. He tore the house down, as they say, everywhere he went. When Elvis and the band exhausted themselves, the curtains dropped and the announcer came to the mike with the immortalized words, "Elvis has left the building."

I was invited aboard his aircraft where we shook hands and exchanged looks of physical recognition and rapport; that is, we were both physical people on the edge of our senses, and we identified. I was asked at another time if I'd like to join his crew of friendly sidekick bodyguards. Nice place for an outgoing, single guy who's head isn't on sideways. No, but, gee, thanks, guys.

Arnold is another story. We met in 1968 when he first touched the hallowed soil of America. He was aiming high and I was shooting from the hip. Bodybuilding was his current thing and the bright-eyed Austrian was extremely enthusiastic. I was five years older, had done what I thought was enough in the competitive world and was looking - admittedly, not very far - for some kind training contentment. As I revealed earlier, my ambitions simmered on the backburner.

Arnold and Dave.

Bodybuilding was growing in those days from a size small to a medium, and large was not very far ahead. Today, it is outgrowing triple extra-large and we're all standing around waiting for it to burst. How big can bodybuilding and the bodybuilders get, we wonder. The same curiosities stirred our imaginations when Lee Haney stood on the posing platform before thousands of stunned and screaming spectators during the late '80s and humbly received his Mr. Olympia crowns.

I ignored the growth, but was eager to join Arnold when asked to travel to Hawaii for some bodybuilding exhibitions. There we spent a month goofing around with some New Zealand promoter planning a six-month tour of the western Pacific. Never mind the details; let's just say it put Arnold and me through some extraordinary experiences with dear friends, Mits and Dot Kawashima, two sweet young lads, 9 and 11, who were entrusted (abandoned) to us for safe keeping by the... um... crooked promoter, who mysteriously left town the day after our Mr. Hawaii Islands Show without saying goodbye, and for good measure leaving with us a bad reputation and thousands of dollars of debt.

Men do not stand side-by-side one another under such stressful circumstances without getting acquainted. Throughout the weeks we swam, ran the beaches, trained, slept and ate, did laundry, partied and hiked the island of Maui. Ya gotta love Hawaii and its people. After apologies and arranging legitimate care for our young buddies, we pooled our resources ($1.67 between us and one Draper credit card) and crawled home for some refuge.

Arnold and I did some trans-European and trans-US travels in 1970. These were heavily competitive times and things were rushed and fatiguing and complex. Your paths cross and you hit high-fives, have breakfast here and there - London or New York -- and are off again.

You remember things like doing dips between the wings of an aircraft and leg-ups on the tarmac, while waiting for the pilot of a small private jet to arrive and take you and your companions from New York to Columbus for the Mr. Olympia - your companions consisting of Boyer, Franco, Zane and Arnold.

You remember encouragement from the big Austrian Oak just when you need it most and his big laughter when the battles are hot. It's good to have somebody covering your back. You learn simultaneously how to do the same.

Yeah, if you're gonna travel, travel with the best. That's what I always say.

[ Q ] I understand you have a strong biblical faith. How does this faith influence your life?

Like protein, supersets and the gym influence my training. I cannot do without it. I'm a Bible-believing Christian, whose faith in Jesus Christ is foremost in my life. This means I praise him regularly, thank him for all I have and seek his guidance in all I do. It also means I recognize without recrimination what a weakling I am. That's okay. I'm getting better every day. Exercise and eating right help.

[ Q ] What are your current goals (both fitness/bodybuilding and non-fitness/bodybuilding related) Dave?

I train regularly with the same purposes in mind today as I did when I started: to build my muscles and strength, and enjoy the journey along the way. This often means accepting limitations and expecting rewards of unusual description. Laree and I will continue to enjoy, serve and develop and its popular IronOnLine forum, and I have several book ideas in the hopper.

One is to organize and compile the nearly 300 articles I've written, which have appeared as, and publish them in book form. This project is imminent. The other has to with muscle-building and aging, as much of the audience I hold dear is of the boomer generation. I have a keen eye on the inevitable process and when I know more about it, I will dare to relate the information to the interested readers. I understand their numbers are increasing by the moment.

I have a few training gadgets up my sleeve that I'm working on. The nifty Draper Dungeon is in the works and partially completed. It's a rugged home gym system for guys and gals of the professional level who'd rather for a hundred reasons train at home than in a gym, but don't want Mickey Mouse as a partner.

The system offers an overbuilt lifting rack for gorillas and their offspring, which is custom tailored to fit special places, a thick adjustable bench for rhinos and a rough-and-ready cable system for large orangutan, Yeah, dipping bars and a larger-than-average multi-angle chin bar for vigorous and well-groomed apes. I'm working out the kinks with Odis at Torque Strength Systems in Indiana.

Outside the fitness world and interspersed with our full time internet efforts, Laree and I look forward to traveling and experiencing. Life is something to behold and one does not always need a diversion or plan of attack to live or to grow or profit. Often, to be unencumbered is to be most productive. If we have the courage, we'll give it a try.

Secretly, I'm restoring my old workshop for creative furniture building; my tools were gobbled up and spit out during our gym building over the past 15 years.

Maybe I'll join the CIA or become an astronaut.

[ Q ] What do you consider to be your main strengths and weaknesses?

Forearms and calves, in that order. Just kidding.

Weaknesses I have in abundance and we won't discuss them here or you'll think I'm bragging. Well, okay, one. I'm selfish.

Strengths? Let's see; it's not my memory, my disposition, my musical skills (none), my rugged good looks, my ability to pole vault or jump hurdles; not international peacemaking, I don't play golf or tennis. Can we come back to this one another time?

[ Q ] If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring bodybuilder, what would it be?

If you're gonna smoke, use a charcoal filter. Another dark joke...

Be consistent. But wait, there's more! Train hard, never give up, eat right, stick to the basics, don't be so darn doubtful and stop worrying; it's all good if you do it with your heart 'cuz you'll learn to separate the good from the bad as you persist, which reminds me - persist, persevere, endure and fight like a bulldog.

Draw on your desire and be enthusiastic and positive and cool, man. Oh, yeah! Don't listen to the hype. It gets thick and heavy.

Finally, you've got to love this stuff.

[ Q ] In your experience, is supplementation worth considering? If so, what supplements would you recommend and why?

I'm a believer. We're overloading our body and seeking peak performance and combating the toxins of a modern world. We just don't get enough of the good stuff. I'd rather fill the glass to overflowing than stop at half empty.

A good and wise bodybuilder on a limited budget supplements his diet with a high-quality vitamin and mineral with antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. He's safe and practical.

The bodybuilder with more money to devote to his goals can add ingredients to provide the edge we're all looking for. On the extended list (my list, for example) you might find a top-notch protein powder, creatine, added antioxidants -- C, E, MSM, chondroitin/glucosamine and free-form amino acids - l-glutamine and BCAAs.

It's a big gulp.

[ Q ] What is your view on aerobic training for both pre-contest and off-season purposes? Is it over-rated or under-rated as a tool for fat loss and muscle gain?

Aerobic exercise is a wonderful addition to weight training and should be included, as needed, to support one's efforts in pursuing one's goals.

It's the "as needed" qualification of the above statement that causes eyes to cross. Too much running, climbing and swooping along and we interfere with allotted training time, energy and enthusiasm. Furthermore, and worse yet, we compromise muscle growth for the sake of fat burning.

We're here to build muscle.

The conditioned masses have been guided to believe aerobic exercise is the safest and most direct way to achieve good health. For the heart and lungs maybe, but where's the muscle and bone and body strength? The truth is, only resistance training - weight training - fills this magnificent whole-health role.

This is not acceptable? A little won't hurt.
The bodybuilder seeking muscle mass should do just that. Build muscle mass. Save the aerobic exercise for another time, when shedding fat, but not at the cost of muscle, is right.

[ Q ] What are your thoughts on the recent Olympia? Do you think the results were accurate? Who impressed you most?

David - I have not seen the line-up or the score sheets. I've been busy with the usual daily stuff and missed the Olympia rush. Must have been a wild scene, backstage and pre-judging, with the guys coming in so big and ripped.

Ronnie Coleman at the 2004 Mr. Olympia contest.

I do appreciate the feverish animal exposition, like NASCAR from the pits or ringside at a heavyweight title. We'll let this Question go.

[ Q ] Who would you consider to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time and why?

This is open to discussion, as there are different presentations from different eras, Grimek to Ronnie I'll simplify the question by answering Steve Reeves, because that's who I'd like to look like. He was perfect, after all.

[ Q ] What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of your bodybuilding career?

The greatest achievement for me is having a unique place in its history - one of the rat pack of the Golden Era of Bodybuilding, the when, where and who of the incredible sport.

[ Q ] You have been part of the bodybuilding community for a while now. Where do you see bodybuilding as a sport heading? Are there any changes you would like to see?

Bodybuilding sort of reminds me of the NFL. The contenders who please the spectators and fans are becoming bigger and bigger brutes year after year. It's a Triple XXX - extreme sport and that's what the crowd wants. Of course, only the wild and crazy few can become or want to become or are willing to try to become that "bad."

"Bad" is fine for football 'cuz its fans are content to sit in the stadium or before the TV, eat junk and scream. Not so fine for the bodybuilder who wants nice, big muscles, but cannot identify with the cartoon characters marching before them on stage or across magazine covers. As so many sincere, hard training and pure muscle-builders of all ages say to me at the various expos I attend each year, "We have no more bodybuilding heroes," or "There's no one to look up to anymore, no one we want to emulate."

Where have all the cowboys gone?

I don't know where the sport is going. I hang onto my chunk of the activity and breathe life into it, as I am able, at the gym and in the magazine articles I write for Ironman and Muscle & Fitness and Muscle Mag Int. My biggest effort is done jointly with my wife and partner, Laree, through the internet. As you at know best... now we're talking.

Where is the sport heading? Not off a cliff, but it seems the brakes need to be applied soon. Drug use is out of control. The mags and their cast of champions represent - or, misrepresent - a vapor-thin fraction of the bodybuilding world today, and the real-deals and his or her needs and desires are neglected, ignored... worse - sabotaged.

The majority wants to get back to the garden - the rich and monstrous minority does not... and, for the moment, they rule. Let's keep our eyes fixed on the tug-of-war.

Let's fix what's broke.

The End... DD

[ ] Thank you Dave!

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