Worldpower Will, Franco Columbu and Bill Swanson

Friday was an eventful day.  I woke up at 7 am to go train chest with Will Harris at 8 am.  I was a little tired from the early wake up but Will made sure that I woke up in a snap.  There is nothing like an early morning training session to get yourself going for the day.

Will was training one of his clients, who I believe was called Dave.  We didn’t really speak much during the session as we were moving at an “I go, you go” kind of pace.  I did however manage to find out that he had been training with Will for around eight months.

We started with Hammer Incline Presses.  Instead of holding the handles, in this case Will had us hold the actual metal arms.  He also made us keep our elbows down instead of out to the sides.  This hand grip is very similar to the way Jerome has me doing incline dumb bell presses, so it engages the upper pecs a bit more so than using the handles.  The weight was lighter than I was used to even for a warm up, at one hundred and ten pounds.  We did two warm up sets of fifteen reps with this weight and then bumped it up to one hundred and sixty pounds for two more sets of fifteen reps.  The thing that makes all of Will’s exercises so hard is not how much weight he has you using but that he is a stickler for correct form and keeping the tension on the muscle at absolutely all times.  In fact, if you make the smallest mistake in range of motion, form, or letting the tension of for a moment, he won’t count that repetition. It doesn’t take long to start doing everything right.  In this way Will makes lifting one plate feel like you are lifting three plates.

Hammer Incline Press – 4 sets of 15 reps

Following the presses we moved into the middle room of the gym and stopped at the fly machine with the pads that fit into the elbow joint.  It was the same one Hassan and I had used the other day.  However Will had his own method of using the machine. Instead of leaning forward like a cable fly he instructed me to sit upright with my chest up and chin in.  My arms also had to be straight and I was to touch my hands together at the bottom instead of crossing them over.  This way it become like a decline fly. I felt this method of using the machine isolated the pecs much more than the way we had used it the other day.  Another important thing Will had me do was stretch the chest in between each set for every exercise we did.  This is important for injury prevention, improving range of motion and it is an important part of hypertrophy.  We completed three sets of this exercise.

Decline Machine Fly – 3 sets of 15 reps

Next we moved on to the assisted dip machine.  I was thinking I would probably be doing unassisted dips but it turns out Will wanted me to do assisted ones.  Just like the other exercises, Will had me doing these in such a way that it felt like I was doing weighted dips.  I placed my heels on the assistance bar and I stuck my hips out backwards so that I was leant forward.  Will made sure I kept my elbows out nice and wide.  I came down for a full stretch at the bottom and a full contraction held at the top.  With most of these exercises we went to near but not complete failure.  This one (as with the fly exercise before it) largely hit the lower chest. I completed three sets of twelve reps.

Assisted dips – 3 sets of 12 reps

The last exercise we did was a plate loaded incline machine press.  This was the first time I had used this machine.  There was a horizontal and vertical hand grip. Will had me use the vertical hand grip which again was very similar to the way Jerome taught me to do incline dumb bell presses which helps the upper chest and limits the anterior deltoid recruitment.  Just like the other exercises Will focused on keeping tension on the muscle the whole time, maybe even more so because it was the last exercise.  Will picked up on a few unintentional imperfect reps, said “hell no!” and I ended up doing extras.  I started with two sets of fifteen reps with one hundred and forty pounds and finished with two sets of twelve reps with one hundred and eighty pounds.  We more or less went to failure on this exercise because it was the last one.  I had a great pump all the way through my chest when we were done.

Machine Incline Press – 4 sets of 12 – 15 reps

The great thing about training with Will Harris is that I personally feel he instills confidence within me and motivates me to train at my hardest.  Its good to have the feeling that your trainer understands and believes in you and your goals, especially when he himself is a professional bodybuilder.  Thanks Will, keep “flexing up”!  WORLDPOWER!

After finishing up our training at around 9 am I headed back home to eat and shower.  At 10.15 am I was picked up outside my hotel and traveled to West Hollywood with Bill Comstock to see two time Mr Olympia Franco Columbu about my lower back.  The purpose was to meet Franco, have him assess and treat my back and discuss my potential for development of my physique considering my injury.

For those who don’t realize Franco Columbu is not only an accomplished bodybuilder and strength athlete but an experienced Chiropractor.  Having received his DC degree from the Cleveland Chiropractic College in 1977, he has over thirty years of experience in Chiropractic care.

The consultation was at 11 am so we arrived early at around 10.45 am to complete some paper work before being taken to the treatment room.  When Franco arrived he shook my hand and said “you are in great shape, show me you bicep”.  He then asked me what my symptoms were and how I had injured myself. I explained that I had injured myself doing stiff legged deadlifts in June 2010 and that I experienced some occasional mild lower back and leg pain. I told him that an MRI scan had showed that I had a disc protrusion touching the L5 nerve root at the L5/S1 level.  He also asked what my physiotherapist in Australia had been treating me with and I explained that to him also.

After assessing me Franco treated me with some manipulations to my lumbar spine, thoracic spine and cervical spine.  He then showed me what he thought I should and shouldn’t be doing when it comes to home exercises.

I can’t say that Franco agreed with everything my physiotherapist had me doing.  He said my hip flexors were weak and that I shouldn’t be stretching them.  He also didn’t agree with the glute stretch I was doing and he showed me a different one.  He did however notice something that my physiotherapist had also noticed which is that my hip flexors are relatively weak.  He assigned me some strengthening exercises for those, which I thought were good because I had been struggling to find a good way to strengthen them.  It is interesting to see a different professional’s opinion because I think my physiotherapist in Australia is truly excellent but I didn’t think by any means that Franco was wrong either.

In terms of developing my physique Franco didn’t think that my injury would hinder my progress at all.  Franco thought that I have a big frame and have a lot of potential to put on muscle.  He thought the disc probably wasn’t protruding very far because of the lack of pain I felt on various tests.  He did however mention what exercises he thought I should and shouldn’t do in the gym.  First off he thought I should not do seated shoulder press as it can put pressure on the lumbar discs.  Secondly he said I shouldn’t be doing bent over rows, T bar rows or cable rows for now but in the future he said he would show me how to modify these exercises.  He showed me how to do dumb bell rows with feet spread wide and leaning with one hand on a steady surface so I was supported like a tripod.  Franco said that developing the lats with pull ups, pull downs and rows was very important because they attach to the ribs and low into the pelvis.  Therefore they can act to stabilize the back without flattening it like stiff legged deadlifts tend to do.  He also thought stiff legged deadlifts were a terrible exercise by the way and said he had never done them.

I felt the most useful thing Franco showed me was how to squat correctly for my body type.  Because I am quite tall he placed a two by four under my heels with a slightly narrower than shoulder width stance.  I had read about this before in Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding but I had never tried it.  The difference it made in terms of posture, depth and lack of pressure on my lower back was amazing.  I have never been able to perform free squats because I felt I was going to tip forward or round my lower back, plus I couldn’t get deep enough.  I’ve also never been able to squat even on a smith machine without a lot of pressure on my lower back.  He suggested I start off with two sets of twenty reps and work up from there.  I think I will incorporate these into my leg workouts and see how they feel.

I don’t think I could give up seated shoulder presses just yet because they are such a great mass builder for the shoulders and I love doing them.  I will probably throw in some seated cable rows now and then because I haven’t had trouble with them either and I already have modified them compared to the way they are usually done.  I will however take up his home exercises and continue to avoid the other bent over exercises he mentioned.  I also now have even more reason to work on my lats extra hard.

After the consultation Franco was kind enough to sign my Gold’s tank top and take a photograph with me.  It was a pleasure and a great honour to meet such a legend of the sport!

Later that evening after a detour to Santa Monica for a few hours I was picked up as planned by Bill Swanson at 6 pm.  I had met Bill the previous week at the gym the week before and he had invited me to join his wife Jan and him for dinner before I left to go back to Australia.  Both of them were very nice people, showing me a tour of their house (including a bed built by Dave Draper with timber salvaged from the Original Santa Monica Pier) and providing a delicious barbeque steak, green beans, rice and salad for dinner as well as pie for desert. Yum!

Bill is a retired doctor and Jan is a retired nurse.  Their children are all grown up and they are enjoying themselves live in California.  During the Winter they have a Holiday home they often spend time visiting.

Bill trained at the original Gold’s Gym, joining in 1963 and was good friends with Arnold, Franco, Dave Draper and the like.  We talked so much about the history of Gold’s and bodybuilding in the 60s and 70s that there is more information than I can share in a single article.  But here are some interesting facts about that time:

·    Venice beach was initially not a desirable place to live at all.
·    The original muscle beach was closed down by the city of Santa Monica because of the sexual freedom that it was encouraging.
·    Joe Gold started his gym with the aim of creating a place for bodybuilders to train because in those days the gyms were not well enough equipped for Bodybuilders, well at least in Santa Monica.
·    Bill started training at Gold’s Gym in 1963.  In those days you had to be invited to join the gym. He was member number 16 and he joined with Dave Draper who was member number 15.  Bill knew Joe Gold previously because of his capacity as a medical professional.  For the first two years they trained fee free because the gym was not finished yet.
·    Joe Gold personally built all the equipment that went into his gym (except the free weights such as dumb bells)
·    There were some strict rules that everyone had to adhere to and were enforced by Joe Gold.  There was no music in the gym. Everyone had to re rack the weights when finished.  No loud screaming was allowed during exercise.  Nobody was permitted to drop the weights on the floor. No women were permitted to train in the gym.
·    Joe Gold sold Gold’s gym after a while and the new owner kind of ruined it by painting it strange colours.  Later on Joe Gold missed his gym and created World Gym and called it “World Gym - Joe Gold Owner”.  Gold’s forced Joe to remove his name from the title because he had promised he would not create any new gyms under his name.
·    Arnold Schwarzenegger was somebody who was so focused and determined to achieve his goals that he didn’t let anything or anyone stand in his way.  He had a quality about him that just commanded attention and it something that is not seen very often.
·    People would come in to Gold’s from different parts of America and try to prove themselves to the regulars by lifting weights that were too heavy for them.  Arnold had a saying about these people with too much ego “After you leave the gym, nobody knows how much weight you can lift but everyone knows what you look like!”.  This reminds me of something Will Harris said to me “let me know when the judges ask how much you can squat when you are on stage”.
·    Commonly you find a group of bodybuilders eating together at the firehouse restaurant after training: there was Bill Swanson, Arnold – the centre of attention, Franco – quiet and didn’t say much, Dave Draper – also a fairly quiet guy and Frank Zane – a sharp, intelligent fellow.

After a few hours of talking it was getting late so it was time to call it a night.  I would like to thank Bill and Jan kindly for their hospitality.  It was a pleasure to be invited in to their home and hear so many wonderful stories about bodybuilding, themselves and their family.

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