Hey Fat Boy!!

Slow down, your form is horrible and quit eating so much!

I love the saying that goes, “perception is reality.” I use it all the time. However true that may be, in bodybuilding, perspective is also reality – a harder, colder, crueler version of the  truth. The reason that's so is because in our world – especially in a Golds gym in the late 80s -  there's never a shortage of willing comparisons. In any given scenario, where two guys are training near each other in tank tops, there is an inevitable comparison going on in the mirror. Anyone who denies it is full of shit. One guy is looking at the other and neither thinks they're equal. Each will think they look either better or worse than the other, not the same. Not ever. Thats because there's no motivation in equality. In the gym, the guy who looks better wants to keep looking better and the guy who doesn't look as good is going to wan to improve. How much is a matter of the age old combination of a strict diet and training hard and training smart. Neither of which I was doing that well as a young buck when I first fell in with the inevitable eight-time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney. 

One of the nicknames I was given at the beginning of my career was “Fat Boy.” That’s what Lee Haney called me soon after we first met. I had just moved to California. Ed Connors – one of the original Gold's gym franchise owners -  recruited me to manage one of his Gold’s Gyms. The pay wasn’t great but he sweetened the deal by giving me a few points, so I had an equity stake in the gym. I wasn’t the only one for whom he did this. He liked to hire young guys who came to California to take their bodybuilding career to the next level, because he knew it would attract serious customers to Gold's Gym.. He wanted his gyms to be the place where serious lifting and training was taking place. I really didn’t have to attract anyone to the Gold’s Gym I managed. It was already full of major players. For example, the other manager was a man named Steve Borden. He would later go on to achieve great fame as the professional wrestler known as Sting.

That’s where I met Albert Beckles. He had a longer journey to arrive in California than I did. He was born in Barbados, but started his bodybuilding career in England. He came to the US to turn pro and in 1971 he won the IFBB Mr. Universe title. He set the record for most appearances in the Mr. Olympia contest. It’s hard to believe he was able to compete for that title thirteen times—he placed in the top five, six different times. He came in second to Lee Haney twice. That’s the kind of worker he was.

Ms Olympia, Cory Everson, worked out there, too. She was one of the first female bodybuilding superstars and won Ms. Olympia six years in a row. She got her start back in Madison, Wisconsin, where she was a multi-sport star for the Badgers. Jeff Everson, a great competitive bodybuilder, was her trainer and when the two got married and came to California, her career took off. 

Another Mr. Universe, Bertil Fox, also originally from the West Indies, trained there. So too a did a bunch of other top industry names - Tom Platz, “Dr Squat” Fred Hatfield,  Hulk Hogan, Lee Haney, James Brian Hellwig, better known to the wrestling world as the Ultimate Warrior. Rick Wayne was there. Born on the island of St. Lucia, he was a pop singer and a professional bodybuilder, but was also famous as a great writer, editor, and TV personality.  I could go on and on with a who’s who list that trained there -  I didn't even get into the Hollywood actors who showed up there.

In the midst of all that comes this 255-pound kid from New Jersey, named Rich Gaspari. If for  nothing else, I was admitted into the fold because, for my size – for any size, I was one strong dude. As part of my workouts, I would squat 775 pounds, bench 520 pounds, and do curls with 200 pounds on the bar. I was as  strong as anyone in there, but not necessarily impressive with my physique. I think I had 30 or 40 pounds of fat hanging on me. I was still eating a dozen eggs, drinking a gallon of milk, and downing a jar of peanut butter every day. I thought I had to bulk up as much as possible if I was going to have enough mass to compete against naturally larger competitors. So every time I competed, I had to starve myself to show any cuts. 

Somewhere in that hollowed, celebrity laden, gym I had somehow managed to get into a conversation with Lee Haney where how much we weighed came up. He said he weighed something like 260. I said that I also weighed 255 or 260, whatever it was, and Lee said, “yeah, but you're a fat boy!” In that booming, deep, unmistakable, southern voice of his that resonated through the ear drums of every single person in the gym – even if they were in the shower. From that moment on, until I did something about it, my nickname - bestowed upon me by who would become one of the greatest Mr. Olympias of all time - was “Fat Boy.”

But, Lee didn't just make fun of me. He took me under his wing and encouraged me to change everything about my training. He also got me to dramatically improve my diet. I cut out a lot of the fat. I started eating more often, with at least a little protein every meal. I had already suffered a number of injuries due to the amount of weight I was lifting. Lee got me to cut back and taught me that the muscle doesn’t know weight—only failure. You don’t have to bench more than 500 pounds to take your chest muscles to failure. My form was bad and I was jerking the weights to move them. He got me to slow down and squeeze the muscle on every rep. The results were immediate and dramatic.

He taught me to “stimulate—not annihilate” my muscles. I was always a hard worker, but my training strategy wasn’t focused on anything but using brute strength. Lee taught me to channel my limitless energy he (claimed I was foaming at the mouth when it was workout time) and my enthusiasm into great form. Not only did I achieve greater success earlier than anyone thought was possible, It was Jeff Everson who got rid of the nickname “Fat Boy” after my first Mr. Olympia. After that I became known as the “Dragon Slayer.”

So, work hard today, but slow down. Lower the weight and focus on your form. Squeeze every rep and get everything you can out of your workout. Your muscles will thank you!


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