Training for Mr. Olympia 1975-79


Most of what I learned from my peers was imparted to me over a 20-year period and I’m still contemplating these experiences, they really color my past, it’s fun to relive them. Sure, I had regrets, one of them was not making myself available for the filming of Pumping Iron and being in better shape for the 1975 Olympia. But things were just too unsettled, we’d moved from our apartment in Santa Monica to a condo on Venice beach and it was a horrible experience. I hurt my lower back moving and then came the 1975 Olympia and I couldn’t pass it up even though I should have.

When I saw the television coverage of the event some months later, I was embarrassed and remember going bowling immediately after with Christine and killing many pins. Still depressed, time turned into January 1976 when Arnold asked me to pose with him and Ed Corney at the Whitney Museum. So, I trained for a month, got in the best shape I could after a 3-month layoff and posed. The place was packed with the artistic elite, and it fueled my desire to get in shape for the 1976 Olympia. Seeing the Stallone Rocky movie, watching the Montreal Olympics at night added fuel to the flames. Arnold had retired and there was a good chance I could win, just had to beat Colombu.

My training conditions had improved, we’d moved into an ocean view condominium in Santa Monica, and I trained like never before, getting in such good shape that those who saw me at the show couldn’t believe the transformation. Working out 6 days a week, I did back and forearms on Mondays and Thursdays, legs on Tuesdays and Fridays and chest and shoulders on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Two afternoons a week I did arm work on my Patio using only one dumbbell: seated DB curl, DB concentration curl, DB triceps extension, DB kickback 5 sets of each exercise. Late afternoons I’d run two miles in the
park overlooking the ocean across from our condo. It was one of my best years ever for condition, but Colombu won by a narrow margin. Afterwards I analyzed why and eventually realized that my presentation was too stoic, my body looked amazing, but my facial expression was too serious and made the audience hold back applause. In contrast to Colombu, in muscular shape, smiling and having a good time on stage. That was it. I learned how to win with my face. It would come in handy in 1977. Colombu had a bad accident which forced him into retirement so all I had to do was get in great shape again and I could win, I thought, if I could beat Robby Robinson who was in great shape.

So, in 1977 I became unencumbered from teaching high school mathematics and became a fulltime professional bodybuilder for the first time, after I had won the Olympia. I had strong intention to win it that year, resolving to think and talk only positive about my upcoming success. Winning the first time was the toughest because I couldn’t say I’m Mr. Olympia because I wasn’t yet, only in my mind and in my dreams. I had to make my dream strong enough so that it became everyone else’s reality. I didn’t let thoughts of other competitors enter my mind because I’d taken a vow to say my mantra one million times that year. This breaks down to 3000 times each day. This was especially helpful right before the competition because when I was saying mantra all the time, I wasn’t worried, negativity and doubt had been crowded out.

A month before the 77 O, Rick Wayne, former competitive bodybuilder and editor of Muscle and Fitness magazine, asked me in front of a large audience of several thousand “What do you think your chances are in the Mr. Olympia this year?” I replied “There is no chance involved. It is my intention to win.” After I won it the first time when asked a question like this I’d simply say, “I am Mr. Olympia”. I told the truth. My word had become law as my dream became concrete reality.This kind of attitude helped me believe in myself, I guarded by mind contents closely never allowing myself to doubt my winning nor to let others discourage me from thinking I was the best. I didn’t have to worry about Christine invalidating me. She never told me I wasn’t good enough, but she never gave me compliments about my physique either. She let the photos we took every weekend in preparation for the competitions do the talking. It was only after I won that I received the great compliment and because of being treated this way my prime objective in training was to please her. She knew what she was doing and still does.

My problem that year 1977 was that I took things too literally and was a bit superstitious. In a way it kept the door open for synchronicity but on the other hand it was a kind of magical thinking. One day Christine said to me at the beginning of 1977 “How come you don’t get parts in movies like Arnold or Lou Ferrigno?” We’d been living in our new ocean view condominium in Santa Monica for a little over a year and training conditions couldn’t be better. “I always wonder the same thing; I think I have more of the look movie makers would be after”. As I said this with my head full of myself, the phone rang. It was a
producer who wanted me to play the leading role in an action-adventure film. “This must be synchronicity” I said to myself. So, I spent the weekends filming and trained hard during the week at the newly erected World Gym on Main Street in Santa Monica. Nothing about making that movie was professional and I was glad when it was over one month before the competition. I focused on my workouts, trained hard, was very confident, and won. The following year the film makers wanted me to finish up the film, but I turned it down, I was after the 1978 Olympia and wouldn’t let anything stand in my way.
We had acquired a ‘weekend sunbathing house’ in Palm Springs that I’d equipped with a leg extension, leg curl, 4 sets of dumbbells and an adjustable. Not getting results from the leg extension machine at World Gym, I didn’t work legs during the week but on weekends did 10 sets of leg extensions and leg curls on my Nautilus leg extension/curl. I was more muscular in 1978 than 77 and won in a close contest. I’d planned on retiring after two Olympias, but some powerlifting friends convinced me to enter with 13 weeks to go before the 1979 competition.

1979 Mr. Olympia was my greatest win ever. A combination of size at 195 pounds, incredible definition and a back beyond belief presented with perfect posing made winning a sure thing and I knew it. No doubt in my mind I would win. I had already won, and it wasn’t difficult to convince myself. I was the best. I just kept practicing and practicing the last month training relentlessly and taking photos. After winning two years straight I was ready to retire but some power lifting friends coaxed me into it. Not that it took much coaxing. I was ready to do it since I felt I hadn’t reached my absolute best. I vowed to do everything possible in my preparation. My first vow was to say my mantra all the time, as much as possible, waking up in the morning saying it, falling asleep at night saying it, having a dream saying it, there was not room for worry or doubt. When a task came up which was rote behavior most of the time, I would perform the task while saying it. Working out is a redundant task, done according to a routine, no need to think about it, let the body do what it was now skilled from many years of repetition & say mantra while counting reps.

5 months prior to the competition Christine and I would drive to Gold’s Gym at night right before closing time. They locked the door and let us train until 11 pm when we’d let ourselves out. We just lived a mile from the Santa Monica location at 3rd and Broadway, the first new location of Gold’s Gym in a large rundown building opening on what’s now the promenade at 3rd St. It was great, there was all the equipment Joe Gold had built and some new machines. We trained three days in a row and rested the 4th day, doing back, biceps, forearms one day, legs the next, and chest, shoulders, and triceps the third day. We’d work abs every day at the end of each workout. We were getting stronger; I’d done 11 reps in the bench press with 310 and Christine dead lifted 270 pounds two reps. We trained together this way right up until one month before the competition.