Dave Draper

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Answers to common weight training questions
Updated: 2 hours 54 min ago

Benching at age 54

April 18, 2017 - 16:35

Dave, I’m 54 and recently benched 360. Everything seems to be going well, but I’m concerned after hearing all the shoulder horror stories. Do you think benching is safe as we get a little older?

You’re healthy and strong, benching 360 at 54, a very positive sign. Be grateful, enjoy and also, be wise.

I have had my share of training injuries and accidents outside the gym that limit me in pressing. Pulling was not so bad over the years, and the legs and back were just dandy.

Shoulders, I have observed, take the greatest beating and present the most problems to the athlete, lifters often leading the line to the surgeon’s office. Take your own survey. I did at 30 different seminars during a book tour about 15 years ago, and all agreed that indiscriminate bench pressing was the bad guy.

The specific culprit is the arduous training in which one engages for maximum poundage in the bench press. The bench is a mechanical nightmare for the body, presenting dangerous resistance in the rotator cuff. Going heavy and rearranging a body while under the load, insisting upon gaining an advantage as we struggle with the reps can cause trouble — trouble not always detected during the brief frenzy of the lift.

All I say is be aware. Hard to take the madness away from the man. Suggestion: Use the bench for the exercise only. Dumbbells are fascinating, safer and a better muscle builder. I know you don’t want to hear that.

God’s speed and strength… DD

Ralph Kroger

April 18, 2017 - 16:31

Do you know Ralph Kroger? Whatever happened to him?

I knew Ralph slightly. He was on a cover of Ironman in the early 60s, a ruggedly built Olympic lifter who won California bodybuilding contests and eventually the Mr. America in the later 60s. He owned a small, well-reputed gym in Oceanside (near San Diego) almost right on the beach when I first moved to California in 1963. He eventually moved back to his old stomping grounds in Cherokee, Indiana, and built another gym there years ago. Last I heard, he sold it and retired a few years ago.

Ralph is good man who I always thought to be five years older than me. Once in his California neighborhood only months after I arrived, there was a bodybuilding show at the high school. Jack Lalanne was the emcee, George Eiferman blew his trumpet for the audience while lifting a shapely girl over his head and I came on as the guest poser straight from New Jersey. Ralph warmed up the crowd with a mighty Olympic lifting demonstration.

Another time we walked down Times Square as the evening lights came on. He confessed to being nervous about the competition only hours away. I suggested he try an old trick I learned from Freddie Ortiz: Keep a half-pint of rum in your gym bag and drink it while pumping up backstage before the show. He won that night.

Figures he would have a great gym stashed away in the middle of the country.

Carry on… Dave

Injured at 18

April 18, 2017 - 16:26

I’m 18 and a hard trainer. I have recently hurt my shoulder and am presently doing rehab for it. I was wondering what you think is the single best exercise for gaining pure mass for an amateur such as myself. I have knees that sometimes give me problems and I have a hard time squatting.

Slow down and let your joint, tendon and ligament strength catch up with your muscle strength and ambition. Conditioning for the heavy workouts is imperative to training longevity and health.

Watch those bench presses when seeking mass and power, as they will invariably cause shoulder problems. Strengthen and prepare the knees for squats, do heavy dumbbell inclines, barbell cleans and presses, standing barbell curls and deadlifts.

Eat that protein from red meat.

God’s strength… DD

How did you first get into this?

April 16, 2017 - 13:00

How did you first get interested in bodybuilding and at what age?

I remember a set of beat-up dumbbells lying on the sidewalk in front of my house in Secaucus, New Jersey. I was less than 10 years old and I had just purchased the weights for five dollars from a guy up the street. No one else was interested at the time and I cannot recall the incident that prompted my curious investment.

Simply, I wanted to be strong like a man. Everyone around me seemed bigger, older and in more control. I wanted to be, at least, more important than I was — more significant. Not a bad choice of forks in the road.

I don’t think a lot has changed. To be more effective has remained an incentive, along with a barrel of other gained benefits I try to explain to the uninitiated.


Progress is slow

April 16, 2017 - 12:59

My progress is slow. It seems like nothing is happening and the sticking points are driving me crazy. Does this happen to you and what do you do about it?

Trust, press on toward your remarkable goal and put in your time with renewed enthusiasm, because it’s happening, bomber, and it happens no other way.

Consider how far you’ve come and imagine — visualize with certainty — where you want to go. The only thing that stands in your way is time and doubt. Time will pass, but doubt must be removed.

What you need to correct or alter in menu or exercise arrangement, attitude or workout intensity, you will surely attend to along the way. Today’s questions are tomorrow’s answers. Mistakes and injuries are the instructors.

Be strong, keep your sense of humor, stay alert, be positive and hopeful, drink your protein shakes, be nice to your neighbor, squat, of course, and don’t ruin your shoulders with heavy bench pressing.

As far as it is possible, allow no unsightly gaps to develop in your eating scheme or your training thrust; they have a way of growing out of control and they are unbearable.

Be aware and beware.

brother dave

Summing up Arnold

April 16, 2017 - 12:59

If you were thinking of a way to sum up Arnold in a few sentences, what would it be?

Arnold was born to lead. His inherent perception and achieved muscular size and early fame fostered a bold, often brazen, attitude and behavior. He has persevered year after year and never wavered. These attributes blended with intelligence and wit, sensitivity and ambition leave no room for following or second place.


Results not fast enough

April 9, 2017 - 17:17

I have been training for almost a year and want to enter a bodybuilding contest this summer, but I’m not seeing fast enough results. What kind of exercises do you recommend? I’m 14 years old.

Fast results? Welcome to the club.

My advice is to train with high hopes and strong purpose and for fun. If that includes competing at 14, fine. The fact is this muscle-building sport takes years and years of hard work and proper eating, and there is no magic. Some months go by and, though healthy things are happening, one sees little or no progress at all.

Do not be discouraged, young bomber; you’re way ahead of the mob if you stick with it and be strong on the inside. It takes guts to lift weights, now and for good.

Training for a contest interrupts the healthy cycles of muscle growth as one tends to become highly stressed, eats less as he seeks cuts and trains too hard as he looks for quick growth. These conditions are adverse to building muscle, creating a catabolic environment whereby muscle tissue is sacrificed. Further, muscle-building time is lost and logical, free thinking is frustrated.

What’s the rush? Take your time, be smart and enjoy the action. You’ll be bigger and better by next year and the year after than if you train for competition now.

Whatever you do, perform four sets (x 6 to 12 reps) of squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, standing barbell curls, dumbbell incline presses, medium-grip bench presses, bar or dumbbell rows, stiff-arm dumbbell pullovers, chair dips and wide-grip chin-ups once or twice a week in an agreeable three-day routine. These are the best exercises for sound muscle growth. There are many exercises you’ll enjoy and employ over time, but these are the kings.

Example: Short workouts to prevent physical and mental overload while preparing a sound foundation for future routine advancements.

Day 1) midsection, deadlift, medium-grip bench press, wide-grip chin, pullover

Day 2) midsection, squat, calf-raises, barbell curl, chair dip

Day 3) midsection, overhead press, barbell row, close-grip chin, light pullovers

Jog or practice sprints for 10-15 minutes on off days

Eat regularly throughout the day: lots of protein (meat, fish and poultry, milk, eggs, cottage cheese) and no sugary junk food and fruit and vegetables and drink a lot of water. Don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t do drugs.

Train hard, don’t miss, be happy and positive. You’re on your way.

Blond Bomber?

April 9, 2017 - 17:14

Where did you get the nickname Blond Bomber?

Dick Tyler, a friend, co-worker and writer for Joe Weider’s Muscle and Fitness magazine gave flare and affection to his popular articles by creatively naming the champions and describing their not-so-everyday activities with tongue-in-cheek humor. Dick anointed me the Blond Bomber in the mid ’60s for my training fervor. As I began writing for our newsletter audience in early 1999, I started using twists of the ‘bombing and blasting’ theme and people seemed to enjoy the wordplay, so it stuck…again.

Dick’s work is featured in the book West Coast Bodybuilding Scene.


Diet plan moving into age 40

April 9, 2017 - 17:11

I’m just turning 40, have been training for about 10 years. Into your 40s, what diet plan did you follow to get lean? Three days of tuna, then what?

My diet’s been pretty much the same for the past 50 or so years, high in protein from all sources, medium fat and carbohydrate — more or less all of them depending on desired bodyweight and training goals. From mid-40s on I became more strict in eating habits to match growing disciplines and appreciation for them, never getting too far from being in decent shape.

From tuna and water to tuna and salads and Bomber Blend and water. Soon enough, lean red meat and salads (limited fruit) augmented by BB and tuna and poultry. Low fat milk products (cottage cheese, milk) and eggs would come into the picture in limited supply as time went by, depending on body response. All of this eating was accompanied by sufficiently intense training.

Bomber Blend (in milk or water) has been a great bodyweight regulator, dependable to adjust my weight up or down without overloading my system or denying it ample musclebuilding protein and energy and fullness. These days, my milk choice is full fat instead of low fat, although due to allergy, I shouldn’t be using milk products at all.

Every day includes a cut vegetable salad with large shrimp cut into it. Too many years of tuna and water burned me out on the stuff. Sardines, also no more after decades.


Wear out or rust out?

April 1, 2017 - 16:45

Your last article on aging pinched several nerves…I have concluded that I would rather wear out than rust out. I’ve read the consensus view that muscle gains stop at around 60 and heard you agreed with that. Is that true and do you have a suggestion as to how to deal with that?

I’d take this nerve pinching as a good sign this time. When we’re numb all over, perhaps we’ll quit… but, then, I seriously doubt it.

I don’t recall saying one stops building muscle as we get older, period. If I did, I was undoubtedly referring to a developed bodybuilder who surely loses muscular sharpness when reaching about 60. I still noticed muscularity gains and mass gains in certain regions of my body after that age, but skin loses its tightness and tone, biceps and triceps diminish in mass (though improve in muscularity), joints invariably enlarge from years of stress and gravity’s pull is evident in a sag here and there.

Any exceptions to these conditions are indeed rare and genetic blessings.

I’ve been making adjustments for years and continue to day by day. I breech the aging matter slowly to satisfy all readers and keep us on the spirited edge. I say “blast it,” but it is a relative term I intend to explain as we all continue our good fight. I am in the process of indicating the need to slow down without saying so in those suffering words. I continue to, like old age, sneak up on the matter. It is, after all, a living, moving thing.

Carry on by God’s grace… Dave

Lose weight with stairclimbing

April 1, 2017 - 16:40

I’m trying to lose 30 pounds and would like to know if you recommend stairclimbing for that.

Aggressive stairclimbing work, including lots of slow and ponderous reps, can be of real value for leg health and overall weight reduction and toning. Be aware of the knees and overload… the stairs can be a problem.

Dropping 30 pounds will rid you of fat (yes) and muscle too (nuts). Take your time, keep the meals frequent, small and high in protein (fish, red meat, poultry, some eggs and milk products), plenty of salads and vegetables, some fruit and lots of water.

I’d also like to see you doing some weight training in addition to the stair. Choose four or five exercises (dumbbell inclines, pulldowns, bar curls and light-weight deadlifts combine well) and do 4 sets x 10 reps twice a week. Keep the body alive.

Don’t expect the stairclimbing to be the miracle worker. More than 20 minutes at a clip a few times a week is exhausting, bordering on burnout and sufficient. Keep the protein high, the sugar low, cut the aerobic down where and when it’s “too much,” annoying or irritable. Add a protein powder to your menu for pre-workout and post-workout feedings or breakfast or inconvenient feeding times to assure consistent anabolic environment and energy.

Be wise. This is important stuff. Doing stairs only will become history in a short time.

God’s speed… Dave

Motorcycle accident

April 1, 2017 - 16:37

Until a year ago, I was a competitive bodybuilder, but was involved in a motorcycle accident, which screwed up my right leg and also broke my ulnar in my right forearm. If it wasn’t for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I would either be paralized or dead. I give him all the glory for the progress I have made so far.

There’s really no other place to go after a tough time like that.

The injuries and accidents and illnesses and failures and mistakes are supposed to make us stronger and wiser, but they tend to make us miserable heaps instead. Doesn’t take much to turn me into a growling mal-tempered bear or a meek lamb whining in the thicket. I always pull it together by the grace of God and a little help from my friends. I don’t remember ever pulling anything together without the gym and the weights and the self-confrontation.

I have a long list of injuries I am obliged to work around. As you begin making your way back into the gym, always warm up lightly. This will enable you to keep the workouts going and hopefully have therapeutic value.

Keep the prayers steady…forever.


Instinctive, freeflow training

March 25, 2017 - 19:45

Do you still train in a free or instinctive manner and if so, how would you suggest others with training time under our belts follow our own instinctive hearts?

Early on, during the Dungeon years of ’63, ’64, ’65 and ’66, my training was in various stages of discovery, changing and growing yet stable and programmed. I knew what I was going to do day after day, week after week and worked in 8-week cycles (on average) before changing exercises, combinations, set and rep schemes to suit my needs or goals — gain weight, harden up, power and mass, injury repair, break plateaus.

Those advanced years added to my former intermediate years gave me a good grip on my understanding of training (body, diet and lifting), a decent amount of muscle and a spirit to train in a less defined way — a training method free of methodology.

Remember, too, that I was living in Venice, California, in the 60s amid a society captured by its struggle to be free. I bear the scars of the bondage.

Training was regular month after month; it was balanced throughout the week, but it changed day by day — muscle grouping, exercise combinations, more variety and experimenting, trimmer weight, faster pace, moderate working poundages, gained tensile strength and more muscularity, missed reps were not devastating, non-stop yet thoughtful, pump, burn, push, push, push… 90 minutes done… bye bye now, gotta go carve some wood.

This worked very well for a long, long time. Reminder… I had accomplished a level and savvy that permitted this instinctive reveling, for me the next best phase to continue my musclebuilding action. I grew to love it instead of behaving obediently according to its precepts.

As I describe my style in the later years, it always had about 75% vague regimen and 25% wander… zero percent wasted time. Workouts for many years ranged in the 90 to 120-minute bracket (which I now know is way too much for health, even though it worked well for that level of bodybuilding), plus mid-section four maybe five days a week, muscle groups twice a week.

The full spectrum of exercises were always used, five sets of some variation of 15,12, 10, 8, 6 of whatever I chose, with power workouts every two or three weeks. I could always pull and squat (not for money), but my pressing most of those years was retarded… you know, it’s the elbow or hand or something. Felt like a horse, albeit, roaming God’s fresh pastures.

Happy trails. Dave

Charlie Hodge and being on tour with Elvis

March 25, 2017 - 19:36

In your adventures on tour with Elvis, did you ever get to meet Charlie Hodge? If I’m not mistaken, he’s still working on the Elvis Tribute show at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee… still playing for Elvis!

I remember the brotherhood that existed between Elvis, his band and his entourage. He had a wall of carefully acquired companions who would die for him and I remember Charlie Hodge. I met everybody at one time or another and interacted as you do when pressed together in a raging traveling entertainment factory.

I loved the concerts and the hysteria. They swept away all the madness of their preparation. I spent two days at Graceland with the crew filming and interviewing Elvis’ mild-mannered Dad (who attended every concert) and staff and neighbors. Does everybody do stuff they wish they could do over again so they can get it right or at least be there? Helloo ~~ dave

Precontest carbing up

March 25, 2017 - 19:31

I heard you wrote that while you were backstage at a contest you were pumping up, oiling up, and “carbing up.” Although “carbing up” sounds pretty self-explanatory, what exactly does it mean and what does it do?

The “carbing up” I would have been referring to when depicting my backstage experience was the simple process of restoring rapidly depleting blood sugar for brain and body energy. Tissue hydration for a carb-up would have been accomplished through the ingestion of simple carbs contributing to the complementary on-stage pump. Sugar amps the mood, body energy and pump. Look out below tomorrow morning, though.

Carbo loading as a pre-contest technique as it’s done these days is considerably more complex, varies with different bodies and chemistries, hormones and timing and protein-loading, carbo-depletion and muscle mass and maturity… that stuff… an answer for another time. Actually, there’s no outside answer to that one: It takes personal experimentation to see what works for each person.


50 pounds to lose

March 20, 2017 - 17:44

I’m a 50-year-old beginner who can’t seem to drop 50 pounds of bodyfat. I lift 3 days a week and do cardio daily. What do you think about low carb dieting? Will it work for me to drop that extra sludge and is it safe?

Low carb will do well for you (maybe include up to 75 grams of carbs). It seems to work especially well for people with a chunk like that to lose.

Continue your hard training… it’s the smartest move you’ve ever made and I say that even if you’re a medical doc or a pastor or an Indian chief.


Arnold vs Sergio

March 20, 2017 - 17:43

In an onstage battle between Arnold vs Sergio in 1970, who do you think should have won?

Isn’t that a tough question? Which wonder, The Taj Mahal or The Great Wall? What hour is best, sunrise or sunset?

I sit in the judge’s seat and say, “Which body would I like to have?” The answer is in the eye of the beholder, one of personal preference and, often times, a whim.

Sergio stood out with his unique proportions, awesome size and projection of sensational power.

Arnold, no less massive and symmetrical, ruled the stage with a presence no one can imagine, pretend or imitate.

I guess I’d like to have the body of Sergio, but, alas, I’m me.


A regular tuna and water thing

March 20, 2017 - 17:42

I did your tuna and water thing recently and it worked well. Is this something I can incorporate into my routine on a cyclic basis? If so, how often? Are there any issues or concerns I need to be aware of?

The tuna thing can be done regularly for a day or two or three with satisfaction, especially when fortified with some Metamucil for roughage, a high-quality vitamin-mineral supplement and two tablespoons of fish oil. You can extend it by adding salad ingredients and by adding chicken as a second protein source or Bomber Blend in water. Then bring on the red meat. Eggs work well too.

It’s a good plan for tidying up our acts.

Push that iron… and God’s speed… DD

Lee Haney

March 13, 2017 - 17:36

If Lee Haney were competing today and made the necessary dietary changes to achieve the new standards of definition, could he still be competitive?

My first thought is, “Silly question for adults to ask.”

Could George Washington, were he apprised of today’s world affairs, make a worthy president?

Give Lee an updated menu with the essential ingredients one might find in today’s massive bodybuilders and the stage would likely collapse. What a catastrophe! The strong will survive.


Program to lose weight and keep muscle

March 13, 2017 - 17:35

Please let me know how to lose weight and keep the muscle, split training or supersetting? Doing cardio first or on alternate days?

Dropping the fat and keeping the muscle requires time, hard training and a smart hi protein, lower fat and carb diet.

I don’t know your details, but supersetting is a great musclebuilding and muscularizing technique. Apply it where and when you are able and want.

I also split my routines, chest, shoulders and back on one day, arms the next for more muscle concentration.

I’d do cardio on off days, but go for HIIT style (more intense 12-15 minutes), rather than long duration low intensity (30 minutes and over).

Refer to Brother Iron for routines and reminders… Have fun… Dave