Dave Draper

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Answers to common weight training questions
Updated: 39 min 21 sec ago

Decline bench question

May 16, 2017 - 17:30

I’ve been bench pressing for years and have been happy with the progress. However, lately there’s been no progress. What do you think of doing decline benches for awhile instead? Will that help my bench press progress?

Declines make a nice change of pace when the bench won’t go up or they no longer provide fulfillment. In declines you will usually find the strength is good, the torso demands stimulating and the tight triceps action attractive. These hot responses are a nice interlude.

However, declines as a regular focus exercise are not good. You never see underdeveloped lower pecs – overdevelopment is unappealing and trouble in the future of gravity.

I go for dumbbell inclines for delts and upper pecs. Smart move.


Young and need a nutrition plan

May 7, 2017 - 12:30

I started training with weights five months ago. I’m 15. I’m not sure if I’m making all the progress I should even though I try to stay positive. Can you give me a better menu and supplement list?

You live, learn and grow and I’d say you’re way ahead of the pack. Part of being positive is being patient and realistic. You are right to seek gains earnestly, but you will have to train with hopeful dedication, or frustration will take you down. Five months at 15 is commendable, but barely enough time to doubt your progress. Get used to a long haul and love it.

You need nothing more than natural whole foods high in protein, low in carbs (sugar) and medium in fat content. The protein from red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk products are your key musclebuilding foods. The carbohydrates should be gained from vegetables and salads and fruit, which also provide vitamins and minerals, enzymes and phyto nutrients. Carbs are also found in milk products. Have no fried foods, junk foods, pop and so forth.

To supplement the diet, add a high-quality vitamin and mineral. It is convenient and effective to add a top-notch protein powder (Bomber Blend, my choice) for breakfast, as a pre-workout meal or post-workout meal or at times when meals are not possible but needed.

Ideally, eat 4 -6 smaller meals regularly throughout the day rather than fewer meals for a more consistent supply of tissue building and energy supplying ingredients. Lots of water.

You’re well covered with the above nutritional info. One can argue you need more antioxidants or EFAs, but who has the $ or time or room?

There is a great deal of marketing hype — lies is another good word — in the magazines, online and on TV. Beware. Absolutely nothing else will significantly add to your health, strength or muscular growth than the wise and consistent application of the above simple facts.


Memory of Sharon Tate

May 7, 2017 - 12:30

There’s a great picture of you and Sharon Tate near a trampoline in the promo stills from “Don’t Make Waves.” What do you remember about that?

I think of Sharon often as pictures of her during our filming of “Don’t Make Waves” adorned the walls of our gym in Santa Cruz (and now on a wall at home), including the picture you’re referring to. The gym members were mesmerized.

She’s a star in the eyes of my heart not only because of her physical and internal beauty, but also for her earthy courage and daring spontaneity. We first met on location in Malibu when we were advised to practice a trampoline dismount for the next film sequence to begin promptly.

“Sharon, this is Dave. Dave, this is Sharon. Sharon, I want you to bounce on the tramp as high as you can and jump into the arms of Dave standing right here. He’s a sturdy fellow. Good.”

The instructions of Sandy McKendrick, cogent director, assuming magic.

We smiled, nodded, shook hands and she mounted the trampoline for the first time in her life, both of us revealing our shyness and willingness to please.

Any fear or doubts the sweet girl had turned into resolve. Sharon bounced with all her might and within five minutes was leaping through the air like a gazelle. I didn’t dare miss her.

We were smiles and laughter. First take, “Cut. That’s a wrap.”

I miss her now.

A star on Hollywood Boulevard bearing Sharon’s name would warm my heart. She has a special place there, indeed.


What makes us fat?

May 7, 2017 - 12:30

Dave, what really makes us fat? Is it too much carbs or too much saturated fat or what?

The answer to the question is not a mystery nor is it a duel between fats and carbohydrates. Man and woman, in his and her bewilderment, overeat and under-exercise. They eat far too much sugar and bad fats (grease, hydrogenated fat) and not enough protein and good fats (EFAs). They sit when they work, ride when they should walk, are idle when they could play and eat anything to pass the time away. These behaviors (misbehaviors) determine “what really make us fat.”

When will we ever get it right? Who will tell us? Who will listen?


Pyramiding sets

April 29, 2017 - 17:36

When you say to do sets of 12, 10, 8, 6, what do you mean? Like, what kind of weights is this?

Goes like this: with any exercise, start with a base weight that allows you to perform 12 sound reps.

To that weight add sufficient weight to allow 10 reps.

To that weight add weight again and perform 8 sound reps, and to that add weight again for 6 reps.

That’s one form of pyramiding, the form I used for decades. Interesting, productive.

Going up the rack on dumbbell work, lowering the reps with each increase in weight, or adding two and a half- or five-pound plates on the bench or squats or deadlifts. It’s a nice mix of power and reps once you manage the exercise and weight and rep scheme.

I chose 12 reps because it suits me. You make your own choice to suit you. Some people will go for more sets and pyramid back, lowering weight and increasing reps. I pass on this repping-out methodology.

See ya… God’s speed… Dave

Learning to pose

April 29, 2017 - 17:34

I’m going to do my first bodybuilding competition this summer, but don’t know how to pose. How did you learn?

Posing was not my forte and I don’t know of any comprehensive source to check out. Russ Testo was (and is) one of the best posers of all time, but his website seems to be down, so he may not be teaching any longer.

You might go to the newsstand and thumb through the tail-end of the monthly muscle mags where videos and courses of all sorts are listed and advertised. You might find what you need.

It all begins with picking out a handful of poses that attract you and practicing them over and over again with some continuity. Keep you favorite music possibilities in mind.

Like anything else, it’s difficult, awkward and unsatisfactory at first, but with practice you gain confidence and efficiency, you expand and grow. By then you’ll have successfully located direct information, guidance and feedback.

God’s speed… DD

Brick Darrow and Thorbecke’s Gym

April 29, 2017 - 17:29

I’m an old-time powerlifter, used to compete back in the old days. I remember you once visited Brick Darrow at Thorbecke’s Powerlifting Gym and wondered what you could tell us about that.

I met Brick back in 1980 when he was involved with Wayne Coleman, AKA Billy Graham Super Star, in the presentation of an impressive powerlifting championship in Phoenix. I was invited to participate in the judging and overall presentation. I kicked around with him and his gang at Thorbecke’s Gym for the days surrounding the event and we got to know each other as athletes do in their environment and amid the energetic atmosphere of competition.

I recall Thorbecke’s Gym to be one of no-frills and much spirit, and I’ll bet it’s still the same. If you arrived at the workplace at the right time, it was alive with buddies (girlfriends included) supporting one another as they lifted heavy weight and shared in their lives. We’ve got to hang onto these less-than-glitzy neighborhood shops where honest hard work is honored and muscle and might is built, rather than where the game and act of physical fitness is played…poorly. The chains and 20,000 square-foot showplaces remind me of — I’m not sure — casinos or shopping malls or downtown twelve-screen theaters. Win n’ lose, buy n’ sell, entertain me.

Several years later (1983-84) Brick offered me a place to stay when I was recovering from congestive heart failure. For three months I resided at his grandmother’s house in the extensive Phoenix area, put in some mild work hours at the gym and slowly re-righted my life. Our growing relationship with Jesus Christ became the common bond in our renewed friendship.

Today, though 40 years have past without communication, those friendships established under crunch, excitement and need live forever.

God’s speed… Dave Draper

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