Thursday, September 8, 2011

Interview with Dave Draper

“The Blonde Bomber” has been an inspiration to all of those that remember the old iron scene. He was known as a Californian bodybuilder, but he was actually born in New Jersey. At a time when bodybuilding was trying to find a home in America, the blonde locks of this hulk solidified him in “Cauli-forn-ya” with good cause. Dave Draper was to become a legend among other legends. As history’s early discovers are remembered like Louis & Clark and Magellan, so are the Iron handlers of yester-year. Dave was one of these legends that brought forth the iron game to people like me and you today. I am sure back then, they had no idea what type of influence they would have on the rest of the industry. Back then, I am sure they were a gang of muscle—simply meeting to exchange grunts, jokes, and support—and of course reap the rewards of their hard work.

Personally, I love the old vintage bodybuilding images and videos of the 1960’s and 1970’s. It brings me back to a place when things were simple and everyone shared a common goal. It was a time before cardio theater and indoor cycling classes and sound systems playing overhead. It was a time when fans covered the corners of the gym, dirty towels littered the floor, and grunts were heard endlessly. There was no alarm to push if your partner was lifting heavy or AED boxes on the nearby walls. This was strictly iron and if you were in, then you were in all the way.
 Nowadays, well…things have changed and in order to find out how we got to where we are now, I had to find out where we came from. Dave and his wife run a very successful website:, which attracts many great members—just really good people from all walks of life that share the common goal of self betterment. As a fitness professional, I wanted to find out more about Dave’s perspective over the last few years and what his thoughts are on several different issues facing the bodybuilding scene, general health, and controlling injuries (notice I didn’t say preventing).

John: “Thank you for taking the time out to share some of your thoughts and experience with me. Your contribution to this industry and the many exercisers that make it up is un-measurable and unequivocal. As a professional, the best way for me to help someone reach a destination or goal, is by understanding where they came from. The fitness industry seems to be the same thing. I want to understand how this industry has changed in order to foresee where I can apply my strengths to make it better for the future. Your insight is important in enlightening my readers on the changes you have seen both as a competitor, business owner, and professional. As we age, that "general health improvement" shifts more towards injury prevention. Do you agree with that statement and if so, when did it hit you that "man, injuries suck"?

D. Draper: I gather what you are saying is that sustaining an injury interrupts training progress (“general health improvement"), a person is more susceptible to injury as he or she ages and greater precautions must be taken to avoid trauma or overload. I agree. However, more than a few competitive athletes insist on training around, through and over an injury despite pain, limitations and increasing damage. Try stopping a raging river.

Ultimately, getting bigger, stronger, faster and more talented shifts beyond injury avoidance to hanging on any way one can. Age grabs hold and the grip tightens. Whether one is a sport competitor or regular working citizen, general health is often sacrificed every day by most everyone: wrong foods, long hours, too much exercise, too little, and then there’s daily living, its stress and dangers.

The course we follow for a long and quality-filled life is circuitous, and guided by instinct and commonsense, actions and reactions... And, if we’re lucky, by the hand of someone like you and your readers. A little knowledge, understanding and care go a long way.

Part two of question A: I think I was 12, the first time I dropped a 25-pound dumbbell on my foot.

The other time was when I fell running full speed down a wooded hillside – I was a 35-year-old child at the time – and broke my right collar bone and permanently disconnected my supraspinatus (gone) and biceps insertion of the same side. I taught myself an entirely new training methodology – don’t ask me to describe it – based on movement re-invention.

Everyone is different, inside and out. Some would have wisely moved on to jogging and a sedentary career. And you’ll come across those who will insist on pushing it in spite of the writing on the wall.

John: “Dave, you've trained with the best. You have been in the best gyms in the country. What things have you seen change in the last 30-40 years in the standard fitness facility?”

D. Draper: There are about eleven gazillion more gyms today than in 1965 and each with almost that much square footage and machinery, particularly of the aerobic variety. The fancier and more high-tech the gyms are, the less they appeal to me and those of my engagement level and generation. Entertainment is in the air, commerce is the bottom line and mankind’s heart and soul are lacking.

Machines isolate muscles. They remove them from their family and interaction, and the result is a lonely, dysfunctional muscle, lacking strong connections and natural utility. Eventually these less-than-well-rounded muscles complain causing the whole body to groan.

Certain machines have their worth when injury limits the trainee’s range of motion or stability. I appreciate the Smith Press and plate-loaded dipping machine, for example. As the business has grown, so has the excess – fitness facilities, equipment manufacturers, silly varieties of muscle-specific equipment and aerobic gadgetry and gear

The iron and the cables rule the gym floor. Barbells and dumbbells, benches and racks and cables of various heights and directions do the healthiest, biggest and best musclebuilding for the tough athlete or the Joe-Jane fitness seeker.

Of course, attention to joint mobility– hip, pelvis, shoulder, ankle, thoracic spine -- and variations of range and muscle recruitment is vitally important, slow to develop, too often forgotten. Here’s where a savvy personal trainer is particularly valuable.

John: “Through the years, many different ideologies have spurted out as to how one should exercise for maximum benefit (i.e.: heart rate training, super setting, pre-exhaust, cardio before, cardio after strength, etc, etc). However, one constant is beginning to gain popularity is lift heavy to gain muscle & lose fat. Do you agree with this and do you agree that if one lifts heavy to become stronger or perform better, the physique will follow?”

D. Draper: Bodybuilding – muscle building -- is not a complicated procedure, but it’s not quite as simple as lift heavy and the physique will follow.
 Some thoughts: You know well there are the challenges of the time involved (years, forever and always), and the discipline and perseverance, the nutrition, the physiology and psychology. And there’s the search, the hunt, the devoted muscle- and might-builder undertakes to discover the best methodologies for him or her. That’s the enthralling journey, love it and hate it, which teaches, tests, excites and takes the lifter where he’s going.

An aspiring muscle head is compelled to take the various forks in the road going this way and that, each promising magnificent development. How can he say no to 30 pounds of muscle in 30 days? After enough forks and travel, commonsense, instinct and understanding kick in and the way becomes clear. The tricks evaporate, the lies expose the truth, inefficient shifting reveals iron-hoisting efficiency and who one is in relation to weight training becomes evident.

Few lifters find their training groove or mojo in 30 days and stick to it for life.

I advise anyone who’ll listen to focus on the basics, lift with sensible intensity (this side of injury and overtraining) and implement moderate to heavy weights with volume in mind. Single set training works well, but I prefer 75% of my workouts be comprised of super setting same or opposing muscle groups. I believe it’s advantageous to throw in three or four power-accented workouts a month, assuming one is training some 20 days in that period. These should be based on urge, not according to schedule. Let the beast roam.

The best of both worlds is achieved: Powerlifting for mass and strength and the fulfillment of maximum exertion, and moderate-weight workouts to more effectively achieve muscle shape, density and definition. Bodybuilding workouts enable the lifter to move without long pauses, to move with flow and rhythm. They provide greater tissue engagement, more consistent muscle exertion (overload), and amplified nutrient-rich blood surge, important factors to hypertrophy.

High reps and lighter weight combined with low reps and heavier weight (ascending weight, descending reps) is my favorite workout scheme.

Too much math and bookkeeping, formulas and percentages, I find, get in the way of pure weight lifting and muscle making. Reserve room for fun.

John: “Since my shoulder surgery, I have omitted some favorite exercises in my repertoire including upright rows and behind the neck presses. Today I advocate modifying and finding alternatives to these movements (and numerous others). What are some exercises that you had to give up or have modified over the years?”

D. Draper: Presses, curls, squats and deadlifts to name a few. In the beginning I performed the exercises any way I could. I learned and did the exercises the right way. I then matured, became a pro, and did the exercises with finesse and exuberance.

The exercises became movements customized to fill my needs and desires, my goals. Then I aged and am back to doing the exercises any way I can.

Lately, I find I learn a new movement and training scheme every workout.

John: “Looking back on your training days, when you lifted in groups or with training partners, were their times you lifted with an injury (and just didn't let anyone know) about it in an effort to keep pace? Today, do you prefer to workout with a partner or alone? Does either have its strengths/weaknesses?”

D. Draper: I lifted with valuable training partners in the formative Muscle Beach Dungeon years (’63 & ‘66) and it was a blast. We pushed and encouraged each other and shared each other’s aches, pains and wounds. Mid-level injuries visited us like bad company. We were honest. We never thought of concealing injuries; they’re often the most astute instructors. That doesn’t mean we complained... much.

I’ve trained alone for the past 20 years cuz I’m cranky and always complaining about my injuries... Just kidding! I train alone to eliminate as many external variables as possible. Me, myself and I can be a crowd sometimes. We’re a very selfish mob.
Partner training in our busy world is a difficult arrangement. Meeting someone at the same time at the same place, ready to go, day after day is no longer feasible. And there’s no room for changes when you’re ready to go and you’re serious. My training is serious, even when I’m laughing. Of course, my training is a laugh, even when I’m serious.

A good partner can lift his partner up and over the top, and teach him as he learns from him. There’s blood in them there reps.

John: “Lastly, what do you think is the single most barrier keeping people from reaching their goals in gyms across America?”

D. Draper: What goals: fitness, strength and health, sharp shape, 400-pound bench, 21-inch guns, a date with the blond on the Stairmaster? Let’s go with basic physical fitness: They don’t get it, the essential value of strength and health to life and everyday living.

Let me compare my extended list of obstacles with yours:

Time, money, willingness to sacrifice, underestimating the importance of exercise and fitness, mis-estimating their potential (over or under), lack of character – discipline, patience, perseverance, faith – and failing to let them grow and develop by the very act they are about to abandon, lack of the very basic exercise education and encouragement needed to proceed day-by-day with diligence and enthusiasm, lack of spirit, courage and wisdom.

There are too many distractions, life is complex, bad habits take hold quickly and too often Mom, Dad and the schools provide misdirection or no direction. They don't understand.

Maybe it’s the glitz or the aerobic machines or the parking shortage or the bullies or hotties or hard work; too cold, too hot, too heavy. Maybe its laziness, ignorance or apathy.

Of course, I can’t sing, dance or operate a computer or navigate an aircraft carrier... I don’t have to, I’m not interested, they’re beyond me... [END]


Post a Comment

Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting!