Pumping Iron

In 1975, George Culp and Wes Brown, aspiring bodybuilders in their mid-20s, decided to take a road trip. You see, George and Wes lived in New London, North Carolina and, well, New London isn't exactly a body-transformation haven. In fact, in the mid-1970s, New London didn't even have a gym. Yet that wasn't going to stop them; George and Wes built their own modest gyms and trained at home.

So one day, toward the end of harvest season, Wes, a tobacco farmer at the time, called up his buddy George and told him to pack his bags.

Now, for those of you who don't know anything about "Gold's", Wes was referring to Gold's Gym, at the time the most well-known gym in perhaps all the world. Gold's Gym, located in Venice Beach, California, was owned and operated by Joe Gold and had become the place to train.

In fact, some of the top competitors of the time had moved to Venice just to train in what seemed to be the ultimate bodybuilding environment. Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbo, Robbie Robinson, Ed Corny, and many other bodybuilding greats could all be found training at Gold's, eating at one of the local restaurants, or lounging on Venice Beach. Talk about creating the right environment for success!

So, although George and Wes trained regularly, had developed pretty impressive physiques, and actually had both competed at the Mr. North Carolina bodybuilding contest, they both knew that if they really wanted to take their physiques to the next level, they would need to learn from and train with guys better and more experienced than themselves. So, at the end of the 1975 harvest, they traveled the 2500+ miles from New London to Venice Beach. They were determined to enlist the best in the world to take them to the next level.

Interestingly, although they only planned to stay in California for about 2 weeks, not only did they get to train with the best in the world, they ended up walking into Gold's Gym at the same time that George Butler and his crew were filming the classic bodybuilding flick Pumping Iron.

According to George Culp, "Until we got out there, we had no idea that Pumping Iron was being filmed. George Butler couldn't believe that two country boys from North Carolina came all the way across the country to train with Arnold. So they included us in a lot of scenes. Of course, many of our shots ended up on the cutting room floor. However, we did end up in two scenes. You may remember the one in which Arnold was teaching a smaller blonde guy how to pose."

Well, that blonde guy was Wes. And the guy with the moustache in the scene was George, standing along side and learning from the master.

Wes and George in a Pumping Iron Interview
Wes, Arnold, and George Learning How to Pose

Also, according to George; "Arnold and Ed Corny took us to lunch one day. It was so cool; it was myself, Wes, Arnold, Ed Corny, Robby Robinson, and Ken Waller. We all ate steak and eggs and Arnold told us he was going to retire from bodybuilding that year. It's funny; Arnold still calls us 'the stars of Pumping Iron'."

Now, 31 years later, George is 56 years old and is still Pumping Iron. And he's still training with the best. (Said with tongue in cheek; George worked with me and my Science Link team last year and still follows our principles today.)

George Culp (age 56) With A Powerful Build and A Wicked Farmer's Tan
Dr Berardi Scowling At The World - "Exercise More, Ya Varmints!"

Back in the 70's they got most of their training advice from word of mouth and from reading the old Iron Man magazine. The rest, they figured out themselves. Of course, after they got back from Venice Beach, they had a lot of great new information to try out.

"It was like a dream come true. Everyone was very nice to us and offered lots of help if we asked... Wes and I were both already 'committed' to training... Yet training along side Arnold impacted us in the long run, specifically the focus that he had for training. He would joke around quite a bit; but when he trained, the intensity of focus on what he was doing was extremely impacting, almost paralyzing."

Arnold's Intensity Was Almost Paralyzing

Back in 1975, George and Wes sought out mentorship from their legends, their heroes and in doing so, they not only learned how to build muscle, they also learned intangible lessons, lessons about commitment, intensity, mentorship, and social support.

Oh yea, and they also became "the stars of Pumping Iron" along the way. Not a bad road trip, eh?

My Journey

My own body transformation journey began when I graduated high school. Tipping the scales at a fairly unimpressive 135lbs (at 5'8"), I was fed up of being one of the scrawniest guys around. So I committed myself to learning how to get big.

I bought all the muscle magazines (just like George, I read Ironman too, about 15 years later). I regularly visited supplement shops. I joined 2 gyms. And I exercised daily, doing bench presses and biceps curls until I couldn't lift my arms any longer.

Needless to say, I REALLY wanted to change.

Of course, with my new found commitment, although my program wasn't optimal, I did start to get some results. My first year of training produced a 15lb weight gain. And while some folks started to notice my new development, I realized that at the pace I was going, I'd never have the physique I was after (or so I thought). As some of the guys at the gym were my height and around 200lbs, I knew that it would take nearly 4 more years the break the 200lb barrier. I needed a faster way!

I considered steroids. But, to be honest, I was 18 and much too scared of them to actually go through with it. Fortunately for me, my salvation didn't come in a bottle; it came in the form of a mentor.

The 6AM Test

I still remember the fateful day. I was at the gym, struggling away on the leg press machine. There wasn't much weight on the machine but it sure felt like a heavy load. With a few reps to go and my strength diminishing, one of the gym owners, Craig, came over to offer a spot.

Now, let me just say this. Craig wasn't just a "gym owner". At my height and over 230 impressive pounds, he was also the guy that every guy in town wanted to look like. We had never spoken before but after I racked the weight and got up, he offered me a few tips on improving my body.

For a few minutes, we discussed our goals, talked about our training programs, and he shared some valuable wisdom. I was determined to give his advice a try – after all, it worked pretty well for him.

About a week later, Craig approached me again during one of my leg workouts. He told me that he noticed I was taking his suggestions and putting them to good use. Then, surprise of all surprises, he actually invited me to work out with him the next day!

"What time?" was my only question.

At this point, he busted out with what I affectionately call, the "6 AM test."

Craig said he'd be training legs at 6:00 AM the next morning and I should meet him at the gym around 5:50 AM for warm-up.

Uh, oh. My head was swimming with excuses. I had just finished a leg day. And besides, I hadn't been up before 9 AM in a long, long time! There was no way I would be feeling ready to train with this guy.

But I pushed the excuses outta my head and I told him I'd be there.

The next morning we trained legs. It was harder than I had imagined it would be. Yet I did it. Limping out of the gym, Craig mentioned that I could work out with him the next day if I liked. However, we wouldn't be training at 6 AM; that was just a little test. And I had passed.

Mentorship and Commitment

I truly believe that the right people are placed in our paths when we need them most. Yet only if we remain open-minded and willing to learn can these mentors help us reach new levels of development.

Now, I'm not just talking physique development. This works in business, relationships, and any other endeavor.

Seriously, if a great mentor comes along, shut the ego down and listen – you might just learn something important!

Craig turned out to be an important mentor in my life. Heck, in that first workout alone I learned something very important. Lots of people say they want certain things from life, they say that they're interested in specific goals, yet they're unwilling to make the commitment to really go after those things, to really accomplish those goals.

In the case of Craig's 6 AM test, he had posed it lots of times. And lots of people failed the test. I wasn't going to be one of them. From that day on, I realized that there's a difference between interest and accomplishment. People say they're interested, but that's often all talk. Those who are chasing accomplishment get up at 5:30 so that they can be squatting by 6:00.

Step By Step

Of course, Craig taught me a hell of a lot more than how to squat. But, like any great coach, he taught these lessons as I was ready to learn them. In the beginning I learned how to make the commitment to training. After that was solidified, I learned how to do the movements properly. Once I had that down, we experimented with loading parameters and set/rep schemes. It was a step-wise process in which Craig navigated me swiftly toward the stuff that worked, while away from the stuff that didn't.

And I loved the step-wise approach. You see, I'm a relatively impatient person. I like action. So, if I had spent months reading, researching, etc I would have gone nuts. I didn't want, nor did I need, to be a master of exercise programming to walk the path toward "bigness." I didn't need to read 5 books from the exercise masters to know how to drive my lazy butt to the gym and bust it once I was there.

I just needed to get to the gym and learn how to work out. Then, once I knew how to work out, I needed to learn how to work out hard. Then, once I knew how to work out hard, I needed to learn how to work out smart. I didn't need to be a 2 year process either. It just needed to be step-wise; each lesson coming at the time I needed it most. And that's what a good coach or mentor is best at – delivering lessons when they're needed most.

Of course, there was a lot more to my instruction than training.

I learned all about nutrition and supplements, too. After a few months of training together, Craig noticed that I wasn't able to recover like he was. I was getting run-down. So he did a dietary analysis on me. Turns out my diet needed some work too! So instead of making me read 8 books on nutrition or launching into the science of nutrient timing, glycemic indices, biological values of protein, he simply told me what to eat for the next 4 weeks.

There were no compromises, no excuses, no whining about which foods I like and which I didn't. He simply took the hard-line approach. The relationship and the process were simple. He told me what to eat, I ate it, and I got results. No whining, no why this or why that, no excuses. I just did it. I knew I'd figure out why later.

Now, this is a good time for a bit of a tangent. I know that some of you reading this won't like the "do this" approach. You'll say that you need to know "why" before you'll do something.

Well, I argue that you're the person who will have the hardest time with physique change because physique change starts with doing, not analyzing. Although I wanted to know why, Craig told me to shut up and do. In fact, I remember one day he sat me down and told me this:

"You're not entering a classroom to learn nuclear biophysics here; you're trying to build muscle at the gym. Your body doesn't care why something's working. So shut up, do what I tell you and you can learn why later."

So, to be honest, I just shut up and did. After all, the guy was 230lbs and I was 150. And later on, once my adherence was set, he began to teach me how to create my own meal plans and how to find good nutrition resources.

Funny how that works – I had to learn to crawl before learning to walk.

Beyond Exercise and Nutrition

Of course, for many of you, this might be the point where you're ready to check out. Great, I learned how to train and what to eat. Isn't that enough?

Hell no!

The lessons I learned beyond the food and workout stuff were infinitely more valuable. During Craig's mentorship, he took me to the grocery store and to supplement shops. He showed me how to set up my kitchen for optimal results. We went out to eat and he showed me how to cleverly find the right muscle building foods at restaurants, ensuring that I was making the best choices for my goals.

You see, through this process I quickly learned that a written or typed meal plan stuck to the fridge is useless unless you have the right environment surrounding you, an environment designed for success.

What happens to that meal plan if you go out to eat at restaurants and you don't know how to order? What happens if you buy the foods at the grocery store and your kitchen is stocked up with garbage? What happens if you're pressed for time and don't know how to quickly and efficiently prepare your muscle-building meals?

You fail.

Craig had seen lots of people fail and wanted to be sure that I wasn't going to be one of them. So he went beyond the food and the workouts and he showed me how to create the right environment for success. This makes all the difference!

The Power of Social Support

Ok, at this point it should be clear that I owe a debt of gratitude to this guy for taking me under his wing and helping me avoid the pitfalls all around me, for ushering me into a world in which my scrawny butt could build muscle! So don't think for a minute that I don't still owe this guy big-time – I do.

After all, Craig and I ended up sticking together as training partners for 3 straight years. At an average of 5 workouts a week, that means we worked out at least 750 times together, spending more than 1,000 hours together over those 3 years – and that was just in the gym.

Beyond the gym, I also learned a ton. Craig and I started to hang out all the time and he introduced me to his circle of friends. His girlfriend (now wife) would make us muscle-friendly meals. She also happened to be into working out, go figure. And although he did have a diverse group of friends, a lot of them were also into working out. Most of my friends at the time weren't, so it was really cool to have a new social group that I could talk shop with, learn from, and share successes with.

After talking with quite a few people over the years, one thing that has become very clear is that social support matters. According to one reader of T-nation: "Having a training partner keeps me motivated. Many times I've not wanted to get out of bed come training time. But knowing that my partner was there getting stronger made me get out of bed and get to the gym."

TC likes training around others too: "If I'm at the gym, I can't dog it! People can say, 'Isn't that TC over there? Man, he's not training very hard, is he? God, he's a pansy!' Next thing I know, it's reported on a rival website or in the gossip section of MuscleMag. Call me shallow, but I sometimes need the fear of ridicule to motivate me."

Further, in a recent study of over 1000 respondents, Gary Homann of the University of Wyoming found that those who end up exercising for life tend to be involved in what he calls an "exercise community." According to Gary's definition, exercise community involvement means that people become involved with other people, activities, contests and events tied to their regular exercise activities. From Gary's work, it's clear that to those who exercise is more than just a passing fling, exercise communities are critical.

Chris Shugart, assistant editor of T-nation, wrote this:

And yet another well-know coach, strength coach Charles Poliquin, stated it this way: "You're the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with."

Take these comments to heart, folks. They're powerful statements that I also corroborate. During my time training with Craig, I went from a scrawny 18 year old, to a pretty big guy – weighing in at 230 and 12% body fat. And, after hitting my maximum weight, I dieted down to compete in and win the Mr. Jr. USA title. Amazingly, my Mr. Jr. USA victory happened almost 3 years to the day after Craig approached me during that one fateful leg workout.

Young, Skinny JB With A Bad Tux
Young, Fat JB With A Bad Tie
Young, Ripped JB With Some Bad Underwear

And I harbor no illusions that I could have ever made the progress I did without Craig's mentorship and the social support network we surrounded ourselves with. There's just no way. When my commitment failed, Craig picked up the slack. And vice versa.

Every day we challenged each other, competed against each other, and pushed each other to new lifting heights. I still remember the day we squatted 405lbs for 20 reps each. No one in our gym had ever seen such a thing.

And it wasn't only the two of us supporting each other. We had a whole group of friends creating the right environment for success. Just like Arnold, Franco, Robby, Ed and friends had. Just like George and Wes were looking for.

Your Social Support

In the end, as you can see, there's so much more to building a great body than just the exercise and food. There are those intangibles you can't record in a food log - commitment and hard work, creating a lifestyle that supports your goals, creating the right environment for good training and good eating, measuring results and appropriately interpreting those measurements, mentorship and social support.

You can buy books, read the web, pick up a few tips, try new programs, and follow different diets. But if you want to really progress, if you really want to learn how to transform your body, you've gotta find the right mentors and enlist a group of individuals who you can feed off of, and who can feed off of you.

Very few individuals can lone-ranger their way to a tremendous body. And even those who can don't enjoy the journey as much. Don't make it harder than it needs to be, find the right group of people to learn from and learn with.

And if you need the occasional dose of inspiration, pick up a copy of Pumping Iron.