By Reg Park
In 1945 I began weight training at 17 years old and pressing a 40 pound barbell…"Giant oak’s from little acorn’s grow!”
“I recall quite clearly my first workout. It was in September 1945 at which time I was 17 years old and weighed 165 Ibs. at 6′ 1″. Up to that time I had excelled in both athletics and soccer and I possessed a lean, athletic body. I met Dave Cohen who was some six years older than me, at the City of Leeds Rowndlay Park open air swimming pool, where all the “lads and lasses” congregated over the weekends and holidays. Most of the fellows were body conscious but it was not until I saw Dave who was then 24 years old that I saw a real physique. Dave was 5′ 8″ weighed 185 Ibs with 47″ chest, 31″ waist, with arms, neck and calves all measuring 17 -1/2 inches. There is no doubt in my mind that at that time he had the best physique in Great Britain, although I never recall him ever showing any interest in entering a ‘Mr’ contest.
The first workout I had under Dave’s guidance consisted of barbell press with 40 Ibs., press on back on floor (at that time we did not know about bench presses) with 60 Ib barbell, curls with 40 Ibs., straight arm barbell pullover on floor with 30 Ibs., barbell triceps pushaway behind the legs and that was about it. All the exercises were performed with descending repetitions 10-8-6. Three sets per exercise.
These workouts were performed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in a bare wooden floored room made available by the parents of one of Dave’ friends. I did not really enjoy the workouts, the most appealing thing being the cups of tea and cakes which Dave’s friend’s mother laid on after our evening workouts. Nevertheless I persisted with training until about May, 1948, some 8 months, when Rowndlay Pool opened for the English summer (don’t laugh, when I spent all my free time at the pool checking out the chicks my workouts became very infrequent). Looking back I recognize the fact that my early poundages were very inferior by today’s standard. Even considering I was a total beginner, they would be a joke. Barbell press with 40 Ibs? My wife can do that! So I obviously started off with little or no latent strength or talent.
The first eight months training were just functionary. I was not into it and had very little awareness as to what weight training was all about, other than to be aware that I wanted to look like Dave. Nevertheless, when I was conscripted into the army in August 1948 I was doing repetition presses and curls with 80 Ibs and did a pullover on floor (more like a rollover, flipping bar with a sharp wrist action until it rested across the chest with the upper arm resting on the floor and the forearm perpendicular and press on back 205 Ibs. 1 rep. No big deal, but at least 100% improvement form my starting poundages. My eight months training must have done me some good, without realizing it, because when I went into the army August 1948, I was still 6′ 1″ but weighed 185 Ibs. The next two years were spent in the army where I ended up as a physical training instructor in Singapore during which time, I suppose altogether, I had 20 workouts in two years.
By the time I got out of the army my parents had erected a chin bar in our backgarden and bought a second-hand barbell set which I kept under a tarpaulin next to the chin bar which incidentally had a clamp light attached to it via a lead cable from my bedroom, to enable me to workout at night. I trained outdoors through the winter 1948/49 often wearing as many as three sweat suits and pulling the snow covered tarpaulin off the weights in order to workout. Gradually, I moved the equipment I had assembled; (a fixed incline bench, a flat bench, squat stands, hand loading lat machine plus weights) into a one car garage located behind the local shopping plaza.
The time was spring 1949 and in that period I read all the English “Health and Strength”, “Vigor” and American “Strength and Health” and Weider magazines (which were then small in the format of a Readers Digest), that I could find in book shops. Fortunately, I soon realized that if I wanted to have the best physique in the world (a decision I had made in London whilst watching the 1948 Mr. Universe) I would also have to be the strongest bodybuilder in the world.
From then on I started to push the poundages. My decision to push myself to training with heavier poundages paid off when I won the 1949 Mr. Britain contest in, I think it was, September or October of that year when I weighed 226 Ibs. By now I could clean and press 2 x 100 Ibs. which I did back stage at the Leeds Empire in the dressing room of the “Trois des Meilles” made up of Reuben Martin, Rusty Sellars and Len Talbot who were touring U.K., with the British version of the Folies Bergere.
I also did a straight arm pullover with top man, 155 Ib Rusty Sellars doing a hand stand on the palms of my hand, a feat which Reub told me only one man other than himself had ever done, and that man was 250 Ib. 5′ 8″ Bert Assirati who was without doubt the strongest British wrestler around.
From 1949 right up to the late 50’s I was without doubt Britain’s strongest bodybuilder. I did a full squat 2 reps with 600 Ibs, with only the late Buster McShane spotting me in his gym in Belfast, bench pressed 500 Ibs at a show in Bristol (and was second in the world after Doug Hepburn to succeed with this poundage) and pressed 300 Ibs at the British Amateur Weightlifting championships. All of this being nearly 30 years ago.
At various times I also did rep presses behind neck with 270 Ibs (again at Buster’s Gym) and repetition cheat curls with 250 Ibs. I also did regularly, reps and sets with 2 x 185 Ibs dumbell on incline and flat bench which was all the weight I could get on the bar. The only other bodybuilder who could “give me a go” was a ‘bull’ named Marvin Eder and I recall he and I doing bent over barbell rowing with 400 Ibs in 1951. At Ed Yarick’s gym in Oakland, California also in 1951, I remember doing seated dumbell curls 5 reps with 2 x 120 Ibs. dumbells with someone, I think it was Art Jones, holding my knees.
At this time I also broke several British professional weightlifting records some of which had been set by British Weightlifting champion Ron Walker, whom I believed had previously placed 2nd or 3rd in the World weightlifting championships on the then 3 Olympic lifts.
I could do squats with 500 Ibs. bench presses 400 Ibs., curls with 200 Ibs. clean and press 2 x 100 Ib. dumbells all for repetitions any time of the day, without bothering to warm up. I remember doing bent over peak contraction curls with a 100 Ib. dumbell for the fellows in our warehouse in Leeds. At that time I was not only considered the best built bodybuilder in the world but also the strongest.
I weighed between 225-230 Ibs. In December 1960 ( I was then into the gym business in Johannesburg, south Africa) I received a phone call from Rome, Italy to star in Italian “Hercules” films and it was either the producer or director who wanted me as the star but the man who put up the money apparently had seen photos of me and had said “he is Hercules”. Such had been the effect of my physique on all the heavy bodybuilding training I had done in the 10-12 years previously.
From 1962 onwards the pressure of running a chain of health studios and a mail order business took up a great deal of my time and energy and although I entered and won the 1965 Mr. Universe, my training at this period was a joke compared to how I had trained throughout the 50’s. More often than not my workouts would be interrupted by visitors and endless telephone calls. I experienced more and more injuries, to my sacro, knees, elbows, biceps insertion and one shoulder injury that persisted continuously for five years – yes, five years, Consciously, I trained less intensively and lighter and the only reason that I retained any semblance of size and shape was due only to the intensive workouts I had put in from 1949 until 1962.
From 1962 to 1982 I gave exhibitions all over the world, when injuries limited my training to Mickey Mouse poundages and my physique showed considerably lighter development.
In 1980 I sold all my gyms. I am now into the manufacture and sale of bodybuilding equipment and I work as a consultant for the Centrol Gyms in Johannesburg and give seminars and exhibitions all over the world. I have slowly recovered my enthusiasm for training and will experience “trial and error”. I know which exercise I can do and which I must avoid, the latter being regular and full squats, deadlifts and bent over barbell rowing, all of which cause considerable pain in my sacro region; chins and parallel bars which tear my shoulder ball and socket-joint. In the middle of 1982 I made a decision to train progressively heavier as I did in the 50’s
For the thighs I now do leg curls, leg extensions, leg press and hack machine squats 3 sets 8-10 reps of each.
For the back I do prone hyperextensions, base pulley V grip rowing, one arm base pulley bent over rowing, underhand close grip pulldowns to chest and wide grip pulldowns to the back – 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
For the shoulders I perform seated front and press behind neck on the Smith machine, standing two dumbell lateral raise and lying face down on a 45 degress angled bench for rear deltoids all 3 sets 6-10 reps.
Biceps and Triceps 4 exercises each 3 sets 8 reps.
Calf 3-5 sets of 15 reps, every other day. A different calf exercise each workout.
Stomach; incline bent-knee situps and incline bent knee raises with weighted ankle straps, 3 sets 30 each superset.
But every exercise is performed with maximum poundages and in the last set of each exercise, when I use the heaviest poundage, I endeavour to do more reps than in the two previous sets. Already I am beginning to feel more and more comfortable with the heavier poundages. I feel thicker in my muscles, my clothes are starting to feel tight across the shoulders and back and my weight is consistently over 220 Ibs. Most important of all I’m enjoying my workouts like I have not done in a long time: I’m enjoying striving to handle heavier and heavier poundage. My wife Marion is a great cook and baker. I eat and drink as I wish, homemade bread, biscuits, cakes and ice cream, lots of fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and poultry, with a bottle of wine with dinner nightly, as I did as a competitor. After all isn’t that what life and training is all about?
Come to think of it, I wonder how it would feel to be the best developed man in the world at 55?