By Jeff Everson
Edited by: Strength Oldschool
The Dungeon at Muscle Beach was small. There was barely room to move around. Located at the corner of Fourth and Broadway in Santa Monica, California, the Dungeon was a famous hideaway gym for some of bodybuilding’s most powerful men. Dark and dirty, the Dungeon was also quite smelly since it was located in a basement below an old hotel that had a taproom.
During the hot California summers, the old beer taps would leak and the brew would eventually make its way through cracks in the floors to the Dungeon. In the winter, when it rained, the walls and floor would also leak and pretty soon, with the rank odors of stale beer and mildew mixing with smells of new and old sweat, the Dungeon had a most unusual aroma. No one who worked out there, though, seemed to mind.
The Dungeon had no fancy equipment. No Universal or Paramount machines and, of course, Nautilus was still nothing but a seashell since we’re talking ’60s here. There was no daylight in the Dungeon, either. Lighting was provided by four rows of overhead bulbs. Benches weren’t padded. Splinters were picked out in the shower. Clothesline served as cables, there wasn’t even a hack or leg press machine and most of the stuff teetered on rusty nails and bolts. But, oh, the bodies that came out of the Dungeon!
( Pic above: ) George Eiferman and Dave Draper
George Eiferman first brought Dave Draper to the Dungeon in 1962. A neophyte bodyman then, Draper was awed. Steve Reeves used to train there when he came to town. So did Eiferman himself and Zabo (Zabo Koszewski) and Hugo Labra, Bill McCardle, Gene Shuey and monsters Steve Marjanian and Chuck Ahrens. Later, when Draper came out to California from New Jersey with Joe Weider, he joined the Dungeon – for $48 a year – to heave the odd-weighted dumbbells that made champions.
( Pic above: ) Dave Draper and Bill McArdle
It has been said that every generation looks back, longing for the good old days. The same is true with our sport. Dave Draper considers the ’60s the golden era of bodybuilding, the romantic age of iron when the camaraderie and simplicity of bodybuilding were at their zenith. It was the time when Joe Weider, Trainer of Champions, dubbed Draper the Blond Bomber.
Ah yes, the ’60s – when Colbert, Ross, Grimek, Reeves, Eiferman and Tanny gave way to Pearl, Park, Scott, Wayne, Oliva, Draper and Schwarzenegger. The way Draper sees it, the golden era of bodybuilding started to wind down when Oliva and Schwarzenegger stopped battling and ended completely when Arnold retired in 1975 after six successive Mr. Olympia wins.
( Pic above: ) Young Arnold and Sergio Oliva at the Duncan YMCA in Chicago
By the mid ’70s, bodybuilding illusion gave way to bodybuilding reality. Up to this time, anabolic hormones were an inside tip and used by an elite clique in limited dosages. The steroid surge of the ’70s changed the faces (and livers) of bodybuilders forever. Steroids gave the mediocre their chance for fleeting fame.
Dave Draper misses the old days, the sweet siren call of the ’60s. In the days when Joe Weider’s Muscle Builder featured the Blond Bomber as everything that a young man could be as a bodybuilder, the iron sport was indeed friendlier, simpler and more romantic in lifestyle, nutrition and training. Could the Dungeon survive today in the age of Cybex and Myotech?
In the ’60s, before the extreme emphasis on being ripped to the bone, bodybuilding was fun. There were few hardships, drugs were something Timothy Leary talked about, growth hormone was still buried with the dead. In the ’60s bodybuilders lifted heavy weights, but they also lifted heavy, dripping T-bones. They didn’t measure their protein powder, they shoveled it in.
Nutritional fundamentals could be described in five words, eat a lot of protein. Draper did – to the tune of 400-500 grams a day. That meant a lot of calories too. Consequently, bodybuilders in the ’60s were big and strong. Oliva, Schwarzenegger, Ferrigno, Katz and Draper were the biggest bodybuilders of all time.
As a testament to the simplicity of the ’60s compared to today, bodybuilders then talked about Crash Weight Gain #7 and Weider’s Super Pro 101. Hell, there was even a lawsuit back then over weight-gain powders! Today, attend a bodybuilding seminar and you’ll hear free-form aminos, branched chain aminos, succinates, medium-chained triglycerides, branching glucose polymers, glucogen and sodium loading. You’ll hear about such esoteric supplements as yohimbe bark. Bodybuilders back then knew you got all that stuff in steak, eggs and milk.
Back then the science of anabolic steroids was spelled Dianabol. Today we have designer steroids – ones to add density, others to add size, others to add strength. There’s even an Italian one that’s supposed to build up individual muscles. Some lulu in Europe even claims to split muscle fibers with electrical probes. Is it any wonder that Dave Draper pines for the ’60s?
At the Dungeon, buried beneath that old Santa Monica hotel, from 1963-67, Dave Draper built one of the greatest physiques of all time. He trained with enormous energy expenditure fueled by thousands of calories. He trained six days a week from 6-9 a.m. The Dungeon, which had the rusty vestiges of the old outdoor Muscle Beach equipment, was all a man expected a gym to be.
( Pic above: ) Dave Draper and Betty Weider
During the years ‘63-67, Draper changed from a 260-pound beachball to a 230-pound bull. In the second contest of his life, the 1965 IFBB Mr. America, he won first place. That alone catapulted him into the Weider hall of fame. In 1966, he entered the IFBB Mr. Universe, his third contest, and won it. He was favored in the ‘67 Mr. Olympia, but Sergio Oliva took it. There was no doubt that the training Draper did has to be unusual. He built up fast and efficiently with some of the shabbiest equipment allowable by law!
His Dungeon training was fast, hard and heavy. Almost every set was an attempt at a strength or endurance record. He and his training partner Dick Sweet constantly challenged each other – for the entire three-hour session. Despite the plethora of energy enhancers and drugs available today, I’d venture to guess that most modern-day bodybuilders would overtrain on Draper’s plan. Bodybuilders today don’t eat enough fat for long-term energy, their calories are too low and they don’t get enough rest and relaxation. By and large they lack patience, too. Besides, the guys in the Dungeon would never have to put up with someone who claimed to be overtrained. There was no such thing then.
Draper rotated his bodyparts so that he trained everything three times a week. On day one he’d work chest, back and shoulders. The next day came abdominals, biceps, triceps and legs. He did an enormous number of sets, from 20-30 per bodypart. That might mean over 80 sets per workout! Draper field-tested a lot of Joe Weider’s ideas before they went into the Weider system, things like supersets and cheating. Draper supersetted nearly his entire program and got plenty massive (it’s interesting that Sergio Oliva did the same things and still does today).
For his 54-inch chest (in the 1966 movie, "Don’t Make Waves", Sharon Tate, later murdered by the Manson family, swooned over it)...
( Pic above: ) Dave Draper and Sharon Tate - Dont Make Waves Movie
... Draper started with five supersets of collar-to collar benches and close-grip benches. He also used the Weider Pyramid Principle while keeping his reps between 6-8. At this point in his career, he could bench press over 450 pounds and military press 300 pounds. Draper was a strong guy. He had to be with powermongers Ahrens, Casey and Marjanian lurking about the Dungeon.
Following five hearty supersets, Draper followed with five more on heavy dumbbell inclines and flat bench flyes. He went up to 150 pounds in his inclines. If you think that’s a lot (and it is!), Draper fondly recalls watching Pat Casey do the same exercise with a pair of 220-pound dumbbells.
( Pic above & below: ) Pat Casey - 210 lbs Incline Dumbbell Presses
Casey, of course, was the first man to officially bench press 600 pounds. Draper also remembers watching Chuck Ahrens do seated dumbbell presses with a pair of 160-pound dumbbells.
With such inspiration, Draper then proceeded to blitz his phenomenal back, which Arnold called the best in the business. Dave started with five supersets of wide-grip bent-over rows and stiff-arm pullovers for 6-8 reps. Following this he did what some would consider and unusual superset, five sets of behind-the-neck presses with five sets of wide-grip pullups. Here he’d push his reps up to 12 or so. Not finished despite an upsurge of blood equal to the denouement of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Draper had some more supersets to do. This time, five sets of 12-15 in the long pulley row and lat machine pulldowns. In both exercises, the Blond Bomber thought nothing of doing his reps with more than 300 pounds!
Having already pre-exhausted his posterior deltoids with rows and behind-the-neck presses, Draper started his shoulder training with 90-degree dumbbell presses without supersetting. He made a point of working up to at least 105s for 6-8 strict repetitions. Next was a conventional Draperism, a superset that was really a compound set (a superset within the same bodypart). He did five sets of heavy, cheat lateral raises and five sets of strict laterals with his back flush to a wall. On his cheats, he’d use 60s. For his strict laterals, 30s were the order of the day. Draper was known to have a pair of the biggest delts in bodybuilding. No wonder.
Draper and Sweet moved through their heavy training like a Kansas twister through a mobile home park. They wreaked havoc on their bodies, but paid themselves back at the training table. During his workouts, Draper would never think about outside things. He envisioned himself as a piece of lead, thick and dense. Rest? Draper and Sweet rested only as long as it took them to catch their breath between exercises. That way they didn’t have time to think about anything else.
Day two started with abs. Draper always warmed up on this day with a series of supersets between incline sit-ups and leg raises. He not only kept his waist trim by doing this (in the early ’60s, the abs and legs were secondary to arms, chest and shoulders) but he also freed himself from outside thought during this time.
Draper started out with biceps training by doing 15 sets, consisting of five sets each of barbell curls (6-8 reps), alternate incline dumbbell curls (6-8 reps) and preacher curls (also called Scott curls, 8-10 reps). He’d finish off with five sets of high-repetition wrist curls, Draper’s arms were around 21 inches at his best and his biceps had an amazing peak. However, triceps were his babies.
Draper almost always did 25 sets for those muscles. He started with five supersets of standing overhead triceps extensions with a rope-pulley arrangement and his back supported and conventional triceps pushdowns. He favored reps in the 12-15 range for the best triceps pump. His next superset was lying triceps extensions with the EZ-Curl bar and behind-the-head rope-pulley extensions, both for 10-15 reps.
Draper made it a point to finish his triceps work with parallel bar dips. Although he saw Pat Casey, who weighed 320 pounds, do 10 reps with 300 pounds strapped around his waist, Draper would have no part of that! He did five sets of as many reps as he could with bodyweight alone. That worked well enough.
Legs were next. Draper used the Weider Pyramid Principle in the squat for adding mass. Usually he ran through seven or eight sets (not counting his light warm-ups) as follows:
350 lbs. x 10 reps
375 lbs. x 8 reps
400 lbs. x 6 reps
425 lbs. x 4 reps
450 lbs. x 2 reps
350 lbs. x 10 reps
350 lbs. x 10 reps
Following squats, he did 5-6 sets of leg extensions and leg curls with as much weight as he could possible muster for 10-15 repetitions. He’d finish his leg pump with 10 sets of 12-15 reps in the donkey calf raise.
With his intense attitude and heavy training in the Dungeon, Dave molded a worldclass physique in short order. Even though he won both the America and the Universe in his meteoric rise, his exit was just as fast – but that was his choice.
For Dave Draper there was a shift in bodybuilding in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The thrill was fading rapidly. He says: “Around 1968 I grew disillusioned. I grew up during the romantic era of bodybuilding with people who worked out in the Dungeon. We thought the most important things in life were heavy training, good eating and basking in the sun. In those days, bodybuilders would hitchhike together along the shores for days just to see a contest.”
Draper continues: “Attitudes mean a lot to me and they changed drastically. Competitive bodybuilding got complicated. There was too much preoccupation with big muscles and much less camaraderie than before. Things weren’t as simple. You used to pose to music selected by the contest promoter. All of a sudden you had to prepare music and routines. I liked it much better before, although I still trained. I put my mind outside of bodybuilding after that.”
Draper did go on to win the Mr. Universe in 1970 (after training eight weeks), but it was never the same for him again. He officially retired his legend in 1970.
Draper is at peace with himself today after battling personal demons for years. He’s wiser, more mature and in incredible shape. He loves training, but what he cherishes most in life is his self-built home in beautiful Santa Cruz, time with his friends and his memories of the romantic age of bodybuilding. In the golden ’60s, when the Blond Bomber was king, he bombed away in the Dungeon and built one of the greatest bodies of all time.