“Tom Platz!” Just mention the name to any dedicated hardcore bodybuilder, in any part of the world, at any time at all and you will immediately have him right under your spell! When you consider just how much this guy has changed his whole appearance and shape of his body then you might just be able to convince yourself to believe in magic!
Well, I mean the guy had so much going against him didn’t he? Everyone kept saying “Sure he has the greatest thighs in the world, but his upper body was way, way behind by comparison.”
When Tom showed up at the 1981 IFBB Mr Olympia contest almost everyone was shocked out of their minds at the unbelievable sight of this new Tom Platz. The depth, thickness and absolutely ripped appearance of every single bodypart stood out so much that some people just could not believe their own eyes.
Although many were shocked by this display of pure muscle in Columbus, Ohio there were some who just weren’t that bit surprised. One of these people was Mike Mentzer:
“Tom Platz trained extremely hard all year for the IFBB Mr Olympia contest. He was the one guy in Gold’s who trained hard all winter long. He just went to failure on every single rep and I remember saying to my brother Ray that this guy must be serious! I had no idea what he was looking like underneath his sweat suit, but when I saw him by the pool side at my house just before the contest I just couldn’t believe my eyes. He had put twelve pounds of pure muscle onto his upper body alone. Now his delts, pecs and lats almost equal his incredible legs which are among the greatest medical phenomenon I’ve seen! I knew he would be unbelievable at the Olympia.”
Another muscle enthusiast not the least bit surprised at the improvement in Tom Platz was top Canadian muscle champ John Cardillo (pic above), perhaps the most intense training bodybuilder in Canada. This is what he told me after a visit to Gold’s during the Winter of 1981:
“Platz is training like a man possessed. I’ve never seen anything like it. The intensity he puts into each set should be seen to be believed. In fact he sometimes screams because of the intense pain that builds up inside his muscles. You should go and see it for yourself!”
And so I did. Making two visits to California during 1981 I just could not believe the difference in Tom Platz between what I saw in March that year to what I experienced in August, only five or six weeks prior to the big “O”.
During my first visit in March for the IFBB California Grand Prix I almost didn’t even recognize the “Great Tom Platz”. He was puffing and panting and struggling like the devil doing standing presses on the Smith machine, which is a kind of a sliding type pressing unit. When he reached the point where he could not perform another strict rep from his shoulders Tom changed the exercise into a jerk or push press. He dipped his knees and slightly split his legs just like the weight lifters do, until the bar was right above his head. From here he concentrated on resisting the bar as much as possible as it made its way back down to his shoulders. This jerking followed by this negative lowering was kept up until Tom did not have the strength or energy to even bend his knees! When the set was over he just collapsed onto the bench because boy was he out of shape!
That’s right the “Great Tom Platz” had allowed himself to balloon right up to 235 pounds [107 kg] right after the 1980 IFBB Pro Mr Universe in which he placed second. His waist was heavy. His hips were heavy, infact everything about him was damned heavy. But all that would change, and pretty soon Tom Platz would present to the world one of the most amazing bodies it had ever seen.
Upon returning to Canada I almost dismissed the thought of Tom Platz and his training preparations for the forthcoming Mr Oympia, that is until Muscle Mag editor Bob Kennedy sent me back down to California again searching for material to use in his new book “Hardcore Bodybuilding”. “Get me some real action type shots Chris. I’m not interested in this posed stuff!”, declared Bob as I winged my way westwards to the “Land of the Champions”.
August 1981 was a good time to be in California: Grey (Rocky) DeFerro was training hard over at Joe Gold’s “World Gym” as were Roy Callendar, Bertil Fox, Samir Bannout and Bronston Austin. Over at Gold’s Gym you could watch Mike and Ray Mentzer, Andreas Cahling, Reid Schidle, Ron Koontz and Robbie Robinson, all training at one time or another. Also there was Tim Belknap in the process of transforming himself in only three weeks to win the year’s prestigous Mr America contest.
While all these great bodybuilding champions were working out at their own particular muscle factory there was one blond fanatic using both muscle emporiums and that was the one and only Thomas Platz. Tom used the excellent facilities of both the World Gym and Gold’s Gym and he made himself the talk of the town going through such brutally intense workouts never before seen, even by the most ardent of observers.
Since that time many people have asked me just how Tom Platz really trains and while verbs and adjectives can hardly do justice to the job at hand, I will try best to fulfill that request with pictures and words that are second only to the experience itself. First of all Tom does his first workout at 9 am every morning either at Gold’s or the World Gym depending upon his needs or fancy. He arrives at the gym in his brand new red Corvette sports car accompanied by his friend and training partner a great Tom Platz look-alike guy whose name escapes me.
Invariably dressed from head to toe in full training gear Tom carried a good supply of powdered chalk which he used liberally on his hands prior to each and every set and which eventually covered every corner of his sweat laden body by the end of another gruelling workout. After greeting the gym staff Tom would always find a quiet corner of the gym from where he would spend at least twenty minutes doing stretching exercise, even before he touched a weight. Tom would sit on the floor in a kind of splits position, slowly stretching and stretching every major group in his entire body, until he felt that his muscles were warmed and revitalized and also that his joints felt lubricated enough and ready for the task at hand.
All the time I observed Tom Platz training during the period I spent down in California I can’t really say that I saw him work with very heavy poundages. Except for maybe the Hack Slide Machine where Tom really piled on the discs as he tortured his thighs into total muscular submission. The Hack Slide Machine was used in place of Tom’s favourite exercise, full squats. His training partner had already told me earlier that Tom had intentionally dropped his squats because he didn’t want his thighs to look too big at the Olympia!
The core of Tom Platz’s chest routine was really quite simple and will seem like a shock to those of you who think you need all those sophisticated variable resistance chest machines etc. For Tom Platz used primarily the very same two basic exercised that such notable greats as Arnold, Franco, Draper, Fox and countless others used to build their own superb chests. And these two exercises were Bench press, and dumbell flyes, but his predecessors never performed them the way Tom Platz did!
Tom began his chest workout with the dumbell flying exercise. He raised up one end of the bench by about six inches [15 cm] so that it made a very slight incline. Lying on the bench so that his head was at the top or inclined part Tom wrapped his legs right around the other end of the bench, a manouvre which prevented his back from arching when the going got almost unbearable. On his first set Tom used two fairly light dumbells to warmup his pectoral and shoulder joint attachments. He lowered each dumbell just a little further each time so that his muscles, tendons and the whole joint area grew familiar with the terrific stretch he would give them later.
After a short break Tom picked out a pair of sixty pounders [27 kg] from the dumbell rack at Gold’s and he was ready to start his first real set. Keeping his arms completely bent at all times Tom lowered those bells as far down as he possibly could and you can see by looking at the photos that this meant right the way down! In fact Tom appeared each time to be trying to get his elbows down so low that maybe one day they might evcn touch the bench beneath him! From this very very low position Tom squeezed them back to right above his chest. In fact both dumbells were only about six inches [15 cm] away from his upper pecs when they were eventually returned again.
The intensity put into this one very very simple basic exercise should really have been seen to be apppreciated. You see when Tom Platz trains to failure he doesn’t train to failure the way anyone else does, because when most people reach muscular failure in an exercise, Tom Platz is just beginning his set!
That’s right, when Tom reaches a point in the set when he just cannot do another rep no matter what, he now begins doing other little things to that muscle that just have to make it grow. For instance when failure arrives in the aforementioned dumbell flying motion, Tom will hold the dumbells at the contracted position for a few brief seconds breathing in and out deeply, giving his poor almost dead muscles a new lease of life. Now he starts off again after this short breather until once again failure sets in. From here Tom will lower the bells very slowly in pure negative fashion and because he is too weak to squeeze them back again he is forced to press them back using the strength of his triceps.
Platz goes on and on like this until even this is too much for the muscle to take and all he is capable of doing now is moving the dumbells out and back just a few inches in pure burn-like fashion! Only Tom Platz knows the burning feeling that must be happening inside the muscle and all I can say is, rather him than me!
I often felt my own stomach turn as he went on and on during a set completely oblivious to all sights and sounds around him. He must obviously have full control over the feeling of intense pain because I doubt whether anyone else in the world could stand this amount of torture. But strange enough he always appeared to have total control over every single repetition no matter how hard it was.
Tom Platz did many many sets of this one exercise and who knows maybe it was six or ten or even more. I didn’t count. He rested a good three or four minutes between each set and because of the intensity build up from each set he was forced to reduce the poundages on some of his sets, finally being only able to work with a pair of forty pounders [18 kg].
When he decided enough was enough on these flying motions he headed over to the flat bench for some bench pressing. Even before he hit the bench, the whole area, especially the upper part of the pec was pumped up like two balloons. Amazingly I watched Tom Platz use only an Olympic barbell plus two forty five pound [20 kg] plates for his sets of bench presses! Because his pectoral muscles were in such a temporary depleted state of muscular exhaustion Tom had only the strength of his relatively fresh and strong tricep muscles to rely on. But this pre-exhaust type of situation was exactly what Mr Platz was after and he cared not a monkey’s uncle about how much weight was on the bar. He wanted to set his pectoral muscles on fire and this vas the way to do it. After all he’d done his own fair share of regular heavy benching in the past.
The grip he used for his bench presses might be described as narrow by today’s standards and this allowed him to keep his forearms almost parallel throughout most of the movement. He used a “false” grip allowing the bar to rest entirely on the fleshy part ol his palms, completely eliminating the need for any gripping using the thumbs. Once again he did many very strict repetitions, squeezing and contracting the pecs every time he pushed on the bar. Just when I thought he would never get the bar off his chest Tom would somehow huff and puff a little bit harder and low and behold that bar would slowly start to move upwards again. When finally the bar would not move even one inch Tom arched his back slightly so that he could begin to cheat a little. It required just the right amount of cheat to get that bar going again so that Tom could now concentrate on the lowering or negative part of the movement.
Pretty soon even this form of cheating became quite ineffective and now Tom’s training partner quickly grabbed the bar giving just enough assistance so that it actually kept on moving. It was all negative contractions now as even the great Platz became too weak to push that bar another centimeter. The negative part of the exercise seemed to take an awful long time and I marvelled at Tom’s energy, endurance and ability to withstand so much intense pain.
After maybe eight unbelievable sets of these bench presses had been completed, I decided I couldn’t stand to see any more of this torture, so I left the gym. I don’t know if Tom did anymore work for the chest that day but I sincerely hope he didn’t.
One day I saw him over at the World Gym where he was just finishing off training his abdominals on the roman chair unit. He was sharing the exercise with another top abdominal champ Ed Guilliano. Tom was wearing a pure white training top and he looked absolutely massive. His shoulders looked wider than ever before and his deltoids in particular appeared right out of this world. After Tom had finished his work on the roman chair he climbed onto a bent knee situp board set at 45° angle and went straight into a set of situps with his hands crossed over his chest. He worked this exercise exactly as he worked his other bodyparts and that meant right to complete and utter muscular failure.
In fact when Tom could not move his upper body more than just a few inches he still kept on attempting and attempting and he appeared now as though he was heavy into isometric contractions — well almost! Without coming off the situp board Tom now changed this exercise into an oblique builder because his poor frontal abdominal muscles were just screaming out for relief. He now twisted himself to the left side so that his upper body appeared that it would fall right off the bench. Next he pulled himself back onto the bench using only the strength and power of his oblique muscles. From here he repeated the same move to the right side continuing on in this alternate fashion until he couldn’t pull himself back onto the bench at all!
While all this may sound quite incredible and maybe even unbelievable to some of you let me tell you that this is nothing compared to the day I saw Tom Platz perform another very simple basic exercise namely dumbell curls, but of course how can they be simple done the Tom Platz way?
For these curls Tom used a seated incline press bench set to a very abrupt 85° angle. He performed these dumbell curls in an alternate fashion starting them with his palms facing the side of his body and then rotating them as the dumbell gained height. He allowed the working dumbells to carry on right over his shoulder and as his elbows were being raised Tom contracted the bicep muscle as hard as he possibly could, before he finally lowered it slowly back again. Tom appeared to do a lot of repetitions on his first heavy set and again I just could not believe his ability to withstand so much pain. As the reps grew harder and harder I thought at one time that his cheekbones might burst right through their skin, such was the effort and power being needed to keep those dumbells moving! When things really got so bad that no amount of strength was left to get another strict rep out in good style, Tom raised his hips right off the bench to where he was almost standing up, and this action enabled him to carry on the set as his poor old bicep muscles were wondering what the hell was happening to them!
Pretty soon Tom was stuck again and now he did something I’ve never seen done before in his attempt at furthering the cause of intensity. He dropped one of the dumbells onto the floor and immediately began concentrating on the one dumbell that was left in his other hand. Apparently, because he only had one arm to concentrate on, this meant that he could actually continue with even more reps. Because of the deadening effect that was exploding inside his bicep muscles, Tom was forced to cheat the dumbell up to the shoulder position. From here he would “negatively” allow the dumbell to slowly descend, and no matter how difficult any rep would be Tom tried his very best, almost willing that dumbell to rise.
The set, and he did at least another six or so like it, must have lasted up to five minutes in length, was still not over as Tom now began to just rock that dumbell back and forth until the pain could be stood no longer, even by the great Tom Platz! This rocking isometric contraction-type movement when the muscle had just undergone a very intense workload, seems to be a popular technique with Tom, because I remember seeing him raise or rock a barbell back and forth from his thighs to only — a few inches away from his body when finishing his shoulder routine and surprisingly he used only a seventy pound [32 kg] barbell!
When we are often told that the secret to great development lies in the old fashioned recipe of hard work and more hard work we may sometimes dismiss this fact in preference to the much easier route of drug taking, etc. We dismiss the point about hard work because we darn well know that almost all the top champs use drugs at some time or another in their training. Unfortunately though, drugs are only one factor in the attainment to building a great physique because as Casey Viator once told me:
“They think all we do is pop steroids down our throats. Well man let me tell you I’m in the gym four hours a day, six days a week bustin my ass off!”
No, drugs are definitely not the reason why Tom Platz has made the terrific gains he has in such a short period of time. His success is totally a result of the unbelievable training methods that you have just been reading about. One day, if he continues to keep as motivated to bodybuilding as he is now, then I believe his body could well resemble those muscle carricatures that are available in poster form now-a-days. In other words he will be incredible!
During 1982 I again journeyed down to Gold’s Gym and the World Gym in California in an effort to observe and photograph the great Platz as he pushed himself through more tortuous pre-Olympia workouts. As usual the sight of Tom training with the weights was soul inspiring to watch but I sensed something was amiss.
Several times during an arm workout Tom had to stop all training in order to receive manipulation therapy from his partner. The great amount of heavy crepe bandage fastened round and round his right bicep revealed all. Only three weeks before the 1982 Olympia Tom severely injured the tendons to his right bicep and was told by his physician to stop all training at once. In other words abandon his plans of entering the Olympia!
Like the true champion Tom Platz is, he went against the doctor’s advice and continued his training for the Olympia. It’s now history that Tom Platz, placed only sixth in London. Back in California Tom booked straight into the hospital to have his arm operated on and he will require many months of rest and recuperation after the operation. Lets hope he recovers in time for another assault at the IFBB Mr Olympia because win or lose Tom Platz is the hardest training bodybuilder alive!
* Check out this great bodybuilding motivational video on Tom Platz:
Keep training hard Strength Oldschool fans!