NATURALSTRENGTH.com – Old School Weight Training Strength Strongman Power Vintage Bodybuilding: Training Atmosphere


By the time I joined Bruno’s Health Club in the Summer of 1983, I had been lifting consistently for several years.  Each month, I would purchase the various muscle magazines.  My favorites were the York publications, Muscular Development and Strength and Health.  I had a particular reason for reading Muscular Development:  Each month, it would have a feature dedicated to powerlifting.  Usually results or highlights of the big contests- the Senior Nationals, World Championship- or sometimes even a feature about one or more of the better known lifters of the day.  Usually at the bottom of the page, there would appear an advertisement for “Powerlifting USA,” the monthly magazine devoted exclusively to the sport of powerlifting.  Try as I might, I could never find it in the newsstands or bookstores.  Much like Peary Rader’s “Ironman,” it was nowhere to be found.

Three years later, I was competing in drug-free powerlifting contests, and at the 1986 NY State Championships, I was able to find copies of PL/USA for sale!  A famous lifter, who also sold lifting equipment and supplies, was selling copies at a table where he was hawking his goods.  Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to read through the magazine.  But more importantly, I cut out an ad and mailed in my subscription.  A couple weeks later, PL/USA began arriving in the mail every month, and it would continue for over twenty years.  

     Powerlifting USA didn’t have the history or depth of the classic muscle magazines of the time, but it did have what I coveted:  complete coverage of the powerlifting scene.  The Table of Contents was like a menu of good reading.  Contest coverage, upcoming events, The Workout of the Month, Interviews with the biggest names in the sport, For the Record ( a listing of national and state records), and one of my favorites, Dr. Ken Leistner’s monthly column, “More From Dr. Ken.”  

     I confess that the first thing I would turn to would be the contest results section.  I always wanted to see the coverage of meets that I participated in, but I would also go to the Upcoming Events section, in order to see if there were any contests coming up that I would like to enter.  When I had time, I would then turn to Dr. Ken’s column.  His articles were usually substantial and contained a lot of useful information.  There was always a lot to digest and I always took my time reading his monthly article.  Little did I know at the time that I would someday get to meet Dr. Ken and train at his famous training facility.  But since Iron Island Gym didn’t open until 1992, I had a few years to wait, and so I had to settle for his monthly column.  

    Occasionally, an article from another author would catch my eye, and offer useful information.  It was from an article in 1981 where I found the Finnish Deadlift Routine, a program that I use to this day.  I also remember reading about the Russian Squat Program that I also tried.  I’ve lost count of the total number of routines that I experimented with over the years, but suffice it to say that I got my money’s worth over the years.

    Back in the Fall of 1982, the was an article title “Training Atmosphere,” written by a gentleman named Don Pfeiffer.  It was part of a series of articles under the “Startin’ Out” section, dedicated to beginning lifters.  As I was looking through some old back issues, this article caught my eye.  We all want to train in an atmosphere conducive to progress and improvement.  In the opening paragraph of the article, you can readily grasp the main point:  “The right training atmosphere can make all the difference in the world.  It can help you realize your potential much faster.”  

     Mr. Pfeiffer also offers a definition of training atmosphere, so that there can be no doubt:  “Proper training atmosphere can be defined as the conditions that are necessary so that one can reach his/her potential in the least amount of time.”  He goes on to briefly describe various types of gyms and training facilities.  He even makes references to “Toner” and “Pumper” type gyms, and advises the reader to avoid those types of places.  At the end of the article, he lists the conditions that are necessary to maintain a positive training atmosphere.

     “There must be no horseplay or clowning around when you train.”  When I trained at Bruno’s, there were a lot of fun times.  The list of characters who trained there was long and distinguished.  Topping the list, of course, was Larry himself.  There were a lot of laughs, and a lot of funny stories came out of that place.  Unfortunately, I cannot repeat most of them, but when it came time to train, everybody got serious.  

     “Train hard.  There is no substitute for hard work, and it is contagious.”  I can’t speak for everybody, but I get inspired when I see someone lifting hard.  I remember seeing some old training tapes of Dr. Ken training cadets at West Point.  If you can’t get motivated in the presence of people lifting hard and heavy, then perhaps it’s time to take up tennis or golf.

     “Enthusiasm.  The more you enjoy your workouts, the more you’ll benefit from them.”  Like hard work, enthusiasm is contagious.  Who would want to train in an atmosphere where the vast majority of trainees sleepwalk through their workouts.  Naturally, we’re not always going to be “on” each and every workout, but you should look forward to- and enjoy- each and every training session.  At some point in life, you will come to appreciate the time spent “hoisting the steel.”

     “Be helpful.  If you show genuine concern for a fellow lifter, he will reciprocate.”  If you train in a place where there is a lifter just starting out, it makes sense to help him/her as much as possible.  Follow the Golden Rule.  More importantly, it’s important to give back to the sport.  We’ve all been carried on the shoulders of others who have come before us.  Nobody who has lifted for any length of time can truthfully claim that he did it all on his own.  We’ve all had training partners, mentors, coaches, and others who have been there for us.  Be there for others.

     “Heavy Lifting.”  I saved the best for last.  “ If you want to be strong, you must lift heavy weights.  There is a great psychological benefit from watching others handle heavy weights.  The sights and sounds of heavy lifting can spur you on to greater lifting achievements.”  I can think of no better atmosphere to be surrounded by than in the presence of strong lifters hoisting massive poundages.  It doesn’t have to turn into a lifting contest in the gym, but the sight and sound of someone moving huge poundages can only help to make you work harder, dig deeper, and fight for every rep.  

     Years ago, at one of the York Strongman Contest I competed in, before the Truck Pull event, I remember meeting two powerlifting legends who were being honored at the Hall of Fame.  I had the pleasure of speaking to them, and they were actually cheering for me as I pulled a truck for time over the prescribed distance.  It’s hard to describe just how inspiring that was to be in the presence of two former world champions.  

     I’m not saying that you have to train with world champions, but as Mr. Pfeiffer stated in this article from over forty years ago, if you train in a serious, enthusiastic environment with people who are willing to train hard, lift heavy, and help others then you have indeed found the ideal lifting atmosphere.



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