As a little kid, I used to roll the small weight set from under my Dad's bed, do some curls and then put it back before he saw me. He thought it would stunt my growth. A lot of people thought that way in the 1970's.
My first memory of seeing people train was when I used to roam the basement of Cole Field House at the University Of Maryland. My Father's office was down there and that's where I would hang out in the summer. I couldn't have been more than six or seven at the time. There was a gym, a dark and dank gym, down some steps at the end of a long corridor in the basement. The door would be open and I would peak in. Huge guys were in there doing squats and chin-ups and benches. They had sweatpants on or jeans and had their wrists taped with white athletic tape. They would look up, see me there, and then get back to their sets. That place scared the crap outta me. It was so strange back then to lift weights. I mean, nobody lifted weights back then, but I was drawn to it for some reason, maybe the secrecy of it all appealed to me, I don't know.
And then a few years later, I would go to the Maryland Football weight room and watch the players lift. Intensity! And you know what? There wasn't a coach in there. They had a program to do, written on the wall. They surely did not need a coach to motivate them. They were pushing each other, exhorting each other on, heaving 120 pound dumbbells for curls, benching 315 and up for reps. Mike Mentzer trained there when he was in town. I watched him do seated behind the neck presses while straddling a flat bench. He was not using as much weight as the players, but he was working hard, seriously hard. "C'mon Mike!" the players were yelling. And then he finished his set and walked over to the water fountain. I was in his way. "Excuse me," he said, politely. I glanced at his forearms. They were so vascular that it looked like they had a hundred green snakes running up and down them. He was short, but thick as hell. Another time I was there to watch the players lift and this huge guy was doing barbell cheat curls with 225 pounds. He had a crib in there with his young son watching him also. It didn't strike me as odd. I just figured that he had to babysit and he also needed to get his lift in for the day.
No internet to look up stuff back then so I would just go to gyms and talk to people. I went to Dynamo Barbell in College Park, Maryland and watched the weight lifters train. Now that was weird. I had never seen a clean or snatch performed before. I was in 9th or 10th grade. One of the guys asked me about the programs that we were doing in high school. I told him a few weeks of 8 reps, a few weeks of 6 reps, a few weeks of 4 reps.... He laughed and told his buddy what we were doing. He laughed also. You need to do a lot of doubles and triples, he said, and then went back to cleaning and snatching. I was too shy to ask any questions about his advice and he wasn't volunteering a whole bunch of information. I do know that I wasn't impressed by the way he looked. I like the Mentzer look at the time. I still do, I reckon.
I watched the Barbarian Brothers lift at Gold's Gym in Wheaton , Maryland, and also went to one of their seminars where they extolled the virtues of milk and training as often as you can and eating what you want and taking amino acid tablets that looked like horse pills. They were cool as hell and they misspelled Barbarian on my signed picture. " Barbrian" was what he wrote. But of course, I didn't care. They were huge and strong as hell.
I saw Tom Platz in seminar. Legs were nuts. Super guy. Very Zen in his approach to training. Spiritual almost in his reverence of the rituals of the workout and of the workout itself. He spoke lovingly of performing dumbbell curls and how he lost himself in them when he was executing the movement. And then he pulled down his pants and flexed his legs. I have never seen anything like those legs. Paper thin. Cross striations. Crazy.
I used to call up some of the top lifters in the area and just bullshit with them. Ask them how they trained, how they ate, about their supplements. All of them, to a man, were giving of their time.
I remember visiting a Gold's Gym in the area one time and I noticed this teenager on the lat pulldown machine. He was wearing a cutoff sweatshirt and you could see that he was ripped up by the definition in his forearms and the sunken look of his cheeks. He would perform a set of some high reps lat pulls to behind his head, and then when the set was over, he'd take a swig from a gallon milk jug filled with what looked like lemonade. He'd never get up from the seat, just do a set, take a swig. I asked my friend who was working there at the time what was going on with the lifter and he explained that the kid had just won a local show but that he wasn't defined enough and that the Junior Nationals was coming up in a week. So in order to get more ripped, he was living on Lemonade Crystal Light and amino's. "That's it?" I asked. "Yup, so he only has enough energy to just sit there and do his sets." Do a set, take a swig.