In searching for new training ideas or ways to reinforce methods I find especially effective, I often look at the regimens of amazing bodybuilders and strongmen from the past. Many people don’t care to learn these valuable training tidbits because they’re from “old-time” athletes, and this is a shame, as many of these ideas are extremely valuable. Let’s take a look at one top bodybuilder from the past who had a lot of great training ideas that still apply today: Reg Park.
Park won the overall title in the amateur NABBA Mr. Universe in 1951 and the pro divisions in 1958 and 1965; in 1973 he came back to place second in the tall class in the pro division of that year’s Mr. Universe. He sported legitimate 20-inch arms, was the first bodybuilder to bench press 500 pounds, and appeared in five Italian-made Hercules
movies. Arnold has said that Park was his role model and that he had hoped to emulate his success. Park was always willing to help Arnold, and even invited the Austrian Oak to his home to train (a visit that was documented in the 1977 film Pumping Iron.
In 1952 Park wrote an article called “My Shoulder Training” in which he presented the shoulder exercises that gave him “the best all-around results.” It involved many “cheating” exercises, such as the cheating side lateral raise and cheating alternate dumbbell raise to the front. One idea he always stressed was the philosophy that what works well for him might not work well for someone else.
“The opinions of some weightlifters and the teachings of certain instructors are conditioned by their experiences and the results they have obtained. If, for instance, a man gets a huge chest and muscular latissimus dorsi from the practice of the straight-arm pullover, he will maintain that the exercise is a marvelous and productive one. If, however, he uses the pullover and gets nothing but badly sprained deltoids and sore elbow joints, he will rightly conclude that the movement achieves nothing but injury, that it is no good.”
Expanding on this idea, Park said that it’s best to use exercises that you enjoy doing because you will train with greater zest, enthusiasm and determination. “Because of that simple fact of performing a labor of love, you insert more into your task, get much faster results together with a feeling of wellbeing and a sense of accomplishing something,” says Park. “It is a favorable psychological reaction that reverberates and builds upon itself.”
Other bodybuilders have also benefited from this wisdom. Franco Columbu won the IFBB Mr. Olympia in 1976 and 1981, and to this day he is considered, pound-for-pound, one of the strongest bodybuilders of all time. At a bodyweight of 185 pounds, Columbu reportedly had hoisted 780 pounds in the deadlift, which exceeded the amateur world record. Columbu said that he felt nothing from performing decline barbell presses, and as result he dropped them from his exercise base. Likewise, seven-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates confirmed the legitimacy of this concept during my conversations with him.
As I discussed in my book Bigger, Stronger Arms: The Poliquin Way,
I contend that if you don’t feel a mind-muscle connection in an exercise, you are wasting your time and you should scrap it. More specifically, what you want to do is develop a base of exercises that you physically feel are working for you, and then vary your program from that base of exercises. Great bodybuilding champions of the past such as Reg Park found this idea worked for them, and I am confident it will work for you too.