My First Bodybuilding Competition
My first bodybuilding contest was fascinating.
Everybody looked bigger than me, (so I thought) and they all looked so calm. Whereas I felt like I could not stand still for five seconds. Its a bit like when someone joins a gym they are determined to improve themselves yet their first visit is a very daunting experience. You have taken the first step to a better you.
The show was run by Dianne and Wag Bennett who a couple of years later became Arnold Schwarzenegger’s adopted parents in England (when, as a raw nineteen year old, he came to England for the first time to compete and lived with them and training at their gym in Forest Gate, London), which is where my contest was being judged that afternoon. The show itself was later that evening at the Stratford Town Hall.
I did not place, or indeed come in the top ten in the contest, but I learnt a lot. The star of the show was double Mr Universe Len Sell. I had never seen a top professional bodybuilder pose and to this day it has remained burned into my memory. The town hall was big and a sold out (absolutely packed full) people standing round the sides, upstairs, unbelievable. The guest star was of course last on the program. The air was electric. People buzzing and talking about how HE, would look. The lights went down,…absolute silence. Then the theme music to the film Exodus started… the single spotlight came on and there against a back drop as black as night he stood.
For just a moment I thought it was a bronze statue. But then it moved to the rhythm and beat of the music. Mounds of muscle became mountains. As the music reached its peak so did the Hercules on the stage. Every line and striation strained defined as the muscles seemed about to explode. The crowed were carried along. They were Hercules. They were the hero. Just how could that be a human being up there on the stage? The applause never stopped as the God on the stage glided from pose to pose, each better, more up-lifting. Each transporting you to that place we all aim for, that goal: To be the best. And he was. On that stage, on that night he united that audience with a power that could move the earth. They Believed. Hercules Triumphed.
I was in shock as I went home on the train, seeing champions at any sport in magazines is one thing. Experiencing what that person does to you and how they make you feel in real life is something else entirely.
My training took on a new dimension after that first competition. I trained harder than ever.
My mate Graham and sometimes training partner and I tried every new routine published in the magazines. I remember one time we read that if you trained your arms for twenty sets of eight reps every hour on the hour throughout the day you could put an inch on your arms. So we tried it one Saturday. We had to wait until the following Wednesday to measure our arms, as we could not lift them up, let alone flex them! But it worked and I put on just over half an inch on my arms from that one workout.
Another time we decided to do heavy half squats, squatting down until my backside touched a bench and up again. We worked up to some pretty decent poundage’s for sixteen year old’s. But I got carried away and decided to try a five hundred pound effort. We loaded up the bar and I was a bit concerned to see it definitely bend as I stood up with the weight from the squat stands. I unlocked my knees and started the squat, then the weight took over and I descended quicker than I wanted to onto the bench. There was no chance of me getting up with that weight, and I knew I’d have to get rid of it quick. But instead of letting it roll backwards of my shoulders, which was the sensible way to shift it, I bent forward, still trying to get up, and the bar rolled over my head and crashed to the floor. I was in agony, my back hurt, my neck hurt and I thought that I’d ripped my ears off as the bar went over my head. I ‘rested’ for a few days after that, and vowed never to let my ego control what little bit of common sense I had.
I competed in two more bodybuilding contests before I made the top three. In that contest Mr Universe Len Sell was again the guest star. I plucked up the courage to talk to him after the show and asked him if he had a gym and could I train there under his guidance. His gym was in Harlow in Essex and I lived near Heathrow Airport, the journey in a car, would take at least two hours and I had no transport, but ‘where there’s a will – there’s a way.’
Part 5 My intrepid trip to Len Sell’s gym and the start of a lifetime friendship.
Author: John Austin