When we were little kids, no one lifted weights. I don’t recall seeing any, not even in the gym.
As I got older, though, the fad was beginning. I had a firm credo back in those days: “I will date no woman who can bench press more than I can.”
I always feared I looked like the “97-pound weakling” growing up, an image so vivid it still conjures up bullies kicking sand in my face and taking my bikini-clad girlfriend from me on the beach. Of course, in reality, my bikini-clad girlfriends were few and far between, but as the years passed, the number of the babes, and the skimpiness of their bathing suits, increased dramatically.
Having reached that certain age recently, I decided I needed to take better care of myself so I purchased my first set of weights and embarked on a vigorous workout schedule.
I’m a 180-pound weakling now, and there is a new emphasis on how men look these days: It’s not all about the bikini anymore.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to look ripped, wanting to have a six-pack to display while walking down the beach. Unfortunately, all those years we went to the beach I was carrying Budweiser. Now a six-pack means a hard belly. Who knew?
It wasn’t easy getting started. I got deeply into squats, known as “the king of exercises” in lifting circles. Here is the definition according to The Dictionary of Weightlifting, Body Building, and Exercise Terms and Techniques, which I consider to be my personal bible.
Squat: Put a bar across your shoulders while you are in a standing position and, keeping your torso as upright as possible, squat down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Variations include the box squat, front squat, hack squat, Jefferson squat, and the sissy squat.
OK, so maybe I started doing sissy squats, but now I’m doing full-fledged squats, sometimes as many as three or even, when I’m feeling frisky, four. Of course, I’m sore for days afterward. Naturally, the simple act of squatting is exercise in itself, so I don’t put any actual weights on the bar.
All this makes me androgenic, which is “producing or accentuating male sexual characteristics like body hair, deepened voice, and male pattern baldness.” In other words, I can’t hit the high notes of “Walk Like a Man” by the Four Seasons and I have to comb the hair on my chest and back. Small prices to pay for a bod like mine. I do find myself yelling, “You don’t know squat!” to the staffers at the newspaper and that’s pretty cool.
I recently purchased a couple of dumbbells. Did you know how they got their name? It used to be anyone who worked at the newspaper was a dumbbell (because they don’t know squat).
Actually, men would demonstrate their might by lifting up cast iron bells (like the Liberty Bell). A “dumb” bell was one with the clapper removed, so it wouldn’t ring during the lifting. (This is just one of many little tidbits of info we lifters know.)
Nowadays I can work out right here at the office by doing curls with one hand while I surf the net with the other. This leads precious little time for actual work, but as I grow more muscular, everyone will be afraid to tell me to do some.
Gradually, as I eliminate the lipids from my body and achieve a balanced BMI (body mass index, stupid) I will become the man I want to be. Even if I am unemployed.
As it turns out, that 97-pound weakling in the magazine ads way back then wasn’t the imagination of some Madison Avenue advertising guru.
As a boy, Angelo Charles Siciliano was a pale, thin, picked-on youth. He truly was the “97-pound weakling” he would later describe himself to be in his advertising. He was physically abused by the larger kids in grade school.
One day, while lying on the beach at Coney Island in New York with his girlfriend, a bully walked up and kicked sand in his face. His girlfriend walked away after the attack and never was seen again. This incident was the catalyst that compelled the young man to search for a way to build up his thin body rapidly in the privacy of his room at home. He observed great cats at the zoo flexing their muscular bodies against the cage bars, thus keeping themselves strong with the resistance. Angelo developed his own system based on these observations.
Oh yes, Angelo also changed his name — to Charles Atlas. He became a symbol that surpassed mere bodybuilding — he stood up against the bullies in life and ultimately triumphed through hard work and talent.
By next summer, I’ll be kicking up sand of my own. I’ll be the guy with the six-pack.
Rick Murphy is a six-time winner of the New York Press Association Best Column award as well as the winner of first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and the Suburban Newspaper Association of America and a two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee.