The Bodybuilding Life


By Mike Emery
9 July 2017

        My bodybuilding life began the week man first landed on the Moon. I was fourteen years old and had just walked into a pancake restaurant in downtown Saint Louis. Two bodybuilders were at a table eating pancakes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Seeing bodybuilders on TV was just not the same. Looking back, I realize that moment began my lifelong interest in bodybuilding.

        I asked for a weight set for Christmas that year, getting a shot-loaded pair of dumbbells, a barbell and a weight bench from Sears. I still have two paperbacks purchased for workout routines: Muscle Building for Beginners, by Michael Fallon and Jim Saunders (Arco Publishing Company, 1960), and Weight Lifting and Weight Training, by George W. Kirkley (Arco, 1963). Saunders was Mr. Universe, Class II, Kirkley a competitive weightlifter. Kirkley had pix of Reg Park; Fallon and Saunders had pix of Dave Draper, Leroy Colbert, and other big names. I pumped away for a few months, but the weight set was soon set aside.

        I didn’t pay more attention to bodybuilding until I read a novel in 1973: Stay Hungry, by Charles Gaines (Doubleday & Company, 1972). The gym world in that book struck me, so I read Gaines’s next book: Pumping Iron: The Art and Sport of Bodybuilding (Simon & Schuster, 1974, coauthored with George Butler, who did the photographs). It introduced me to competitive bodybuilding, and the individuals who have become legends: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Franco Columbu, Mike Katz, Ed Corney, Steve Michalik, Serge Nubret. It was easy to follow Arnold; he was already in films, getting his first substantial role in the adaptation of Stay Hungry (scripted by Gaines, and directed by Bob Rafelson, 1976). I didn’t take much notice of the adaptation of Pumping Iron (directed by George Butler, 1977). Then something happened that drew me back to bodybuilding.

        In 1979, I was with a friend on an escalator going up to the second floor of a department store when I saw a poster on the wall on the first floor. “Who is that?” I said, going back down the escalator to find out. That turned out to be Mike Mentzer, an IFBB pro all over the Weider magazines, which were not hard to locate. Soon I was reading Muscle & Fitness, Flex, and Iron Man. Bodybuilding had gone mainstream by then, largely due to the popularity of Arnold, so it was not unusual to see a TV program with Boyer Coe telling us “a blender is the bodybuilder’s best friend.” I found out the dog-eat-dog world of elite competition (with Mike Mentzer ending his competitive career after a run-in with Arnold at the 1980 Mr. Olympia contest in Australia). And as I grew older, an interest in bodybuilders who “get one year older and one year better” developed.

        In March 1982, I attended my first bodybuilding competition, an AAU event in Indianapolis. Strictly a local show, at least it was the real thing. I saw other local shows in the ‘80s, and after reading a newspaper profile of a man who had just qualified for national competition, I joined his gym and got to know some serious competitors. (Kyle Norris, the gym owner, won the NPC Junior Nationals in 1989.) By then, Video Action was issuing videotapes of national NPC shows. And two others who were filming bodybuilders—Wayne Gallasch and Terry Wade—were advertising their wares in magazines. By the end of 1989, I had purchased tapes from both Wayne and Terry.

        A decade later, I was reviewing filmed material online from Wayne, Terry, and Dan Traugott (owner of Repetrope Productions). The website I was using lost interest in my reviews, so I invented this one, which debuted in early 2000. Since I supported masters competition and felt dissatisfied with the limited coverage it got, in July 2000 I attended the Masters Olympia in Roanoke, and the Masters Nationals in Pittsburgh. My coverage of those shows is on this site. I have attended several other regional, state, national and pro shows since then. However, I believe bodybuilding’s most important level is the athlete in competition with himself. The iron, the mirror, the blender, the scale—those things define the life of a bodybuilder, who may or may not compete onstage. The world of bodybuilding remains largely misunderstood. That is why I do this website, with the help of two friends who agree to support it. We hope to reach bodybuilding fans, as well as anyone open to learning more about this unique world. Welcome aboard!

by Steve Buccilli

The year 1987 found me training at a local church. Yes, the pastor of the church had realized a long time ago that the way to keep youth off the streets and out of trouble was to build a weight room. It was in the boiler room of the church, and could not have been placed in a better location. We had a concrete floor and walls; it was warm in the winter and somewhat cool in the summer.

On this day I was training legs. Legs had become a passion of mine, since they were the first muscle to show promise. At 17 years old, I had been lifting for 7 years -- and today I was ready to tear up the gym. I had my own key to the boiler room, so when the priest wasn’t home, I just walked over to the church and let myself in. I had to descend the stairs to the boiler room. Once I entered, I turned on the lights and closed the door. We had a nice set-up down there: cable cross overs, which allowed us to do every imaginable cable exercise; a hack squat machine, which also converted into a leg press; a sturdy power rack, as well as a heavy-duty incline and flat bench.

I always started out my leg workout with squats, but I had just read an article about Sergio Oliva training legs under the tutelage of Arthur Jones, so I decided to give that routine a try. It consisted of leg press work, supersetted with hack squats, followed by regular squats -- all performed nonstop. However, I threw in a twist. I would perform my first set of leg presses to complete failure to stretch my quads, then jump onto the hacks. After a brutal set of hacks, I would jump over to the bar and perform regular squats, trying to get 100 reps before failing.

I started out leg pressing at 560 lbs. I was never a strong leg presser; it always hurt my lower back. In any event, I performed my warmup and proceeded to my working set. As I started pressing, beads of sweat formed on my forehead. Seven reps, 8 reps, 9 reps, soon my shirt was drenched, 10 reps, 11 reps, 12 reps, my breathing was almost uncontrollable, 13 reps, 14 reps, 15 reps, the sound of the leg press machine was something like “swoosh, swish” as it went up and down, the sound of my breathing was like “hufffff, pufffff.” Anyone walking by might have mistaken my workout for a rail yard with a steam engine preparing to pull away. After 20 reps, I could press no more. I locked out the sled and jumped up to stretch my now engorged thighs.

Now for hurdler stretches. I almost screamed as my quads were stretched to make more room for blood. The lactic acid filled my thighs up with liquid pain. On to hacks. The weight would not change, but the time it took to complete the set did. Again 8 reps, 9 reps, 10 reps, huffff, pufffffff, swoosh, swish, when would it stop? It felt like 10 minutes had passed before 20 reps were completed. I thought to myself, “What in God’s name am I doing?” "God’s name" was right, but under the church I felt as if I had been sent to hell to beg for forgiveness!

Now for squats. I only used a third of the weight I was cable of, loading the rusty plates onto the bar. Thankfully it was only one 50 lb. plate per side, the combined weight (including the bar) being 120 lbs. total. Under the bar, I cranked out the first 10 reps. Now all you could hear was “huffff, pufffff,” and the occasional “piftsss.” This sound sometimes came in a deliberate cadence, sometimes in rapid-fire succession. Twenty reps came and went, as did 30. When I got to 50, I had to stop. Ten merciful seconds, as the bar never left my shoulders, then back to work. Sixty reps, 70 reps, breathe damn it, 80 reps, head begins to spin. Come on, only 20 reps to go. Stomach turning, 90 reps, 95 reps, finally 100 blessed reps!

I racked the weight, dipped under the bar and out of the confines of the power rack. Took a step backwards, and my left knee buckled. It felt somewhat dreamlike as my entire body began to fall backwards. I looked up at the ceiling and caught a glimpse of the one and only light bulb. Then no more light.

I awoke to the sounds of “Blessed Are We.” Was church starting? How could that be? Saturday evening services didn’t start until 6:00 p.m. I had gotten here at 1:00 p.m. Surely my workout had not taken that long? I stumbled up, my legs cramped and in knots. I looked up the 12 or so stairs I had to climb. There at the top, in shock, was the pastor dressed in his robes for Mass. “Have you been down there this entire time?” he asked. I smiled a crooked smile and said, “I guess so, I really do not remember.” The mass over, Father promised to take me home.

I’ll never forget that day. Or that place. Or Father. Some people had Venice, some had Gold’s, some trained under gurus. But I had a small part of heaven in that boiler room. It could have easily been hell, except that I loved it!

Steve Buccilli

March 2006

Posted 11-28-04 on Chad Nicholls’s Muscle Mayhem Forum
(reprinted by permission)

Yesterday, Saturday, Nov. 27th, I disembarked from the cruise ship Crystal Serenity at Port Everglades, Florida, after completing a 7-day Caribbean cruise.

Now I've got to tell you that for one thing I don't look like the typical "Crystal" passenger, who might be 60-80 years old. But as a typical "7 meal a day" bodybuilder, I need a cruise line that can provide me with 24-hour room service where I can literally order anything I want, not just a burger or club sandwich.

Further, I traveled on the cruise with 3 suitcases (I never travel light!) and two plastic file folder boxes, one containing articles I've collected over the years related to contest prep and the other containing articles about diet, training, and "other supplements." I never have the time to go through them much at home so a cruise is the perfect time to go through them.

Long story short, I walked off the ship yesterday after it had been cleared by US Customs. I immediately located a porter, found my 3 suitcases and 2 file folder boxes under my designated "color" area for them, and proceeded to exit the customs area with the porter.

Keep in mind that while I am not the biggest guy around by a long shot, there is no questioning I am a bodybuilder even when totally covered up (I was not wearing baggies with a tank!).

Anyway, just as the porter and I were going through the final exit where you are expected to surrender your customs declaration, the customs lady standing there asked what was in my two file folder boxes. I hesitated, wondering if I should just say "office work" but thought, no, I will tell the truth even if it opens Pandora's Box. Well, that's exactly what happened because the moment I said the contents were files on "Bodybuilding," she yelled for 2 customs officers and shouted "Do a 2nd on him!" Suffice it to say, that meant tear everything I have apart!

The two customs officers, who looked they were “in heat" and ready to "make the kill," proceeded to take the next hour and a half and went through every item in my suitcases and every file folder in the 2 "bodybuilding" file boxes. They did this in full view of the other disembarking passengers, which was a little bit humiliating to say the least. Needless to say, after the hour and a half was over, they looked like two very disappointed school boys and simply said, "You can go now." To which I replied with a big smile, "Sorry boys to have disappointed you!"


Steroid & baseball song: