21 Stories in 21 Years



After lifting for 21 years and having gone through quite the gamut of training methods, training tools, near death experiences and plenty of pain and pleasure mixed in I have learned quite a lot....  A lot in regards to training AND life through these 2 decades.

1) I used to do my homework in the gym. I just wanted to be amongst the weights. If I opened one of my books in the classroom you would find FLEX magazine inside the book. I couldn't get my mind off lifting and being in the gym.

2) I would cut school to record American Muscle Magazine on ESPN. The show would air at strange hours, catering to to the west coast bodybuilding scene. Sometimes the show aired at 3 AM so I would set my alarm in the middle of the night just to watch the show.

I would count down the days till the show and mark my calendar. The weeks I had to wait to catch the next episode seemed like years to me.

3) I used to watch The Lee Haney show on Sunday mornings at 8 AM."Stimulate, Don't Annihilate." I would watch his workout tape before I trained at home when I was 13 years old! Hells Yea I bought that tape!

4) I read 'Arnold: The Education of a Bodybuilder' for 4 years straight while in high school, NEVER allowing the other kids to take the book out from the library so I kept renewing it. I feared they would learn the secrets of Arnold and catch up to me.


5) On family vacations I didn't want to relax. I made my Dad drive around and find me a gym. They would often drop me off in the morning and pick me up SIX hours later after they spent the day at the beach or went shopping!

6) On the way to the gym one day, at the age of 14, my brother was driving me there and I was meeting up with two of my idols, both former wrestlers from the high school team and two of the most Bad Ass Wrestlers I knew at the time. Instead of helping my brother I got out and ran down the highway to get to the gym.

7) By age 15 I KNEW I wanted to own my own gym. My Dad would drive me to ALL the gyms within a 1hr drive and I would meet with the owner and ask him questions about running a gym. My Dad always had the business mind and would ask them if they would sell the gym! haha

john grimek8) There was a small, hardcore gym in Perth Amboy, home of John Grimek. The owner was lazy and the place was a yellow building with a few light bulbs and tons of OLD equipment, YORK barbells, dumbbells and a crossover machine connected with rope rather than cable! I would have bought that gym but the owner burnt it down...... Pure accident of course, at least that's what the paper said. Coulda been quite the gem if I got in there.

9) There was a gym for sale in Newark, in a scary area. It was called Pumps Gym and the owner was a welder. He welded EVERYTHING, all the dumbbells, barbells and he even MADE the machines. The Leg Press was the size of a Volkswagon Beetle.

The Power Rack musta been 11 or 12' tall!! He was burnt out and wanted to sell it for 10 grand. I had 10 grand in the bank to buy a diamond engagement ring. I ALMOST bought the gym instead!! Instead of the gym, I married that girl and bought some old equipment from the guy 🙂

10) When I was in my early 20's I traveled to California alone, to do some soul searching. I stayed with my older bros buddy from The Israeli Army. Every day I drove into Venice and Santa Monica to train on Venice Beach or at Gold's Venice.

I ate at the Fire House every day and layed on the beach. I was hoping for some nostalgic feeling of Pumping Iron but it NEVER happened 🙁

I walked into World Gym and saw Joe Gold, Zabo and a few other GREATS from The Golden Era hanging out behind the front desk like the good ol' days!

11) While in Santa Monica I walked by the ORIGINAL Gold's Gym where Arnold and the boys used to train. And although it was just a BIG cement wall, I swear I could still hear Arnold talking and weights clanking as if it were 1975 all over again, the year I was born.

Last I heard some dude bought the original building and made it his house.

12) I almost moved to Cali that summer and was ready to tell my parents to send me socks and underwear. I bailed and stayed in NJ and regretted that for YEARS! It taught me to Man UP and be more of a risk taker. Now that I live a few minutes from the beach I'm a happy man.

13) I remember having a goal of squatting 225 for 50 reps. I hit 46 or so on my own and cranked the extra few with a spotter. That was FUN. Sometimes I wonder if my legs were so damn strong from doing Leg Presses!!??

14) I remember squatting 315 for 22 reps. I wanted to impress this girl at the gym but I was too shy to speak to her, imagine that. Figured I could catch her attention by squatting 315 for 20 + reps. She was ALWAYS at the gym when I was there. Except this time she showed up 10 minutes AFTER I did 22 reps with 315. The entire gym stopped to watch me, except for her.

15) I won the "Young Mr. Israel" contest when I was 18 with less than 2 weeks preparation. I was convinced to compete when I went to visit my Grandparents and the gym owner saw me. The competition was held inside an amphitheater and the crowd was over 1,000 people watching!

The crowd was nuts and there 18 or 19 competitors in my weight class. I beat a kid from Russia to win the contest. I trained with a Navy SEAL and the gym owner, a former physical instructor for The Israeli Special Forces. Those 2 weeks of training were some of the most memorable days of my life!

16) When I was pumping up for Mr. Israel bodybuilding show it was in the basement. I retreated to a small back room and began churning out push ups with my feet elevated and my hands placed on 2 chairs for the extra stretch. Why did I do this? Because this is what Arnold did when he first came to America and competed in his first ever bodybuilding competition on American ground.

All the other kids were staring at me trying to figure out what secrets I had from America. After winning they all accused of me being on steroids and the Navy SEAL I was training with kind of flipped out. Kind of 🙂

17) I remember copying everything Vic Richards said in the magazines. It was common to find me doing things like:

- Squats for 2 hours

- Leg Press or Hack Squat for 2 hours

- Bench Press for 2 hours

18) I remember a kick ass, hardcore gym in my hometown that was packed with powerlifters and bodybuilders. The music was always loud and everyone was lifting hard and heavy.

The owner sold his gym near the jersey shore, came back and painted all the brown equipment white and baby blue. The clientele cleared out like the plague was coming, the tape deck was removed (yes, it was THAT long ago) and eventually the gym shut down.

Shoulda stayed hard core. Period.

19) After years of trying to find a hardcore gym, as they were all either burned down, burnt our or sold out, I purchased a 300lb barbell set from Costco for $99. The training I experienced with just a barbell and some basics in the garage was absolutely awesome. I began purchasing odds and ends from E Bay, classified ads and Craigs List.

I was benching, power cleaning, deadlifting, floor pressing and shrugging.

The garage was freezing, literally. I purchased a space heater which did little to keep me warm. I wore 2 pairs of sweats, 3 - 4 sweat shirts, hats and gloves. I purchased a 2nd space heater, but when turned on, I shorted the entire house. My Dad wasn't happy. I continued to train through mid December until I got sick for a full week and had to retreat back to a "regular" gym.

20) The first time I ever saw Pumping Iron was when my friend's Dad rented the movie for me. I didn't leave the house and must have watched it over and over again until I had to go home. My friend's Dad copied the VHS for me so I could watch it over and over again.... except this time at my house, haha

When the anniversary edition came out and all the lost footage was brought onto another DVD, I did the same thing. Spent ALL day watching that movie!!

21) There used to be an OLD School YMCA in Metuchen. All the equipment was by YORK and all the dumbbells were globe style or round heads. I would ride my bike there and barely make it home alive. I would try to ride my bike at other times push my bike.

Those days were THE BEST! I remember asking a landscaper if he had any water as I was pushing my bike home after killing myself with a leg workout copies straight out of 'Arnold's Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding'. The guys would always play AC / DC in the radio tape deck and this is the gym where some of my earliest articles about 'NO Rules Training' came from as some Beast named George was tearing up the YMCA weight room.

I have PLENTY more stories to tell, perhaps there will be a Part II.

Drop a comment with some of your memories and stories from lifting. Looking forward to reading them!

Lead from the FRONT!


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34 Responses

  1. Zach-

    Man, we have some similar stories.

    I remember going to Hawaii for a summer vacation going into my sophomore year of high school and I actually was PISSED off because I was going to miss a week of training for the upcoming season. My family didn’t understand when I asked them to drive me to the Gold’s Gym and pay the $25 out-of-state fee to use the gym (for 1 day!) After that it was just push ups, sit ups, sprints, etc.

    I also remember at the age of 14 or 15 KNOWING that training athletes to get faster and stronger for their sport was what I was meant to do.

    I remember sitting on forums from 17 on (once I found out about them) for hours poking and prodding some of the smartest guys around; I would read every damn article on the net. I must have read articles for 3-4 hours a day! I would stay up late to watch track and field, worlds strongest man, etc..

    I remember using my mom’s credit card (and would pay her back immediately with whatever $$ I had) to purchase training equipment, books, manuals, etc as a young 14 year old because I wanted to be the very best and I wanted to learn many ways to do just that.

    I was actually going through some old material I have in my room and came across my first ever speed training product “Don BeBee’s House of Speed – Speed Enhancement Workout Tape” yep, VHS and everything haha! Came out in ’98, I think I got that video in ’99 when I was in 7th grade. Man time sure flies.

    You helped me bring back a lot of good memories, Zach!

    Thanks for sharing.

    -John Cortese

    1. Cortese – Dude, I still have some VHS tapes floating around. I WISH I never gave the tapes I recorded away, they were over 4 years of the American Muscle Magazine show that ESPN used to air!!

      1. John Miller says:

        Hey Zach. Great stories! Just an FYI: I buy, sell and trade bodybuilding dvd’s, magazines and books. I have just about every American Muscle Magazine episode on dvd. Shoot me an email and I can give you more details. Thanks.

  2. Gret stuff Zach!! I remember cutting school and walking 2 towns on Long Island levittown to bellmore) to train when the gym wasn’t busy. when that gym closed the nearest gym was 6 miles away and I used to hitch. getting there i usually got rides but nobody wanted to pick up a smelly sweaty kid for the ride home. I remember wlking home exausted almost everyday. Good times.

    1. The walk / bike ride home was always a classic! If I could ride or walk straight I saw it as a week workout!!! ha ha

  3. man, I remember my visit to venice beach to, walking near to original gold’s and hearing the voices of arnold, franco,…

    great blog-entry zach!

    1. Domi – thnx, brutha!!!!

  4. I remeber doing bjj when i was 17 and got a ACL full torn and MCL partial tear and was rushed to the hospital. After the surgery i was knocking off dips in the hospital with the bottle of blood that was attached by a tube on my thigh on the table preventing it to fall off. Then when i was back home cranked out a push up PR totaled around 400 reps in a long time with the hurt leg on top of the other, sweated a pool of water and my mate who came to visit me said “Have you just went for a swim with that leg???”

    Taught me that there is always a way to train.

    1. Reg! Damn, NO doubt!!! You’re an ANIMAL!

  5. hi Zach,

    I live in London UK just down the road from where Wag Bennett’s gym was. Wag was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s mentor when Arnie came to live in London aged 19, back in 1966.

    Check out the link below, I think you’ll enjoy the descriptions and photos of this shrine to bodybuilding.



    1. HOLY shyt!!!1 Dom, those photos are amazing, kinda reminds me of Diamond Gym!!! I WISH these gyms were the norm still today! Thank U for sharing!

  6. Wow Zach, I didn’t think anybody loved iron as much as me. Those are some great stories.

  7. Zach,

    Yes, a part two is a must! I read that whole thing and then watched all 12 parts of Pumping Iron through youtube right on this page haha. Great stuff!

  8. Man i could tell you some stories, In my high school days i would watch pumping iron an i still have my orginal copy of Arnolds book my dad got it for me for my birthday when i was 14. But i trained like a mad man in my basement gym always asking my dad to get me more weights an he did he was a weilder an built me a power rack witch is still in my parents house to this day. Those were the days Deadlifts rack pulls alday long.

    1. Reggie! NIIIICE! I have 2 different versions of the Book, Pumping Iron!!

      I’ll have to do a video on them!!! They are BIG time rare to find nowadays!

  9. Z!

    That’s some strong sh*t right there bro!

    I can remember working out in the basement of my house with those old ass plastic Weider weights full of concrete and the doing pull-ups off my floor boards! I would read every magazine possible saying shit I want to be a bodybuilder.

    My bro and I would talk about owning our own gym since I first starting working out for 2-3 hours a day at the local Boys and Girls Club!

    Now LOOK! We are doing it! I OWN my own gym and am a Pro Natural Bodybuilder!

    It’s great to look back at these moments in our life!

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Hey Zach,

    I remember channel surfing back in 75, didn’t take long though with only 6 channels. It was a Saturday which usually meant being outside playing whatever sport was in season, but that day I caught ABC’s Wide World of Sports and the Olympia contest was on and there was Arnold. I was hooked. I called my Dad in the living room and even told him that’s what I want to do. I started out in my basement with a whatever weights I could find no bench no equipment and would do whatever I could to get stroger.
    The first christmas after that my Dad bought me a weight bench and 2 25lb plates. It was the one of the best christmas’s I ever had. While everone else was finishing opening christmas presents I was in the basement putting together my weight bench and started lifting on it as soon as I was done. I didn’t finish opening the rest of my christmas presents until later that day. Throughout the rest of my high school years I got 2 25lb plates for christmas every year. Those were some great times.
    I could go on for hours Zach about stories like this. Thanks for the post, it brought up a loot of great memories for me. Makes me wish I had a basement full of weights again. Peace out bro.


    1. John! I remember the first time I got fired up was seeing Big Lou turn into The Incredible Hulk!

      My Dad took a pair of his jeans, cut them into shorts and threw the cut offs around my arms so I would think I had muscles!!!

      That was a LIFE changer for me and Green is still my fav color! ha ha

  11. Zach,

    This brings me back. In high school, junior college, and even at my job (ran a lathe) I would read Muscle and Fitness and Flex, then get off work at 8 – 8:30 at night go straight to the gym till 10 – 10:30.

    Great Post!!!! Post!!!!


  12. Hi Zack
    nice storyreally inspiring

  13. I’m going through that fascination phase right now, just absolutely amazed by the strongman competitions and powerlifting magazine articles…Louie Simmons and Mark Rippetoe and Bill Starr and Arnie and Dan John and many more all comprise two shelves full of literature in my library. I record WSM and Track and Field events, and have even ventured out to Highland games just to watch…

    I’m glad to know this feeling of awe never goes away!

    1. Drew!!! Get your hands on the early editions of the Westside Barbell Tapes, they are awesome!!!

      Also, old school World’s Strongest Man on you tube is legit!!

  14. Hi Zach,

    great post, brought back some memories.

    Is it just me or were the physiques better back then?

    I prefer Arnold and Franco’s looks to a bloated Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler.

    Looking forward to part 2.


  15. Before MMA was popular I was already training MMA. I would run to the Judo gym, the kickboxing gym, wrestle with people and the boxing gym,. Since their was no actual MMA fights to get into I would ask the gym owners to set me up with sparring with their toughest guys. Oftentimes with a month or two of experience at one martial art or another (thankfully over time I learned the arts VERY WELL) I found myself in the ring with some pro boxer (usually a heavyweight) or a pro Thai boxer getting beaten from pillar to post. The great part was that soon enough, I figured out how to defend myself and pretty soon I was doing the beating.

    Painful lessons to learn but it made me tough and now as a fighter their isn’t much I haven’t seen and faced up to

    1. David! How cool, bro! MOST people were pursists and would not mix 2 styles of combat, YOU were smart!! WIsh I did this and started Judo when I was in school! WISH!!!

  16. Rockin post Zach!

    Thanks for the drip down muscle memory lane!

    I share so many of the same memories;-)

  17. Zach –

    Love your intensity and commitment, there is a lot to learn from this post, keep doing what you do.

    Your friend,

    1. Dave my man, thank you, brutha!!!!

  18. i love how we’ve all started out of garage gyms and pumping iron was a life changing movie!

  19. Zach – this looks like an old post, but i just saw your link to it on facebook today…. DUDE! this is AMAZING! can we keep going and trade story for story? reading this brought back so many memories and made you sound like my long lost twin brother! I dunno man… it would be a close call as to who read education of a bodybuilder and who watched pumping iron more times… if you got me on the book, i got you on the movie! I watched it DAILY for years!

    – JERSEY!

    1. Tom!! SOOOOOO many of my blog posts have been lost in the shuffle of my years and years of writing, I like to bring some of them back to life as they are ALL powerful!

      Dude, these days were amazing!!!

      I bet we woulda been awesome training partners if we were in same school!!

      I was an odd ball out to ALL others!!!!

      Check this old gym of Arnold’s mentor, Wag Bennett from London!!!

      ==> http://www.seemydomain.com/wagbennett/

      U will LOVE this!!

  20. Mike Halbfish says:

    Zach, I know that Pump gym in Newark. I went in there too.

  21. Zach….very cool memories….what most folks don’t know, the original Gold’s was already the owners house by the time the movie Pumping Iron irst aired in 1977….the location of Gold’s moved to Santa Monica sometime in 1976….

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