August 23, 2006
I always think of the "97-pound weakling" growing up, imagining it was something someone like Jerry Della Femina thought up on Madison Avenue, an image so visual it still conjures up bullies kicking sand in my face and taking my bikini-clad girlfriend from me on the beach.
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.
It's not because I need to look more manly — women who know me will tell you I have the testosterone level of a Tour de France cyclist, which is roughly equivalent to King Kong's.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to look ripped, wanting to have a six-pack to display while walking on 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?
Now, just a few months later, I'm chiseled. The ladies swoon when they see me shirtless, but it's not easy to have abs like mine, rock hard quads and triceps the size of cannonballs. Worse, one has to watch what they eat to stay ripped, or risk reverting back to being a flabby weakling.
It wasn't easy getting started, as my muscles weren't used to lifting. In fact, I was quite sore initially, and the reason is simple: I overdid it. You know me, everything in excess. So instead of starting out with the 10-pounders, I went right to the 20s and loaded up two. The number of reps — that's lifter talk for repetitions — also had something to do with the soreness, because instead of sticking with one I went all the up to two: Ouch!
I also 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 or below. 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.
Yes, my deltoids and pecs gleam. Did you ever wonder how body builders gleam? Oil. They smear it on themselves. I use olive oil, so if I get hungry I can take a piece of bread, rub it on my tummy, and presto, snack time!
I recently purchased a couple of dumbbells. Did you know how they got their names? It used to be anyone who worked at a newspaper was a dumbbell . . . no, I made it up. 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 a little tidbit of info we lifters know.) Now I can work out right here at the office by doing curls with one hand while I surf the net with the other. I can't do many — maybe four— but hell, the suckers weigh five pounds each.
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.
As it turns out, that 97-pound weakling wasn't the imagination of some Madison Avenue guy. 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 began the catalyst that compelled the young man to search for a way to build up his thin body in a rapid way in the privacy of his room at home. It is said he observed the great cats at the zoo flexing their muscular bodies against the cage bars, thus keeping themselves strong with the resistance. Atlas 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.
I'm gearing up to kick some sand of my own.