May 3, 2007
Joe ‘Master Blaster’ Weider still going strong
Web extra: Arnold introduces Joe at Muscle Beach
(Page 2 - Previous Page)No one can say that Weider, who in "Brothers of Iron" compares himself to Einstein, St. Paul and Alexander the Great, lacks a healthy ego. But he seems to understand the irony of such grandiosity when he says, "I wouldn't really compare myself to them."
Still, he continues to go by nicknames like the Master Blaster and Trainer of Champions, and a bust in the lobby of the Weider Building proclaims him the Father of Fitness.
Some would dispute that title. Jack La Lanne started running a gym in Oakland around the time Weider began selling fitness magazines. And Walter Camp, the founder of modern American football, instituted the Daily Dozen, a series of calisthenics that were used by U.S. servicemen in World War I.
Weider says, however, that he knew nothing of Camp and did not meet La Lanne until the 1940s.
"I was in tune to nothing," remarks the distinguished gent in a voice that has been characterized as Yiddish-Canadian-Californian. "All I did was pull a wagon. At that time there wasn't anybody to learn from."
As a youth, he talked to sports shop owners in his hometown of Montreal about barbells. "Go to a bar where the girls are," they said.
Then he asked about dumbbells: "Yeah, we've got dumbbells here," they joked.
Finally, he talked a blacksmith into making him a barbell.
He developed his physique partly because he wanted to ward off bullies in the neighborhood, but, as he writes, there was more to it than that. He loved iron.
"Iron isn't dead. It communicates and feels like many, many things. It feels like the strength you will gain. It feels like fellowship.... It feels like cosmic power. You lift against gravity, the force that holds the universe together, which pulls down toward the core of the planet, which is made of iron."
This prose illuminates the dreamscape of a man who says, "I saw the barbell, and it opened up a whole new world."
Later, when he became a magazine publisher, he hired others like himself. As he writes, "It takes fanatics to put out a publication for fanatics.... I made muscle men and muscle heads into magazine men, rather than vice versa."
If Camp and La Lanne played a role in fitness in this country, Weider deserves credit for devising the "split system" -- working out nearly every day, upper body one day, legs the next -- which is used by athletes all over the world.
Before this system, Weider says the prevailing wisdom was to do eight to 12 repetitions three days a week. Even the term "reps," as well as other locutions known to all gym rats like "sets" and "pyramids," comes from the Weider principles.
A young Arnold Schwarzenegger read Weider's magazines when he was growing up in Austria and yearned to be a Mr. Olympia.
In the late 1960s, Joe Weider spotted Schwarzenegger's charisma and determination and famously brought him to California to train at Gold's Gym, run by Joe Gold, another Jewish weightlifting icon. Weider got Schwarzenegger an apartment, a car and some money and started training him. Later, he paid for Schwarzenegger's education and catalyzed his business career by advising the future governator to invest in real estate. Schwarzenegger bought property in Santa Monica, which he still owns and now houses the restaurant Schatzi on Main.
As Weider writes in the book, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears."
Weider the teacher now signals to his nephew, Eric Weider, president of the company, that he has some papers on the desk in his office. Eric Weider, 43, has established the Weider History Group, a series of publications including a new military history title, Armchair General. The Weiders sold off their barbell and treadmill business for $270 million in 1994 to Bain Capital, a Boston-based firm run at the time by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whom Eric Weider remembers as "a bright guy." But the Weiders still own a vitamin line and have a 50 percent stake in the Mr. Olympia competition, which began in 1965.
Eric comes back into the room with a special report from Harvard Medical School.
"Physical activity can help you avoid a host of serious ailments," reads one of the headlines.
Joe Weider, the pioneer who battled stereotypes and misinformation about weight training for decades, chuckles, "It goes to show they finally caught up."
Arnold introduces Joe at Muscle Beach
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