Randy Roach Bodybuilding Interview
Author of Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors
Q. Can you give us some background about yourself?
A. Well in summary, I am 49 years old and live in Ontario, Canada. I made the bulk of my living as a computer programmer in both the museum and environmental engineering fields. I have been training people for over 25 years. When I built my current home in 1998, I configured the structure to house a 1250 square foot world class commercial gym.
My programming ended for good around early 2005 when my eyesight failed totally in about 24 hours. I had struggled with eyesight issues for a number of years, but the situation became much worse. I was right in the middle of writing Volume I of "Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors" when this occurred.
My personal training toned down as I needed the time to learn how to both continue my book using speech software only and to navigate and train both myself and others as a blind individual. With my programming and subsequent insurance coverage now ending, I have begun to ramp up my personal training once again in order to make my living through that avenue, along with being an author.
Q. What got you started in bodybuilding?
A. I was just one of those young kids who was hooked at a very young age after seeing Dave Draper on television programs such as "The Beverley Hillbillies" and the "Monkees." Geez, I donít think I was even 10 years old when I first saw him. I had my first dumbbells by the age of 11 and was hammering benches together by 13.
I also recall seeing that incredible black and white photo of Don Howorth way back where he is standing under the skylight of Vinceís gym.
Don and I have actually become very good friends and now speak regularly. Steve Downs, who took that shot of Don, has also become a good friend.
Q. What are your favourite and least favourite exercises?
A. Although I have a good balance in machine and free weight equipment, the bulk of my favourite exercises are with free weights. Perhaps one of my preferred is the trap bar dead lift. Trap bars are one of the best tools in the game. With all the debate over functional exercising, I think this is probably the only real functional exercise. It is what we do everyday in our lives. We bend down and pick things up. It is truly one of the best tests of strength. Assistive gear is not all that effective here.
My best lift was 500 lbs. using only this bar, no wraps, belts, or straps. I weighed about 180 at the time and was trying for a triple body weight dead lift. Never did get it. Around 1977, Mauro Di Pasquale dead-lifted 22 lbs. over 4 times his bodyweight when he set the Canadian record at 612 lbs. That was an amazing lift.
The trap bar allows you to pull in a straight up and down plane without worrying about navigating the bar around the knees. I also like using it for bent over rows since it again allows you to pull through the knees where the straight barbell can give some people with long femurs (thigh bones) some problems. I have built a variety of my own trap bars over the years.
I also like the 16 inch grip bench press. Done with the elbows traveling out to the sides, it produces a good degree of adduction of the upper arms by the completion of the lift. It is also a much safer orientation than the standard bench grip. However, you canít lift as much weight typically.
I have also purchased and built a variety of standard and 7 foot EZ curling bars. Some have quite acute angles while others are very subtle in their curvature. I love standard barbell curls using one of the longer EZ bars with my hands positioned so you almost think I am using a regular straight bar. This very slight pronation takes stress off my inner elbow and forearms allowing me to go quite heavy on the movement.
Just little tweaks and turns can give you much more mileage in your lifting. I do not have a natural bone structure for great alignment on many of the standard lifts. I spent years learning to deal with these anomalies and learned a few tricks on the way.
I also use the EZ bar for my favourite triceps exercise, the Incline French Press. This movement builds a lot of triceps strength through the stretched long head and also strengthens much of the upper shoulder girdle which must work hard to keep you stable through the lift.
I love the side lateral raise. Yeah, this probably has some eyes rolling. However, it took me a long time to master this movement and how to work it effectively without injuring the outer elbow when going heavy. And yes, you can go heavy on this movement strict and safely.
Most trainees make a mockery of this exercise. They just swing the weights around and rely on momentum as opposed to keeping the tension on the side delts.
Dumbbell rows are a good exercise as well. I donít do them on a bench. I have a nice fat handle on my dumbbell rack to hold onto so I can keep both feet on the floor. Although I can do heavy chins in any variety, I like using the pulldown machine with various bars and rep ranges.
Another great upper body exercise not utilized much anymore most likely due to its abuse in past decades, is the standing press behind the neck for high reps. Many of us made the mistakes of propping ourselves in benches in order to leverage out as much weight as we could for lower reps. A good number of lifters were injured this way. The exercise performed standing with reps between 15 and 25 are much safer and very effective in working many muscles.
I donít like squats or front squats. I simply am not built for it. I am long in the femur and short in the torso. The physics are just too tough on the lower back for me. Those with a better balance in torso length and femur length can squat fine for leg development. I am not from the school of squat any way you can. I do, however, own the Pendulum squat machine which is probably the best out there. The unit does allow me to stay more erect to protect my lower back, but that long femur still makes for an aggravating sticking point.
I prefer to do frog squats for the lower quad and a good leg press for better leg stimulation for me. I have used the pendulum hip press for over 5 years and have just acquired the MEDX leg press which is a great unit also.
I like offsetting those and a few other free weight movements with machines that do add variety.
My cousin, Chris, and I are in the middle of developing our own pushup bars which are quite unique. Our current prototypes are awesome and we will continue to use and tweak them for a while yet.
Q. What are some tips you can give for the beginner, intermediate and advanced?
A. Of course this is going to come off like a plug for training business and I guess it really is, but I feel that all 3 levels can use a personal trainer to some degree. For beginners, I believe it is an absolute must for a number of reasons.
It is a totally different era regarding training equipment and protocols as compared to any other time in the industryís history. There are in fact some very innovative training methods out there, but they are often lost amidst a supersaturated market of commercial gizmos, marketing over-hype, and some pure bullshit.
Years ago, the only ones lifting were guys like me who just knew they loved it the first time they experienced it. There still wasnít much in the way of equipment readily available to most in the late 60s an early 70s. We were forced to use free weights for just about everything. You got it or you didnít. Everything else came easy after the free weights. The main point here was that we learned how our bodies moved and operated regarding various movements.
Today, there are many more people in the gyms with varying degrees of interest and willingness to train. These people need a trainer to help them through those initial stages that the die-hards plowed through on their own years earlier.
A good trainer will know the clients body mechanics better than the client within a session or two. It is the trainerís job to proceed and teach the client to understand their body better than the trainer. I believe that all beginners should start any program that utilizes progressive resistance with a variety of free weight equipment.
I own almost $100,000 in some of the best equipment out there from Pendulum, MEDX, Hammer, Nautilus, Atlantis and custom built. They all have their place in plugging biomechanical holes and offering future variety. However, machines can easily lull beginners to sleep before they understand what they are doing, why, or the muscles they are working.
Executing free weight exercises much more effectively expose the kinesthetic and proprioceptive abilities of the client. In a nutshell, these are 2 of the major factors that determine the athletic ability of an individual. Just as you have logical or cognitive geniuses, you also have kinesthetic and proprioceptive geniuses as well. Most people are not in this realm. Much of these abilities are God-given, but they can obviously be improved upon as well. Just lifting weights also requires skill and coordination.
Free weights will allow the trainer to assess these factors both initially and adaptively. The client is forced to be aware of his body, what is working, and just how it is working. You donít want them simply going through the motions. They will get bored fast and often walk from this endeavour.
As mentioned, machines can be incorporated out of biomechanical necessity and variety. There are some very good machines and devices out there.
As for intermediates and advanced clients, it is always good to seek other opinions. The body does respond best to change and even top bodybuilders will seek a trainer for this change and to be coached through a training phase.
Good trainers come through experience. Yes, certain knowledge in the applicable sciences is synergistic to the trade, but there must be several years of experience. A weekend certification course wonít cut it.
Q. Where do you stand on the use of steroids and supplements?
A. These are such loaded questions and I should actually remain a bit conservative on these issues since I am writing so extensively on them in both volumes of "Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors." Anyone who has read Volume I has seen how supplements took over and now dominate the fitness industry since the early 1950s. I am a total raw food eater and do in fact use some more natural based items, but I think we all know that there is a lot of bullshit out there and it certainly does make the industry go around, doesnít it? There are many who are sincere in their efforts to produce and promote earnestly their products and stand by them. However, they are often trumped by the outright hucksters.
Bodybuilders today are taking WAY too many supplements. Many of them are putting supplements over real food and you canít do that. Well, you can, but itís not healthy or efficient. You wonít build muscle if you donít have natural quality live foods and the ability to digest and assimilate them. Most super-hyped bodybuilding supplements just donít do this. As I mentioned, there are some who spend more to produce what they feel are much better products and they usually spread themselves into the alternative health field, also.
If you live on a total supplement diet it will eventually hollow you out. The knowledgeable men in the fitness industry know that supplements are only effective when integrated within a diet constituted upon whole natural foods. Much of the industry doesnít want to acknowledge this because of the commercial bonanza being played.
The nutritional pioneers of the sport knew about the value of raw foods. They spare the bodyís resources and bring much more to the muscle building process than anything else. Vince Gironda and Irving Johnson (Rheo H. Blair) both knew this. However, they were big believers in supplements also. Some of those old school supplements can still be given some consideration.
There is much more to this argument from both sides that I wonít get into right now.
As for steroids, what else can really be said? There are problems on a number of fronts. They have in fact literally hijacked the strength, muscle, and speed-oriented fields of athletics decades ago. As I mentioned in Volume I, many like to delineate the sport into specific ages and eras. These are often legitimate categorizations, but I feel that there were only 2 ages separated by 1 era -- the age of no drugs and the age of drugs. These 2 ages were transitioned through the 1960s, a decade I arbitrarily labeled "Classic." The 60s began the heavy insurgence of steroids and by the decadeís end, the process was complete. You were no longer able to seriously compete in many of the strength and speed oriented sports unless you engaged performance enhancing drugs.
Q. Why did you label the 60s as "Classic?"
A. The insurgence of steroids really upped the anti and for those who refused to use drugs became quite innovative in their training, dieting, and supplementing, not to mention, their mental focus. They tried to hang in there as long as they could. Many just hung it up and walked from bodybuilding instead of going via the syringe. Some tried it all natural, others took some orals, but I have in fact interviewed many who simply packed it in.
As mentioned, problems exist on many levels with this issue. There is an argument over their legality, their safety, and their ethics. And of course, our governing agencies exacerbated the problem by declaring war on steroids. Like anything politicians declare war upon, they make it much worse usually by forging a black market. It really does make you ponder just where these guys are coming from.
Iíll side-step much of these arguments for now, but the real problem in bodybuilding is the reckless abuse of a myriad of chemical substances. The sport at the top competitive pro level is slowly dying. Very few like these physiques and even fewer want or can afford to go this route. We are seeing this in the die-off in the amateur level.
Todayís top pros donít necessarily represent the best genetics available to the sport, simply the bravest. How many great physique potentials came to the table, assessed the prerequisites and said, "No way." It truly is an engagement of reckless chemical assault on the physiology that only a certain consciousness will endeavor on. I touch on the psyche of the bodybuilder in a chapter in Volume I of ďMuscle Smoke & MirrorsĒ that may be deemed as controversial by some.
As long as this faction of bodybuilding is flown as the flagship of the sport, it will always stumble, sputter, and incur public scorn and rejection. Much of it is quite easy to fix. Just get rid of the judges. Do something that hasnít been done in many years: Add symmetry and deep muscle separation back into the judging criteria.
This may reduce the amounts of Gh, IGF-1, and insulin, but you will probably still have other drug problems for quite some time yet. What really damages the sport is the use of synthol and whatever else they are artificially ballooning body parts with. It has become such a mockery of what the essence of the sport once represented when it was referred to as Physical Culture.
To each his own I guess.
Q. What is the toughest part about bodybuilding for you?
A. The toughest pill to swallow with bodybuilding is the stigma attached to the discipline due to what we just discussed. The bodybuilder has always endured a negative public perception and this is very unfortunate.
Many today are trying to avoid labeling themselves as bodybuilders, especially true natural practitioners. I, myself, donít mind using the term. I feel that it is the best form of physical Culture. The Oxford dictionary defines this term as, "The sum total of a societyís activities and attitudes toward exercise and education."
As I wrote in Volume I, I have tweaked the term slightly to state that today it is more the sum total of an individualís activities and attitudes towards exercise, education, and spiritual development. Everyone has their own Physical Culture whether it is more banal in gearing simply towards the physical, or more profound in an effort to balance the 3 tenets of mind, body, and spirit.
I see myself as a teacher of Physical Culture with bodybuilding making up the physical aspect of my life. With the decades of exercise and nutritional research, along with other growth experiences in my life such as dealing with blindness and a few other forks in the road, I feel that I have much to offer for those willing to learn.
Q. Tell us about your book "Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors?"
A. I have done many big projects in my life being a computer programmer and software developer, but writing ďMuscle, Smoke & MirrorsĒ has been the biggest challenge of my life, vision or no vision. When I think about it, the book officially began near the end of 2002 when I specifically started interviewing and reading for the article. However, when I look at the finished volume, address the hundreds of books on my shelf dealing with bodybuilding, nutrition, politics, religion, and considering where I am going in Volume II, the full project truly began 30 years ago.
I still shake my head when I ponder just what grew out of a simple article request on some nutritional trends in bodybuilding. It was a progressive realization that such a broad scope was necessary in order to effectively unfold what I truly believe is an accurate depiction of not just the evolution of the Iron Game and its nutritional periphery, but the tragic mutilation of our food supply.
Our entire Western culture has been slowly forged into a society that blindly misplaced their trust into a myriad of governing agencies that clearly put corporate interests well over that of the general public. My book is both a historical account of our game and a wake-up call for the entire industry. They must realize how close they are to losing their freedom to choose what they want to eat for their own health and well-being. Their supplements could be gone over-night, leaving the majority wondering what the hell happened. Believe me, most are politically in the dark on this matter.
I honestly feel that it should be read by not only bodybuilders, but everyone in the fitness industry. Carl Lanore of Superhuman radio did a show dealing with this very issue of who should read the book. He has been extremely supportive of "Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors."
Q. What are your future goals?
A. Iíll continue to market Volume I of "Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors" while plowing forward with Volume II. I am about 75% drafted through Volume II. It will probably be larger than Volume I which is 562 pages. The game really took off with the acceptance of the barbell, new equipment arriving on the scene, the growth of strength coaching and all the politics with it as the world became more convoluted. A guy named Schwarzen-something showed up also. Some interesting behind the scenes politics on the transition of power within bodybuilding and some potentials that presented themselves that could have changed the entire landscape of the sport will serve a bit of fascinating reading. Of course I will continue the strong nutritional theme which is a powerful story in itself.
I also plan to ramp up to some degree my personal training again. I am very confident as a blind trainer. Using hands-on has actually made me a better teacher in some regards.
Q. Where can people get your book?
The book can be purchased through my website stated below, mainstream online book chains, Amazon, and a number selling it within the industry itself.
The price of the book is higher then most, but it is definitely worth it. There is much never before assembled from the pertinent and related fields and how they interacted to build our Iron Game and fitness industry. There is an enormous amount of material for all to learn from in this volume.
Q. Anything else you'd like to add?
A. Iíd like to thank you, Paul, for both your great endorsement of the book and offering this interview.
I have been overwhelmed with the response to Volume I. In an industry that is supposed to be riddled with ego, so many have put those egos aside and graciously showed their appreciation for the book through the tremendous endorsements and reviews that I have received. Many of them can be read on my website at www.randyroach.ca
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