Monday, February 23, 2015

Conversation With Pumping Iron Star and Mr. Universe, Mike Katz. By Dr. Michael Dusa

Conversation with Pumping Iron star and Mr. Universe, Mike Katz ( with some words from Mike Katz, Jr)
By Dr. Michael Dusa
North Haven, Connecticut February 22, 2015

I have been blessed to be friends with and have as a mentor for nearly 40 years with bodybuilding icon, Mike Katz. Here are Big Mike's words on what is going on in his busy life.

MD: Mike, back in your bodybuilding training days, what did Bodybuilders do for cardio training?
MK: Well, our training was so intense that we derived a cardio effect from the rapidity of the sets we performed. Before I ever went to California, a workout here in Connecticut would be plodding and methodical... It could take four hours for a workout to be done. When I went to train with Arnold, the same workout would take 1.5 hours- NO rest between sets- there was much more punishment training with him and the Gold's Gym crew. For instance, we would do "The Rack," as we called it. This was drop sets starting with standing dumbbell presses with 110 pounds in each hand, drop to 85 pounds, go to failure, to 55, down to 40, even 30 pounders-we'd do five sets going down the line, or, " The Rack," it was brutal. Arnold liked to train legs with me because he hated doing legs, and I loved to. My motivation pushed him to bring up his thighs, which early on were not on par with his upper body.
Mike training with Arnold
MD: You are known for one of the greatest chests in the history of bodybuilding. I'm sure folks would like to hear your thoughts on chest work.

MK: Well, guys today strike the side chest pose with somewhat of a twist to their torso because most don't have a good rib age development and many don't have lower biceps development. Al Beckles, Larry Scott and Arnold all had these ingredients, so they could really hit this pose and hit it properly. Franco did not have much of a rib cage or great bicep so you know he always did the variation of the standard side chest pose. Franco's famous split in his chest is almost like an abnormality in his structure. Myself- well, I've been born with a much higher xiphoid process than the average person. The tip of my sternum is high... My xiphoid is 8-9 inches higher from the navel than the average person, whose distance is maybe 3-4 inches. So, I had the capacity to build a much more volumetric rib cage. Another thing- many who even bother to do dumbbell pullovers today don't do them correctly. A dumbbell should be used, fingers interlocked on the bar, elbows tucked in, laying across the bench with head hanging off, hips down, no spreading of the lats. Doing so isolates the rib cage. Of course there will be some lat stimulation, but with the elbows held close and hips down, if you really concentrate you'll target the rib cage.

My favorite chest exercise is the dumbbell incline bench press. I feel overall this is the best exercise for chest development. At the top the dumbbells should touch, you should, at this point, lift, tense the pecs, contract and squeeze the muscle at the top of the movement. Bring your elbows down to armpit level- this spares you from shoulder injury. Barbell flat bench hurts the shoulders, largely because you don't have freedom of hand movement like you do with Dumbbells. Your movements should always be controlled and you should think about why you are doing an exercise. Squatting, for instance. I'd concentrate on the negative in the movement, go down slowly just below seated position, always pause, with no bounce. Same for chest and every body part. I was never really injured lifting weights.

MD: What did your eating consist of back then Mike?
MK: I'd eat four pounds of meat per day. It came in one pound packs- these were specifically cut by my butcher, and after broiling them there was ONLY blood left in the foil. There was no fat. I'd have pasta every third day, oatmeal for energy, a piece of fruit, always and only whole eggs- we'd use cholesterol as an energy source because of very intense workouts. Of course I'd be given supplements by Joe Weider, but we were all quite fond of Rheo Blair's products. I'd have a protein drink twice per day. Desiccated liver tablets were a big thing back then. Funny, some guys seemed to think they'd help their liver, even though the science didn't make sense. Of course there was both Hoffman and Joe, and " Protein of the Sea," which smelled worse than low tide in New Jersey! So then they'd load products with sugar, which defeated the purpose, but things tasted better.

MD:Mike, what encouraged you to first pick up a weight?
MK: When I was 11 or 12 years old, I went to the theater and saw the first Hercules movie Steve Reeves ever made in 1957. It was akin to a kid seeing Arnold in Conan at the same age- it had a profound effect on me. So of course I got the Weider courses in the mail- George Eiferman and Clancy Ross were featured- and I pasted their pictures on my basement wall. The routine was like chest/ biceps one day, legs the next. I " borrowed" some milk crates from the side of the road, built a primitive bench, and the guy across the street gave me some weights.

Soon I was training at the Meriden YMCA with Joe LaPorte, who helped me immensely and was also a great area bodybuilder. He was one step below the great Joe Abbenda, who of course went on to win the Mr. America. My first bodybuilding contest was when I was 14, held in Waterbury, Connecticut- I didn't place. In fact , I competed for about three years before I even got a third place trophy. I did finally win the Teenage Mr Connecticut when I was 18 or 19, and by then I was also vying for honors in the Ct open division. You must understand that I was a three sport athlete in high school- competing in hockey, track and football. I also played football at Southern Connecticut State University ( Mike is enshrined in their athletic halal of fame). Of course I was also with the NY Jets of the old AFL. So I always had a lot going on, but I still always trained. It took me four years to win the IFBB Mr. America, losing to Chuck Sipes, Frank Zane and John Decola.

Interesting thing that many don't know is the America, World and Olympia would often be held the same night, and we had body part awards. But not for each show. A guy from the America may find himself competing with a guy from the Olympia onstage for best chest. Arnold beat me early on for best chest, but only once. I beat him and others for best chest several times after.

MD: Mike, how receptive was the football world to your training with weights back in the sixties?
Mike Katz (#32) during his football days

MK: well, Jess Dow, our cosh at SCSU, didn't really understand the value of weight training. He'd hear me tossing the weights around and coming running in from his office and holler,"Hell's Bells boy, what the hell are you doing? We have a game tomorrow!" But he'd pretty much leave me be, because he knew come game day, I run over anyone who got in my way.
My roommate on the Jets was a 65 foot shot putter from Syracuse University. And we had a great inside linebacker- Jets fans will know him- named Al Atkinson. We three were the only ones on the Jets who lifted weights. I was among the faster linemen in the NFL in my time. I can tell you this, I may not have been faster than him, but I could keep up with NFL Hall of Famer Don Maynard- and boy was he fast.

In the end, I could have kept playing, but there was much to consider. An injury, just getting married to my wife Nancy, I wanted to teach and win Mr. America. It wasn't a hard decision to leave when I did.

MD: You have a great take on Bodybuilders and family...
MK: Yea. " Don't wait until you are a grandfather to be a father."
Of course, this advice can apply to anybody. Most women today- they work. I worked up to three jobs so my wife could stay home with little Michael and Michelle. Women today need more. Men do benefit because now they get to participate more in child raising.

MD: Please talk a bit about Pumping Iron...
MK: Well, the writers of the book, Charles Gaines and George Butler, from White Mountain, Vermont, were not situated far from Holyoke/ Mountain Park in Massachusetts- you know, where Ed Jubinville used to hold his shows. I captured their attention- I was a teacher, football player, bodybuilder, I was very accessible to them. You know, if they were from Portland, Oregon, they may have gone with Corney in the film. Things aligned so it was me.
Mike Katz competing in the 1975 IFBB Mr. Universe in Pretoria, South Africa. Scene from the movie Pumping Iron.
You know, I'm 70 years old now so maybe people are not as quick to recognize me, but they are very kind. Pumping Iron is now on Netflix, so it's been introduced to whole new generations. It has reinvented me to a broader and younger audience, giving me new opportunities.

Of course, Arnold pulled the film along. I see him a few times each year. Franco and Louie too of course. I see Lou more often because we both frequent the trade shows. I had a small part in Lou's documentary, Stand Tall, chronicling his comeback for the Master's Olympia, for which I was a judge. I'll say it was difficult to judge. Robby Robinson was sharper, and Lou would have won had he been 5-10% sharper. It was actually harder for Robby to beat a big guy in this scenario. Lou was big and well known, Robby, not so much.

MD: You were an educator in the Hamden School System for 35 years...
MK: I feel I was born to teach. The only thing that has been more satisfying for me is being a parent and grand parent, second most satisfying is being a teacher. Winning Mr. America was a personal accomplishment, but the positive effects I had on thousands of kids was a greater life achievement- I was giving to others. It wasn't about myself.

MD: Along with your longtime business partner and best friend, Jerry Mastrangelo, and now your son as well, you've been a gym owner in Connecticut since 1979.
MK: Well, we opened World Gym East in Hamden in 1979. Prior to doing so I asked Arnold and Joe Gold for their blessing and they were fine with it. For awhile it became Mike Katz Fitness Centers. Then Arnold called me and said," come with us." So the original Hamden club became World Gym, for which we never had a license agreement. The second World Gym we opened in Branford we did have a contract. Now, we have five Planet Fitness gyms. The industry has changed and continues to do so. CT is very competitive with LA Fitness, The Edge, Retro, etc. PF has 1,000 gyms nationwide now- seems like there is a new facility everyday. It's a good business model, I must say.

MD: Mike, I know about ten years ago you were training a good number of very successful clients.
MK: I still train a handful of clients who have been my friends for over 20 years. It's a big commitment, training someone. It's a big part of their life that I am navigating. I'm not saying training people is completely off the table, it depends on the person and other factors. I do spend a lot of time with my grand kids now.
When you care, training someone is draining. It takes a colossal amount of energy. You are dealing with inferiority complexes, self esteem issues, dedication, self confidence- these are complicated issues to deal with. You have to look at one's driving force. You may have a mountain to climb, and for this you have to have the desire to conquer. Often, when you have such a concrete goal in life, there is not a lot of room for other things in life until the mountain is climbed.

I need to ascertain what somebody is motivated by to accomplish their chosen impossible task. It's interesting that there are many common denominators in people who are successful. Dom Certo wrote " Success, Pure and Simple" in the 70's. I was one of the people from all walks of life who was highlighted. It compared common traits that we all shared. The funny thing is Weider pulled some strings for Certo to be " Knighted" in England, so he became Sir Domenic Certo ( laughs). Everybody gets a kick out of this. Weider thought if he was knighted his words would be more powerfully persuasive.

MD: Please speak of the pioneering nutrition company you were involved with in the 70's.

MK: It was called Futron Industries, and their main product was called " Slender Now." We actually were the main sponsor of the Arnold produced 1977 Mr. Olympia, and I recall the fee for this was 50 thousand dollars. I was involved in research in the company. I conveyed to them what a pain it was to deal with 12 different bottles from which we'd ingest about 100 vitamin and mineral pills per day. So we came up with the first " Multi Pak" which had 8 pills that covered everything. There was E, Multi, C, Extra C, B12. You'd just load 6 packs in your suitcase and you'd be ready to go.

In 40 years, I've had 80 calls to endorse nutrition products- 2 calls per year. I'd look over the product and see that the first ingredient would be sugar. I'd say no thanks. I couldn't and still won't promote a product lacking " White Papers," meaning there is no scientific research backing the product.

Michael, my son, and his wife Pam Katz introduced me to Qivana. When I saw that this company's research was supported by Dr. Don Layman, who is world renown as the " Father of Metabolism," this was a big key. Since using these products I've lost over 40 pounds- and with very little exercise. I feel great, physically and emotionally. The product balances out your metabolism. I'll admit I actually threw a few poses the other day ( laughs)!

MD: you have a naturally big frame...
MK: Yes. I was well suited for bodybuilding success. Look at Sergio Olivia- he just had "it". We'd look at him and say, " That's just not possible...", he was one in a million. Arnold and I had to train much harder than Sergio to be as good as him.

MD: at what point do you think you reached your best ever form?
MK: 1972 Mr. World win. I also liked my shape in my final show, the 1981 Olympia- I was drug free in this show and took a blood test to prove it. Beating Ken Waller in the World was also very satisfying. When folks ask about Franco winning, some say he left his wheel chair and plaid blanket backstage. That show, Dickerson or even a few others could have won. Of course Chris stayed quiet and won the next year. If Mentzer won in 1980, would he be alive today? Would his brother Ray be alive today? Szkalak, Callender, maybe they didn't get their due. Harold Poole, maybe he should have won the Mr. O.

I will say you need more than a great body. Sergio was a cop. Most Mr O's are successful outside of bodybuilding. Lee Lee Haney? I hold him in the highest of regards, he is a great example of a human being. Bill Pearl too. Dave Draper even with all the problems he's had- a great person. I feel we should learn from the past, realize the future, and live in the present.

MD: how is your health these days Mike?
MK: I had an aortic aneurysm four years back. I was lucky it was discovered during another procedure. It can kill you instantly.If you are reading this and can afford one or have medical insurance please get an ultrasound of the ascending and descending aorta. Find out if you have an aneurysm. So, a week before I was scheduled to judge the Arnold, I was scheduled for aoric repair surgery. I skipped the Arnold obviously. The surgery was successful and I also received a pacemaker as I have suffered from A-fib. My surgeon, Dr. Squiteri, was a big Pumping Iron fan, coincidentally.

Darn those Steelers! I was watching Pittsburgh vs. Cincinatti one Sunday, and, during halftime, I went to fix a leak on my roof. I wanted to get back in to see the game and was using an inadequate ladder. I fell 12 feet to the ground and at 270 pounds my wife apparently heard the "thud." I joke that she came outside and kicked me because she thought I was joking. Turned out I broke every rib on my left side, fractured three lumbar vertebrae, Had a brain bleed, and developed pneumonia. You know, the ribs. Even a brusied rib will keep an NFL guy out six weeks. I fractured all of the on the left.I was in the hospital for four weeks, and the doctors did say that the great shape I was in kept me alive.

MD: How about your long involvement with the Special Olympics?
MK: I remember when I was in college and Kennedy was assassinated-Jackie Kennedy came to Bowen Field where we played our games and JFK Jr as a little boy was with her. I think he'd have been president had he lived. She inspired me to get involved with the Special Olympics. I cheered the kids on, taught them lifting techniques, now younger folks have assumed my place. I did teach special needs kids for 35 years. I loved it. I myself overcame much in life and I wanted to give back to the world just as it gave to me.

MD: You have been a bodybuilding judge at every level seeminly for ages.
MK: For a long time, I was the only former professional bodybuilder who was also an Olympia judge. Since, we have had Gaspari, Al Beckles and Dorian Yates, too. But I've been judging the longest. I still judge the Arnold, Olympia, the Toronto Pro Show and this year I am excited about traveling to judge th Arnold in Brazil.

As far as what has changed, well, look at it like this.In pro football, guys are 50 pounds heavier and .4-.5 seconds faster in the 40 than they were 25 years ago. In bodybuilding its the same. The diet, chemicals, training, everything has advanced. A 6'8" guy who used to go into basketball may now become a tight end in football, and be faster and run like a deer.

Evolution of sports in the past 20 years shows that it would take 20,000 years for ligaments and connective tissues to keep up with these bodily changes. Its not all good. Since athletes are perhaps 50% better than they were 20 years ago, you see more head injuries and such. Cars now go 90 miles an hour instead of 60 mph, so injuries are worse. In football, head protection is still inadequate. You may start seeing where no head contact at all is permitted. Parents will direct their kids to play soccer sinetad of football. Things will shift.

Judging today at the Olympia level, I will say this. Everybody must be in top shape. The current Mr. Olympia must be better each year or he wont win. The top five or ten guys are ALL great, and the current winner, if he is not at least a bit better than his previous winning condition, he probably wont win.

Flex Wheeler had the genetic ability Phil Heath now has. But Flex never came within 80% of his potential. He was great, don't get me wrong. However, If I had his genetics, nobody would EVER beat me. The reality is Flex left 20% on the table. Heath is like a young Flex who is hungry. I wish I had his genetics. I'd have been the best ever.

MD: Thanks so much Mike. You have given a gift to us all with your words.
MK: It was my pleasure. Anytime!

Now, a few words with Mike Katz, Jr., many of you knowing him from his cameo in the immortal Pumping Iron.

MD: Hey Junior. Tell us what is what like being the son of Mr. Universe.
Jr: Well, it was a no-brainer that I was on my best behavior. But in those times that I'd maybe slip up a bit, my mom would always remind me of the looming prospect of Big Mike's impending return home (laughs).

MD: Were you around a lot of bodybuilders growing up?
Jr: Yes, it was great. I remember when I was seven years old and Robby Robinson was staying at our house. Dad and him were running the bodybuilding camp that I know you even attended. I was sitting there at the breakfast table eating a bowl of Apple Jacks, and Robby took one look and said, "You ain't gonna get big by eating Apple Jacks..." I just kinda looked at him and that was it. (laughs).

Arnold and Franco also stayed at the house. I was younger, maybe three or four, so my memory is not as acute. But I do recall walking into the bedroom Arnold was staying in and he was naked getting dressed. He looked at me but I bolted from the room and slammed the door (laughs).

didn't go to Big Mike's shows but did go to some exhibitions. I went to George Snyder's "Best in the World" show at which there were about 10 guest posers , dad being one of them. There was Mentzer, Corney, Coe, Zane, Arnold (not posing though) and many more. My mother wondered why I spent so much time around Boyer Coe...I think it may have been because of his lovely wife, Valerie (laughs).

MD: So, did you ever follow in your father's famous weight lifting footsteps?
Jr: I started lifting at 11 years old, mostly for sports. Big Mike said if I wanted to do bodybuilding, he'd help me, but he preferred I do the regular sports instead. All I remember was all the hard work he put in, the training, tons and tons of food, low carb days.

MD: It's hard to believe you are 44 years old now. So many remember you as the little kid hanging on Mr. America's bicep in your back yard. What was it like when the Pumping Iron cameras arrived?
Jr: They were around on multiple days It was funny because all the neighborhood kids wanted to come over during filming, and so all the parents had to sign releases for the kids to be filmed. They were all psyched to be in the film. Of course, when the film came out, they had all ended up on the cutting room floor. I took a lot of flak on the bus because of that (laughs)! All in all, it was a very carefree, fun time.

MD: Mike you look to be in fantastic shape.
Jr: Well, currently I weigh 170, feel great and am very lean at 5'10" in height. Years ago, I actually bulked up to 240 pounds and was very strong at 20 years old in college. Currently I am the lightest I have been since age 17, my strength is the best its been in 15 years. I recently lost 40 pounds and have been taking Qivana supplements which Big Mike also uses now. Pam and I have a Qivana business that we are very excited about. Anyone interested in such an opportunity can contact me directly via my Face Book page.

Life is great. Currently, my wife Pam and I have two daughters, and I am co-owner with Mike and Jerry Mastrangelo of 5 Planet Fitness gyms here in Connecticut. Time goes on and priorities change. But there is always time to take good care of yourself.

MD: Mike, I and all our readers thank you for your time and all the pearls of history you have shared with us.
Jr: Anytime Doc!

Thank you Dr. Michael Dusa

(1995 NPC Mr. Connecticut, USA)

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