Friday, March 13, 2015

A conversation with 1970's bodybuilding icon, Joe Means. By Dr. Michael Dusa

A conversation with 1970's bodybuilding icon, Joe Means
By Dr. Michael Dusa

MD: Hi Joe. I remember in my earliest days in bodybuilding as a kid and looking through the magazines at the time, you were perhaps THE standout when it came to being in razor sharp, tip-top condition. Let's start with a bit about your early days.

JM: Well Michael, I thank you for the opportunity and am honored that folks are interested in what I have to say. I grew up in South Carolina and have always lived here. Still do today. I started with the weights at the age of 12. My neighbor had an old barbell set so I worked out there. Of course, I ended up asking for weights as a Christmas present. My mother got them for me but I had to get them out of the trunk of the car because they were too heavy for her (laughs)! I first did what many kids did...worked out in my bedroom. Then, after some time, I migrated with the weights to a camping trailer that had a heater inside it in our back yard. I always generally worked out by myself.

MD: Familiar story. I started at 12, got the vinyl weight set as a gift for X-mas, and pounded away! How about sports in school?

JM: Well, in high school, I ran track and played football. I was an OK player but by my senior year I knew a scholarship for college would not be coming my way so I didn't play my final year. I decided to give all my level best efforts to the weights at this point.

MD: Funny. Similar for me. I had prepared for the Teen America my junior year, was in top shape and asked the football coach if I could skip spring training to dop the contest. I told him I was already in better shape than every player on the team. This seemed to rub his rhubarb the wrong way and the ultimatum was if I did not show for training I was gone. So bodybuilding it was!

JM: (laughs). You know, by this point I had built a really good physical foundation. I went to a guy's house in the neighborhood named "Snow." Snow looked like hercules (laughs)! I worked out with him and learned alot. There was another guy on the other side of town named Bucky Baxley and he had a backyard gym and was a really big bodybuilding fan. This was all in 1966 when I was a junior in high school. These guys started taking me along to olympic lifting meets with them. It was fantastic.

MD: Very important to be around successful people, especially in your formative years. What did you do when you got out of high school?

JM: Well, the FBI was looking to hire recent high school graduates. I got hired and was trained as a technician. I was doing very well with them. Of course, it came time at one point for me to be granted a raise in pay grade. Part of that process involved physical assessment. I'd get weighed and at one time I was about 195 pounds, all muscle. They'd use the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company rating guide, which said I was about 20 pounds overweight! I was told to lose weight for a raise! I appealed to the assistant director of the FBI who was second only to J. Edgar Hoover. I was 10% body fat with a 33" waist. The assistant director took one look at me and was impressed. However, he said, "No exceptions."

MD: But still, you soldiered on...

JM: Yes, of course. I'd never relent. I attended college classes by day and did the night shift with the FBI. Ultimately, the state of South Carolina approached me to come and join their SCLED Division (SC Law Enforcement Division). They hired me at 20 years of age and after six months I was wearing a multitude of hats-I was engaged in undercover operations, VIP details, I loved it! I ended up as lieutenant of the Crime Information Center in the criminal records division. Our system was also tied into FBI computer systems I was there for 37 years but am now retired. Even though I did leave the FBI early on, they still found merit to feature me in the FBI magazine.

MD: So you got publicity at an early age.

JM: Yes. But interestingly, with SCLED, my chief was very supportive of my bodybuilding. At the time, there was a big scandal at SCLED, corruption, much bad press for the whole system. My competing and the positive press I got helped cast the department in a positive light. Even the chief got interviewed in some articles due to my being successful in bodybuilding.

It wasn't all positive, of course. When I competed in the 1979 AAU Mr. America, a news team followed me to the show in Atlanta to keep step and record my experiences and what it was all about. At one point prior to the show, my wife and I were sun bathing near the hotel pool and the reporter approached us and said, "You have a girlfriend? I thought bodybuilder's were gay?" It's never pleasant when someone insults you over something you love to do. But I'd just shrug it off. I'm sure he was just uncomfortable and wanted to make a joke.

MD: So we know you made it to the rarefied air of the Mr. America level. What came before this?

Joe on the April 1980 cover of MD
JM: In 1969 Bucky encouraged me to enter the Mr. All South contest. I was 18 years old. It was won by a guy named Terry Moore. You know those days, Mike, even though it was a bit prior to your competing. The weightlifting was held all day, then the poor old bodybuilders would be on stage posing at 1 am with the harmony of crickets accompanying them! The light was affixed to the basketball hoop(laughs). I took second or third in this show. I was in a show, the Jr. Mr. America, with Chris Dickerson, Boyer Coe and Ellington Darden. Paul Anderson did an exhibition here, and it was an incredible experience.

My First win was in 1973. It was a big regional show with about 25 entrants. I got first! I started learning more about training and nutrition. I'd read more. In South Carolina there were not many bodybuilder's around, so I was largely on my own.

In 1974 I won the Mr. SC. In 1975 I won the Mr. All South show, as well as all the subdivisions. You recall there were awards for each body part back then.

MD: Wow. Then you were ready for the national stage.

JM: I thought so. I entered the 1975 AAU Mr. America and got 10th or 11th. I was told I needed more cuts!

MD: You? More cuts?

JM: Yes. At this time I did. This is around the time I had my first experience with Nautilus machines. I trained with a fellow named Dr. John Morgan in Columbia, SC. He had an entire Nautilus set-up at his home. He gave me my own key and I could go any time I wanted, and I did. I really made much improvement with this system. In 76 I entered and took third in the Coastal Mr. USA show, got most muscular and all the subdivision awards. At the Junior America in the same year they called me out for every subdivision comparison. I took second overall to the great Dave Johns.

In the 1976 Mr. America contest, I was at my most cut ever and made my biggest impact. I won the Most Muscular Man in America award here beating out Johns, Kal Szkalak, Clint Beyerle, and Pat Neve. However, I was edged out by Johns by one point in my class, and Kal took the overall.

MD: Did you ever work with Arthur Jones?

JM: Oh yes. Right after I worked as a model for the nautilus book pictured in this article, I met Ellington Darden at the Coastal USA show. El worked with Arthur Jones down at his compound in Deland, Florida. They wanted me to come down for a bit to work with them and use their nautilus equipment. SCLED allowed me to go as I had time saved on my job. I met Arthur there- a very interesting gentleman. Ellington Darden was also intriguing, he was a good bodybuilder and held a PhD in nutrition and physical training.

I swear Jones would test me. You know he had one of the largest crocodile farms in the world there...and the second largest individual crocodile in the world at the time. Everyday, the croc cages would have to be cleaned and the crocs fed. Arthur asked me to simply come take a walk with him through the croc cages! Of course, I did (laughs). The water was low. You must understand that when water is low, the crocs are docile. While we were walking about in there they turned the water on and the area quickly began filling with fresh water. Water= ferocity in crocodiles. We high-stepped it out of there! You see, Arthur liked to test people like that.

During my workouts there, yes, they'd push me very hard. We'd start with legs. Another top bodybuilder was there and in the midst of leg training he got sick and vomited. I completed it without getting sick. They had Mike Mentzer, Boyer Coe, Casey Viator there. El said I was the hardest trainer the had ever had there.
Casey Viator, Mike and Ray Mentzer
They liked me there because I was open minded. Most bodybuilders would argue with them and let me tell you, that'd be the worst thing to do with Arthur Jones. I mean, yes. One set per bodypart? It was different. But this is how it would go. It'd be like a drop set. A heavy set of leg extensions, with 7-8 drops in weight in the same set. Then go to another exercise for the same thing. It was brutal.

Nobody ever pushed me like this. Arthur would be right there looking on. I was a competitive guy so I wanted to do well. Generally, the fellows at Deland didn't like bodybuilders because they would not listen to anything new.

MD: Yes Joe. That's a disorder called "cognitive dissonance." (laughs).

JM: Really. I will say that we'd only do one workout a week like I just described. You couldn't do this every day.

MD: My fellow fitness and bodybuilding enthusiast friends and colleagues will cast their gazes asunder at the mere mention of my name if I don't at least ask you a bit about your incredible cuts...

JM: Well, I didn't really know how cut I was, actually! Not until I saw the judges reaction at one show I'd competed in. It was the Mr. USA held in Texas. I walked out on stage at the prejudging and Boyer Coe, who was a judge, looked at me and shielded his eyes as if he were peering directly at the sun when he looked at me. I knew I had something special at that point. I was eating very high protein with very low carbs. But, I was eating so much that Ellington advised me to start watching my total calorie counts...this was before I got truly ripped. But I'd basically have, for breakfast, three eggs, one serving of sausage...I'd NEVER skip breakfast. Lunch would be a can of tuna or a chicken breast, the same at night. A snack would be a couple of hard boiled eggs in between meals. Of course, I'd get weak as I got more defined. I'd have a cantaloupe with some cottage cheese added to get some energy. I'd do this maybe a couple of times per week.
At the 1976 AAU Mr. USA (2nd-Medium) with Manuel Perry (winner- Tall  & Overall), Dave Johns (Winner-medium) and C.F Smith (3rd-Medium).
MD: I did very similar to that back in the day. I never looked like you, though (laughs).

JM: Well, it wasn't easy. I took my time in getting in condition. In the off season I'd regularly go up to 220 pounds of bodyweight. I'd compete in the 185-195 pound range. This wasn't helpful because of course it's more difficult coming back down to ripped condition. I'm a mesomorph, so I do tend to gain weight if I am not careful.

MD: The last time you competed?

JM: 1980, The Mr. America. The trend was getting to be that you had to be more and more massive, and of course if I ever rose to the IFBB I'd have a very hard time standing and comparing well to such massive guys. I did want to move to California at one time-you know-live the true bodybuilding lifestyle. Frankly, I didn't like it there. I thought the people were crazy!

MD: So bodybuilding has been a great component of your life experience?

JM: Oh yes. I have enjoyed bodybuilding, it has enriched my life in so many ways. I have very good health at age 64. I'd probably say my right shoulder gives me some problems now, but I was always smart when I trained and learned from great people. Never got injured lifting weights. When I was young and competing, I never really thought much about health.

MD: Ah yes...the veneer of youthful invincibility. How is your training now?

Joe the triathlete 
JM: I am retired now so I go to two different gyms, twice per day. Still hit the weights, but I now compete in triathlons and came in first in my age division in my last event. I do well with the running and bicycling, but the swimming is hard-I am a sinker (laughs)!

MD: And you have a great wife and children.

JM: Yes. Ive been married to my wife for nearly 40 years. I have three sons, my oldest is 34 and is a law enforcement officer. The two younger boys are twins, 31 years old. One works in finance for a hospital and the other is a sales rep for the Shakespear corporation. Trey, my oldest, works out very hard. The two younger boys were exceptional high school runners and broke the 4X800 record for our state...they won scholarships for college. I am very proud of my whole family.

MD: Joe, its been a pleasure and honor to be able to hold court with you. Thanks so much.

JM: Anytime Mike. I appreciate it.

Joe Means-Contest History (Source:
Mr America - AAU, 11th
Junior Mr America - AAU, Did not place
Junior Mr USA - AAU, 6th

Mr America - AAU, Medium, 12th
Mr Atlantic States - AAU, Winner
Junior Mr America - AAU, 6th
Mr USA - AAU, 8th

Mr America - AAU, Medium, 2nd
Mr America - AAU, Most Muscular, 1st
Mr Coastal USA - AAU, 3rd
Junior Mr America - AAU, 2nd
Junior Mr USA - AAU, Overall Winner
Junior Mr USA - AAU, Most Muscular, 1st
Junior Mr USA - AAU, Medium, 1st
Mr USA - AAU, Most Muscular, 1st
Mr USA - AAU, Medium, 2nd

Mr America - AAU, Medium, 3rd


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