Casey Viator appears on the front cover of my latest book. I took
this photo of him in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, in July of 1978. Working on this soon-to-published manual brought back a flood of recollections of Viator and his bodybuilding achievements. Below is one of my favorite memories.
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
"Drive down tomorrow and watch Casey train," Arthur Jones said to me on the phone.
The date was June 9, 1971. I hadn't seen Casey Viator in nine months, so I was anxious to view him working out. Jones had been training Viator on and off for eleven months. Everyone interested in bodybuilding at that time was following the escapades of Jones and Viator through IronMan magazine.
Their big test was the 1971 AAU Mr. America contest, which was to be held in York, Pennsylvania, in three days . . . on June 12th.
"This will be Casey's crowning workout," he continued in his baritone voice. "After observing, you'll be able to judge for yourself whether he'll beat that big red-headed bastard or not." (That redheaded competitor Jones was referring to was Ken Waller, who had placed second to Chris Dickerson in the 1970 Mr. America).
You can read my exercise-by-exercise report of Casey's workout, which involved one set of 15 different exercises, on pages 18 and 19 of my 2004 book, The New HIT. Without being redundant, I want to comment on two of Viator's exercises: the barbell squat and the triceps extension. But first, let me describe the workout setting.
From 1970-1973, Arthur Jones had not yet completed his 20-acre Nautilus headquarters in Lake Helen, Florida. Lake Helen was located in central Florida, approximately 20 miles from Daytona Beach and 5 miles from DeLand.
Thus, for the first three years, Jones's training facility was situated behind the DeLand High School in an old army, semi-circular, Quonset hut. The hut was dimly lit, humid, and musty-smelling. The floors were concrete and there was no reliable heating or cooling in the structure. High-school athletes and a few local fitness buffs used the facility, along with Jones and his selected bodybuilders.
As you entered through the front door, there was a Universal Gym machine on the right and a Nautilus Combination Biceps/Triceps Machine on the left. At the far end were prototypes of the Nautilus Pullover, Behind Neck, and Rowing Machines. In the middle were squat racks, several old Olympic barbells, and half a dozen dumbbells.
The surroundings were ordinary. But when Jones was there with his entourage, the gym became electric – with Arthur barking orders, assistants preparing the equipment, and visitors with eyes as big as saucers hanging around the door. Jones filled the place with muscle-building excitement.
Viator, who usually showed up 5 minutes before Jones arrived, told me that his heart rate would double when Jones walked into the gym. "He kept me pissed off most of the time," Casey remembered, "with all his intimidation tactics and demands. No one could get me into the max-training mode the way Arthur could. I hated what he made me do during my workouts . . . but I loved the results."
"Due to the workout's intensity and pace, plus the lack of circulating air," Larry Gilmore noted, "we sweated gallons during each workout." Gilmore was a local lifter, who often helped Jones with his training. "The air in the Quonset hut was usually foul, due to guys missing the bucket when they had to puke. (Two medium-sized buckets were in the room.) But you know what? You could sure get a ball-busting workout, if you had a mind to."
Which brings us back to my comments on Viator's performance of the barbell squat. (PS: I wish I'd taken some photos during Viator's workout. But it would've been difficult without a flash attachment, which would've been a big distraction. Still, I wish I had tried.)
At approximately 9 o'clock on the night of June 10, 1971, Viator did 13 repetitions in the squat with a 500-pound barbell. None of his reps were half squats. They were all ass-to-heels, full squats – performed after he pre-exhausted with 750 pounds on the leg press for 20 reps, followed by 225 pounds on the leg extension for another 20 reps . . . with no rest between the exercises.
That's right, Jones pushed Viator through a double pre-exhaustion cycle: leg press, leg extension, and squat, performed back-to-back-to-back . . . with very heavy weights, in good form, for maximum repetitions . . . which was the ultimate in HIGH INTENSITY.
I had never seen anything like this leg cycle. Can you imagine squatting with a 500-pound barbell 13 times . . . after pre-exhausting your thighs?
Jones was on the left side of Viator encouraging him – or I should say shouting at him: "Slow down. Hold your head up. Keep going. Don't quit. Think about that big redhead's thighs. Goddamn it, Casey, get three more. Breathe deeply. Now . . . one more."
It worked. Viator exceeded Jones's expectations. His heart rate must have been more than 220 beats per minute for at least 2 minutes. I'd never envisioned such intensity – ever.
Early in 2005, I interviewed Casey for my latest book, The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results, and he remembered that workout well (it would be difficult to forget). "I planned to hold back a little on those squats because I knew I had a bunch more stuff to do, but with 500 pounds on my back and the adrenalin flowing, all I could do was think 'Get 10 reps.' I was really surprised when I got 12 and couldn't believe I made 13. I knew then that the workout was going to be a real bitch."
A real bitch it was. From my 45 years of training experience, that three-exercise leg cycle was the most demanding and impressive series that I've ever seen.
Jones talked about it later and stated that . . . "Paul Anderson (who, at one time, was considered the world's strongest man), in his best condition, could have duplicated Viator's leg cycle. But to do so, he'd had to have an injection of Novocain in each thigh to combat the pain. Furthermore, if Anderson had survived this feat, he'd have probably died afterward."
Viator not only performed that cycle in championship style, but after a two-minute rest and some water, he continued his workout. His next-to-last movement, in his 15-exercise routine, was the triceps extension performed on the Nautilus Combination Biceps/Triceps Machine.
On this night, Jones loaded Casey's triceps with 125 pounds – which was more than I ever saw anyone use on that plate-loading arm machine, particularly at the end of a routine. Perhaps 125 pounds doesn't sound like a lot of weight, but this Nautilus Triceps station placed him into a tight, vertical position that made it impossible to cheat. Only his triceps were called into action on this precision exercise.
Casey initiated the repetitions deliberately . . . one by one, from a full stretch to maximum contraction and back. Again, Jones was near his ear, urging him to pause, lower slowly, and continue.
At repetition 8, Viator was spent . . . he couldn't quite make the contracted position, even with Jones's coaxing. Jones calmly looked him in the eyes and said: "That redhead in California is going to get the best of you." That motivated Viator into finishing number 8 and, in fact, making another rep in better form than the one before. The 10th rep, however, was a no-go. Casey couldn't get it started.
In an instant, Jones had two assistants lift Viator out of the sweat-dampened triceps machine and hustle him over to the nearby parallel dips bars, which were connected to one side of the Universal Gym machine.
I could tell Casey did NOT like the idea of doing dips . . . especially after punishing his triceps on the previous machine.
But then, Casey seemed to get a second wind – no, it was a third or fourth wind – and mounted the parallel bars and started his dips.
He was near the end of the hardest-training session I've ever witnessed and he had just finished blasting his triceps on a Nautilus machine. Could he really be expected to do more than 3 or 4 dips?
That, in fact, is the very question I asked Arthur as I moved around him as he peered over his horned-rimed glasses and examined Casey's previous workout on his chart.
"Three or 4 reps, you say," Jones noted. "He'll do 20 . . . or I'll kick his ass up around his shoulders."
Up and down Viator went as if his arms were connected to a couple of well-oiled pistons. The first 10 were slow, smooth, and steady. The second 10 were a bit faster, with Jones questioning his manhood on 18, 19, and 20. The final two (reps 21 and 22) were painfully s-l-o-w, with Viator's upper body drenched in sweat and his triceps, deltoids, and pecs almost vibrating through his skin.
"Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah," bellowed from Viator's lungs as Arthur commanded him to do a controlled lowering on the final rep.
As Viator sunk to one knee, Jones smiled ever so slightly. His work was almost completed.
He let Casey slither over to a jug of cold water and linger for a couple of minutes. In the interim, he noted that Viator's entire workout – legs, back shoulders, chest, and arms – had taken exactly 27 minutes and 40 seconds. Jones claimed they'd have finished in 25 minutes or less, if the gym had not been so crowded.
Then Jones signaled to Viator: "Come over here. Take off your shirt and let's see how you look?"
I moved into a front position because I wanted to view Casey's upper-body muscles contracted up close. First, he hit a double-biceps pose. All of the dozen or so people in the room, with the exception of Jones, were dumbfounded. His arms resembled wet footballs with pulsating veins.
Second, he went into a side-chest pose and his deltoids and pecs looked as if they were armor plated and about 18-inches thick. Then, he turned 90 degrees and hit a back pose. From his hips up to his neck there was nothing but mounds of muscle on top of more muscle, with striations everywhere.
Even in the dimly lit Quonset hut, Casey's back, shoulders, chest, and arms seemed to glow and be almost on fire. When he contracted intensely, his muscles appeared as if they were about to erupt from his skin.
I had entered the 1969 and 1970 AAU Mr. America contests, so I had seen most of the top bodybuilders at that time do their posing routines. But I had never seen anyone as massive, as cut, and as explosive in a pose . . . as was Casey Viator that night.
From what I observed that night, I was sure Viator would defeat Ken Waller and win the Mr. America title. Interestingly, two days later, Waller was disqualified from the Amateur Athletic Union for appearing in a non-sanctioned, exercise-related magazine advertisement several months earlier. Thus, the Viator/Waller confrontation never occurred. But Casey competed against 32 other men on June 12th and easily won the 1971 AAU Mr. America.
Said one of the judges: "Viator was simply overpowering!" I was thinking to myself, "Was it Viator – or Jones – who was overpowering? Or, was it their combined talents working together?
After the 1971 Mr. America, Viator had plans to enter the NABBA Mr. Universe, which was scheduled for early September in London, England. Unfortunately, he had a disagreement with Jones and took a leave of absence from training for several months and he did not go to the Mr. Universe event.
Furthermore, after that June 10, 1971, supervised workout, Jones never again trained Viator seriously. No, I take that back. He did train Viator 14 times in May of 1973 during the Colorado Experiment. But that was a part of a research project, and not for a bodybuilding championship.
In February of 1978, after another lengthy leave of absence as well being out-of-training for almost a year, Viator returned to Jones and the Nautilus headquarters. He declared that he wanted to enter the NABBA Mr. Universe in September. Thus, it became part of Jim Flanagan's and my job to train Casey for this contest.
Flanagan, who was 6-foot 5-inches tall and weighed 265 pounds, and I trained him three times per week on whole-body routines, some of which I chronicle in my new book. Over the next five months, Viator's body weight increased from 194 to 220 pounds – which was 2 pounds more than he weighed at his Mr. America win seven years earlier.
I took hundreds of photos of Casey in the summer of 1978 and some of the best ones are in The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results, including the cover shot that I mentioned previously.
At the Mr. Universe, Viator placed a controversial second to Dave Johns. Many in the audience thought Viator should have won.
Crossing that Line
Jim Flanagan and I pushed Casey as hard as we could during our six months' tenure with him in 1978. But it wasn't quite the same as having Arthur Jones at his shoulder and . . . in his face.
Jones was the ultimate do-it-my-way, hands-on, kick-ass coach.
During a workout, Jones had a way of quickly finding and hitting a person's "hot" buttons. That style certainly worked with Viator – and it worked with many other lifters.
Some bodybuilders can be pushed, some can't. Those who can be pushed are usually the high achievers.
Working with bodybuilders for more than four decades, I've discovered that there's a thin line between those who can and those who can't. Crossing that line and accepting proactive pushing can make a significant difference toward getting the best-possible gains.
If you're interested in making the most of your potential for muscular size and strength, you've got to determine which side of the line you're on.
If you're teetering on the can't-be-pushed side, do something about it. Get involved with a coach or training partner who knows how to hit your hot buttons.
Old-school taskmaster Arthur Jones helped Casey Viator and a lot of trainees cross that line . . . and achieve maximum results.
One of the best pictures I've ever seen of Arthur Jones is on the back cover of The New Bodybuilding for Old-School Results. Jones's exercise guidelines were always up front, thought provoking, and relevant. When Jones trained you, there was no straddling the line. You did it his way . . . or you left with hurt feelings
and a bent suit. (Photo by Walter Coker)