(Note: I wrote this piece for Classic X in June of 1999.
More than 5 years later, the material is still as relevant
today as it was then.)
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
A visit with Arthur Jones is always meaningful. If hes in a talkative mood, its an educational experience youll never forget. Even if hes upset or angry, youll learn something if you just keep your mouth shut and listen.
On April 28, 1999, I spent three hours with Arthur. He was in good spirits probably because I brought a smart, attractive woman with me on my visit. The woman was Jeanenne Schindele. Ive mentioned Jeanenne several times in my previous articles. Shes helped me greatly with the interior design of my home in Celebration, and I strength trained her for several months. Anyway, Jeanenne had heard a lot about Jones and wanted to meet him.
We drove from Orlando to Ocala, where Arthur resides, and arrived at his home at approximately 1:00 PM.
Jones was sitting on his trusty couch surrounded on his right side by a small bookcase and on his left side by a larger series of shelves, both of which were crammed full of volumes he had read over the last year.
In front of Arthur, on a medium-sized coffee table, were a couple of worn cardboard boxes. It was these two boxes that occupied Arthurs interest.
After the normal introductions, Jones proceeded to dig through the boxes with much curiosity. Then, he started bringing out all these old black-and-white photos, which were assembled in musty envelopes, of his adventures in Africa during the 1960s.
A young Arthur Jones, in 1958 at age 32, is shown with a poisonous beaded lizard. Great diversity, according to Jones, allowed him to approach muscle building from a different perspective than those preceding him. By the time Jones invented Nautilus and developed HIT principles in 1970, he had recorded more than 17,000 hours flying airplanes, traveled to 56 foreign countries, become fluent in eight languages, captured many lions, jaguars, monkeys, snakes, crocodiles, and elephants, and produced and directed more than 200 films for television.
Id heard Arthur talk about these pictures a few times, but Id never seen them. Neither had Arthur for more than 25 years. Arthurs third wife, Eliza, discovered the missing photographs during a move from Florida to England. She had recently returned the boxes to Arthur.
In some of the pictures was a 40-year-old Arthur Jones holding a large snake, directing a film shoot, riding in a land rover, standing by an airplane, capturing a large Nile crocodile, and feeding a baby elephant.
As Jeanenne and I are looking at the pictures and listening to Arthur describe what had happened in each one, a sudden excitement permeates Jeanennes face.
"Hey Arthur, examine all the pictures together," Jeanenne said, as she quickly arranged five of them in a scrapbook-like fashion. "Who does this man with the mustache and slick-backed hair remind you of?"
"I dont know, who?" Arthur replied, with a sly look in his eyes.
"Clark Gable . . . Arthur, you look like Clark Gable."
Jeanenne was right, Arthur did resemble Clark Gable.
Arthur smiled. Yes, other people years ago had noted the similarity. Interestingly, Clark Gable had worked as a roughneck in the oilfields around Seminole, Oklahoma, where Arthur grew up.
"I never met Gable when he was in Seminole," Arthur said. "I was just a kid then. Later, when Gable was a star in Hollywood, I cared little for his movies. I always liked the women he was with much better than the roles he played."
In Jeanennes mind Arthur looked very much the part of a dashing, handsome, rogue. And judging from the past stories that Ive heard from Jones, Jeanenne was correct.
From beautiful women, to wild animals, to politics . . . we talked about it all. Finally, we got on the subject of strength training.
"Why are so many people," I asked Arthur, "still hesitant to apply the sensible, logical, strength-training concepts that you developed in the 1970s?"
Arthur replied, as he often does, with a parable. While Ive written about this particular parable in my "Nautilus Bodybuilding Book," the story is worth repeating.
"Imagine you are on a hiking trip through some rugged desert terrain," Jones said. "You see a figure in the distance. Its an old man, bearded and half-naked, on hands and knees, with his fingers clawing at the hard, sandy earth.
"You ask, What are you doing?
" Im digging for gold.
" How long have you been at it?
" Weeks months maybe. Its painfully slow work.
"You notice the old mans bloody fingers, his raw and callused knuckles. You say, But listen, man! Digging with your bare hands is a pretty inefficient way to prospect for gold. That holes only a couple of feet deep. Let me loan you my shovel.
"You reach into your backpack, pull out a lightweight, tempered-edge spade, and drive it into the ground. Then, you show the man how he can break and scoop the hard sand much more efficiently. In less than five minutes you have demonstrated to the old fellow that he can make more progress in a few moments than he could in a month of using his bare hands.
"Then, an amazing thing happens," Jones said. "That old mans eyes fill with hate and his face flushes angrily. He charges at you and grabs the shovel from your hands. Hes now preparing to throw the shovel, or perhaps even try to beat you with it.
"You quickly retreat, and get the hell out of the old mans range, as the shovel comes crashing down behind you on the hard sand."
Thats not the end of the story. After a longer-than-normal pause, Arthur continued:
"If you return to that rugged location in the desert a year later, what would you expect to see that old man doing? Would he be using the shovel properly and have holes as big as school buses spread over the immediate and adjacent surroundings?
"No, absolutely not! Instead, the prospector would be at that same spot with a somewhat bigger hole still digging with his even-more-callused fingers. And there, in plain sight, only a few yards away . . . would be the unused, and now rusty, shovel."
Ive heard Arthur use this story in front of audiences of mostly bodybuilders. These men usually sit quietly for a long moment, mulling over what theyve heard. Then, their lips tighten and their heads shake a little from side to side as they examine their guilt. But most of them get the point. They recognize that Jones is saying they are exactly like that old man in the desert.
Another speaker might have asserted that they were too dumb to appreciate the logical, efficient way of "digging for gold." But not Arthur Jones. He made his point by talking about an old desert prospector who, when offered a performance-improving shovel (call it a Nautilus machine, a MedX machine, or a brief, intense routine), became infuriated and immediately rejected it.
"Such is human nature," Arthur noted. "Human beings are afraid, unsure, and fearful of change. Especially so, if theyve been even moderately successful in reaching some goal."
The old man while a failure at finding gold, did at least have a moderate-sized hole which he could be proud of didnt he?
But wait. Look at the time it took him to create that particular result? And remember his key objective was to dig more numerous and bigger holes so he could improve his probability of discovering gold.
Then, Arthur said, "Years ago, a reporter asked me . . . Mr. Jones, how old are you? I replied . . . Old enough to know that you cant change the thinking of fools but young and foolish enough to keep on trying.
"More recently, my life has been a series of outrages outrages brought on by foolish people. I have no use for fools. Yet, Im constantly subjected to their presence in every city, in every country. There is no place on the planet left untouched by foolish people.
"Im exhausted . . . Im tired of it all.
"But Im not ready to die, at least not tomorrow, or the next week, or the week after."
In my opinion, Arthur Jones is much too wise not to keep on trying.
When I first met Arthur Jones in the summer of 1970, I was 28 years old and about to finish my Ph.D. in exercise science from Florida State University. After talking with me about strength training for ten minutes, Jones confronted me with the following:
"You think youre pretty smart, dont you?" Jones asked, as I nodded my head. "If you can unlearn everything youve learned about exercise and if you can do this unlearning before you reach age 40 youll be headed in the right direction. At age 40, at the zero level of learning then, maybe you can learn something of value. If so, youll indeed be smart."
I laughed sheepishly at what Jones said, not understanding the depth of his assessment.
But he was so right.
It did take me a dozen years to unlearn completely what I thought I knew about exercise and, I was motivated to unlearn. Most people with advanced degrees in exercise science or exercise physiology never unlearn. You might say that they remain stuck, stuck in the middle of a quagmire of near-useless theories and practices. Of course, they probably never had a chance to meet Arthur Jones, or study about exercise from such a wise teacher.
Now, more than a dozen years after I reached the zero level of learning, Im still trying to master many of the finer points of productive exercise. I do, however, have a handle on some important concepts that helped me in my unlearning and relearning processes. You can review a detailed version of the basics in my HIT books. Below are a few more points that helped me in my journey.
• Strength training has attracted tens of millions of interested people. Few of these people are still exercising. Even fewer have attained anything close to significant results from their training.
• Most trainees become frustrated with their exercise gains (or lack of gains) because they are preoccupied with the accomplishments of others, usually the winners of bodybuilding competitions. Although this is difficult to do, trainees must strive to be acutely aware of their own achievements, within the context of their genetic potential.
• The muscle magazines focus primarily on the achievements and training of the champions. Such information has little relevance for the masses and their desire for satisfactory results.
• The bodybuilding champions have genetically responsive bodies. Since they have inherited much longer-than-average muscles and greater numbers of muscle fibers, the champions can train in almost any way and grow larger and stronger. This easy-to-misunderstand philosophy worked in spite of the techniques and routines that they followed. It was never a situation of whether they would grow; it was a case of at what rate. These genetically responsive individuals have little comprehension of why their techniques and routines do not work for average people.
• Genetically typical trainees have bodies with shorter muscles and fewer numbers of muscle fibers, which respond in much-lesser degrees than those of the champions. Muscular size and strength gains do not come quickly and easily for typical trainees.
• High levels of muscular size and strength are of great value, until taken to extremes. When bodybuilding progresses into a drug-fueled obsession, it becomes destructive. Some of the worlds most successful bodybuilders display lifestyles that have been severely degraded by such obsessions.
• The general philosophy behind getting bigger and stronger is relatively simple. Lift progressively heavier and heavier weights in good form. But this simple directive does not mean easy. The process requires hard work, attention to detail, and persistence.
• Brief, intense training should be the first resort, not the last. Do not waste years of training time experiencing almost every routine and technique before finally applying hard, brief exercise.
• On each repetition, keep the exercise style strict, slow, and smooth. Make no compromises on form.
Its difficult for most typical or average trainees to understand and finally admit that they are not gifted in the muscle-building department at least not to the same extent as are the long-muscled champions.
I personally experienced that same difficulty. However, standing beside such men as Casey Viator, Sergio Oliva, and Mike Mentzer with Jones pointing out the dramatic differences between my muscle bellies versus their muscle bellies helped me to observe, and finally learn, the truth.
I was no slouch in bodybuilding circles in the 1960s and 1970s. But it became increasingly plain to me after comparing my contracted arms and legs several times with Casey, Sergio, and Mike that I could never have their muscular size and shape . . . NEVER!
I guess, with me, you could say: "Seeing multiple times is believing!"
Championship bodybuilding, at the national and world level, is a contest of genetic freaks. Involved are one-in-a-million type men, who are anything but typical. Champion bodybuilders, who are featured in the muscle magazines, are like a collection of seven-foot tall, National Basketball Association centers except the bodybuilders have the genetics to develop huge, volumetric, seven-foot muscles. Both groups possess rare inherited traits, which can be a giant advantage.
No, its not fair.
Thats not to say, however, that you and I cant build significant levels of size and strength. We can. But its considerably more arduous for us.
We need to help each other. But to do so, we must stay realistic.
I always admired Jones for his brutally realistic and honest approach to bodybuilding . . . and to life. It helped me unlearn and relearn more efficiently.
Arthur Jones knew years ago that he resembled Clark Gable. But he also knew he was not Gable; he didnt have Gables genes. He was Arthur Jones. Why not be Arthur Jones, and become all Arthur Jones could become . . . in the most efficient manner? And so he did.
Thanks, Arthur, for challenging us to operate in a similar way.
Please remain alive and well . . . and continue to keep on trying and kicking.