Doug Brignole joined the Bill Pearl Pasadena Health Club when he was 16 years old wanting to put on size. One day, he mustered the nerve to ask the biggest bodybuilder in the gym what the secret was to muscle growth. The guy told him the trick is to eat bloodworms. Most of the training information people cull from bodybuilding magazines and off the Internet is not given with malicious intent, but it can be just as pernicious.
Doug went on to become Mr. America in 1986 without eating a single bloodworm; the only bad taste in his mouth was left by bodybuilding gurus. Always a skeptic, he went on questioning the old wives’ tales of diet and weight training, from the basic exercises we were taught to perform as children, to the designs of commercial exercise equipment, to the ubiquitous misbranding and misrepresentation of dietary supplements and beauty products.
I first met Doug in 2012 when he was preparing for Lonnie Teper’s NPC WestCoast Classic. He explained his theories of applying the basic laws of mechanics and physics to weight training. None of the textbooks dealing with sports biomechanics focused specifically on bodybuilding, and he was writing one called The Physics of Fitness. Doug’s vast knowledge of biomechanics is based on his personal experience as a trainer and competitive bodybuilder for over 30 years. He opened his own gym in Pasadena at 24 years of age, which helped give him a scientific understanding of the designs of commercial fitness equipment. Doug is self-taught in the subjects of kinesiology and sports biomechanics. What I liked most of all about him was his inherent distrust of authoritarian approaches to teaching bodybuilding, which are more interested in right answers than asking right questions.
There is, of course no “right” way to train. One size does not fit all in the gym. The training regimen for Jason Smith, a top 19 year-old college athlete, should not be given to Stephen Hawking or Barney Frank. What’s more, men and women of the same age in the same good health can experience their bodies differently, and should not necessarily be setting the same goals for themselves. Just as some people are tone deaf and others have perfect pitch, there are individuals who are so completely out of touch with their bodies that they cannot feel the muscles they are trying to stimulate. Doug once asked a client where he was feeling a set of shoulder presses he had just completed. “Everywhere,” he answered.
Teaching bodybuilding to someone who has no connectedness is his body (a common side-effect of muscle dysmophia or “bigorexia”), is no different than teaching singing to somebody who can’t hear musical pitches and notes. Performing exercises by rote under an authoritarian drill sergeant is appropriate if the goal of training is submission, as it is in the Marine Corp., but it’s not going to be effective teaching bodybuilding or any other sports discipline, which is guided by proprioception, how the body senses itself. The first step in teaching bodybuilding is to get the student personally invested in the training process, and I don’t mean taking his or her money. It involves “stimulating curiosity and developing it into interest, teaching people to think scientifically, teaching people respect for facts and–God forbid!–teaching people to doubt.” (Imre Lakatos, 1956)
John Dewey became famous for pointing out that the authoritarian, strict, pre-ordained knowledge approach of modern traditional education was too concerned with delivering knowledge, and not enough with understanding students’ actual experiences. Dewey said that an educator must take into account the unique differences between each student… Each person is different genetically and in terms of past experiences. Even when a standard curricula is presented using established pedagogical methods, each students will have a different quality of experience. Thus, teaching and curriculum must be designed in ways that allow for such individual differences. –John Dewey, the Modern Father of Experimental Education, James Neill
Authoritarian teaching presents its doctrines as indisputable truths and resents criticism as an affront to its virtue. The alternative style of teaching presents its doctrines as conjectures supported by fallible arguments and open to criticism. Underlying this idea is the argument that every doctrine should be open to criticism because no doctrine can be proved beyond all doubt. Since all theories are fallible, teachers should encourage students to doubt the current orthodoxies.
The goal of this series is to engage viewers in a dialectical process by presenting opposing ideas about training for bodybuilding. Most of us won’t criticize things we know nothing about. We sit at our computers and absorb whatever exercise is being demonstrated, like nidifugous chicks imprinting on their parents. If Mr. Olympia says he points his toes in when he does leg presses to bring out the sweep in his outer quads, we blindly accept this as fact, even if his doing so is as harebrained as eating blood worms.
The form of Bodybuilding Biomechanics is informal and very straightforward. I tape elite bodybuilders and fitness models training a body part (chest, back, legs or whatever), and talking about the whys and wherefores of the different exercises being performed. I then play the video back to Doug, and record his spontaneous responses to everything that he is hearing and seeing. Doug is not cast in the show as some expert with higher knowledge of bodybuilding training. His opinions are intended only to stimulate critical thinking and positive interaction with viewers.
I was warned that the series had no viability because top trainers and bodybuilders would never subject their training methods to criticism. However, with only one exception, everybody I worked with consented to be part of this discourse. I always obtained their approval before posting videos online, and gave them the opportunity to respond to Doug’s analysis of their workouts. As a matter of fact, I strongly encouraged them to rebut Doug with reasoned arguments of their own. My hope in creating and producing Bodybuilding Biomechanics is to get viewers actively participating in a dialogue about bodybuilding, not to promote any definitive way of weight training.