By Denie Walters (1979)
Bodybuilding’s Clarence Darrow
Admittedly some similarities do exist between American law’s legend of the court system, Clarence Darrow, and a gentleman named Clarence Bass. Both men of course have the same first name and profession, but it is here that the gavel descends and overrules a number of inconsistencies. Whereas Darrow was a fiery controversial practitioner of his art, Clarence Bass of Albuquerque, New Mexico is a quiet, intense, sensitive and conservative man in his forties . . . and more importantly he is a bodybuilder and former lifting champion – while being the main legal mind behind the reorganization of the AAU Physique Committee as an independent corporation.
Bass made an outstanding showing in the 1978 AAU Past-Forty Mr. America in Los Angeles, winning his short height class. His life and feelings along with his reputation are laced with the integrity of a modern professional man supplemented with a sound approach to health. He began practicing the ‘laws’ of weight training in the fifties . . .
“I was initially interested in Olympic lifting. I’ve been doing that since about 1953. I have been exercising all my life, but my emphasis on bodybuilding has really only started in the last couple of years.”
As an Olympic weightlifter Clarence competed often in Junior National events, winning the Southwest Championships a number of times. At the writing of this interview, a converted, died-in-the-wool bodybuilder at 40 years of age – he is totally involved in the sport, holding the position of First Vice Chairman of the AAU Physique Committee. Bass is one of the men who helped weight training evolve and change into the multi-phase sport it has presently become.
“I have been involved with some of the legal things the Physique Committee has been doing. We recently incorporated, and I prepared the corporation papers and coordinated the bylaws for the Committee. I think that separating the weight training situation into the three sports that comprise it is definitely a step forward. We now can have physique contests by themselves, not as a second fiddle to a weightlifting show. We had to go out at 10 o’clock at night or whenever the lifting event was over. I recently competed in our regional championship in Colorado when they had it in conjunction with the regional powerlifting meet. Well, that went on all day long and the physique contest was definitely in a secondary position. I prefer to see physique contests isolated from things like that and given their just attention.”
‘Justice’ in contest organization had, as she has been traditionally symbolized, been blind to the needs of the physique fans and contestants. But now the scales are beginning to tip in the other direction thanks to the work of men like Clarence Bass.
As a new lifter, Bass had power to spare.
“I competed in the 165 and 181 pound classes primarily. When I lifted the Press was still a contended lift. At 181 I pressed 275, could Snatch 245 and Clean & Jerked 325. I think most of my power came from what I considered the key lifting exercise – Squats. I’ve done a lot of squatting – my leg development and basic size is from the Squat. My best was 485 and I’ve done 10 reps with 400.”
Having all that power is fine, but today Bass is a bodybuilder. Entering his fourth decade age-wise he saw very sound reasons for making the switch. None of this is to misunderstood as knocking weightlifting or its performance as a sport – each man chooses the activity that suits his needs recreationally.
“I think there’s a perspective I’ve gotten from having done it for many, many years and being a little bit older – I think men who lift competitively have to be more careful of their joints. I know I have several bodyparts that hurt from the years of Olympic lifting. Had I quit a bit sooner I’d have fewer aches and pains right now. That’s something I think lifters need to be aware of, but you just don’t WANT to quit. You want to keep on going, to keep on breaking your own personal bests. That’s one of the reasons I turned to bodybuilding. It enabled me to keep right on going and train without further damage to my joints. I mean, I just like to work out. Okay, to be more specific it’s not the lifting itself that hurts the joints as much as the carelessness and poor preparation in implementing these lifts. Personal drives often interfere with proper techniques when you’re close to winning. For instance, there’s a wrong and a right way to do the full Squat. You shouldn’t collapse into the Squat, you should ease into the descent maintaining even pressure all the way down. But there are a number of things that do occur in the Olympic lifts that I feel traumatize the joints. For instance when you’re doing the Jerk and the front leg comes out – it comes down hard and that really puts a big jar on the knee. My knee was an area that was sore many times. I don’t know that you can prevent that because you have to move fast in the Jerk and the joint is only going to take that so long even with a good warmup . . . I’ve found after doing the Olympic lifts as I have for close to 20 years that the knee just gets tired of being jammed down . . . I also feel really regarding the Olympic lifts it was a definite beneficial move to eliminate the Press because of ‘layback’ men employed, eventually taking it further and further away from the military original form. I incurred a lot of backaches from this with the layback and the ‘double layback’ or Garcy style – but let me add this to what I’ve already said about the Olympic lifts because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m now in any way against the sport – I’m definitely not. Olympic lifting is a tremendous sport. It requires speed, coordination and strength – I think the greatest athletes in the world are Olympic lifters and I don’t want to come off being anti-Olympic lifting because I an not. I just think the Olympic lifter needs to be aware of what’s happening in his body. When his joints start rebelling he needs to back off and remember, if he’s like me, he wants to train with weights all his life. He simply doesn’t want to put himself out of commission because he kept pushing a joint beyond its tolerance. Bone structure is important here as well as flexibility and certain leverages. If you can tell early on that you don’t have compatible situations here – well, maybe you should think about going into powerlifting, physique or something else.”
With Clarence now engrossed both on the physique oriented training level and the political scenes which encompass its rules at the amateur level, we next conversed on problems encountered here.
“I think the image of bodybuilding has improved tremendously over the past few years with the television exposure – and there was the book ‘Pumping Iron’ and the film version. A lot more understanding and public acceptance is in abeyance pertaining to what the bodybuilder is doing. It’s not a so-called mirror sport, it’s a real sport, it’s valid . . . and they have to realize the discipline, training and diet that these athletes practice. I think the public is coming to recognize that more and more.
As a bodybuilder I was try to stay in shape all the time. What I did with this year’s approach . . . during the early part of this year I was training six days a week and the seventh day I did some bicycling . . . that may have been a bit too much. I have a 20 mile course that starts at my front door and ends back there, and I really scrambled on it for that 20 miles. It may have been great for cardiovascular fitness but, as I analyze it, some of my bodybuilding progress may have been held back. So this year and onward when I’m trying to add some muscle during the early period I’ll work out less frequently and try to give my body more of a chance to recover and grow. Actually in the last three or four months before the contest I cut my training back to four days a week. I thought this was more effective and did so right till the contest”
On average, Clarence varies the amount of different exercises he will include for the scheduling of different bodyparts.
“The back, as an example, is a much group of muscles. I generally employed three different moves for my back, but in all the things I do my sets are fairly low. For the back area I like two dumbbell rowing standing on a block. In the single dumbbell version I use a hand strap, which lets me hang onto the dumbbell longer without wearing out my grip too soon because I use quite a heavy weight. In a typical back workout I start with two-dumbbell rowing on the block and do only two work sets – but they’d be very heavy sets to slightly rough performance before stopping. Then I move into the lat machine pulldown at 45 degrees with reps between 10 and 15. The single dumbbell rowing next, and all these total with two work sets on each to six full sets.
“At the moment I have a shoulder injury I’m nursing so I’m not engaging in pressing actions for either the deltoids or chest. In shoulders, I can use the three different lateral raises without too much aggravation of the current injury, and do three to four sets of each – front, side and rear. The front raises are actually more of an upright row-raise combination, and I do the rear and side ones seated on a bench.”
The annoyance of his current nagging shoulder ache has put a limit on chest training.
“I’m really only doing cable work for now with chest. I have a home gym and train there – my pulley setup is exceptional. Using it I handle the pulleys first kneeling to get a lower angle, then standing bent at the waist very far over for a variation. Two sets of each of these are the only chest exercises I’ve been able to do recently, except for some parallel dips every second or third session.”
The Bass physique exhibits a crisp definition, pure as if the skin were tissue. Diet is the priority in this attaining this result.
“My diet isn’t as extreme as I have found some bodybuilders use. My basic approach is to avoid during the course of the year what I call concentrated calories - which would be white sugar and flour including butter and oils. This is where you can get a whole bunch of calories in very small quantities of food. My preference is towards foods that contain bulk and fiber, being able to eat them until you’re full and comfortable without feeling deprived plus the calories are low. That’s how I keep my weight controlled. I take a lot of vitamins – things like desiccated liver, some protein supplements although I get most of that food from primarily eggs. I don’t eat any meat.”
Bodybuilding today is proving that men can be fit and attractive in appearance at any age. There are more champions who did not decide to turn to fat, fade away or die of predicted heart attacks than ever before.
“It’s not too late to start at 40 or any other time. I think you can make progress wherever you are. I’d like to stress the positive aspect of bodybuilding. We have so many people who are really in great shape and over forty and fifty – this nullifies what the general public thinks –they feel that when you get out of school and hit 25 or 30 you’re physically over the hill.
That’s a bunch of garbage.”
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