Mr. Universe and some of the top racquet players heft the common goals of individualism and personal perfection. A few years back, I dug into a ‘Gold’s Mine’ of training tips from Mike ‘The Mighty’ Quinn. Make that mighty, as in savvy and gracious.
‘You can make a chorus line of doctors and psychologists who disagree, but serious sports competitors need conditioning and nutritional advice to progress. Athletes discovered twenty years ago that the ones coming out on top had personal trainers and nutritionists.’
We met in 2003 in the Coral Gables Racquet Club boiler room as I strained to shove a 600 lb. extinct water heater out the door to make room for a bed. I was the new club pro. He heard the scrapping through the ceiling pumping iron, and descended to help. I tipped the heater on edge, he squatted beneath, lifted, and hauled it out the door.
‘I held the same cup as Arnold Schwarzenegger,’ he cracked, loosening the weight belt, and returned upstairs to pump iron.
Seven years before this 2010 WOR Outdoor Championship overhead, Cliff Swain trained for one summer under Mike Quinn. (Mike Augustin)
That afternoon he offered training tips to me on an adjacent treadmill. ‘Let’s start nutrition with an analogy. There are Lamborghinis and Volkswagens, and owners who care for them in different ways. You can put high or low quality fuel, oil and so forth into each. At the same time, there’s a genetic predisposition to everything. My father is a butcher, as big as the beef he carves, but I don’t eat beef. Are you with me so far?
‘The intense athlete must train himself to eat every three hours. The intake should be high protein because that’s the building block of muscle. I eat chicken, protein shakes, salads, fruit and no red meat.’
He asserts the most important eating spurts are 90 minutes before, and 90 minutes after working out. ‘Build and recover,’ he keeps repeating. Interestingly, he takes some sugar with meals ‘to pull the other nutrients into the muscle cells’.
How about a training regimen for the devoted wannabe?
‘Young athletes get on the tournament court, field or mat and run out of steam before the finals. Their coaches berate them for not trying hard enough; however, in most cases, they peter out because they’ve been working too hard up to the tournament date.’
‘Here’s a training regimen for very serious players who have a low (non-playing) and high (tournament) season. In the first month of the low season, don’t play much of the prime sport at all. Train at weights and machines intensely, and for short amounts of time, with short rest periods.
’If your workouts in the first month are twice daily for an hour each, follow these principles: In the month’s course, gradually increase the intensity, decrease the rest time between exercises, and maintain the duration of the overall workout.’
He grins broadly, ‘It makes you puke’.
’In the second month of training during the low season, cut back half the weight training, while spending most the hours on the court, field or gym practicing and playing.’
‘In the third month of low season, don’t weight train at all, and don’t play hard. Eat wisely throughout the three months, and go gentle on the ladies…
‘You’re a Lamborghini in the season opener!’
Quinn’s analysis of over-training supports a personal belief that I over-trained throughout a fifteen year pro racquetball career, rarely taking a day off from hours of practice (one hour), playing (two), running (one), biking (two) and lifting weights (one hour). Tournaments were breathers.
‘You never peaked!’ assays Quinn.
‘Right, but my priority was working out rather than winning tournaments. I loved it,’ I asserted.
‘Most players want to win more than that, don’t they?’ he countered.
‘Yes,’ I agreed, recollecting six national championships.
In a challenging silence, I asked to grab collars to test my better sport, judo.
He grasped my lapels at arm’s length, lifted me a foot off the ground, and whisked his sneaker under mine, exclaiming, ‘This is a foot sweep!’, and gently lowered me to the floor.
Quinn put me on a 3-month regimen of weights with a high-protein diet to gain slight weight and much strength, while increasing speed and stamina- can you beat that?.
‘There’s an ancient controversy of muscle vs. sport, that should be muscle and sport. The stronger the player of any sport, the greater the edge- period! However, don’t think muscle equals bulk. Think of tiny individual muscle fibers growing thicker, and stronger end attachments to the bones. This increased density is a strong muscle, not a huge muscle.’
Huge muscles are for bodybuilding, Quinn’s profession.
‘Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno (The Incredible Hulk) and I hold the same trophy for Mr. Universe. We just held it in different years (1984 for Quinn). Arnold is a smart, hard worker who likes to ‘bust your balls’. He and I had words once, that fortunately for each of us, didn’t go any farther. Lou, on the other hand, demands everyone’s regard for achieving greatness through deafness. He’s a friend who would have worn the green skin, even with good ears.’
Mike Quinn set the world pumping iron aflame by winning Mr. America at 18-years old. ‘It was too early to peak into fame, but I plowed on as best I could.’ Title after title, in country after country, followed. In the early 90s, he opened two Gold’s Gyms in southern Florida, then exited business to train professional football, baseball, racket and other players. There was a two-year stint with Tae-Bo boxing guru Billy Blanks trading daily lessons- weights for martial arts.
To look at Quinn is to behold a bull with a quick glint behind the eyes. ‘I rose out of a dysfunctional family, neighborhood rubble, and attention deficit, and it’s the best inspiration I can offer whiners.’ He’s extremely graceful, honestly sociable, and highly self-educated on health, nutrition, exercise physiology and psychology. He likes to stick you between a dumbbell and a hard place with mental puzzles, and watch the workout.
As I listened to the gentle giant speak, it dawned on me that despite my life-long study of unorthodox pet and human training methods, there was not a thing to disagree with. His hair-brained theories fit my hair-brained theories to weave Sampson a wig.
Thanks to Mr. Universe Mike Quinn for the conditioning tips of a lifetime.