My Own 8-Pack Journey

I know this may seem hard to believe but I’m not just sitting here preaching to you from some kind of blessed, genetically perfect pulpit, free of strife, struggle, and heartache. The fact is that I came from my own darkness. The story of my journey to 8-pack abdominal development starts from a humble and profoundly frustrating place.

Years of Pain

I grew up on the truly mean streets of Chicago back in the 1970’s. Sweltering in the summer and deadly cold in the winter, Chicago was tough enough to deal with just in terms of seasonal weather. But add to that the gang bangers, heroine addicts, and overwhelming poverty of the time, Chicago was its own hell back then. Spanish gangs like the Latin kings and Latin Eagles, black gangs like the Vice Lords, Black Disciples, and El Rukns, white gangs like the Chicago Gaylords, Stone Greasers, and Jousters, and the overall multi-racial and ever unpredictable Insane Unknowns guarded their turf with deadly ferocity. Trouble was so commonplace even in the safety of school, and especially walking the streets. I was so young at the time, just a child. I remember the gangs beating me up for my jacket, my money, or anything else they could shake me down for. One fall Saturday afternoon walking home from Lincoln Park where I was playing football on the grass with friends I was cornered by five banger thugs, pulled into an alleyway, and beaten so badly that I woke up hours later. It was nighttime, raining, and even my sneakers were missing. I wasn’t even 12 years old at the time. They were such tough times.

To help, my father bought me boxing gloves and taught me how to throw a punch so I could defend myself. A lot of kids learned self-defense techniques back then, but the truth is that, for whatever reason, usually these efforts were fruitless. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that the street thugs out there were so vicious and so experienced in real world fighting, that some lily-white Jewish kid getting a few lessons at a local martial arts school simply could never compare. The greater reason may have been a lack of conditioned aptitude for fighting. Most better off kids didn’t have a grasp on fighting simply because they were not as desperate and impoverished as others. Strangely, as I quickly found out, I did seem to have a natural aptitude.

Between early play boxing thumps at my fathers hands coupled with literally fighting for my survival on an almost daily basis, my skills rapidly sharpened. So much so, I recall the day I finally landed a legitimate straight and true right hand body shot on my father. He doubled over, ripped his gloves off, and strained to say he’d never box with me again. I was proud of myself, but puzzled too. I had thrown my right hand with such silky ease, that it felt like nothing to me. Yet it seemed I had inflicted such damage. My father was right. I helped him up and we both smiled, knowing with that my right hand put me in a good, moreover, safer place.

Taken to the streets, I learned quickly in altercations to strike early and extremely hard before things escalated. Then I’d run like hell before gang-ups happened or knives were pulled. When I entered my early teenage years and got some additional “man” power behind my punches, there were noticeably fewer fights. I was gaining my own street respect. Soon thereafter I was able to walk the neighborhood even at night without fear. On the occasion someone started with me, I still remained quick to strike and end it. But soon found I didn’t have to run. That’s because, with my added power and size, most of the guys I hit were lying on the ground unconscious. As a result and with the encouragement and support of my father, I took to some of the local Chicago boxing gyms. In my youthful teenage years I became a junior league boxer and was an unlikely but accepted kid that stuck out like a sore thumb in that dank low-class boxing gym located out on Navy Pier. Though now transformed to a veritable tourist attraction, 35 years ago this area used to be one of the absolute worst of the gang-dominated bad-lands in the windy city. The sparring there was the real deal. Workouts were punishing and training was a daily self-sacrifice of the body.

That’s when I started to notice my physique more. In particular I took notice of my abdominals, or lack thereof.

No Abdominals

I had overcome adversity and realized the upside—I was skinny, with fast hands, and still had that crazy right that could knock out another kid even if he had on headgear! But I certainly didn’t celebrate in all that. For I had also found the downside—To my surprise and dismay I had no abdominal development to speak of. It wasn’t as if I was fat either. I mean, here I was this skinny kid with a tiny waist, but no abdominals! Of course in preparation for every fight, I did my share of punishing sit-ups to the theme music from Rocky. I must have literally done thousands of sit-ups. No matter how much sweat poured off me in search of carved abdominals, I just didn’t have those cool etched lines on my belly that I would regularly see so clearly on my opponents.

Before high school was finished, my parents moved us to New York where I continued my penchant for boxing at another stinking hole I found called Rago’s in North White Plains. While a good bit more muscular and a lot stronger, I still lacked the abdominal muscles I always wanted. I was still knocking guys out, but didn’t care. I would have traded my right hand in a heartbeat for a great set of washboard abs. It was such a disappointment because I was still training them so hard (or so I thought). It actually got so bad as an obsession that it consumed me. I remember going to a swim meet in high school to watch a girl I was dating compete. Yet all I kept replaying in my mind was looking at those diving-team crumb-cakes and their sick abs. Even the girls had better abs than I did! It was such a blow to my ego. I mean here I was with an undefeated bad-ass amateur boxing record, but was insecure because I felt I just didn’t look the part with the crappy abs of mine.

Form Follows Function

As I climbed the local boxing ranks and faced increasingly tougher opponents, it soon became obvious that my abdominals were as weak as they looked. It baffled me because I was so lean, plus I worked so incredibly hard conventionally training this area using all the popular concepts. Yet my abdominals simply sucked. They didn’t just look bad. I also began to discover that I couldn’t take much of a body shot either. So to add insult to injury, here I was walking around with what I thought were genetically crappy abdominal development that not only looked bad but didn’t function well either.

This fact was further underscored when I ran up against the toughest opponent I had ever faced as a boxer. His name was Scott Silbers. He was this Nubian kid that looked like a spitting image of the former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. He sported the same haircut, same tough looking face, same cheesy mustache, but just younger and smaller. Add to that it sure felt like he hit every bit as hard. The kid, like me, was undefeated but with a much better record of 13-0 (my record at the time was 8-0). He also had this “peek-a-boo” style of throwing punches, changing levels and throwing huge uppercuts to the body and chin if he got inside position. The guy loved body those shots. So there I was again preparing for this fight, knowing my weakness, and doing twice as much abdominals training. Well, if it helped I sure didn’t notice it. The guy landed plenty of punches on my belly, to the point I nearly passed out. But not before I opened up his head with one of my own counter right uppercuts (bless that right hand!). In the end I won the fight on a very close split decision. While I had split open Scottie’s forehead, for which he’d need stiches, his blows left my already compromised and flawed mid-section with some serious damage. I had sustained two gaping holes in the middle of my abdominal muscles—something the surgeon at the time referred to as a double epigastric hernia (I’d have a much better understanding of this in my later years once I became a physician). As a result, I needed surgery to sew up the walls of fascia that had blown open between the muscles.

Abdominal Aftermath and Realization

So there I was home from the hospital after the surgery lying on my back in the guest room at my parents house, because it was too painful to climb the stairs. I was weak and in excruciating pain struggling to recover. Perhaps the most depressing for me were my already sucky abdominals, which now looked even worse. My belly was distended and smooth with a big scar down the middle. They fileted me open. It would be a long, long road back.

But I was determined.

Interestingly I was purged of the urge to box. And while Scott went on to fight in the Golden Gloves and years later I eventually recovered and made the transition to mixed martial arts (MMA), back then my focus was bodybuilding. With the help of a high school friend named Pete Polzer and a starter weight set and bench from Sears, I began the slow road back. Prior to that, my only experience with weights was fooling around with a pair of 10 pounds Healthways dumbbells my father had. But now it was serious business. I immersed myself in this art form and went forward with absolute steely determination, to figure out my body. I wanted to know everything about bodybuilding and how the guys with extreme development trained and dieted. Feeling that this sport of bodybuilding was the discipline with the truest knowledge of form and function, I set out to master it and perhaps figure my abdominals out in the process.

Bodybuilding helped me take my first big steps toward 8-pack abdominals.