The late, great George Eiferman had many claims to fame. In a lot of fans' books his greatest achievement was winning the Mr. Universe title at 36, then considered an advanced age for
bodybuilding competition. Some remember him for his star-like charm in the Mae West Vegas act, of which he was a prominent member. Many baby boomers were affected by his lectures on
physical fitness that he delivered in countless school auditoriums. Still perhaps for others the highlight of his career was the way he encouraged weight training aboard ship to quell
fears among his shipmates during WWII. None of these accomplishments would have been possible, however, if at age 11 he had not experienced the results of training with a borrowed
There was a time, during the late '40s, when staging the AAU Mr. America contest gave officials far fewer problems to solve. They simply viewed the cream of the bodybuilding crop going
through their paces, and then selected as , winner the man who lived the closest to the time-" worn virtues the title represented. These attributes included leadership, integrity,
honesty, athleticism, and of course, the best physique. In 1948 one of the finest contenders for the coveted Mr. America crown was George Eiferman, a man of wit, warmth and humor.
Many winners fell by the wayside, but 23-year-old Eiferman was lucky. More than just kudos and a trophy, his reward for a job well done included identity, pride and fortune. Even Steve
Reeves, who won the title the year before, had to live on a meager budget for nearly a decade before achieving the fame and financial security that were rightfully his.
Every winner hoped garnering the America would provide all the benefits the title represented for more than merely the one day on which the trophy was awarded. Eiferman not only enjoyed
the distinction of winning the award after only a few years of training, but he also possessed the foresight and good fortune that assured him championship status.
In 1925 Eiferman was born in the City of Brotherly Love. Coming from well-stocked Hungarian genes, he lived in a happy home with wonderful parents. Philadelphia's Olney High School
was his alma mater. He grew into a street-wise youth who would soon come to be known as "genial George."
The outbreak of WWII pushed this antsy street-corner hoodlum to action. His anger resulted not only from watching Hitler's march toward possible world domination, but also from the death
of a hometown hero who was killed at Pearl Harbor. Seventeen-year-old George, like many Americans, saw the stormy mayhem as a big ransom note left on America's front doorstep, believing
he had no choice but to get involved.
George was hoping to see the world through the Navy's eyes, but his desire was crushed when he was commissioned stateside in Bainbridge, Maryland as a trumpeter in the Navy band. This was
a far cry from mine-sweeping in the North Atlantic. A year of time-in-grade, however, gave him a leg up in military rank, and saw him boarding the destroyer USS Alcor. George and the ship's
boxing champion, John Sepko, began pumping iron. During the ensuing three years of duty they encouraged and recruited 200 new weight trainers. The workouts relieved tension and built
strength to help sustain the life of wartime servicemen.
After the war the freshly discharged Eiferman returned home to Philadelphia unscathed though shackled with unsavory war experiences that haunted him for years. Now fully bitten by the
barbell bug, he was eager to hit the weights again. Physical culture was not the most respected pursuit in those days, but George continued to train at Fritshe's Gym in Philly, where modern
bodybuilding in the late '40s was about to emerge. In four months he added a pound and a half per week to his 5'9" frame, and became Mr. Philadelphia of 1947. Soon after he placed a
stunning fifth in the 1947 America, where Reeves was a favorite.
With bodybuilding consuming a large part of his life, George's physical form bordered on perfect. His career shifted easily from music to comedy and training, but the training always
took priority over his other activities. Still, he managed to combine bodybuilding with studies at the Philadelphia Music Academy. He took advantage of numerous east-coast opportunities,
many of which were made possible by his dear friend, Dr. Terry Robinson. Eventually George found his way to the York Gym, which not only employed him but also offered better training
facilities. Here he met many champions, including John Grimek, who later said of him, "He trained with the York champions before hauling anchor and going west."
California, Here I Come
Upon arrival in California he found himself at the heart of bodybuilding. In time he managed to get established in this stronghold of muscledom, but initial problems had to be overcome.
At one point he considered working as an artist's model, but his reluctance to disrobe in front of university art classes left him financially stretched. He was able to laugh at the
situation in his later years, but then he took refuge at Vic Tanny's gym, where he used a trampoline for a bed and did day labor.
On April 10,1948 he entered the Mr. Pacific Coast contest and won hands down. After that success he competed in contests left and right. His frequent competitions severely curtailed his
regular training, but he hoped his contest preparation would be enough to maintain his muscular physique. Unfortunately this lack of regular training cost him the '48 Western America title
when the judges chose Jack Delinger, a man known to beat some real favorites in competition. A mere four months later George avenged this loss by capturing the AAU Mr. America of 1948. At
age 23 Eiferman sported 198 nonsteroid pounds with steel-strong 18-inch arms and a 48-inch chest that one could set a glass of water on top of. [Delinger won Mr. America the following year.]
Hitting Pay Dirt
Winners of Mr. America invariably hoped the title would lead to fame and fortune. Two opportunities immediately emerged for George. One was a pro wrestling act (proposed by Strangler Lewis),
a path many prospective bodybuilders aim for to this day. The other was an invitation from the National School Assemblies of America to help rescue youths from the perils of adolescence.
This position had been recently vacated by retiring Olympic decathlon champion Jim Thorpe. Right there and then George decided that was what he wanted to do.
Since the sport of bodybuilding was not highly regarded by school administrators and coaches, George had to sell himself as a musician to get in the door. Once there, he educated as many
as 10,000 students a week. He delighted his young audiences with spectacle, much by way of theatrical arrangement, as he talked about life, art, music and science.
To open the show, he would lift the heaviest child in the audience by means of a harness - not with his muscles but rather with his teeth. Once he had his audience's respect, the popular
Mr. America would open the door of friendship and have their undivided attention throughout the presentation. He would tell them of the bag-of-bones body he had when he was a street-corner
hood. The kids adored his personality, his muscles and his showmanship to the extent that each felt as if he had won a prize. During the period of this hectic work schedule George's name
appeared on entry forms for the '49 and'50 USA, where he placed favorably but did not win.
Eiferman's Surefire Training Secrets
You're As Old As Your Legs.
A man is not old at 36 by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, 36 today is chronologically equivalent to being in your 20s only a generation ago. However, being declared Mr. Universe
while closing in on the age of 40 was rarely heard of in 1962, especially when receiving your trophy alongside the newly crowned Mr. America, 23-year-old Larry Scott. Few would put their
reputation on the line as Eiferman did, but he was able to stave off any signs of middle age by keeping his legs in race-horse form. He lived close to the axiom "You're as old as your legs,"
and nobody believed this adage more fervently than he.
When he was training for the Universe, his secret weapon was 6x15 rapid parallel squats - done every day! Alternate flat-foot squats and hacks - with variable heel and toe placements -
were the nuts and bolts of his training. Beginning with the standard 3 sets of 10, he would increase to 4 or 5 sets of 5 for unlimited power and bulk. To shape the muscles, he would do 2
sets of 20, choosing from a large selection of exercises.
George "Pectoral" Eiferman
Though all of George's bodyparts were spectacular, he was best known for his dual slabs of pectoral muscle. He realized the larger you made your rib cage, the more muscle you could lay
upon it. Using heavy breathing squats with pullovers made this development possible. Circular dumbell laterals, bent-arm pullovers, decline pullovers, and even the incline bench press
were all part of his routine for holding the already-expanded rib-box attachments up high and forever fused beneath the pec tissue. George attributed 90 percent of his pec development to
the bench press. When done first, this exercise pepped him up for the remaining parts of the workout. Then he would superset slow-motion dumbell presses with wide-grip benches, keeping
elbows well back.
Building a Backbone
An exercise that didn't produce was not important in George's book, whether it was popular or not. One of his favorites was the old but highly productive main-stay, rowing. It contributed
to the incredible mass he developed on his back and the outside of his forearms, which were unusually thick and blended harmoniously in line with his powerful shoulder girdle. George would
use a rotary barbell row in which he pulled the bar from arms' length into his waist, and then, without breaking the circular groove, passed it under his face and back down. During his
Universe training 6 sets of 10 reps served him well. Always believing in survival of the fittest, he once commented on lat-machine pulldowns: "They give you a lot of pulling strength, which
is important in an emergency. You never know what's going to happen to you, so you want to have good pulling strength.
Delts You Can Get a Handle On
Eiferman incorporated many variables in his delt-training. Fifty years ago he suggested working the delts in all directions (lateral, frontal and rear). Such thoroughness made for a
315-pound press behind the neck - his favorite shoulder-mol-der. Like his buddy, Steve Reeves, he did dumbell front raises, but instead of stopping the bells at shoulder level, he hauled
them directly overhead. To overcome a delt slump he would use pushups and wall machine movements. He rarely dropped presses, which succeeded his lat work.
George Bears Arms
His biceps were once described as "baseballs set upon extra short arms." However, this appearance of shorter-than-normal arms was merely the result of muscle density. His arm development
was not so much caused by secret exercises (dumbell, barbell or concentration curls) as feeling the weight every inch throughout the arc of every curl.
Having used every triceps exercise imaginable, he wrote, "No course in triceps exercise is complete without the bench press." By varying his hand spacing from wide to narrow or somewhere
in between, he was able to target all three triceps heads.
Forearms - No Buggy Whips Here
Like Eiferman's larger-than-life physique, his forearms demanded reaction. Club-like in appearance, the belly looked spectacular in that his genetics permitted them to taper favorably into
the wrist. He said of their importance: "If your grip is powerful, and your forearms strong, when you lift heavy weights in your training, they will feel easier to handle. You will never
have to worry about your grip failing you." Sometimes he used a triset in which he sandwiched full-range wrist curls between biceps and triceps exercises. This wrist curl, done with wrists
on knees, was the key to forearm supremacy which kept pace with the rest of his physique.
Streamlining the Torso
Eiferman streamlined his torso with a 14- to 20-inch differential from waist to chest that never failed him. In a world where building anything less than megasized muscles is not an option,
weight distribution is really not significant except for the overweight person who thinks he can transfer his paunch to his chest and transform it into steel-strong tissue. Eiferman had a real
handle on such ideas, adapting them to fit a problem of his own.
While he was on the road, George experienced a shrinking pectoral girdle and an expanding waistline brought on by an overactive appetite. Using a unique process, he united a chest exercise
with an abdominal movement - i.e. prone press with leg raise, and barbell pullover with combined situp and leg raise. This routine allowed his pecs to regain their size while his midsection
reacted as if it had been cheated out of the family fortune. Unable to resist this assault, his abs once again became sleek to highlight his presentations.
Frequency of Training
Like many champions of the '50s, Eiferman trained all bodyparts in one shot, three times per week. Before a contest he would increase to five days a week. (He paid for new muscle growth
with the savings from his three-day training.) This latter schedule usually lasted only two or three weeks. Incidentally, this infrequent crash training was the reason for our perception
that bodybuilders of yesteryear were not as honed as today's champions. The fashion of the day then was muscular bulk, and George held his own in that department.
George, the Instinctive Trainer
To make maximum use of his prevailing strength, he followed a plan based on biorhythms and cycles. When his energy level was high, he used heavy barbells. On days with a lighter output of
effort a stripped-down barbell worked wonders, enabling George to alternate programs to eliminate sticking points and overtraining, bodybuilders' worst nightmares. Before initiating either
a high or low set/rep scheme, he would say, "Do not experiment with either sets or repetitions until the normal 3 sets of 10 reps in each exercise fail to give you results."
George's Good Friends!
When Mae West said, "Why don't you come up and see me some time?" she could most assuredly have had George in mind. George knew Mae quite well and was a true blue friend of hers. George and
Mae were responsible for the sensual overload of pounding musical scores that accentuate most of today's male dance routines. He encouraged her to make a stage comeback in a '50s nightclub
act. She heeded his suggestion that bodybuilders could emphasize her act better than the wrestlers who were her first choice.
With the theory that musclemen in a nightclub act would be the rage of the country, George took a leave of absence to use his gym in Hollywood as a scouting ground. There he gathered a
troupe of nine musclemen that included Zabo Koszewski, Dick Dubois, and Joe Gold of Gold's Gym fame. This troupe went on to break all nightclub records from the Big Apple to California.
During the '70s movie star and friend Debbie Reynolds recruited George for her Broadway stage smash modeled on the Mae West cabaret act.
Extremely successful for several years, George continued his work in youth education. Steve Reeves, whom George met at Steve's victory of the '47 Mr. America, encouraged George to jet to
Rome with a proposition to make gladiator flicks. Reeves tried to bait Eiferman with the prospect of a legitimate and lucrative film career like the one which had made him rich. George
graciously declined, however, and remained with the National School Assemblies Association for 22 years.
Having opened men's and women's health clubs in Vista, San Diego and LA with former wife Toby, George drew on his entrepreneurial expertise. Dr. Richard You entrusted him to manage a large
health setup in Honolulu, to which George contributed his skills from his days of managing the American Health Spa. A later venture was the purchase of Leo Stern's gym in San Diego. Many
athletes sought his guidance because his love for bodybuilding was more grounded and based on pure emotion, unlike others who seemed to be in the sport only for the almighty buck.
Happily Ever After
Forty years ago Muscle Beach was an ambiguous breeding ground where muscles attracted those who saw them. Some went to showboat; others went to socialize. There a fair-spoken princess named
Gerrie struck George's heart. Gerrie's subsequent divorce set the stage for an unforgettable 24-hour romance with him. Both were pulled into a love scenario so complete that they enunciated
the moment with what turned out to be a pregnancy. Guarding this secret with her life, Gerrie reunited with her ex-husband. With newborn son Bob she remained married until her husband's
death in April 1992. Only then did she decide to tell her son - and George - the truth.
Prior to this revelation he had had to piece his life together and operate as best he could in a variety of society's highly segregated levels while searching for a soothing emotional balm.
Finally his legendary good fortune resulted in a reunion with his lady. It was a long time coming, but nonetheless, his final years were marked by a true love story. A genuine icon of the
golden age of bodybuilding, George Eiferman left in his wake a life well lived and a host of beneficiaries of his genial and compassionate personality.