venice, calif. — remember the episode of “seinfeld” that features elaine trying to return a dress to barneys after she takes it home and realizes that it doesn’t look nearly as good as it did when she was at the store, surrounded by mirrors that made her appear skinnier? he is charles glass, a bespectacled, beanie-wearing and dreadlocked former bodybuilding champion who got his start competing in gymnastics at the university of california, berkeley. youtube and instagram have turned mr. glass into something of a national fitness celebrity. and here at home, in this land of thick necks, turbo tans and tattoo parlors, he is a tourist attraction unto himself. mr. glass moved to a private area with lionel brown, a 5-foot-8, 240-pound competitive bodybuilder, and watched him practice his stage poses. mr. glass, who is in his 60s (“old,” he said), makes essential tweaks to that, emphasizing form over maximum overload and unapologetically using machines — often in strange new ways that take handlebar and seat placement as mere suggestions.
(among his favorites is an 80-something grandmother who works out with him nearly every day and is, he says, “one of the hardest working people in the gym.”) the first day, we did an intense pec workout in which he moved me around to a variety of chest press and fly machines. the next day, we worked legs, where even the ordinary hamstring curl machine exercise was made exponentially harder by having me put my hands at the front of the pad and arching up slightly, as if i was doing a back extension. mr. glass also had me do one of his signature exercises, a single leg press movement that is done by stepping into a horizontal leg press, turning the body to the side, and going one leg at a time with the other suspended in midair. i try to work around what i have.” the way mr. glass tells it, he gave up his own bodybuilding career in the 1980s because of the toll it was taking on his body. “i was taking health risks, and i didn’t want to do that. i thought, ‘do i really want to do this?’ and that’s when i realized i was done.” he acknowledges the role steroids play with bodybuilders competing at the highest levels.
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