Mike Armstrong: Shaping Young Minds & Bodies Through Bodybuilding

MIKE ARMSTRONG Shaping Young Minds & Bodies Through Bodybuilding
by Jeffrey Louis [pseudonym for Irene L. Hause]
Photo by Michael Neveux
Muscle Up
Volume 2, Number 6
August 1980

This Los Angeles schoolteacher uses weightlifting as an inspiration for inner city school kids to become dedicated to a goal.

Mike Armstrong gets up at 4:30 a.m. to train at Gold’s Gym, then commutes 20 miles on a jam-packed freeway to teach ceramics at a rough Los Angeles [inner city] junior high school. Later, this former Mr. Alabama heads for the school gym where he coaches an after-school weightlifting club. The club, which is sponsored by the Los Angeles Youth Services, gives boys the opportunity to learn proper techniques for maximum results, while minimizing the possibility of injury.

Inner-city kids, especially, see size and strength as positive values,” says Mike. Through the weightlifting club, he utilizes this positive perception to help break down certain negative concepts which are prevalent among his students. “One of the hardest things to overcome with many of these kids is the idea that someone owes you a living. In one school where I taught, kids looked down on the few who didn’t qualify for the free lunch program. And ‘Mother’s Day’ doesn’t come only once a year in the [inner city]. That’s what the kids call the day the welfare check arrives! It’s almost an overwhelming challenge to break through that line of thinking.

I see bodybuilding as a positive influence in the lives of these kids. It gives them a tangible goal to work toward. Results in bodybuilding require dedication, concentration, and determination. I tell them ‘Okay, I can show you what to do to make your muscles grow, but you can’t think about the exercises. You’ve got to do them! What you gain you gain by your own effort and yours alone!’ Bodybuilding is a very personal sport, not like football or basketball, where you share both victory and defeat with the other team members.

An added benefit is that some kids who will barely touch any reading material will read bodybuilding magazines from cover to cover. And these magazines contain articles on health and nutrition, as well as weight training instruction.”

Mike often gives his own trophies to the winners of the contests he holds after the boys have learned a few lifts. “The cups I won ten years ago mean a lot more to these kids than they do to me now. It is a terrific incentive to most of them to be able to take home a trophy for their efforts. I really value the ‘Most Symmetrical’ awards I won at the last two Mr. Western America contests, but right now I can say for sure that the only one I know I will never give away is my Mr. Alabama trophy — it’s my first physique award.”

Mike describes his last summer job as “the best one I’ve ever had!” Again working for the Los Angeles Youth Services, he traveled to two or three schools a day, presenting bodybuilding seminars through the Los Angeles Unified School District. “These classes were open to both men and women, anyone junior high age and older. And, yes, women did attend. Weight training is becoming more popular with the ladies as they see that not only do they look better, but also that they feel better.

I really enjoyed these seminars. They gave me the opportunity to combine two of the things I enjoy most — teaching and weight training. Working with a broader age range of participants made the job even more challenging and interesting. I also love to travel, and with the size of the school district, I got to do a little of that, too — 600 miles each week!”

To look at Mike today, no one would guess that as a teenager he was both skinny and anemic. The set of weights he received for Christmas during his mid-teens collected dust for a couple of years. When he lost a fight over a girl to an older boy who outweighed him considerably, the weights came out from hiding.

He attributes a change in life style to weightlifting. “I was a real challenge to my high school teachers, since partying, not studying, was my major goal in life. I did show both interest and ability in art, though, so I was assigned three periods of art per day, just to keep me out of trouble. When the ‘iron bug’ bit, it drastically reduced my interest in parties. I was spending more and more time in the gym, and when I wasn’t at the gym, I was rarely out running around, because I wanted to be in top condition when I went to the gym the next morning.

Mike went on to college, majored in art, and earned his B.S. in Education at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He quite successfully combined his academic pursuits with his continuing interest in weight training. Although he was winning powerlifting contests throughout the Southeast, his interest gradually shifted from powerlifting to bodybuilding. This change of focus proved exceptionally rewarding — Mike was the unanimous choice of the judges for the 1974 Mr. Alabama title.

After teaching high school art for three years in Tuscaloosa, his commitment to bodybuilding again led to a major change in life style. He packed his bags and moved to [Venice, California] to train at Gold’s Gym. Frank Zane, once a schoolteacher, also lived and taught school conveniently close to Gold’s.

Divorced, Mike is in no hurry to remarry. He favors women who are both intelligent and undemanding, but ruefully acknowledges that most women cannot accept the amount of time a competitive bodybuilder must devote to his sport. He shares his beach-front apartment with a [sleek black] cat, at least 100 trophies in various stages of disassembly, the countless phonograph records he has collected over the years, and dozens of very healthy plants. One huge-leaved vine casually stretches across the living room and into the kitchen.

Mike’s plan for the future is to own and operate a bodybuilding gym, plus eventually promoting both seminars and contests. “I know I’ll be good at it because I’ll love doing it. If you really care about something, you give it lots of creative thought, wholehearted effort and energy so it’s hard to go wrong. My gym will have the best equipment available and an atmosphere that will attract people who really care about bodybuilding. The ideal location would be a warm climate, alongside a body of water — and my gym would be the best gym in town!”

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