The Lost Art of Type Training

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Can every muscle fanatic become the next Mr. Olympia? Is the 220lbs. ripped physique attainable for those who want it bad enough? How far can one push past their genetic limits?

For George Walsh (seen above), the focus of today’s article, genetics had a huge role in determining who would be the next Mr. Olympia and who would be the slightly in shape trainer. Accordingly, Walsh advocated people train to their strengths and ignore the marketing of the muscle business which would have you believe that $200 worth of supplements and the latest training programme would make you huge.

Today’s post looks at Walsh’s successes with type training, what type training entailed and what it means for the modern trainer.

Who was George Walsh?

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Born in the latter half of the nineteenth-century, Walsh was one of the most prominent writers for Health and Strength, a British physical culture magazine from the 1930s to 1960s. In that time, Walsh covered a variety of topics from training, diet, relaxation and mobility issues. What set Walsh apart from many of his compatriots was his intense distrust of the muscle business.

Even in the 1930s Walsh was criticising those stars who sought to sell one-size fits all programmes to trainees. Indeed, many times Walsh would single out individuals for perpetrating the myth that any man could be a superman if they worked hard enough. For Walsh this was unscientific and simply illogical. Some men and women were pre-disposed to greater muscular development. For anyone who has stepped foot in a gym, that is obvious.

So what did Walsh prepose?

Walsh’s solution was so simple that it seems almost inane. Train to fit your own body type! A simple message, that is still ignored by many today. Look at the muscle magazines of today, many tell you to follow Phil Heath’s latest routine or Dexter Jackson’s ‘amazing’ ab workout. Few focus on the average trainer, with average genetics. Instead they focus on the routines of men and women who possess a drive and genetic ability far beyond many.

Over three decades, Walsh sought to help the average trainee by taking into account their genetic body types and lifestyle conditions. In doing so, he approached the trainee in a holistic manner in that he detailed the ideal sleeping, eating and exercising conditions for each individual. Importantly, Walsh proved highly successful. His works sold several times over and Health and Strength was often filled with letters thanking Walsh for helping them develop their physique.

For Walsh, along with several other physical culturists, his success derived from his focus on ‘Anatomic Types.’

Anatomic Types

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While the mid-century muscle mags often differed in their classification of the ‘Anatomic Type’, they all agreed on three broad categories: the Thoracic, the Intermediate and the Abdominal.

The Thoracic

Typically the Thoracic was characterised by their long thorax and comparatively short abdomen. Their natural tendency was to develop powerful and efficient heart and lungs, making them ideal endurance athletes. As such, Thoracic’s were seen to have slender frames, best suited for long distance/time style events.

They typically slender, which Walsh took as an indication that they derived less nourishment from food than others.

The Abdominal

At the other end of the spectrum stood the Abdominal, whose thorax was short and abdominal was long. They derived significantly more nourishment from their food than the Thoracic as evidenced by their naturally stocky builds and muscular strength. John Grimek was often singled out by Walsh as an ‘ideal’ Abdominal type.

The Intermediate

As the name suggests, intermediates stood between the two body types and it was here that Walsh believed most British and American bodybuilding champions stood.

The classifications got somewhat more complicated as Walsh held four sub-types for each of the above groups (i.e. Intermediate 1, 2, 3, 4, Thoracic 1, 2, 3, 4 and Abdominal 1, 2, 3, 4) but the principals remained. You had to train for your type.

Training for your Type

For Thoracic types, Walsh recommended heavy resistance training with a low number of reps. Training periods were to be frequent (a minimum of 3/4 days a week) and a focus placed on the compound lifts.

Additionally, Walsh recommended that Thoracics change their routine and exercises quite regularly, though this was up to the trainee’s own discretion. At the most extreme end of the Thoracic spectrum, Walsh advocated heavy singles with multiple sets (i.e. instead of deadlifting 200 lbs. by 5 reps, extreme Thoracics might do 220 lbs. x 1 rep x 5 sets)

For Abdominals, slightly lightly weights were to be used in conjunction with higher repetitions. This was to combat the natural bulkiness of the Abdominals.

Intermediates were to use a combination of the two approaches. A way of doing this nowadays would be to use lower reps on compound lifts and higher reps on other exercises, an approach used by many to great success.

Eating for your Type

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As is perhaps becoming clear, Walsh was a firm advocate of working within your own body as opposed to listening to someone else’s advice. With this in mind, Walsh advocated each trainee to find their own ideal caloric intake.

As a baseline Walsh often recommended 3,000 calories a day for those new to the concept of calorie counting. Those looking to lose weight could eat slightly less and vice versa for those interested in bulking up.

Walsh’s recommended foods were the old bodybuilding staples of green vegetables, eggs, dairy, starchy carbs and quality meats. Nothing fancy but nevertheless effective.

Using ‘Anatomic Types’ to your advantage

George Walsh never saw Anatomic Types as a steadfast scientific rule but rather an apt metaphor for trainees. Those born naturally light with little muscle were unlikely to build monstrous physiques. This did not mean that they shouldn’t train, but rather that they should train for their own body. Following the workout routines of the genetic gods would do them no good.

For the modern weight trainer, the now forgotten Anatomic Types concept is still worthwhile for the following reasons:

  • It teaches us the importance of specialising our routines for our own strengths and weaknesses.
  • It moves away from one-size-fits-all routines.
  • It makes us work even harder.

Regarding the last point, Walsh put the onus of responsibility directly on the trainee. For Walsh, some Thoracics may never gain 16 inch biceps but what they could do is build the best physique they possibly could.

For Walsh you played your cards as best you could. You didn’t complain about your genetics and you didn’t get discouraged. You did the very best with what you had. For some that was becoming the next Mr. Olympia while for others it was building an above average physique. Neither was better or worse than the other as all were united in their pursuit of progress.

  • For more information on George Walsh please see David Gentle’s excellent website here.
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