Harry B. Paschall, ‘How Barbell Men Go Wrong’, Muscle Moulding (London, 1950)


You cannot spend a third of a century around physical culturists and barbell men without coming to a few conclusions. You see many enthusiasts who thrive on their training schedules and attain a perfectly satisfactory degree of physical development. You see others work and strain without noticeable improvement for months or years. Quite often these latter cases come up with the time-worn excuse that they are simply not the type to gain. Some experts even have given various names to these unsuccessful barbell men and inform them with regret that they cannot change their type and they are therefore doomed to failure.

The main trouble with the skinny boys is that they work too hard, worry too much and spoil their own chances of improvement by fostering a deliberate case of nervous tension. I have personally witnessed the transformation of many slender men into well rounded, broad shouldered physical supermen. What each of these former failures had to do was to create a distinct change in the metabolism of the body – to achieve a growing condition in which the digestive system would assimilate more food. In most cases this had to be done by drastic methods to jerk the subject out of his accustomed groove and start him along a new road by changing the physical demands upon his system.

I will give you a case in point. Mark Berry was the skinniest strong man ever seen outside of the freak tent at a circus. HE was strong, but had muscles like piano-wire. He weighed less than 130 lbs. and had been in that classification for ten years. He did mostly lifting practice because he had long since given up any hope that he could gain weight or muscle. He was also a vegetable and hay burner. Mark did two things to shake himself out of his groove; he moved from the New York area to Philadelphia, which is certainly something of a switch; and he began doing less exercise. He constructed a squat rack, and presently we find him doing 20 fairly heavy squats a couple of times a week, and further, he began to eat a substantial amount of nourishing food. In a few months he skyrocketed to 160 or 170 lbs. What caused this gain? The magic of the squat? I would say it was quite as much the rest he was getting as the fact that he was doing some functional, vigorous exercises without overdoing the non-essential accessory exercises for possibly the first time in his career. That the squat is basic in any weight-gaining programme is now a proven fact. Mark was one of his own guinea pigs. The sharp turnabout in his programme succeeded in shaking loose his metabolism and he began to make use of the protein and starches he was eating.

To all thin barbell men I wish to bring a message of hope. And I also want to tell you about some of the pitfalls. You need a change, but you will probably tell me that you have made many changes, that you have tried everything. This is one of your troubles. By this time you are a confirmed sceptic and while you are very willing to change, you still haven’t any faith that a new programme will work. This FAITH you must have, because as I tried to point point out in my opening gambit, you must have a mental image of the man you wish to be.

When you are dealing with me you’re dealing with a guy who has seen hundreds of skinny guys grow up and I know that your biggest problem is mental and nervous. If you had had faith enough to stick for a few successive months to some of your former schedules, it is quite likely you wouldn’t now be skinny. You want to do too much and you want to get places too soon. For the love of Hercules, take it easy!

And don’t try to go right into the routines designed to round and swell the muscles. You should be glad to get any kind of muscles at all, and the first problem we must solve is to get you to quit exercising entirely. Take a full month off. Don’t look at a barbell. Relax. Don’t allow yourself to get under tension. Let the world go hang for a spell; you can’t stop it anyway. Forget your pet peeves and animosities. Try tone happy. Good things are going to happen if you don’t peeve.

Now after you have rested a month, take up Routine No.1. This is designed especially for thin men who have spent years trying to gain. Keep on this course for six weeks. Don’t change a thing, and for the Love of Apollo, don’t add some of your favourite tearing-down exercises. Eat like a horse, and get quite a lot of liquid; but don’t overdo it, just eat like a healthy, husky, man. Try to add an hour to your sleeping time if you can. Don’t allow yourself to rush around too much during the day, and don’t fight with your wife at night. Stick to Routine 1 for the full six weeks, three workouts per week.

At the end of six weeks weigh and measure yourself. And by the way, obey the suggestion to get yourself a note book and keep track of your progress; you’ll find it a help. Put down your starting measurements, and the starting exercise routine’ write down every workout with the weights and repetitions used; check up about every three weeks on weight and measurements; watch your progress. When you come to the end of six weeks, take one week’s complete vacation from the weights. I once called this system (in a spirit of egotism perhaps) the Paschall Pause. I take that back. Let’s call it the Sabbatical Week. College Professors have a nice custom of taking one year off in seven and on this seventh year they take a trip, write a book or chase butterflies or women. This is the Sabbatical Year. When you work you may work six days and rest of the Sabbath. When God made the world, they say, ‘on the Seventh day, He rested’. We’ll do it on the seventh week. On this Sabbatical Week you can do just as the professors do, rest, travel or chase butterflies – but in Heaven’s Name, don’t touch a barbell.

After your rest, take up Routine No. 2. It is a little more strenuous and begins to give you some muscle moulding for those growing muscles. Continue to take it easy; to rest; to sleep well, to eat plenty and to keep your mind free from worry about gaining weight.

At the end of another six weeks take another Week Off. Probably by this time you will be feeling so good you can chase women instead of butterflies – but please, don’t do it. Because now you are ready to go right into Routine No. 3 with the rest of the muscle men who are striving to out-Grimek Grimek.

From this point on, write your own ticket. You are no longer typed as a Thoracic or a Skinny. Today you are a Man!