Leroy Colbert’s Health Store

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A health shop is admittedly, an odd thing to write about. In today’s world of GNC’s and stores with fanciful names like ‘Vitality’ or ‘Mr. Pump’, modern gym goers are blessed with a wealth of pill peddlers to call upon. This, shockingly, was not always the case. While health stores did exist in some guise in the early and mid-twentieth century, they were even more obscure and alternative than they are today. While some weightlifters such as Jack Lalanne embraced the health store culture as early as the 1930s, it took decades for the mainstream fitness industry to catch on.

What’s my point here? Well that bodybuilding stores in the 1960s were a rare thing. So without further adieu, we’re going to spend some time examining Leroy Colbert’s New York health food store. Colbert, incidentally was noted for his amazing bicep development, which measured over 21 inches. Today’s post seeks to examine the man himself and spend some time highlighting the importance of his store for the general weight lifting community.

Leroy Colbert

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For those unaware, Colbert was a mid-century bodybuilder famed for his incredible biceps. In an age of emerging mass monsters, Colbert was credited by many with the first 21inch arms forged according to Leroy through full body programmes and good old fashioned eating. Quickly becoming a darling of Joe Weider owing to his jaw dropping upper body, Leroy briefly took the bodybuilding world by storm. Following a series of regional victories in the Mr. New York City and Mr. America East competitions, Leroy’s career was sadly cut short by a horrific motorcycling accident which nearly severed his ankle from his body. Nevertheless Leroy became a figurehead for steroid free bodybuilding, a point he discussed shortly before his death

So how impressive was Leroy? Well according to Muscle Power magazine, Leroy’s measurements in 1953 totalled:

Arms: 21.25″

Chest: 52″

Waist: 32″

Thighs: 28″

Weight: 205lbs

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A 1977 interview with Howard Alpert shed light on Colbert’s training philosophy both before and after the motorcycle accident forced him to retire from competitive bodybuilding

I used many types of routines until I found the ones that worked best for me.What I found was that 10 sets was the minimum I could use for my ‘easy-growing’ parts. Usually I did 15 sets for most parts and sometimes went as high as 20 sets a workout for those parts that were really stubborn.

I found that working with very heavy weights that forced you to do the exercises slowly was not as effective as working with a weight in a continuously moving manner until you completed the set. I don’t mean working so fast that you use sloppy form, but I mean that you don’t actually pause at the top or bottom of a repetition but just keep moving the weight in a controlled, steady way. Notice that I said “controlled.” I believe that you can’t fully control a weight that is so heavy that you can barely do your reps with it. I get much better results by using a weight that makes you work but not one that you have to ‘kill’ yourself with to get through the exercise.

What did this look like in practice? Well inspired by Leroy’s training philosophy, T-Nation’s Bradley Joe Kelly devised a Leroy-esque workout for lagging arms to be performed three times a week

Exercise Sets Reps
A1 Body Drag Curl 4 6-10
A2 Close Grip Bench 4 6-10
B1 Incline Curl 4 6-10
B2 Overhead Triceps Extension 4 6-10
C1 Weighted Pull-up 3 6-10
C2 Incline Bench Press 3 6-10
D1 Bent-Over Barbell Row 3 6-10
D2 Decline Dumbbell Fly 3 6-10
E1 Barbell Front Squat 3 6-10
E2 Military Press 3 6-10
F1 Hack Squat 3 6-10
F2 Dumbbell Lateral Raise 3 6-10
G Standing Calf Raise 3 12-15
H Seated Calf Raise 3 12-15

Total Sets: 46
Rest Between Sets: 1 minute
Set Length: 32 seconds (4 seconds per rep)
Total Time Per Workout: 1 hour and 10 minutes

Now the purpose in discussing all of this is simply to show you the no-nonsense approach that Colbert took to his training.

Colbert’s Total Nutrition Store

In a stroke of good fortune, Leroy’s motorcycle accident in 1955 did not result in a complete exit from the bodybuilding industry. As discussed, Leroy was briefly a Weider cover model and displaying a noted loyalty to his athletes, Weider encouraged Colbert to continue training as best he could. Importantly for this article, he also offered Colbert a job working in his warehouse, a proposition Leroy soon accepted. Fulfilling Joe’s supplement orders in the warehouse changed Leroy’s life. By the decade’s end, Colbert was planning his own moves in the supplement industry, albeit on a smaller scale.

From the mid-1960s Leroy opened and ran his ‘Total Nutrition’ bodybuilding store, first in New York City and then, according to Dave Draper, in the West Coast. Why this is important is that Leroy’s store served as a one stop shop for the general public and noted bodybuilders to come, get together and share information. Returning to Draper’s reminisces of ‘Total Nutrition’, golden age legends such as Don Howorth or Ric Drasin were known to frequent the store. Similarly Leroy’s own website shows pictures of him, his bodybuilding friends and celebrities frequenting his store. In a pre-internet age, where information was hard to come by, Leroy’s store was run by a knowledgeable and passionate man. Similarly the clientele included some of the most successful bodybuilders of the age. While the idea of a supplement mecca free from steroids does not exist, Colbert’s store was probably the closest thing we could point to.

To end our post I want to share a few videos produced by Colbert before his untimely death in 2015. Dealing with bodybuilding nutrition and supplementation, they give a brief insight into what some of the discussions echoing around his shop must have been like:

 

As always… Happy Lifting!

 

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