To gain great strength one needs to consider the factors that unite to produce it. For until this is done one cannot be sure upon what lines to work.
The things that make for outstanding physical strength are great vital force, a high degree of nervous energy, and superlative quality of muscular tissue. Contrary to the belief that still persists in some quarters, the mere quantity of muscle that a person possesses is not a decisive factor. And at the beginning the student of this section would do well to understand that clearly.
Where the first-named essential is already in evidence, obviously so much the better ; where it is not, the deficiency can be made good in anyone organically sound. The latter condition must be recognised as the fundamental requisite. And where a man is not quite sure as to how he stands in this direction, he should undergo a medical examination in order to find out.
But while the operative relationship of the various internal systems to one another is so close as to insist on a state of good health in them all, that which really constitutes vital force is the tolerance of the heart and lungs. To make this force greater what one therefore has to do is increase the capacity of these organs. And in normal circumstances, given time, this can quite easily be done.
So far as nervous energy is concerned, the demanded high degree of this is either inherent in a man or it is not ; in other words, this is a matter of temperament more than training! True, physical culture can be made to prove of some assistance here, if not in the actual manufacture of the force, at least in its cultivation. Which help it gives by teaching how the nervous stimulus may most economically be used.
Dealing with the quality of muscle, this is decided by the following properties : (1) its power to operate effectively ; (2) its ability so to continue operating ; and (3) its capacity for relaxation when not activity engaged. The extent to which the first two will develop, of course, depends upon what methods are employed and the amount of time given to the job. Regarding the third, perfect freedom to revert to that condition is a natural disposition of muscle. But – and this must be understood as well – such it will remain only as long as it is properly treated.
Thus the components of strength and the chief considerations connected with them. Now to proceed a little further.
The student has been told that the fundamental base of strength is a state of complete organic health, not because it is assumed that he lacks the intelligence to realise this for himself, but to prevent him commencing wrongly i the event of being faced with the task of creating that state. For it has been my experience that the youth with ‘strong man’ ambitions who finds himself so situated is prone to make that sort of commencement. Which usually takes the form of attempting work two or three grades in advance.
Where health is not all that it should be, the correct procedure is this : First of all, the cause must-be located, after which a scheme of exercise should be planned that not only strikes right at the root of the trouble, but that places no undue tax on the performer’s capabilities. And the arrangement of such a scheme requiring a fair amount of physical knowledge, if the person concerned does not happen to possess this, he would be well advised to invite the assistance of someone who really does.
Which calls now for this to be stated : to establish by means of exercise a condition of general bodily fitness, it is not necessary to employ any apparatus on top what nature has supplied. In favour of apparatus there is, of course, this to be said : that it enables the user to concentrate the more easily on what he is doing – a fact which explains its mass popularity ! Against it, however, the argument can be advanced that the appeal of the method tends to the essay of tasks beyond the object. Which, as a premature proceeding, certainly is not wise.
So much for that ! Now to consider the question of age and the principles of training.
Where the choice is open, youth, naturally, is the best time to embark on this work ; as not only then are material conditions most favourable, but the longer the distance between the starting point and the marking-time stage in life, obviously the greater opportunity to accomplish what is desired. Exactly when the latter will be reached, of course, cannot be state, the capacity of individuals varying so very much. Usually, however, this occurs round about 28 years of age, the degree of strength developed up to that period maintaining itself, on an average, for a further seven or eight years before it begins to diminish.
When this diminution does commence, though, and for some time onwards, on the surface it may appear as if the reverse were happening ; as, for example, when a man getting on in years gives proof that he is capable of improving on previous weight-lifting performances. Make a close analysis of these performances, however, and it will, nine times out of ten, be found that they have not depended very much upon staminal power or the element of nervous energy. For this very excellent reason : Once middle-age is reached, these are the parts of strength that do not grow greater.
Coming to the principles of training, the following have to be observed in any scheme arranged, for it be thoroughly effective : The work must be comprehensive scope, always be graded with due regard to existing abilities, and be consistently performed. Also, it must be undertaken with enthusiasm ! Otherwise, nothing very remarkable is likely to be accomplished.
Concerning the heart and lungs, the influence of such work upon them will be this : Graded as described, it will, at the beginning, be well within their power ; and as, in the course of events, it goes forward, it will remain so. For while it is conceded that progressive muscular work must make greater demands upon these organs, it also is true that such effort, when gradually essayed, gives both of them the ability proficiently to meet these demands. On this point the student can rest quite assured.
With respect to nervous energy, as explained before, the pitch to which this can key muscular effort is very much a matter of temperament – something, as everyone knows, that cannot very well be altered ! What can be done, however, is this : Where not characteristically high, the stimulative force can be induced to function more intensively at times by a careful conservation of its powers. For which conservation the scheme of training will naturally allow, where it grades the work as advised.
Regarding the muscles, as intimated earlier, their strength ultimately resolves itself into a matter of fibrous “tone.” That being so, the student should concentrate all the while of the definite improvement of this. In the course of effecting which the tissues may increase appreciably in bulk, or they may not, this depending entirely upon the susceptibility of the material. Most times, though, this result will occur, if the work continues long enough.
There are several ways in which weights may be used to elevate the tone of muscle. First – and most commonly praised because of its simplicity – the performer exercises with poundages that allow of the movements being carried out correctly a few times only, progression being made by adding slightly to the weight of the bells as the tissue becomes stronger. Second, poundages mount steadily, repetitions each stage growing less, until the end of the schedule finds the man executing the movement once only. Third, poundages are fixed which approach full capacity, progression being made by performing the various movements alternately faster and slower than the usual rate of repetition. It will probably be realised that, of the three, this is the most advanced method.
Relative to the question of how often a man should practise, there is no hard and fast rule, some finding a regular daily programme produce the best results, others discovering they do better by missing a practise now and then. Generally speaking, a rest from training once a week invigorates a man. And later, as the work becomes more exacting, it may pay to observe this rest interval even more frequently.
The student now well primed generally, executive instructions can be given him. In connection with which this may be said : The following exercises, feats and tests, represent a scheme of training that the author personally practised for some years with singularity successful results.