Alan Calvert, Why Are Parents So Bitterly Opposed to Heavy-Weight Exercise?, CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION ON LIFTING AND LIFTERS (1926)

Parents! I might add wives, sisters, brothers and friends. Now, I am going to put it right squarely up to you; if you happen to be a young bar-bell enthusiast.

When you bought your bar-bell, did your father and mother applaud your decision? Or did they beg you not to take the risks attendant on using heavy-weights? Suppos­ing you are older, married. Did your wife bubble over with enthusiasm when your bar-bell arrived? Or did she express regret and concern ?

I have yet to meet the parents who did not wish to see their sons as shapely, as healthy and as strong as possible. Nor have I met a woman who wished her husband to be weak rather than strong. The reasons that parents and wives object to the use of heavy-weights is their concern for the health, and the physical integrity of their sons and husbands. When I was young I preferred to put that down to ignorance. I have learned better. Where there is so much smoke there is bound to be some fire. Lifters have broken their blood-vessels, have strained their hearts, have ruptured themselves and so on.

Many parents object to foot-ball playing. Deaths have occurred on the foot­ ball field, and there are dozens of injuries every season. Just the same, the objection of parents to their sons playing foot-ball, is mild when compared to the real fight they put up against the use of heavy-weights. They consider-and perhaps rightly-that the sprained ankles, wrenched knees, pulled tendons, bruises and bangs happening to the football player are of small account in comparison to the weakened heart, or the rup­ture which may happen to the over enthusiastic weight-lifter.

What is your opinion! Perhaps you have never thought much about it. If so I can tell you that a rupture is truly a life handicap. And a weakened heart virtually puts you out of anything active; you have to continually watch out for it; to avoid anything but mild exercise; and to live under an ever present menace. Are you sur­prised that parents worry when they learn their sons are subjecting themselves to such risks?

I hear that in some quarters they are asking, How is it that Mr. Calvert did not find out those things years ago?” Mr. Calvert will be glad to tell you. In the first few years that I advocated weights, my customers were few. Although I then pub­lished records of lifts, I never urged pupils in general to try for records. There were practically no competitions, or record attempting. I staged one or two little private matches; between tried and skilled men. Later on I started the custom of giving exhibitions; to- which pupils, and some outside experts and connoisseurs were invited. There was no admission charged. If there were expenses I paid them. (In my time it did not cost one nearly so much to be a bar-bell fan, as it costs the fans today.)

At these exhibitions records were attempted; and sometimes made. Every lifter was a recognized star, an experienced man. I cannot recall but once having ever asked, or permitted, an inexperienced novice to demonstrate his strength. On one occasion (as related elsewhere) I allow.ed a stranger to try a very strenuous lift; and although he had never used weights in his life, he was so strong that he outdid all my prize experts–except one.

Consequently, I had no accidents occur, and never even a strain; perhaps because I never urged a man to overexert himself. Being constitutionally cautious, I didn’t like to take the chance. More than once I paid the expenses of a star lifter, had him make a trial before the audience, and saw him fail because of lack of condition, or strength; and have myself urged him not to try again. A new record would have been a fine advertisement; but what is ·a record when a man’s safety is at stake.

Even at that there was many a time when I was worried, lest some experienced man should get carried away with enthusiasm, and injure himself beyond repair.

Nowadays I don’t attend lifting exhibitions. So what I am now going to say is, . I admit, hearsay. Men whose judgment and honesty I respect, come to me and tell me that, at the present exhibitions, half-grown boys are being urged to outdo each other at such body-racking stunts as the dead weight lift, where the compression of the abdomen is terribly dangerous. That a man was cheered-on to make a new record in the “wrestler’s bridge” lift-in which the violent contraction of the neck muscles im­pedes the return of the blood from the head. That in that particular case, the popping eyes and engorged blood-vessels in the lifter’s temples made my informant fear his in­stant death. I sincerely hope that such things do !lot take place. If such is the policy of the promoters, it is not just a mistake; it is a crime.

During the last few years I was connected with the weight-lifting business, as a writer, correspondent, and advisor (whose advice was rarely taken), I could see my own confidence in weights getting less and less. I must have written thousands of let­ters to strength-seekers and I wish you would show me one-over my signature-where I urged a pupil to over exert himself; or -here I advised him to “go out after records.” I can recall letters-hundreds of them-where I urged the pupils to reduce the “”eight used; to practice less often, and so on; but none where I tried to. make the pupil lift more and more weight as a cure for lack of progress.

I became extremely conserva­tive – too conservative to suit some of those interested. Old men, near the end of their tether, would ask me if they could possibly get back their lost youth and strength by mild weight lifting; and I “”auld hasten to disillusion them. (Any weak man of over sixty who attempts to use weights is, in my opinion, a fool.) I refused orders from 12 and 13-year-old boys, saying that I would decline to handle such cases. I suppose that I got worse and worse.

Fathers would bring in sons who were literally crazy to be strong. I would explain the proposition, and leave it up to them. Sometimes an order for a bar-bell was placed, and sometimes not. I never tried to persuade a man that lifting was “just the thing” for his half-grown boy. (That is the policy I had pursued when I ran the business myself (1902-1918). I may have lost a lot of sales, and foregone a lot of profit, but I gained ill the end. There are people-lots of them­ who have confidence in my judgment and honesty of purpose.)

I recall one case of a customer who had been using a bar-bell for three months. He came in and complained that instead of getting stronger he was getting continually weaker. So, as per custom, they sent him to me. One look showed me that he was a neurasthenic, if ever I saw one; an undersized, anemic, wild-eyed youth; who, if he wanted health and strength, should have been spending hours a day in the open air, and taking relaxing exercise rather than the kind which required tensing of muscles and the expenditure of energy. I listened to him perhaps two minutes, and then asked him if he realized that he would become a nervous and physical wreck if he continued to use weights. I made him send back his weights and insisted that his money be re­ turned to him. I tell you, I would not, for worlds, have taken the responsibility of letting that poor boy use weights.

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