Author: Conor Heffernan

Conor is Assistant Professor of Physical Culture and Sport Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. When not in the library or the gym, he likes to try his hand at writing, often with mixed results.

Tony Sansone’s Weight Gain Diet

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Born at the turn of the twentieth-century, Tony Sansone is perhaps one of the most famous physical culturists never to turn his hand to bodybuilding. Nevertheless his influence on bodybuilders and those seeking to get in shape was remarkable. Training under both Bernarr McFadden and Charles Atlas, Sansone developed one of the most sought after physiques in 1930s America.

He modelled, quite provocatively at times, wrote extensively on good nutrition and ran a series of gyms, which included a regular training spot for the legendary Steve Reeves. Shunning excessive bulk for definition and aesthetics, Sansone possessed a body that many men today would envy. Indeed, the renowned physical culture historian David Gentle once commented

If Sansone had been born in Greek antiquity, he would have been immortalized as a god.

With this in mind, today’s post looks at Sansone’s simple and effective way to build muscle mass while maintaining a relative level of leanness.

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Covid 19 and the Return to Physical Culture

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Randy Roach’s Muscle, Smoke and Mirrors series has had a profound influence on my life. It was of the first historical books on fitness I stumbled across during my college days and it’s probably, in part, one of the reasons why I became so interested in the history of fitness. Having read, and reread the series several times, there’s one passage which I’ve never truly understood until recent events brought the issue to light.

In dealing with the first batch of physical culturists, the men and women who took to gym culture in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Roach commented that these were the individuals who lifted for the pure love of it. Explaining this to twenty-first century readers, Roach came up with a thought experiment. Imagine if all the gyms in the world were closed, the physical culturists would be the ones who still found a way to lift weights, even if it meant using odd objects found in everyday life.

‘History and Evolution,’ Arnold Schwarzenegger Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (New York: 1987), 30-38.

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At the end of the nineteenth century a new interest in muscle- building arose, not muscle just as a means of survival or of defending oneself, but a return to the Greek ideal-muscular development as a celebration of the human body.

The ancient tradition of stone-lifting evolved into the modem sport of weightlifting. As the sport developed, it took on differ-, ent aspects in different cultures. In Europe weightlifting was a form of entertainment from which the professional strongman emerged-men who made their living by how much weight they could lift or support. How their physiques looked didn’t matter in the least, so they tended to develop beefy, ponderous bodies.

Arthur Saxon, ‘What It Feels Like to Lift 350 Pounds with One Hand’, The Development of Physical Power (London, 1905), 23-24.

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I HAVE often been asked what it feels like to press 350 pounds with one hand, and perhaps to my readers the different sensations experienced will be interesting. In the first place, immediately I start to press the weight away from the shoulder I become perfectly oblivious to everything except the weight that I am lifting. The spectators are obliterated from my mind by the effort of intense concentration which is necessary to enable me to press the weight. I immediately engage myself in a terrific struggle in which the weight and I are competitors, and only one can win, either the weight must be lifted or else I fail. This concentration is, of course, one of the secrets of success in lifting, as I have explained in another part of my book. It enables me to bring forward the last ounce of pushing power, and for the time being to exert strength beyond that normally possessed.

The History of the Dumbbell Pullover

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Earlier this week I was given a very generous gift. The gift in question was a complete set of Wills’ Cigarette Cards. Produced for an Irish and English audience in 1914, the cards depicted various physical culture exercises one could engage in to keep fit and healthy. The irony that the cards could only be obtained by buying a packet of cigarettes was evidently lost on the manufacturers.

In any case I gleefully went about examining my present and stumbled across the below photographs. Said to be breathing exercises with dumbbells, the movement represents an early iteration of the pullover exercise.

As is so often the case, I set to work uncovering the history of this particular movement with the result being this very article. So today, we’ll begin by examining the popularity and history of the pullover from the early to late twentieth-century. The pullover exercise has fallen from grace in the lifting community, from a once hallowed movement to a more niche and often poorly executed assistance lift.

Two Worlds Collide: Bill Kazmaier and Cactus Jack

The internet can be a truly wonderful way to occupy one’s time and recapture childhood memories. As a child of the 1990s, who grew up with television shows from the 1980s, I had two twin loves, wrestling and the World’s Strongest Man (WSM) competitions. Sadly for me, television broadcasting in Ireland during that time meant that I was often limited in my consumption of either. Despite these limitations, I still found my sporting heroes, two of whom feature in today’s post.

Forgotten Exercise: Lat Pulldown Curl

So, cards on the table, I recently reread The Complete Keys to Progress by John McCallum. The result of Randall Strossen’s meticulous collecting, The Complete Keys details McCallum’s numerous articles for Strength and Health magazine. Admittedly McCallum’s work was more concerned with rapid bulk and strength building practices, The Complete Keys still has some things to say about bodybuilding and defining exercises. One such example was the Lat Pulldown Curl.  

Guest Post: Fitness Activity Trackers – A Brief History

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Even though it sounds as if they are part of the latest, high-tech smart gadgets, there were various versions of ancestors of fitness activity trackers that we use now, in the 21st century. From the first industrial revolution, and rapid progress in technology, we have managed to create devices that would be unthinkable for mankind just 50 years ago. Today, we use some of these gadgets daily, and can’t imagine everyday life without them. So, let’s take a look at how we get there historically.