Author: Conor Heffernan

Conor is currently researching Ireland's physical culture movement as a PhD student at University College Dublin. When not in the library or the gym, he likes to try his hand at writing....with mixed results.

The Harmful Squats Myth: Dr. Klein Klein and the Back Squat

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When I began lifting in my teens, the coaches and older men in the gym floor seemed like fountains of indisputable knowledge. Don’t bring the bar all the way down to your chest on the bench press. Stability work on Bosu Balls worked your core and brought muscle gain. Drink a protein shake within 30 minutes of your workout or your anabolic window will shut. The most sacred of their dictates revolved around the back squat.

When learning how to squat we were told two simple things. Never go below parallel and under no circumstances should the knees track over the toes. These rules were so infallible that none of us dared to cross them. Even when we realised their advice on other lifts had been misguided to say the least, we adhered to their squat advice. It wasn’t until I changed gyms that I realised squatting with a full range of motion, even letting those knees slip over my toes, wasn’t going to kill my knees.

Where had this idea about the squat come from? Whenever we asked we were told about vague scientific studies that ‘everyone knew about’. It wasn’t until I dug into the history of the back squat for a recent article on Barbend that I became reacquainted with this subject.

Our goal today is simple. Who first promoted the idea that squatting below depth was harmful and how did this theory become so prevalent? Our story today revolves around Dr. Karl Klein and his followers.

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

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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.

Forgotten Exercises: The Clasp Pulldown

Today’s short post is something of a new departure for me. Usually when detailing a forgotten exercise, I can cite an early proponent, the history of the exercise and its place within the current strength and iron community. Despite my best efforts, I simple haven’t been able to track down the history of the present exercise.

This exercise was shared with me a few years ago in the Hercules Gym in Dublin, a fantastic training facility established in the 1930s. Done on the Lat Pulldown machine, the ‘Clasp Pulldown’ hits the chest as opposed the back muscles. So without further ado, we’ll go through the exercise, its benefits and where you might incorporate it into your training. It goes without saying that if you know the actual history of the exercise, comment!

George F. Jowett, Why Home Exercise is the Best (c. 1925)

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You may have heard would-be body culturists say, “Aw gee, how can I train? There is no gymnasium around here, and any way if there was, I couldn’t afford it.” Actually, hundreds of young men have presented this problem to me, hoping that I would be able to solve the little difficulty for them. It is quite natural for any person to consider exercise and a gymnasium at the same time. As I have said at different times, it depends on what you are after. If it is games or calisthenics, all right. By all means become a member of a gymnastic class. They will certainly teach you to become good at the game you prefer, and this will help to keep you healthy and fit at the same time. Calisthenics will freshen you up and keep you normally fit, but if it is your whole body you want to build up to a stage of perfection, then it is an entirely different proposition. Of course, there are exercise rooms in all gymnasiums to which you can go and seclude yourself, but they do not always have the proper apparatus at hand for the body culturist to use. Of course, there is always the congeniality of companionship, but I have found that this is often very embarrassing, especially to the man who is under developed or too fat. There is always somebody willing to pass remarks, which even when made in fun, go a long way to diminish enthusiasm. Often a man is too conscious of his condition, and what he requires is encouragement, not to made the object of fun no matter how good natured it may be.

The History of Olympic Weightlifting

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A spate of YouTube videos has recently rekindled my love of Olympic Weightlifting. Specifically the iconic footage of German weightlifter Matthias Steiner winning a gold medal at the 2008 games in Beijing has encouraged me to begin digging into the history and indeed, the evolution of weightlifting at the Olympic Games. For those unaware of Steiner’s path to the games in 2008 I suggest a quick google search as I simply cannot do justice to the man’s story.

My goal today is not to discuss Steiner’s life history but rather to examine the sport he competed in. So with this hopefully simple goal in mind, we’re going to explore the history of weightlifting at the Olympic games. Beginning with the first official games in 1896 and moving across time and space towards Tokyo 2020.

Michael H. Brown, ‘Developing an Iron Claw’ (1974)

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Many years ago, before most of today’s weight trainees were even a gleam in their daddy’s eye, a fellow named John Y. Smith used to specialize in the one-handed deadlift. The late Harry Paschall, who used to write quite regularly for Iron Man Magazine in the 1950’s, had met Smith several years earlier and, in Paschall’s opinion, Smith’s hands looked like iron claws. Years of one-handed deadlifting with thick handled barbells had so thickened Smith’s finger tendons in the palm of the hand that those same tendons stood out like the webbing on a duck’s feet. Smith at the time was doing one-handed deadlifts in his exercise routine with about 400 pounds. Paschall, who could do almost 300 pounds in the same exercise, decided he could equal Smith’s performance without a whole lot of effort. Paschall made his living as an artist. After a few weeks of specializing on the lift he gave it up as he was afraid he would lose his artistic ability, the tendons in his hands were developing far more rapidly than he had expected. His hands too were beginning to look like “iron claws.”

Guest Post: A History of Dieting

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The history of dieting is quite convoluted and challenging for a lot of people. But it does go to show that people have started to try and stay in shape for quite some time. And there’s a reason for that. The reality is that working out is only one thing that people from the old ages did. They also tried to adapt their diet in a meaningful way. And that’s what brought a lot of great new things to the table. Dieting in particular was quite the issue for a lot of time. It came with a multitude of challenges and it was definitely one of the more challenging things to endure.

Who Invented the EZ bar?

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A piece of equipment so commonplace on the gym floor that we often take its very existence for granted. That, at least, is my impression of the E-Z Bar. Having previously discussed the history of barbells, the ancient origins of the dumbbell and even the Swiss Ball for God’s sake, it’s somewhat shameful that the E-Z Bar’s history has been neglected. Especially after it helped me to rehab my elbows following an overzealous few months doing triceps extensions with a straight barbell (Not the smartest in hindsight).

So who do we credit for the EZ Bar and when exactly did this handy piece of equipment come into being?