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.

Forgotten Exercises: ATrainer’s Fly Movement

People of a certain generation will remember the importance of Bodybuilding.com in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At a time when internet culture was still slowly influencing the fitness world, Bodybuilding.com was a one stop shop for training and nutrition advice.

Today’s post looks at an exercise I first came across in the early 2000s on the Exercise Forum of the website. Posted by Atrainer – whose identity I have yet to uncover – this movement promised to isolate the chest in a really simple, but effective way.

Dr. Terry Todd and Angel Spassov,’Bulgarian Leg Training Secrets,’ Muscle and Fitness (1989).

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Almost a decade ago, a retired Soviet hammer thrower came to the conclusion that traditional forms of squatting were not the best way to strengthen the muscles of the thighs and hips. Many in the Soviet Union considered this heresy, as the squat was the king of leg training in that country just as it was, and is still, in the United States.

Ten years ago, the full squat was the foundation of exercise programs for almost all elite athletes in the Soviet Bloc nations, whether they were weightlifters or not. Soviet athletes – be they wrestlers, runners, fencers, soccer player or swimmers – all squatted. But because the retired hammer thrower had won the gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games and because he was a respected graduate of the Central Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Moscow, his opinions were taken seriously. His name: Anatoly Bondarchuk. His studies led him to conclude that a particular form of what we’ll call the high step-up had two significant advantages over the standard back squat. Bondarchuk concluded that high step-ups, firstly, produce greater gains in thigh and hip power and secondly, cause fewer injuries.

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.

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.

The Amazing Physique Of A. Schwarzenegger & How He Developed It (1967 Article)

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Published in Iron Man Magazine in 1967 by Arnold’s friend Albert Busek, the following article details Arnold’s rise to fame alongside his working routine of the time. A fine biography and reminder that even during the 60s, people marvelled at the Austrian’s successes.

JUST a short year ago his name was still generally unknown, but on October 30, 1965, in Stuttgart, his meteoric rise to international fame began.

However, let us review his story from the very beginning. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born on July 30, 1947, the son of police inspector Gustav Schwarzenegger and his wife, Aurelia. As a child he was taken along by his father to curling contests, and very soon the desire to emulate his father’s interest in sports awakened in him. At the same time he realised that that wouldn’t be a very easy thing to do, for his father was – and still is – an outstanding sportsman. Among other things, his father was the European title holder in distance curling, and several times he won awards as state champion in gymnastics and calisthenics. In his early efforts to achieve distinction in athletics, Arnold had to content himself with a merely average performance, and was very disappointed in this result. That happened in February, 1962, at the Graz City Championship in Distance Curling for Juniors. Arnold only won sixth place. For the son of a well-known sportsman that was naturally an unfortunate start, but Arnold was simply too weak to assert himself against the best performers. Thus, for the moment, his drive to reach the top came to a sudden halt.

A Brief History of Strongman

Strength sports, as an endeavour, are simultaneously a modern, and pre-modern, sport. Accounts of men engaging in contests date back to the Chinese practice of lifting heavy stones and cauldrons in 6000 BC (Hai-sheng, 2012). Likewise, Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, among other regions, had strength cultures (Crowther, 2007). That withstanding, strength contests and feats, like Hafþór’s deadlift, trace their immediate history to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when ‘physical culture’ emerged as a new recreational movement. Defined by Michael Anton Budd as a late nineteenth and early twentieth century phenomenon concerned with the ‘ideological and commercial cultivation’ of the body, physical culture marked the beginning of mass gym cultures (Budd, 1997). Originating in Europe and spreading to the United States, physical culturists included strongmen and women who routinely competed against one another for prestige and popularity.

The Bodybuilding History of Bovril

Bovril is a blended meat extract created by Scotsman John Lawrence during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Made primarily from Beef, Bovril quickly associated itself with ideas of British nationalism and the caricatured embodiment of Britain, ‘John Bull’. This was certainly the case during the Second South African War when Bovril advertisements explicitly told of its nutritional value for troops at the front (Steinitz, 2017). Readers of British newspapers in 1901 were met with the claim that Bovril was ‘the most acceptable and useful present that Tommy Atkins can receive’ as only Bovril could sustain men’s strength through gruelling marches and equally exhausting battles (‘Send a Case of Bovril’, 1901).

At the forefront of such advertising was Bovril’s association with muscular and strong physiques. Advertisements at the beginning of the twentieth century claimed that ‘Bovril means vigour and strength’ or that ‘Bovril is a strength giver and muscle former’ (Steinitz, 2017). Somewhat surprisingly given its explicit association with male bodies and endurance, Bovril’s use of physical culturists was less impressive than Plasmon. The latter counted Sandow, Miles, Neil and a host of other physical culturists in their advertising material, Bovril’s British agents satisfied themselves with less popular physical culturists, those whom only the most devout would recognise.

BILL STARR, ‘Mental Preparation’, DEFYING GRAVITY HOW TO WIN AT WEIGHTLIFTING (NEW YORK, 1981), P. 24.

page21image18258640nyone who has spent any time in- volved in any form of competitive athletics fully realizes the importance of mental con- trol. Hitting a baseball, spiking a volleyball, and catching a football all require a high degree of mental concentration. Tommy Kono, the great Olympic and world weightlifting champion of the 50s and 60s, contented that success in competitive weightlifting was 75% mental and 25% physical. Other authorities give varied percentages, but each and every one does agree that the athlete who gets his mental processes together has an edge.

The History of Powerblock Dumbbells

This, admittedly, is an article promoted by the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past three months, gyms in my area have been closed or reopened on restricted times. The market for home gym equipment has seen unprecedented levels of demand and adjustable dumbbells are selling for two or three times their original value.

Today’s post looks at Powerblock, one of the more popular sellers of adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells were not invented by Powerblock, but they did, as we’ll see, help promote them among a new generation of lifters.