Category: Basics

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.

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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.

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.  

C.F. Langworthy, ‘Dietary Study of Sandow, The Strong Man.’

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One of the things which always fascinated me is the diets of those early physical culturists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. At a time when gym culture was in its infancy, these men and women experimented with their training, their diet, and their mindsets to achieve maximum results. For some, like the Saxon Trio, their diets were the thing of legend – they ate everything in sight. Others, like the vegetarian Bernarr MacFadden, took a meticulous interest in what they ate. 

The subject of today’s post, Eugen Sandow, lay somewhere in between. Deemed by many as the world’s most perfectly developed specimen, Sandow was frustratingly coy about what he ate on a day to day basis. That’s what makes today post so fascinating. A reproduction of a one day study conducted in the United States, it is the first time, to my knowledge that we have verified audience of what Sandow ate. It’s not particularly illustrative, but it does give an indication of what Sandow ate in a scientific context. Enjoy!

A Drug Free Mr. Olympia? The Strange Case of the 1990 Mr. Olympia

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Bodybuilding, at a professional level, is a sport fuelled by anabolic steroids. This is not to take anything away from the competitors themselves, but is rather an acknowledgment that those at the elite level often resort to chemical means in order to further push the limits of human strength and muscularity. Certainly the Mr. Olympia competition, the Super Bowl of the bodybuilding calendar, has always been an arena for the freakish and dedicated to flex their muscles in search of the big prize.

That Mr. Olympias have used anabolic steroids should come as a surprise to no one. Heck even Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted to dabbling with steroids during his political career despite the negative reaction this risk. This preamble is my way of saying that the idea of a drug tested Mr. Olympia is strange. Yes, we have natural bodybuilding shows but elite, professional, non-tested shows have always proven the most popular form of competition.

With this in mind, today’s post looks at the one moment when the Mr. Olympia contest introduced an explicit drug testing protocol which, it was hoped, would stem the tide of drug abuse within the sport. Examining why this came to be, we’re going to look at the background to the Mr. Olympia, the event itself and the consequences of a drug free Mr. Olympia. In case you’re wondering, it went about as well as you could have imagined!

The First Mr. Olympia

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It all began in April 1965 in a Joe Weider magazine…

Sick and tired of conversations about who was the greatest bodybuilder, Weider had decided to create a competition pitting champions from around the World against each other. In the same year that the iconic Gold’s Gym opened, Weider’s ‘Mr. Olympia’ would see A Mr. Universe, Mr. World and Mr. America pose, flex and tense in front of thousands of fans to determine the best that Bodybuilding had to offer.

Why create a new tournament?

Peter McGough, ‘The Mike Menzter Story’, Flex Magazine, September (2001).

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In a career that spanned four decades, Mike Mentzer, who passed away on June 12, 2001 was one of bodybuilding’s most prominent, inspirational and controversial figures. In order to flesh out the unique life, times and psyche of this complicated star, we’re reprinting (beginning on the next page) a feature on Mentzer from the February 1995 issue of FLEX. Although the article was first published six years ago, we think it still provides insight into what drove this future Bodybuilding Hall of Fame inductee.

When this feature first appeared, Mike was writing regularly for FLEX, but he later moved on to work for Muscular Development. In the last two years of his life, he contributed to Ironman. His theories and writings continue to be a source for debate, and his books and articles remain popular (see http://www.mikementzer.com).

Dan Levin, ‘Here She Is, Miss, Well, What?, Sports Illustrated, 17 March (1980), 64-75

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We always knew women could never build muscles, at least not, uh, real women. Muscles belonged on men, and women didn’t want any. They didn’t need them, either, not for typing 70 words a minute, not for staying at home all day baking cakes for honeybun. But we also always knew women could never run marathons, and now we have Grete Waitz breathing down Bill Rodgers’ neck. Even more unexpectedly, we have Laura Combes’ sensational double biceps pose.

Guest Post: The History of Intermittent Fasting

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Among many kinds, intermittent fasting (IF) has proven to be an effective approach to maintain and improve a healthy lifestyle. Fasting can be done to lose weight, detoxify the body, or for religious reasons. Scientifically, there has been a large amount of research that supports health benefits driven by fasting. Even though it has been largely tested only on animals, the results are still promising. Fasting reduces oxidative stress, improves memory function, preserves learning, and enhances biomarkers of disease.