Category: Basics

The History of 20 Rep Squats

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Though few exercise programmes maintain a venerated status for long in the Iron Game, the mystique surrounding 20 Rep Squat programmes has endured. As hinted by the name, such programmes require lifters to back squat twenty times before unloading the bar, and in my own experience, lying on the ground questioning your decision-making.

Primarily touted for individuals struggling to build mass or to bulk up their legs, such programmes originated in the 1920s and 30s. That they still exist, albeit with some modifications, is testament to their efficacy and popularity. The goal of today’s post is to highlight the original promoters of the programme, to explore the writers who kept the idea in the public mind and finally to question why the programme remains popular in the current age.

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Guest Post: History of Gyms: Then and Now

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Whether you want to get toned, lose weight, gain weight or just spend some time active, gyms have become such a staple part of our routines. There seems to be a gym on every corner, and they are all filled with an amazing variety of equipment. But have you ever wondered how this all started? When were the first gyms opened, and were they anything similar to the ones we frequent today? Knowing the history of it might not be crucial for building up muscle and stamina, but it can give us an interesting insight to how similar or different we are to our ancestors and where the future of gyms might be heading.

The Planet Muscle Growth Squad, ‘Growing Muscle’, Planet Muscle, Volume 4 (2001).

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…Have you ever noticed all the people who come into the gym and do the same training every time? You know who they are. They are the skinny guys in the dingy T-shirts, sans belt and with baggy cargo shorts that come down to their shins.

…These misinformed wannabes always do the same exercises, the same sequence of exercises, the same sets, and the same reps and take the same amount of rest between sets and/or exercises. They move their training weights in the same mindless, drone-like ways, never incorporating new or maturing training principles. They usually are accompanied by a so-called “training partner” who does nothing but chatter endlessly about Monday Night’s football game.

The First Weightlifting Supplements

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Weightlifting supplements, despite their ubiquity nowadays, are a relatively new addition to the realm of weightlifting. While the practice of eating mystical substances in the hope of improved athletic performance dates to Greco-Roman times, the marketing of explicit ‘body building’ supplements is a far more recent phenomenon.

Dating really to the emergence of physical culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, these supplements represented the first rudimentary efforts to market foods explicitly for those interested in picking heavy things up and putting them back down again. As expected, these supplements centred on muscle building, celebrity endorsements and benefits extending far beyond strength.

The History of the Pull Up

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There are some exercises so basic, so ubiquitous and so difficult that their origins are often taken for granted. Previously when detailing the history of the squat, we encountered the difficultly of tracing a movement found in every culture and arguably every human movement. The Chin Up and the Pull Up exercises offer a similar problem.

The purpose of today’s post is not to discover the inventor of the pull up, if such a thing is possible, but rather to discuss its evolution over the past two centuries from gymnastic exercise to Crossfit controversies. As will become clear, even a simple movement carries a lot of history.

Maxick, Willpower and Muscle Control (1910)

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THE SERIOUS student of muscle-control will soon become aware of the fact that his will- power had become greater, and his mental faculties clearer and capable of increased concentration.

Thus it will be observed that the controlling of the muscles reacts upon the mind and strengthens the mental powers in exactly the same proportion that the control of the muscles strengthens the body and limbs.

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.

Guest Post: All-in-one History of Protein Shakes

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If you thought bodybuilding and serious involvement in sport is mere exercising and pushing your body to its limits, think again. Of course, building up your muscle mass is crucial. However, you won’t get far with just that alone.

In the era of food full of additives, one might frown upon the mere mention of supplements. However, these – especially protein shakes – have had great impact on sports and bodybuilding development.

Official data shows that an average grown-up should consume approximately 50 grams of protein per day. However, additional proteins are taken by people who aim at building their body and muscle mass, thus making protein shakes one of the most important supplement products since the 1950s.

So, how did this all come to be?

The Harmful Squats Myth: Dr. Karl 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.

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.