Category: Basics

Ding Lifting in Ancient China

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Today’s short post comes primarily from Nigel B. Crowther’s wonderful chapter on Ancient Chinese sport and physical education. Looking primarily at Chinese physical cultures, Crowther found that weightlifting, archery, weight throwing, tug of war, boxing and a host of other activities were practiced by Chinese men. Of interest to us today, was the use of Ding’s as feats of strength.

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The Long History of the Medicine Ball

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Few pieces of equipment have a century’s long history. Aside, perhaps, from the Indian club, most of the machines or devices we exercise with today count their origins to the eighteenth or nineteenth century. Sure some may argue that dumbbells have long been used by trainees but a simple look at Ancient Greek halteres makes clear that the modern dumbbell bears little resemblance.

The relatively new nature of exercise equipment obscures the fact that there is one piece of exercise equipment, used in almost every gym, that has a centuries long history. Enter the humble medicine ball. No other piece of equipment is treated with as much disrespect as the medicine ball. It is slammed, thrown, lifted, kicked and, at times, even hit with sledge hammers. Our relative ill treatment of it aside, the medicine ball is also one of those few devices that serves a variety of goals and training methods.

Few of us, myself included, acknowledge the long history of the medicine ball. With that in mind, today’s post tracks the long history of the medicine ball, beginning with its time in Ancient Greece, its re-emergence in the nineteenth century, right up to its modern day use.

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.

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?