Category: Biographies

Wrestling and Weightlifting: The WWF and Fitness in the 1980s

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I’ll admit it, although born in the early 1990s, I was a Hulkamaniac. Aside from growing up during the WWF attitude era, where individuals like Triple H, The Rock, Mark Henry and Stone Cold were living embodiments of strength, I regularly went through back catalogues of old wrestling shows. There I’d see Jimmy Superfly Snuka’s iconic finishes, Jimmy Hart’s unmatched smack talk and everything weird and wonderful that wrestling offered from the 1980s onwards. I, like many others, was enthralled by the athleticism of the wrestlers. I suspect that my initial interest in training came from my love of wrestling where the heels and the babyfaces sported muscular bodies in equal measure. In that vein, today’s post examines the WWF’s crossovers into health and fitness in the 1980s.

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Guest Post: “Weight Training Women Stay in Shape Without Getting Muscle-Bound,” Jet Magazine, 1 September (1977)

63296414_1652529141558590_7644931320321146880_n.jpgFor a long time, men have dominated the sport of weight lifting. But tucked away at a YMCA in the small Midwestern town of Canton, Ohio, some 150 women are pumping iron, straining and twisting their feminine physiques, trying to smooth those flabby curves.

They bench-press, lift barbells, dumbbells, do chin-ups, situps, leg extensions and numerous other body exercises until their bodies ache with pain.

And all for what?

For some it’s just to stay in shape, but for about 20 others it’s a competitive sport and a rapidly developing one at that.

Nautilus Machines and the Growth of the Gym Industry: An Interview with Thomas Todd

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of chatting to Thomas Todd, a lifelong fitness fanatic with several decades experience in the health and fitness industry. Todd very kindly got in touch having read a recent Barbend article of mine on Arthur Jones of Nautilus fame. Readers of this website will recall Jones’ controversial nature, his incredible marketing ability and his, at times, outlandish claims of progress, most notably seen in his infamous ‘Colorado Experiment.’ Much to my delight, Todd had worked in a Nautilus facility in the mid-1970s, at the precise moment when the fitness community was truly engaging with Jones’ equipment and was willing to chat about his experiences.

Over the course of our conversation, Todd detailed his experiences in the Nautilus community, highlighting their popularity and uniqueness. Furthermore, he was able to give some lived insights into the changing landscape of the American fitness industry more generally.

The History of Kaatsu Training

“Wrap a band around your bicep until it begins to go numb, then pump out 30 reps with a light weight… Trust me, the pump is worth it.”

These are not the words of an enlightened man but rather my first experience of Kaatsu or Blood Restriction Training. Brought to my attention by a training partner whose grasp of science is not always the strongest, Kaatsu training has grown in popularity over the last decade. While my friend’s description may seem appropriate at first glance, there is quite a lot more to this training system than first meets the eye.

With this in mind today’s post seeks to answer three simple questions: what is Kaatsu training? How was it created? And, perhaps most importantly, should you try it?

Louis Abele’s Back Program c. 1948

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Although unknown to the modern olympic lifter, Abele was one of America’s finest lifters during the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately he was overshadowed by fellow US lifters John Grimek, Steve Stanko, and John Davis during the course of his career. Similarly the outbreak of the Second World War denied Abele the chance to lift at the 1940 Olympic Games, a time when he would have been in his prime.

Nevertheless, Abele’s lifting career saw him put up some rather impressive poundages as you’ll read about.

With regards to training philosophy, Abele was a strong advocate of specialisation and high intensity training. Illustrating this, Abele tells the reader that he once exercised so hard that his teeth hurt from breathing! I suspect that this level of intensity is relatively rare in today’s gyms. Anyway what fascinates me about Abele was his advocacy of specialisation and by that Abele meant training primarily legs for 2 to 3 months before moving on to another body part for a similar amount of time. In this way Abele would focus almost exclusively on one body part, to the detriment of others, reach what he felt to be a maturation point and then switch his training up. From memory I can’t think of too many current lifters who adhere to this sort of programming although one supposes that the concept of a deload week is vaguely similar.

Anyway, the below article details Abele’s back workouts from his early 20s. For interested parties, the text itself comes from a series of letters written by Abele to Chester O. Teegarden which were published by Iron Man Industries of Alliance, Nebraska in 1948.

As always… Happy Lifting!

Sig Klein’s Beginner Workout

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Earlier this year I had the great fortune to visit the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports in Texas. Founded by Jan and Terry Todd, the Stark Center is a playground for anoraks like me. Containing the collections of Bernarr MacFadden, Professor Atilla, Bob Hoffman and several other Iron Game legends, Stark holds the history of the Iron Game.

So gushing praise aside, part of time there included a search through Sig Klein’s own personal papers. For those unaware, Klein ran one of the most popular and revered gymnasiums in New York from the 1930s to roughly the 1970s. Famed for his strength and amazing physique, Klein’s best known motto was to train for shape and the strength will come.

Though an advanced lifter in his own right, Klein was always keen to encourage the beginner. With this in mind today’s post details Klein’s beginner workout given to those new to his gymnasium. No tricks, no gimmicks, just simple hard work and consistency were Klein’s twin pillars for success.

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.

Tom Burrows and the 100 Hour Indian Club Swing

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Readers of this blog will undoubtedly be familiar with my fondness for Indian club swinging, that great Hindu and Persian practice which became all the rage in England and the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The history of Indian club swinging has been previously covered here with one big exception. I have said little to nothing of my favorite Indian club athlete, the great Tom Burrows.

Burrows was an Australian athlete who came to Britain in the late nineteenth century to train soldiers at the Royal Army Physical Training Corps gymnasium in Aldershot. Once there, Burrows became a minor physical culture celebrity owing both to his expertise as a coach but, more importantly, his ability to swing Indian clubs for hours on end. This is no exaggeration. By the late 1900s, Tom Burrows could swing Indian clubs for eighty hours without resting. Such was his popularity and demand that he even went on a world tour during this time to showcase his abilities to foreign audiences.

Today’s post, which is based on an article I wrote for Sport in History, centers on Burrow’s ultimately failed efforts to swing the Indian clubs for 100 hours without rest. Interested? Read on.

Guest Post: The History of Sports Uniforms

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Sports uniforms have come a long way since they first appeared. Originally, the idea was to have all the players in the same team dressed the same in order for their teammates to see them better and not mistake them for an opponent. However, very soon after they were introduced, sports uniforms started representing the team’s spirit and values, as well as striking fear into the hearts of opponents. Nowadays, they are designed to provide maximum comfort to players wearing them, while at the same time designers are trying to make them as appealing as possible, so that millions, or even billions of fans around the world would also buy the uniform of their favorite club. So, let’s take a look at how these uniforms have changed when it comes to the most popular sports around the world.