Category: Biographies

G. Frank Lydston, ‘Muscle Building as Illustrated by the Modern Samson, Sandow,’ Journal of the American Medical Association, 1893, 419-422

It has frequently been remarked that men of the present day are not so strong as those of times past, and there are many reasons for this assertion. An inspection of ancient arbor is sufficient […]

Guest Post: A Brief History of German Gymnastics in US Public Schools and its Relevance for PE Teachers Today

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As several of the United States’ largest public school districts plan to continue online learning this fall, many physical education teachers will return to the Instagram Live workouts and virtual check-ins used to keep students active during the first months of the pandemic. The adaptability and resourcefulness they have exhibited resembles that of the subject’s first instructors. Beyond mindset, the gymnastics exercises taught in PE by German-American instructors during the late nineteenth century may serve as an example of how to conduct remote or socially distanced classes next year.

Bodybuilding’s First Champion: William Murray

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While many credit Eugen Sandow as the father of modern day bodybuilding, very little is said about William, ‘Billy’, Murray, the world’s first recognisable bodybuilding champion. Today’s post will look at the interaction between Sandow, the unofficial father of bodybuilding and Murray, its first official king.

So who was William Murray? How did he win? And why has his place in bodybuilding history been largely forgotten?

P.H. Clias: An Early Pioneer

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This website has, at time of writing, been operating for a little over six years. When I began Physical Culture Study my intent was to shed some light on the weird and wonderful of the fitness industry. Little did I know at the time of all the things I could write on!

Somewhat shamefully it’s dawned on me that I have tended to neglect the early pioneers in the fitness industry, the men and women from the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth century who helped to create, normalise and promote, the practice of moving the body and building muscles.

The object of today’s post, Phokion Heinrich Clias, is one such individual. Born in the United States, Clias moved to Switzerland before travelling around England and France preaching the gospel of gymnastics in the first half of the nineteenth century. Here we are going to discuss his life and, more importantly, his legacy.

Tom Farrey, ‘Tough, Determind: Arlys Kovach Has Come Back From a Shattering Accident to Become One of Top Female Weightlifters in the World,’ LA Times, June 26, 1986.

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There was a time when people became strong from shoveling snow, hefting hay bales or wielding pick-axes in the mines, not from Nautilus machines, or steroids. They were cut from the land, products of their environment.

They came from hard-working farms and hard-working towns. One of those towns is International Falls, Minn., known to some as the home of Bronko Nagurski, a man whose very name is a synonym for football.

On the Canadian border, International Falls is about 320 miles north of the Twin Cities and two hours away from any other township of more than 100 souls. The gold that led to the creation of International Falls in the late 1800s has long since played out and the main industry in the city of about 5,600 is a paper mill.

Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Workout (1984)

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Not long ago, the editors of Parade asked whether I would write an article on how I try to keep in shape. I said I would be delighted because I am a great believer in exercise, not only for reasons of fitness but also sheer pleasure. So, move over, Jane Fonda, here comes the Ronald Reagan workout plan.

Exercise comes pretty naturally to me, since I’ve done it my entire life. When I was younger, I was a lifeguard during the summers, and I played football in high school and college. And for all of my adult life, I have enjoyed horseback riding and working outdoors.

Over the years, I have learned that one key to exercise is to find something you enjoy. The other key is to keep the exercise varied. Using those two principles, let me explain my fitness plan, and perhaps you can see ways in which this could help you in your own exercising.

Eugen Sandow on Heavy Weightlifting

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A point previously discussed on this website was the regularity with which early physical culturists promoted light weight training as opposed to heavy lifting. The reasons for this are numerous. In the first instance, light weightlifting is easier to promote to the general public than heavy weightlifting. It requires less equipment, can be done in the comfort of one’s own home and can be done with relative ease. It was for this reason that individuals like Eugen Sandow, Professor Attila and a host of other physical culturists promoted light weightlifting for their followers. A few, like Arthur Saxon, bucked the trend and argued that heavy lifting was needed to build a strong physique.

With that in mind, today’s brief post examines the brief words Eugen Sandow gave to heavy weightlifting in his seminal book, Strength and How to Obtain It. Published by Sandow first in 1897, Strength was, for many, Sandow’s most important work. It came at the height of his popularity, sold widely and was more accessible than some of his later works which were far more medical in composition. Thanks to the British Library in London, I was able to consult Sandow’s 1897 edition, as well as his third edition published in 1905. Sandow did not expand greatly on how to lift heavy but nevertheless provided an insight into the progressive training practices of the late 1890s and early 1900s.

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.

Robert Paris, ‘Defining the Iron Age’, Ironage.us (c. 2003)

fitness-2255626_1280For those of us whose bodybuilding heroes are from the IronAge, finding our place in the land of modern bodybuilding has been tough. We feel out of place. Our heroes and our IronAge ideals often seem incompatible with the world of bodybuilding. As we struggle to reconcile bodybuilding’s past with its changes, it is our own bodybuilding lifestyle that appears to suffer. I have met far too many whom, having lost interest in competitive bodybuilding and with no heroes to push them along, have lagged in their training. We fans are not alone in this struggle.

Many past champions and industry officials have become critical of the changes in bodybuilding’s focus. Cries of too many drugs, near-deaths and too much emphasis on sex can be heard from most of our heroes.