Category: Biographies

The Confusing History of Strength Co-Efficients

Kevin Phengthavone 415lbs squat black and white

Undoubtedly we’ve all been faced with the question, who is stronger? As a teenager it emerged when those weighing 150 lbs. or less sought to square up to their heavier brethren. Was it more impressive bench pressing 200 lbs. at 150 or 280 lbs. at 200 lbs. bodyweight? While our adolescent selves often solved this problem by calling the other side fat or skinny, we were nevertheless ignorant of this perennial problem. Can strength across bodyweights be compared? For powerlifters or weightlifters currently reading this post, the words Wilks or Sinclair has undoubtedly passed through your lips. For the unaware, the answer is yes, albeit with some reservations.

Since the 1930s a series of formulas have been used to with the express intention of discovering who is the strongest lifter across all weight classes. Varying in their level of nuance, the strength coefficients, as they’re termed, have given a scientific air to locker room debates about the strongest lifter. Perhaps more significantly, they’re also used in competition to determine the overall winner. With that in mind today’s post seeks to examine the history of strength coefficients, beginning in the 1930s and continuing to the present day. As will become clear, the evolution of the strength coefficients used largely echoes the growing professionalism of weightlifting and powerlifting more generally.

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Thomas Goldwasser, ‘Pumping Iron, Not Concrete’, The New York Times (1986)

BobHoffman

LONG before Arnold Schwarzenegger became a movie star and pumping iron a glamour business, weight lifting built the York Barbell Company into a strapping success. York Barbell, founded 54 years ago, put York on the map as Muscletown U.S.A., and still brings Olympic weight lifters here to train. The company still dominates the barbell business, with a 70 percent share of the market for cast-iron weights made in the United States.

Physical Fitness for the Nation (1936 British Pathé Video)

The 1930s were a tumultuous period of European history. Traditional political structures appeared to be faltering, fascist regimes were rising and the modern fitness levels appeared to be dropping dramatically. The following video, taken from the wonderful British Pathé archives, gives a snippet into the British government’s attempt to reverse the political tide and create a nation of strong and fit men.

Bigger Faster Stronger: The Mr. Olympia

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Bodybuilders, like most other professional athletes in the last four decades, have undergone an unprecedented change. Whereas the first Mr. Olympia weighed in at just over 200 lbs, the modern champion is more likely to be sixty pounds heavier and leaner as well.

While the reasons for this, at least in bodybuilding, are clear, it is still interesting to reflect upon this change. Today’s short post discusses the average weight for the overall Mr. Olympia since it’s inception and shows how and when ‘the mass monsters’ gained a foothold in the sport.

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?

Dennis B. Weis, The Lee Haney & Fred C. Hatfield Seminar

Recently I had the good fortune to obtain an audiotape seminar on nutrition and training. The seminar was sponsored by Bio Chem Supplements (a division of Country Life) and was hosted by eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney and power lifting icon “Dr Squat” Fred C. Hatfield.

As I began to listen to the audio seminar, two things became quickly apparent. First, this seminar wasn’t about pushing or praising the Bio Chem product mix. Second, the seminar wasn’t a sham toying with the emotions of easily manipulated bodybuilders. The seminar is about two superstars with the right credentials talking about the “Supplement Game.”

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!

Frank Zane as The Silver Surfer

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A recent trawl through Ebay uncovered a story which for me, has a very unhappy ending. Stumbling across a 1979 movie poster for the Silver Surfer, the Marvel superhero capable of travelling through space aboard his trusty surfboard, I was shocked to find name of the legendary bodybuilder and three time Mr. Olympia Frank Zane attached to the project. So I did a little more digging and came across one of the greatest what if moments in bodybuilding… and no I’m not being overly dramatic.