Category: Training

Dr. Terry Todd and Angel Spassov,’Bulgarian Leg Training Secrets,’ Muscle and Fitness (1989).

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Almost a decade ago, a retired Soviet hammer thrower came to the conclusion that traditional forms of squatting were not the best way to strengthen the muscles of the thighs and hips. Many in the Soviet Union considered this heresy, as the squat was the king of leg training in that country just as it was, and is still, in the United States.

Ten years ago, the full squat was the foundation of exercise programs for almost all elite athletes in the Soviet Bloc nations, whether they were weightlifters or not. Soviet athletes – be they wrestlers, runners, fencers, soccer player or swimmers – all squatted. But because the retired hammer thrower had won the gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games and because he was a respected graduate of the Central Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Moscow, his opinions were taken seriously. His name: Anatoly Bondarchuk. His studies led him to conclude that a particular form of what we’ll call the high step-up had two significant advantages over the standard back squat. Bondarchuk concluded that high step-ups, firstly, produce greater gains in thigh and hip power and secondly, cause fewer injuries.

Harry B. Paschall, ‘How Barbell Men Go Wrong’, Muscle Moulding (London, 1950)

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You cannot spend a third of a century around physical culturists and barbell men without coming to a few conclusions. You see many enthusiasts who thrive on their training schedules and attain a perfectly satisfactory degree of physical development. You see others work and strain without noticeable improvement for months or years. Quite often these latter cases come up with the time-worn excuse that they are simply not the type to gain. Some experts even have given various names to these unsuccessful barbell men and inform them with regret that they cannot change their type and they are therefore doomed to failure.

A Brief History of Strongman

Strength sports, as an endeavour, are simultaneously a modern, and pre-modern, sport. Accounts of men engaging in contests date back to the Chinese practice of lifting heavy stones and cauldrons in 6000 BC (Hai-sheng, 2012). Likewise, Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, among other regions, had strength cultures (Crowther, 2007). That withstanding, strength contests and feats, like Hafþór’s deadlift, trace their immediate history to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when ‘physical culture’ emerged as a new recreational movement. Defined by Michael Anton Budd as a late nineteenth and early twentieth century phenomenon concerned with the ‘ideological and commercial cultivation’ of the body, physical culture marked the beginning of mass gym cultures (Budd, 1997). Originating in Europe and spreading to the United States, physical culturists included strongmen and women who routinely competed against one another for prestige and popularity.

The History of Powerblock Dumbbells

This, admittedly, is an article promoted by the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past three months, gyms in my area have been closed or reopened on restricted times. The market for home gym equipment has seen unprecedented levels of demand and adjustable dumbbells are selling for two or three times their original value.

Today’s post looks at Powerblock, one of the more popular sellers of adjustable dumbbells. Adjustable dumbbells were not invented by Powerblock, but they did, as we’ll see, help promote them among a new generation of lifters.

The History of the Zercher Squat

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Mentioned at various points on this particular site, the Zercher Squat has been described by many as one of the most effective but painful methods of building big quads. Uncomfortable to the nth degree, this lift isn’t exactly the most popular amongst gym goers. A point which leads us into today’s post. Why invent such a painful method of lifting? When did it come about and why has it remained with us today?

Alan Calvert, ‘General Training Program’, Health, Strength and Development (Philadelphia, c. 1920s).

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Hundreds of prospective pupils write me to ask how long they will have to train; how much time they will have to spend each week, etc., etc. This seems a good place to answer those questions.

The average pupil practices the first course in developing exer­cises for two or three months. He practices every other day (that is, once in 48 hours), and the practice period covers about 30 minutes.

By the end of the second or third month the pupil has attained a certain degree of strength and development, and then his training program is altered. On two days a week he will practice the more strenuolls of the developing exercises from the first course, and two other days a week he will practice the Eight Standard Lifts; that is, the second course. He keeps up this training for two or three months and during that period the time consumed is about three hours a week.

The Standard Lifts Course, as well as the First Course in Devel­oping Exercise, is given free to every pupil who buys a bell-whether it be a low-priced plate bell or the most expensive MILO TRIPLEX bell on the list.

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!

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.