Category: Training

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.

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Arthur Saxon, ‘What It Feels Like to Lift 350 Pounds with One Hand’, The Development of Physical Power (London, 1905), 23-24.

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I HAVE often been asked what it feels like to press 350 pounds with one hand, and perhaps to my readers the different sensations experienced will be interesting. In the first place, immediately I start to press the weight away from the shoulder I become perfectly oblivious to everything except the weight that I am lifting. The spectators are obliterated from my mind by the effort of intense concentration which is necessary to enable me to press the weight. I immediately engage myself in a terrific struggle in which the weight and I are competitors, and only one can win, either the weight must be lifted or else I fail. This concentration is, of course, one of the secrets of success in lifting, as I have explained in another part of my book. It enables me to bring forward the last ounce of pushing power, and for the time being to exert strength beyond that normally possessed.

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.  

Guest Post: Fitness Activity Trackers – A Brief History

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Even though it sounds as if they are part of the latest, high-tech smart gadgets, there were various versions of ancestors of fitness activity trackers that we use now, in the 21st century. From the first industrial revolution, and rapid progress in technology, we have managed to create devices that would be unthinkable for mankind just 50 years ago. Today, we use some of these gadgets daily, and can’t imagine everyday life without them. So, let’s take a look at how we get there historically.

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!

Mike Mentzer (1995) – Mr. Universe Mike Mentzer’s Training Invention

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In the decades before bodybuilding became fashionable, when young men wanted to workout, they would say, “Hey, lets’ go to the YMCA and lift weights” In fact, during the early part of this century, weightlifting was much more popular than bodybuilding, in part because bodybuilding was regarded as too narcissistic.

Inveterate observers of weight-training history will recall how prevalent “odd lift” contests were back around the time of World War I. Competitions were held and records established for such odd lifts as the “two hands anyhow.” the “bent press” and the “one-hand deadlift.” For various reasons, these eventually fell from grace and were replaced by the three Olympic lifts: the press, snatch, and clean and jerk. These new movements required considerable athletic ability and, thus, were viewed as more respectable by the international sport community. They even were accepted as official events in the Olympics and are still quite popular today.

Eventually, some of the esteem reserved for Olympic lifting was wrested away by powerlifting, which has long had a strong following and gained even more recognition and acceptance after it became an official sport in the 1960s.

Finally, due primarily to the efforts of Joe Weider, bodybuilding assumed its rightful place in the sun in the ’60s and has progressed to its current predominance. It has thoroughly supplanted Olympic lifting and powerlifting in public appeal.

John Kuc, ‘A Guide to Thigh Development’ (1984)

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When I did the original outline for this article I tried to think of an appealing title. Many trainees do no leg work at all, and those that do usually do not do enough. I thought an appealing title might entice some of them into including leg work in their training programs. I later decided that an honest evaluation of the pros and cons of leg work would be the best enticement.

I won’t try to deceive anyone; leg work done properly can really be tough. There are no easy leg exercises, and to be effective you really have to go all out. This is one factor against leg work. The fact that your legs are normally covered is the second factor. Most individuals prefer to work the muscles that are seen by everyone. Also, some leg exercises require a relatively heavy weight to be effective. Heavy poundages seem to create a mental barrier for some individuals. Combine all these factors and you can see why leg work could be ignored.