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!

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.

Ding Lifting in Ancient China

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Today’s short post comes primarily from Nigel B. Crowther’s wonderful chapter on Ancient Chinese sport and physical education. Looking primarily at Chinese physical cultures, Crowther found that weightlifting, archery, weight throwing, tug of war, boxing and a host of other activities were practiced by Chinese men. Of interest to us today, was the use of Ding’s as feats of strength.

Guest Post: Brawny Books – Harvey Green, Fit for America

Harvey Green’s Fit for America is written for curious gym goers and professional historians alike. The book demonstrates that the American pursuit of health and fitness started long before Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding career, or the running boom of the 1970s. Published in 1986, Green’s work was among the earliest books to address the history of physical culture. Its’ wide-ranging subject matter and coverage of over 100 years of history continue to make Fit for America one of the field’s best introductory texts.

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.

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.

Charles Poliquin’s Nausea Leg Routine

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In 2018 the strength and conditioning community lost one of the most creative, and controversial, coaches of recent memory, Charles Poliquin. Known primarily for his work with Olympic athletes, Poliqun’s training methods and philosophies were often times at the cutting edge of the field. This is not to say that Poliquin was not without his quirks – and indeed many criticised his approach to the body’s hormones – but rather that Poliquin was an individual unafraid of trying the new, weird and wonderful.

As something of a warning, I have to state that I was, and am, a great admirer of Poliquin’s training systems, having been trained under them for several years. Today’s short post looks at one of Poliquin’s simplest, but undoubtedly cruelest, training programs – the ‘nausea leg routine.’

Forgotten Exercises: ATrainer’s Fly Movement

People of a certain generation will remember the importance of Bodybuilding.com in the late 1990s and early 2000s. At a time when internet culture was still slowly influencing the fitness world, Bodybuilding.com was a one stop shop for training and nutrition advice.

Today’s post looks at an exercise I first came across in the early 2000s on the Exercise Forum of the website. Posted by Atrainer – whose identity I have yet to uncover – this movement promised to isolate the chest in a really simple, but effective way.

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.