The History of the Pull Up

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There are some exercises so basic, so ubiquitous and so difficult that their origins are often taken for granted. Previously when detailing the history of the squat, we encountered the difficultly of tracing a movement found in every culture and arguably every human movement. The Chin Up and the Pull Up exercises offer a similar problem.

The purpose of today’s post is not to discover the inventor of the pull up, if such a thing is possible, but rather to discuss its evolution over the past two centuries from gymnastic exercise to Crossfit controversies. As will become clear, even a simple movement carries a lot of history.

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Lee Labrada, ‘Blast Your Chest, To Amazing Mass!’, Planet Muscle (March – April 2003).

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It was one of those rare moments where I thought I was dreaming. In fact, that would be putting it mildly! It was one of those rare moments in my 18 years when I was so blown away by what I was experiencing that I can barely describe it to you. It was 1978, the event, the Southern Cup Bodybuilding Championships in Tampa, Florida.

I had just witnessed top Mr. Olympia contender and poser extraordinaire Ed Corney, along with a young buck called The Golden Eagle, guest pose before the sell-out crowd (of which I was a part). After the winners had been announced, Sirs Ed and Tom Platz, surrounded by a sea of rabid fans, moved gingerly towards the front of the hall. The auditorium was almost clear when suddenly; I spotted the biggest bodybuilder I had ever seen. “Ohmygod! Is that Mike Katz?” I more than mumbled out loud. Mike Katz was one of the stars of M&F and Pumping Iron and there he was! Mike’s mind- blowing 60-inch expanded chest was so immense, he could balance a full glass of water on it without spilling a drop, and now, there he was! Just 2 weeks earlier, I watched Mike in Pumping Iron, and he was in the flesh in front of me, a super-hero, descending from Mount Olympus to walk amongst us mortals.

Maxick, Willpower and Muscle Control (1910)

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THE SERIOUS student of muscle-control will soon become aware of the fact that his will- power had become greater, and his mental faculties clearer and capable of increased concentration.

Thus it will be observed that the controlling of the muscles reacts upon the mind and strengthens the mental powers in exactly the same proportion that the control of the muscles strengthens the body and limbs.

Bill Kazmier, ‘Competitive Squatting Style and Techniques’ from Bill Kazmier, The Squat and Deadlift (Crain Power-Plus, 1981)

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The following extract comes from a fascinating twelve page pamphlet I recently got my hands on. Written by the Strongman and Powerlifter Bill Kazmier, the pamphlet details everything a budding strength enthusiast needs to learn to perform on the platform. Over the next few weeks we’ll be dissecting Kazmier’s advice for the Squat, Deadlift and the Bench Press

In the meantime, do enjoy the Strongman’s general tips and advice for performing the perfect powerlifting squat. As always…Happy Lifting!

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.

Guest Post: All-in-one History of Protein Shakes

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If you thought bodybuilding and serious involvement in sport is mere exercising and pushing your body to its limits, think again. Of course, building up your muscle mass is crucial. However, you won’t get far with just that alone.

In the era of food full of additives, one might frown upon the mere mention of supplements. However, these – especially protein shakes – have had great impact on sports and bodybuilding development.

Official data shows that an average grown-up should consume approximately 50 grams of protein per day. However, additional proteins are taken by people who aim at building their body and muscle mass, thus making protein shakes one of the most important supplement products since the 1950s.

So, how did this all come to be?

Fernando Vallejo, ‘Things Happen, and Lessons to Learn’, Hardgainer Magazine, September (2002), 32-33.

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This article may make for uncomfortable reading. It’s been included to illustrate why it’scritical that you’re always sensible and conservative in your training. No matter how experienced one may be, the rules of sensible training still apply. Properly done, weight training is very safe and healthy, but take liberties and it becomes a dangerous activity.

I’ve learned the importance of safety-first training through some painful and frightening experiences many years ago. Through foolishness I’ve been stuck under a heavy bench press bar without a spotter or safety set-up and stuck at the bottom of a heavy squat with no help or safety set-up, I’ve used appalling form to gut out final reps of sets, and I’ve attempted maximal lifting before conditioning myself to it. I’ve paid a heavy price for the foolishness, and so have countless others. Learn from our foolishness! – Stuart McRobert

Forgotten Exercises: Cyclist Back Squats

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Just this week we spoke about Dr. Karl Klein and his 1960s research on the back squat. As a quick reminder, Klein found that squatting below parallel or pushing the knees over the toes was detrimental to the knee’s stability and long term health. Klein and those following in his wake advised against full range of motion and stressed the fact that knees were not to go over the toes when squatting.

Though discredited in later decades, Klein’s ideas are still prevalent and are perhaps the cause of contemporary fears surrounding the back squat. Disregarding everything that Klein fought against, today’s post looks at the Cyclist Back Squat, an often neglected exercise that not only requires squatting below parallel, it necessitates bringing knees over the toes (Gasp!). Today we’re going to examine what this exercise is, what its origins are and why you should include it into your own training.

The Harmful Squats Myth: Dr. Klein Klein and the Back Squat

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When I began lifting in my teens, the coaches and older men in the gym floor seemed like fountains of indisputable knowledge. Don’t bring the bar all the way down to your chest on the bench press. Stability work on Bosu Balls worked your core and brought muscle gain. Drink a protein shake within 30 minutes of your workout or your anabolic window will shut. The most sacred of their dictates revolved around the back squat.

When learning how to squat we were told two simple things. Never go below parallel and under no circumstances should the knees track over the toes. These rules were so infallible that none of us dared to cross them. Even when we realised their advice on other lifts had been misguided to say the least, we adhered to their squat advice. It wasn’t until I changed gyms that I realised squatting with a full range of motion, even letting those knees slip over my toes, wasn’t going to kill my knees.

Where had this idea about the squat come from? Whenever we asked we were told about vague scientific studies that ‘everyone knew about’. It wasn’t until I dug into the history of the back squat for a recent article on Barbend that I became reacquainted with this subject.

Our goal today is simple. Who first promoted the idea that squatting below depth was harmful and how did this theory become so prevalent? Our story today revolves around Dr. Karl Klein and his followers.

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.