Tag: Physical Culture

Informal acts of weightlifting in Ireland

That stone had lain in that place as long as the oldest traditions in the village could remember. And from time immemorial it had been the custom of the young men of the village to test their strength by lifting it …[i]

Liam O’Flaherty, 1937.

Simply titled, ‘The Stone’, Liam O’Flaherty’s short Irish story from 1937 centres on an unnamed elderly man wandering the outskirts of his coastal village. Struggling to accept his mortality and loss of vitality, the protagonist stumbles across the village’s ‘challenge stone’. Readers are told that ‘from the time of the most remote ancestors of the people’ men from the village challenged one another to lift the stone to the chest and prove their strength. Far from a meaningless act of bravado or spontaneous play, the stone served as an important social signifier. Accordingly, O’Flaherty’s protagonist claimed that

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?

Eugen Sandow, ‘The Jar and Fret of Business Lift,’ Sandow on Physical Training (New York, 1894).

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Theoretically, at least, we all pay tribute to the value and importance of physical education. We admire physical strength and beauty, and recognize, though only faintly as yet, the inter- relation of mind and matter. We know, moreover, that a healthy, active brain is sadly handicapped by an ill-developed, sickly body. We see around us every day of our lives masses of our race of imperfect growth and unsound constitution, and almost daily the lesson comes home to us of the break-down of some friend or acquaintance, whose weakness of body could not withstand the mental and bodily strain in the struggle of life.

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.

Naim Süleymanoğlu and the Importance of Public Histories

As part of my writing with Barbend I’m currently in the middle of an article on Naim Süleymanoğlu, the great Turkish weightlifter from the 1990s. Naim’s story is one of Cold War politics, individual athleticism and raw feats of strength.

The above video, found on the Olympics’ own Youtube channel is such a wonderful idea and something I’d love to see more of in the history of sport. In trying to express Naim’s amazing career and importance to others, the above video gives a succinct, and entertaining example.

This led me to wonder about how the strength community is currently preserving its legacy. As someone who grew up at the very beginning of the internet age – a time when bodybuilding and powerlifting forms were in their infancy, I have always been fascinated with how the history of gym culture – in all its forms – is discussed among weight trainers.

As a historian of physical culture, I am perhaps overly interested in this topic but as the past few years using this website have thought me, the public’s interest in this history is very real. So in today’s post I want to highlight some of the places where this history is being preserved, as well as ruminating on the future of lifting history in the online age.

Eugen Sandow on Heavy Weightlifting

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A point previously discussed on this website was the regularity with which early physical culturists promoted light weight training as opposed to heavy lifting. The reasons for this are numerous. In the first instance, light weightlifting is easier to promote to the general public than heavy weightlifting. It requires less equipment, can be done in the comfort of one’s own home and can be done with relative ease. It was for this reason that individuals like Eugen Sandow, Professor Attila and a host of other physical culturists promoted light weightlifting for their followers. A few, like Arthur Saxon, bucked the trend and argued that heavy lifting was needed to build a strong physique.

With that in mind, today’s brief post examines the brief words Eugen Sandow gave to heavy weightlifting in his seminal book, Strength and How to Obtain It. Published by Sandow first in 1897, Strength was, for many, Sandow’s most important work. It came at the height of his popularity, sold widely and was more accessible than some of his later works which were far more medical in composition. Thanks to the British Library in London, I was able to consult Sandow’s 1897 edition, as well as his third edition published in 1905. Sandow did not expand greatly on how to lift heavy but nevertheless provided an insight into the progressive training practices of the late 1890s and early 1900s.

The Sig Klein Challenge

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Face it.

Every now and then you want to try something new in the gym. A new lift, a new rep range or an entirely new style of training. The mind gets bored of monotony, something which the lifters of yore were all too acquainted with. Today’s post on the Sig Klein challenge will not only help reinvigorate your training, it’ll provide a test of your overall strength. Not bad for something new huh?

Alan Calvert, ‘Are Weight-Lifters Stronger Than Other Men?’, Confidential Information on Lifters and Lifting (Philadelphia, 1926)

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I frankly confess that when I was young I was just as much hypnotised by pro­fessional “strong men” as you are today. I was as strong as the average boy; maybe a little stronger, for I could take a 65 lb. solid iron dumb-bell and push it slowly above my head with my right arm. But then I had done a lot of gym work, especially on the parallel bars, and consequently the pushing muscles in my arms were strong.

But when I went to see Sandow perform, and saw him push up a weight said to be over 300 lbs. I immediately thought “that man is nearly five times as strong as I am.” I was at an age when .I believed any darn claim that a stage-performer chose to make.

After I got into the business of making weights, you can imagine my disillusion­ ment when I found out that the weight Sandow pressed on the stage was only a little over 200 Ibs.; that he used what is called the “bent-press method”-which is not a real lift. That when he lifted the way I had done, (or, as any other unskilled man would do) he could press up only 121 Ibs. So instead of being five times as strong as I was, he was less than twice as strong, in that particular direction. And he was called “the world’s stl:ongest,” and weighed, say, 190 lbs.; whereas I was by no means a “strong man” and weighed 135 lbs.

Tony Sansone’s Weight Gain Diet

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Born at the turn of the twentieth-century, Tony Sansone is perhaps one of the most famous physical culturists never to turn his hand to bodybuilding. Nevertheless his influence on bodybuilders and those seeking to get in shape was remarkable. Training under both Bernarr McFadden and Charles Atlas, Sansone developed one of the most sought after physiques in 1930s America.

He modelled, quite provocatively at times, wrote extensively on good nutrition and ran a series of gyms, which included a regular training spot for the legendary Steve Reeves. Shunning excessive bulk for definition and aesthetics, Sansone possessed a body that many men today would envy. Indeed, the renowned physical culture historian David Gentle once commented

If Sansone had been born in Greek antiquity, he would have been immortalized as a god.

With this in mind, today’s post looks at Sansone’s simple and effective way to build muscle mass while maintaining a relative level of leanness.