Tag: Physical Culture

Tom Burrows and the 100 Hour Indian Club Swing

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Readers of this blog will undoubtedly be familiar with my fondness for Indian club swinging, that great Hindu and Persian practice which became all the rage in England and the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The history of Indian club swinging has been previously covered here with one big exception. I have said little to nothing of my favorite Indian club athlete, the great Tom Burrows.

Burrows was an Australian athlete who came to Britain in the late nineteenth century to train soldiers at the Royal Army Physical Training Corps gymnasium in Aldershot. Once there, Burrows became a minor physical culture celebrity owing both to his expertise as a coach but, more importantly, his ability to swing Indian clubs for hours on end. This is no exaggeration. By the late 1900s, Tom Burrows could swing Indian clubs for eighty hours without resting. Such was his popularity and demand that he even went on a world tour during this time to showcase his abilities to foreign audiences.

Today’s post, which is based on an article I wrote for Sport in History, centers on Burrow’s ultimately failed efforts to swing the Indian clubs for 100 hours without rest. Interested? Read on.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

W. A. Pullum, ‘Great Strenth’, How to Use A Barbell (London, 1932), 21-24.

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To gain great strength one needs to consider the factors that unite to produce it. For until this is done one cannot be sure upon what lines to work.

The things that make for outstanding physical strength are great vital force, a high degree of nervous energy, and superlative quality of muscular tissue. Contrary to the belief that still persists in some quarters, the mere quantity of muscle that a person possesses is not a decisive factor. And at the beginning the student of this section would do well to understand that clearly.

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.