Tag: Physical Culture

Forgotten Devices: Edward Aston’s ‘Anti-Barbell’

Much to my surprise, and great shame, Edward Aston is not someone mentioned a lot on this website. This, I hasten to add, has everything to do with my own deficiencies. Born in England in the late nineteenth-century, Aston was known to contemporaries as one of the strongest men around. In 1910, he won the title of ‘World’s Middleweight Weightlifting Champion‘ after defeating Maxick in a series of lifts.

Renowned for his grip strength in particular, a topic he published extensively on, Aston also tried his hand at barbell designs. Well barbell designs of sorts. In late 2018, I had the opportunity to spend several weeks at the Stark Center at the University of Texas where, aside from other things, I stumbled across Aston’s ‘Anti-Barbell’, an unevenly loaded barbell Aston claimed would revolutionise the weightlifting community. Shown below, Aston’s ‘anti-barbell’ was marketed during the mid to late 1910s, primarily in British physical culture magazines such as Health and Strength.

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Sandow, Hercules and the Birth of Modern Weightlifting

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While Eugen Sandow has long been been held in esteem in the lore of bodybuilding, fans of weightlifting have seldom seen the Prussian as a figure of great importance for their sport. This is unsurprising given that over the past half-century, Sandow’s image has become so integral to bodybuilding that the sport’s top contest, the Mr. Olympia, hands out miniature Sandow busts as trophies. Nevertheless part of Sandow’s fame, at least initially, came from his raw strength which he used to set records, wow audiences and defeat opponents.

With this in mind, today’s post looks at Sandow’s 1890 weightlifting contest with ‘Hercules’ McCann, a controversial bout during which the men’s weights measured to a tee, the first time such precision had ever been introduced to the growing sport. The contest can thus be seen as a pivotal moment in the evolution of weight lifting as a recognised sport in its own right.

Lies, Snake Oils and Downright Deception: Selling and the Fitness Industry

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The fitness industry, was and is, a notoriously dubious business place. For every honest athlete seeking to help his fellow trainer, there are dozens of genetically blessed individuals who seek to make a living with half-truths.

This chicanery, is however, a time honoured tradition as evidenced by today’s article. Surveying the great names of the physical culture game, today’s post looks at the forerunners to the current market industry and demonstrates how many sought to promote their products over the truth. Unsurprisingly names like Sandow, Sick and Inch all feature.

So if you thought that deceit was a new phenomena in bodybuilding, you are sorely mistaken!

The Secret of Rheo H. Blair’s Protein Powder

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Having discussed Bob Hoffman’s (failed) attempts to create a protein powder that was both tasty and efficient, the time seems right to examine Rheo H. Blair’s famous protein powder from the mid-twentieth century.

Iron game historians will long be aware that Blair’s protein powder was the go to supplement for bodybuilders, average trainees and even Hollywood stars of the 1960s and 1970s. It was one of the first protein supplements and was highly regarded by others in the industry including Vince Gironda.

Heck, so highly regarded was Blair’s protein that it was credited with adding pounds upon pounds of muscle in a short space of time. Some bodybuilders spent months eating nothing but the protein powder alongside some vitamin capsules.

So what exactly was in Blair’s protein and what made it so special?

Peary Rader, ‘The History of These Methods’, The Rader Master Bodybuilding and Weight Gaining System (1946)

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It is not customary for the history of a course to be given, but the history of the methods taught herein is so definite, inspiring and easily traced that we believe it will be of great value and interest to the reader. It will likewise give him an idea of what results have been obtained by others and what he, himself, might expect. It will also give him assurance that this is not the hasty brainchild of one man interested only in placing of a few sheets of instructions on the market for the sole purpose enhancing his own finances.

George F. Jowett, ‘The Standard That Determines the Ideal Shape’, The Key to Muscle and Might (c. 1925)

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There is no doubt in my mind that Eugene Sandow’s rise to fame was due more to the symmetrical shapeliness of his enviable body than to the difficulty of feats of strength he performed. Generally speaking, there are two things which will always impress the mind of the body culturist, shape and strength. With strength, we have already dealt.

Therefore, we will now direct out attention to the value of shapeliness, and the influence it has upon our mind and body. Oh yes, it has a great influence upon the mind. The next time you visit an art gallery notice the quiet reverence that is displayed by the art lovers, as they move from one picture to another. The serene beauty of the pictures permeates the whole atmosphere, leaving the beholders in silent wonder. I have a great friend who is a wonderful artist, and he often makes sketches of the body in varied postures, which he brings to me for scrutiny. On one of his visits he said to me, “I can always tell whether the drawings meet with your approval or not. Not by what you say, as much as how little you say. Your eyes are always drawn to the pictures you like best, and I have noticed that you have sometimes been so enraptured that you did not hear me speak to you.” He was quite right. Pictures of the body beautiful, correctly translated, never weary me. I can feast my eyes upon them for hours at a time. This rather contradicts the statement that, familiarity with the most beautiful objects, breeds contempt. For twenty-five years I have lived in the atmosphere of beautiful bodies, and I am still as enthusiastic as I was when I first commenced my studies.