Tag: Sports History

Tricks and Tests of the Muscles (Health and Strength, 1908)

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Recently I had the privilege of going through the British Library’s fantastic collection of physical culture books, workout courses and magazines as part of my PhD research. Though this was work, in the lightest sense of the word, I made a point of reading as much as the great institution had to offer.

One book which caught my eye is the subject of today’s post and I’m sure in a few moments you’ll understand why. Published in 1908 by Health & Strength magazine, the famed British physical culture magazine, Tricks and Tests of the Muscles is an incredibly detailed and imaginative way of testing one’s own strength. Of course, we’ll be attaching the book in its entirety at the end of the post but before that I want to run through some of the more interesting tests.

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1966 MR. OLYMPIA REPORT (December 1966 – Muscle Builder)

Having previously discussed the first ever Mr. Olympia contest held in 1965, it was a great and welcomed surprised to stumble across this report on the ’66 Olympia. Featuring a host of names from the golden age of bodybuilding, there’s something almost quaint about the sportsmanship and seeming politeness of this particular show. Especially when compared with the strictly professionalised competitions held nowadays.

The big question in 1966 was of course whether Larry Scott, the champion from the previous year, would retain his coveted title. At the risk of spoiling anything, I’ll just say read on!

21s in Bodybuilding Lore

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What teen or young lifter hasn’t been seduced by the idea of bigger biceps? Indeed in the bodybuilding universe of both males and females, no pose is more iconic that the front or back double bicep pose.

A difficult set of muscles to grow, except of course for the genetically gifted, the biceps have been subjected to a variety of tortuous and bizarre experiments aimed at growth. The subject of today’s short post, being one such example.

As a quick recap, ’21s’ is the name generally given to a set of bicep curls wherein seven partial reps are performed at the bottom of the movement, seven more at the top of the movement before finally, seven full reps are performed as one continuous set.

Long associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s repertoire of bodybuilding tricks, the purpose of today’s post is to highlight a potentially different story. A story that, in an odd occurrence, includes Arnold as a side character, away from the main spotlight.

The History of the Reverse Grip Bench Press

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Without doubt one of the odder movements in the gym goers’ repertoire, the reverse grip bench press is a lift you’re unlikely to see on a regular basis. Somewhat circus-like in its execution, the lift is nevertheless an invaluable one to those suffering from issues of shoulder mobility and I’d suggest, boredom.

A fun lift to try, even just once, the Reverse Grip Bench Press (henceforth the RBGP) has a relatively recent and interesting history. A history that stems primarily it seems, from the world of powerlifting and hardcore bodybuilding gyms. A history that will be examined in today’s brief post.

Pumping Iron II and the Birth of Female Bodybuilding

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Who can forget Pumping Iron? The iconic bodybuilding movie which pitted an enviably charismatic Arnold Schwarzenegger against Lou Ferrigno, the man who later became the Incredible Hulk.

A tragic epic of Homeric proportions, the initial Pumping Iron has been credited with helping bodybuilding become a more mainstream sport or at least pursuit, in the eyes of many. Furthermore it became a source of inspiration for hundreds of thousands of gym goers seeking to replicate the muscularity, determination and definition of the men on screen. In short, Pumping Iron helped normalise and accelerate male bodybuilding’s popularity.

But what then of Pumping Iron’s sequel Pumping Iron II, which focused exclusively on female bodybuilding? Why was it made? What impact did it have? And just where can one watch the original?

Steve Michalik’s Training Diary from 1968

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How bodybuilding champions train is an area of intense interest for muscle fanatics the world over. How many sets, how many reps and how intensely? What makes them great?

Seeking to satisfy demands, muscle magazines often publish polished workout routines written by the Champions. Yet nothing compares to the first article, making today’s post on Steve Michalik’s 1968 training diary just so fascinating. In it we see Steve’s hopes for the future regarding the stage and also his thoughts on training poundages an intensity. A gem of a find that I stumbled across on Dave Draper’s excellent bodybuilding website and forum.

You can check out the training diary below.

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.

Arthur Jones, Dick Butkus and the Long Con

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Controversial to the nth degree, Arthur Jones was a man known for his pull no punches approach. Wonderfully innovative, the founder of the Nautilus exercise phenomena had a strict sense of right and wrong when dealing with his small circle of clients.

This was demonstrated, most spectacularly, when Jones was approached by Dick Butkus, then linebacker for the Chicago Bears, in 1973. One of the most feared players in the NFL, Butkus had by then built a legacy based on ferocious tackling and a dogged determination to make quarterback’s lives a living hell.

On the first meeting of the two men however, Butkus was something of a sorry sight. Despite a physically imposing frame (Butkus stood at 6ft 3 and weighed over 240 lbs.), the Bear’s legend was almost crippled with the knee problems that would soon force him to leave the NFL. Compounding matters was the fact that Butkus was now out of contract with the Bears, meaning that any idea of a last payout was becoming slimmer by the day.

PIONEERS AND PARIAHS: ORANGE FREE STATE BANTU F.C

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It’s often difficult to pinpoint seminal moments in sport. This is especially the case in football. Ask people when the first football match was played and the answers will range from the fifteenth-century to the recent 1800s. History teaches us to be weary of ‘first ever’ occasions in a sport with such a long past.

Luckily the birth of Black football in South Africa is a much less fraught affair. Brought to Southern Africa in the mid nineteenth-century, the beautiful game quickly spread across the country among settlers and natives alike. By the 1890s, African football boasted a host of tournaments and had begun to attract the attention of British teams. In 1897, the revered English amateur gentlemen side Corinthians toured South Africa for a 23-match tour. The purpose of Corinthian’s tour had been to test the mettle of the South African sides and raise the sport’s popularity even further. Little did the English side know that two years later a representative African side would travel to England to return the favour. Remarkably this team was made of native African players, as opposed the whites only teams Corinthians faced two years prior.

Their name was Orange Free State Bantu F.C and they were the first black South African football team to tour the world. Their story is one of politics, race and of course, the beautiful game.

Marian Mason: England’s Trailblazing Woman of Fitness

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Although sporting historians have long noted the importance of Englishwomen in the development of sport in general, few studies have devoted themselves to the study of callisthenics. Those that do, often employ problematic timelines. Indeed, although Fletcher, McKrone and Holt famously argued that women used sport and callisthenics to gain some form of social freedoms, all dated their studies from the latter half of the nineteenth-century. A decision which has done a great injustice to Marian Mason, England’s first female physical fitness instructor, who beginning in the 1820s, ran one of the most sought after training studios in all of England.