Tag: Weightlifting

Dr. Terry Todd and Angel Spassov,’Bulgarian Leg Training Secrets,’ Muscle and Fitness (1989).

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Almost a decade ago, a retired Soviet hammer thrower came to the conclusion that traditional forms of squatting were not the best way to strengthen the muscles of the thighs and hips. Many in the Soviet Union considered this heresy, as the squat was the king of leg training in that country just as it was, and is still, in the United States.

Ten years ago, the full squat was the foundation of exercise programs for almost all elite athletes in the Soviet Bloc nations, whether they were weightlifters or not. Soviet athletes – be they wrestlers, runners, fencers, soccer player or swimmers – all squatted. But because the retired hammer thrower had won the gold medal in the 1976 Olympic Games and because he was a respected graduate of the Central Institute for Physical Education and Sport in Moscow, his opinions were taken seriously. His name: Anatoly Bondarchuk. His studies led him to conclude that a particular form of what we’ll call the high step-up had two significant advantages over the standard back squat. Bondarchuk concluded that high step-ups, firstly, produce greater gains in thigh and hip power and secondly, cause fewer injuries.

A Brief History of Strongman

Strength sports, as an endeavour, are simultaneously a modern, and pre-modern, sport. Accounts of men engaging in contests date back to the Chinese practice of lifting heavy stones and cauldrons in 6000 BC (Hai-sheng, 2012). Likewise, Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, among other regions, had strength cultures (Crowther, 2007). That withstanding, strength contests and feats, like Hafþór’s deadlift, trace their immediate history to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when ‘physical culture’ emerged as a new recreational movement. Defined by Michael Anton Budd as a late nineteenth and early twentieth century phenomenon concerned with the ‘ideological and commercial cultivation’ of the body, physical culture marked the beginning of mass gym cultures (Budd, 1997). Originating in Europe and spreading to the United States, physical culturists included strongmen and women who routinely competed against one another for prestige and popularity.

The Bodybuilding History of Bovril

Bovril is a blended meat extract created by Scotsman John Lawrence during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Made primarily from Beef, Bovril quickly associated itself with ideas of British nationalism and the caricatured embodiment of Britain, ‘John Bull’. This was certainly the case during the Second South African War when Bovril advertisements explicitly told of its nutritional value for troops at the front (Steinitz, 2017). Readers of British newspapers in 1901 were met with the claim that Bovril was ‘the most acceptable and useful present that Tommy Atkins can receive’ as only Bovril could sustain men’s strength through gruelling marches and equally exhausting battles (‘Send a Case of Bovril’, 1901).

At the forefront of such advertising was Bovril’s association with muscular and strong physiques. Advertisements at the beginning of the twentieth century claimed that ‘Bovril means vigour and strength’ or that ‘Bovril is a strength giver and muscle former’ (Steinitz, 2017). Somewhat surprisingly given its explicit association with male bodies and endurance, Bovril’s use of physical culturists was less impressive than Plasmon. The latter counted Sandow, Miles, Neil and a host of other physical culturists in their advertising material, Bovril’s British agents satisfied themselves with less popular physical culturists, those whom only the most devout would recognise.

BILL STARR, ‘Mental Preparation’, DEFYING GRAVITY HOW TO WIN AT WEIGHTLIFTING (NEW YORK, 1981), P. 24.

page21image18258640nyone who has spent any time in- volved in any form of competitive athletics fully realizes the importance of mental con- trol. Hitting a baseball, spiking a volleyball, and catching a football all require a high degree of mental concentration. Tommy Kono, the great Olympic and world weightlifting champion of the 50s and 60s, contented that success in competitive weightlifting was 75% mental and 25% physical. Other authorities give varied percentages, but each and every one does agree that the athlete who gets his mental processes together has an edge.

Alan Calvert, ‘General Training Program’, Health, Strength and Development (Philadelphia, c. 1920s).

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Hundreds of prospective pupils write me to ask how long they will have to train; how much time they will have to spend each week, etc., etc. This seems a good place to answer those questions.

The average pupil practices the first course in developing exer­cises for two or three months. He practices every other day (that is, once in 48 hours), and the practice period covers about 30 minutes.

By the end of the second or third month the pupil has attained a certain degree of strength and development, and then his training program is altered. On two days a week he will practice the more strenuolls of the developing exercises from the first course, and two other days a week he will practice the Eight Standard Lifts; that is, the second course. He keeps up this training for two or three months and during that period the time consumed is about three hours a week.

The Standard Lifts Course, as well as the First Course in Devel­oping Exercise, is given free to every pupil who buys a bell-whether it be a low-priced plate bell or the most expensive MILO TRIPLEX bell on the list.

Louis Abele’s Back Program c. 1948

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Although unknown to the modern olympic lifter, Abele was one of America’s finest lifters during the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately he was overshadowed by fellow US lifters John Grimek, Steve Stanko, and John Davis during the course of his career. Similarly the outbreak of the Second World War denied Abele the chance to lift at the 1940 Olympic Games, a time when he would have been in his prime.

Nevertheless, Abele’s lifting career saw him put up some rather impressive poundages as you’ll read about.

With regards to training philosophy, Abele was a strong advocate of specialisation and high intensity training. Illustrating this, Abele tells the reader that he once exercised so hard that his teeth hurt from breathing! I suspect that this level of intensity is relatively rare in today’s gyms. Anyway what fascinates me about Abele was his advocacy of specialisation and by that Abele meant training primarily legs for 2 to 3 months before moving on to another body part for a similar amount of time. In this way Abele would focus almost exclusively on one body part, to the detriment of others, reach what he felt to be a maturation point and then switch his training up. From memory I can’t think of too many current lifters who adhere to this sort of programming although one supposes that the concept of a deload week is vaguely similar.

Anyway, the below article details Abele’s back workouts from his early 20s. For interested parties, the text itself comes from a series of letters written by Abele to Chester O. Teegarden which were published by Iron Man Industries of Alliance, Nebraska in 1948.

As always… Happy Lifting!

The History of the Glute Ham Raise

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Owing to the inquisitive nature of a PCS reader, I’ve finally gotten my act together, or at least come close enough to some semblance of normality, to go down the rabbit hole once again. The topic of todays post, is the rather more niche but nevertheless effective Glute Ham Raise (GHR) machine.

Having spent years devotedly using reverse hyperextensions and 45 degree back extensions, my own relationship with the Glute Ham Raise only began in the last twelve months. Since then I’ve made a point of trying as many different alternatives as possible. As is so often the case, I became too engrossed in using the machine that I forgot to look into its history. An email this month asking me about the GHR finally set me straight.

So without further ado we’ll crack into the history of the GHR. What is it? Who invented it and how did it become so damn popular?

Fred Hatfield, ‘I May Know Diddly, But I Know Squat!’ (2001)

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The passing of Dr. Fred Hatfield in 2017 saw the passing of one of the lifting community’s most prolific coaches. Known as ‘Dr. Squat’ thanks to his own immense strength, Hatfield also helped to popularise scientific forms of training. The above article, written sometime before 2001 is perhaps the most comprehensive guide I’ve come across dealing with different types of squatting. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as me!

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