Monday, March 28, 2011

The Key to Might and Muscle - (Circa 1926) - Chapter 6 - Is There Such a Thing As Bone Strength? - By George F. Jowett

I know that the mere suggestion that bones are capable of demonstrating
strength would be accepted by many people with a doubtful mind. The majority
firmly believe that the bones are simply props and connections by which the
body is held together. Apart from that, their use in our existence is
believed to be minor as compared with the other organs of the body. Of
course, it is partly true that the bones exist for that reason, but there are
many other important uses for this structure, to which my readers may never
have given thought. As a matter of fact, I do not ever remember seeing where
the bones were discussed in the light that our title brings before us. Some
writers who take a joy in decrying strength feats as being all faked, like to
dwell upon feats where terrific poundages are held upon the body as an
illustration of their claims. They call it all fake in their ignorance, and
for comparison they will make a statement something like this: "There was
Saxon. He claimed to be the strongest man in the world, and the best he ever
raised was four hundred forty-eight pounds overhead with two hands. Then,
there is that fellow Strongfort, who claims the same title, because he has
held up an automobile that weighs about two tons. Just look at the
difference in weight, which goes to show neither is right." You know this is
the way they talk, and the very fact that they talk like this is positive
proof of how little they know about what they say. Of course, the difference
in poundage is staggering if you want to look at it that way, but knowledge
of the body undeniably informs us that there can be no comparison between the
two feats. Both are actual feats of strength, but just as widely separated
as the difference between a sprint racer and a five mile run. In the case
under discussion, one is strength of muscle, and the other is strength of

Let us take a little lesson in the structure and find the truth for ourselves
in the wonders of bone formation. Instead of being just props for the mass
of muscles to surround, we find that the bones are the levers of the bodies,
fulfilling their duties as nature required, just as the muscles act as the
motors, and the ligaments as the pulleys. They all work together. Just take
a derrick for example, and you have the analysis pat. The engine is the
power behind the chain that hoists, and the beam is the instrument of

The structure of the bone itself is a dense form of connective tissue,
impregnated with inorganic matter, chiefly calcium phosphate, to which its
hardness and rigidity is due. In other words, the bones are a cartilagus
formation, and the appearance of the life chemical, calcium phosphate, is
what causes the bones to ossify or harden. Not all the bones in the body
acquire the state of ossification as found in the bones in the arms, thighs,
hips and the scapula. Take for instance the ribs, sternum and clavicle.
While they are much smaller than the bones mentioned, yet because they retain
their cartilagus condition in a less concrete form, for natural reasons, they
are capable of bending to a greater degree than other bones before they will
break. Altogether, there are two hundred and six bones in the body, counting
the three parts of the sternum bone as just one. It is in the marrow of our
bones that the tiny red corpuscles are born. These corpuscles are as
important to our existence as the heart itself, as they form the major part
of the blood stream and give this life flowing stream its color. Strange as
it may seem, like the tissue of our muscles, these little corpuscles wear out
after a few weeks, and new corpuscles from the bone marrow take their place
and live their short life, and so on. Of course, you understand without my
explanation how these corpuscles get into the bloodstream, by being injected
through the porous structure of the bone. Now this little fact alone will
give you some idea of bone formation. You cannot help but see right away
that the healthier a person is, the better bone structure he is going to
have. A person who is anemic can put the cause down to the fact that the
supply of red corpuscles are not being manufactured in sufficient quantities
to supply the need which can all be traced to lack of body toning in the
first place. The ultimate resistance of the bones will always depend upon
the general condition of the body. It is a positive fact that healthy bones
are bound to have healthy strong attachments. These fleshy attachments will
cleave to the bones more securely. Perhaps this is best borne out by the
relative condition of the bones in one who has trained his body and he who
has not. Medical statistics prove that the laboring man has constructionally
thicker bones than the clerical worker.

The answer to this is a purely natural one. It works out just the same as
the muscular condition, as explained in the chapter, "Defining the Mystery of
Strength." If the clerical man had to change his occupation for one that
involved manual labor, a bone thickening process would take place, along with
the change in musculature. Of course, the change is not so noticeable and
never so radical as is often seen in the muscular change. Nevertheless, the
bones do not have to increase their thickness very much to be able to
withstand a resistance that altogether is equal to one thousand pounds. Take
a young athlete who has started bar bell training, and test him on his
supporting ability as well as his muscular strength. Inside of a month his
supporting abilities will have gone up tremendously in comparison with his
regular lifting tests. At the same time, the increase in bone size could
hardly be registered, but just the same a great change has taken place. The
bones have acquired a greater resistance from the healthier condition of the

It really is surprising to notice the peculiar conception that the ordinary
individual has about the body, which, of course, includes the bony framework.
I have heard many people who had, at some time in their life, been so
unfortunate as to break a limb, say that they were afraid to make a lift for
fear they would break that member again. They firmly believe that the bone
is weaker where it was broken, and they will shrink from making what was
formerly a very ordinary lift. When you stop to consider the plea, you will
find it is a natural misunderstanding among laymen. Actually, the bone is
stronger after the injury than it was before. That is providing the bone has
been set right at the time. Under X-ray examination, the bone will be found
much thicker at the broken part than elsewhere. The knitting process of the
bone when healing is much like a weld upon iron where the smith generally
leaves it slightly thicker. A smith will tell you that the iron will always
break elsewhere, providing he made a good weld. So it is with the bone. It
is a matter of interest to know that pugilists of the bare fist age were
known to break their arms on purpose, so that shock from hard striking would
be better absorbed. The famous prize fighter, Tom Sayers, was only a light
man, but his great hitting powers enabled him to knock out much bigger
opponents than himself. Both his arms had been frequently broken - mostly in
fights - and many boxing followers of the present time, who do not know of
that former practice, and wonder how that little man could stand up and
batter big men and stand it, as he did in his memorable battle with Hennan,
caused by the breaks. They also used to pickle their hands in brine to
toughen them and make them so hard that the hand was less inclined to be
knocked out of joint or broken.

One of our star wrestlers, with whom I am very familiar, used to complain
about his left wrist being weak. He was always afraid of it. During a
contest he was thrown off the mat and landed with such impact upon his hands
and knees, that his left wrist was broken. About a year or so after the
accident I was talking to him, and he remarked how singular and how he used
it the most in clinching his locks. Nothing singular about it; just nature
showing how well it does a job. Of course I do not want you to go out and
break an arm, or anything like that. I am just bringing these conditions
forward as an example of how the bone structure works, and to explain that
people who have sustained a broken arm or leg should not worry. A broken
hip, or joint, is entirely different. The former control is seldom acquired

Now to get back to the actual strength of bones as supplied to us in feats of
strength, let me say that there is a world of difference in lifting weights,
holding weights, and supporting feats of strength. In lifting a weight
overhead, one just has their muscular power operating. While muscular
strength has greater motive power, yet is has no rigid control over gravity,
or the weight, until it is at the shoulders or at arms' length overhead.
Greater weight can be held at the shoulder and at arms' length overhead than
can be actually lifted, simply because the locking process of the elbows,
shoulders and knees provide greater sustaining power. It is the spine in the
lumbar region, or the small of the back, that gives way first in holding a
weight aloft. Simply because in that region there is no other supporting
bone structure than the spine itself, and the natural curve in the spine does
not provide a perfect perpendicular resistance.

Supporting feats are performed in positions that generally involve the legs,
hips and arms, and in some instances, to a certain extent, the back. But
never is the weight actually lifted. It is always supported; and the
positions in which the athlete places himself are such, that the greatest aid
is given to the bony structure, to enable the performer to support the most
weight and thereby appear more spectacular and astounding. As we go along
explaining this feature you will see that all the weight is borne upon the
bones with a perpendicular pressure. In such a manner, the bones are capable
of greater resistance, than when the resistance is thrown upon them laterally.

A feat of supporting strength that is commonly performed is the one known as
"the tomb of Hercules." The athlete takes up his position with the hands and
feet only upon the floor, and the face looking upwards. The hands are turned
back along a line parallel with the body which gives a better arm lock in the
elbows. The body is held up fairly well, but not so high as to have the body
level with the line of the knees and the shoulders. The arms and legs from
the foot to the knee must be perpendicular so that no lateral pressure is
suggested. Then a platform is placed on the body so that it has four points
of rest, both knees and the shoulders. A number of men are then seated upon
the board, which is supported by the athlete for a few seconds. Some
athletes make this stunt more spectacular by supporting a whole orchestra
while it plays, and other allow and automobile to run over a trestle
supported in this manner. In this latter feat, the machine is only supported
a bare fraction of a second, and the fact that the machine is moving across
distributes the weight so that actually the entire weight of the machine is
not supported all at one time by the body. But enough weight is supported to
make the act very dangerous. If I remember rightly, Monte Saldo, an English
athlete was one of the first to introduce this stunt. Then came Strongfort.
The last man to perform this feat within the last few years was Wilfred
Cabana, of Montreal, but he sustained some serious accidents from it, and has
discarded it since, so I understand. Due to the fact that the machine is
moving all the time, I do not consider this as great a test of bone strength,
as the feat where a man supports an orchestra of ten or twelve men.

The Englishman, Appelton, was very good at this stunt, and claims to have
supported two thousand four hundred and ninety-two pounds, but I am sure,
good though this support is, men like Travis, -- who by the way used to
support a carroussel in this manner, -- Giroux, Steinborn and particularly
Moerke would easily pass that mark.

In all these feats there is a certain amount of muscular force required. If
the arm triceps are not strong, the elbows will unlock under the pressure,
just the same as the feet slip away if the biceps of the thighs are not
strong enough.

Saxon was great at all this stuff, but his specialty supporting stunt lay in
a more difficult performance, in which the major portion of the weight was
supported by the legs. For this feat he would lie on his back and place a
bar bell that weight 267 pounds on the soles of his feet, and over the toes
of each foot he hung a kettle bell that weight 100 pounds each; then his
partners would place six men on the bar bell. This done, Saxon pulled a bar
bell over his face from the back of his head and raised it to arms' length.
On each end of this bell, each of his partners sat. What the total weight
was I do not remember ever hearing, but assuming that the six men on the feet
averaged 150 pounds each, and they would be likely to average more, as Saxon
always got the heaviest men possible, the total weight on the feet alone
would be 1307 pounds. This is a terrific feat when you consider that this
mass of weight had to be balanced as well as supported; and the control
required in itself is a great tax on strength. The slightest bending of the
knees, and the results would be disastrous. One of the most astounding
supporting feats of all times was their stunt billed as the "Brooklands on
Legs." Arthur Saxon and one of his younger brothers would lie on their back
under a huge wooden trestle, and with their feet support the whole affair,
while a loaded automobile ran over the trestle. In this act, they were not
able to hold the legs entirely straight, that is the knees were bent a
little. By pressing with the hands against the knees, a bracing support was
given, which made up, to a certain extent, for the bending of the knees. But
they did it once too often. Something went wrong, and the whole thing came
down on them. They were both badly injured, and the younger brother refused
to have anything to do with it afterwards. It was estimated that the whole
load weighed six thousand five hundred pounds. In our time, those two famous
Germans, Herman Gorner and Karl Moerke, have proven themselves great at
supporting feats, as well as other feats that call for great muscular
strength. Gorner has actually supported the terrific weight of twenty men
sitting on a plank that rested on his feet, with straight legs, a total
weight of four thousand pounds. This is the greatest weight, supported in
that manner, I ever heard of. However, Gorner is an extraordinary being.

I saw a picture of Moerke taken over in Hoboken, New York, where he was lying
upon his back, and with his leg strength, raised and supported the front end
of the Hoboken Fire Engine. In another feat, a-la Saxon, Moerke eclipsed the
great Arthur's poundage by supporting about fifteen hundred pounds on the
feet only. But this squat German, is naturally adapted to these trials. His
legs are short, and carry a thigh measurement of twenty-eight and a half
inches and calf of seventeen and a half inches. Then on the other hand, he
is not a large boned man, which brings to our mind the thought that after
all, there may be the same difference in bone structure as in muscle tissue.
However, I am quite satisfied that bone strength exists. It has a limit to
its possibilities just the same as muscular strength. Take, for instance,
the recent accident to Henry Steinborn. He tried to do the "Brooklands on
Legs," all alone. He found the poundage more than he could handle and broke
a leg. My memory goes back to Rudolph Klar who used to regularly hold
anywhere from eight to ten men supported on his feet. One day he tried
eighteen men and the resistance proved too much, and he broke his legs.

There are various methods of supporting weights, and while we are at it, we
might as well take them all into consideration. One of the other feats, is
to hold a bar bell across the shoulders behind the neck, and allow a number
of men to hand on each side. Saxon, nightly in his act, would hold a bar
bell of 232 pounds across his shoulders and allow four men to swing on at
each side, a total weight of over fourteen hundred pounds. Some athletes try
to walk with this burden, and in so doing they march sideways instead of
forwards, so that no bend in the knees takes place; if it does, the lifter is
not able to sustain the weight.

One of the popular feats of years ago was a hip lift in harness. The lifter
had a leather attachment around his hips, and standing high upon a perch he
would pile a group of people on a platform underneath. This done, he would
hitch his hip harness with a hook, onto the apparatus below, and by pressing
with the hands on a rail that ran at each side of the perch, begin the feat.
The combined hip and arm pressure raises the platform with its human load
just high enough to swing clear of its rest and that was just high enough for
him to lock his knees. Then the rest was easy. Some of them have the weight
lowered down gradually, instead of raising it, and consequently more weight
is handled. It is almost impossible to break the hips from such resistance,
as the pelvis bone forms a natural arch. The only thing that can happen is
for the pressure to unlock the knees.

By lying upon the back, and drawing up the knees until they are at right
angles with the body, and then having the legs, from the knees to the ankle,
held at right angles with the thighs so that the legs and body presents a
letter Z, an athlete places himself in a position where he can support a lot
of weight. All that is required is a board placed across the top of the
knees so that a downward pressure is brought upon the thigh bone into the
hip. A number of men can easily be supported thus, and the feat always looks
better if the athlete pulls over a bar bell with his hands and raises it to
straight arms, and then allows a man to sit on each end.

The reason why so much weight can be lifted in the back and the harness lift,
is because the body is placed in such a position that the muscles are capable
of applying their greatest motive power. The weight is only lifted an inch
or two, and the weight is so distributed upon the legs, back and arms, in a
back lift, and the hips and legs in a harness lift, that the weight is not
hard to control. The athlete is in a very unique position to hold his load.

It is not everybody who can perform these stupendous supporting feats. It
takes a trained athlete, a man who has cultivated his body, and given it the
best of care during his life time. It is wrong to say that a support is not
a feat of strength. A support of a thousand pounds is one of these feats has
its place in the annals of strength, just the same as the raising of a bar
bell of three hundred pounds overhead. The only difference is that one is
bone strength and the other is muscular strength. The only wrong thing about
it, that I can see, is to claim it as a lift, and I think this is mostly a
misunderstanding on the part of the average person. They do not pay
attention to the things a student of lifting weights does, and wherever they
see a man hold up any object by his bodily power, they offhand call it a
lift. Of course, I am not overlooking the point that some unscrupulous
individuals can camouflage their feats by using trickery, but I fail to see
why we have to consider them when there are so many men around who can do the
right thing properly. It is a fact that a person has to be schooled to a
certain extent in anything before they really understand it, and while these
nondescripts get away with some of their stuff, they certainly do not with
those who have the slightest knowledge of what constitutes a feat of
strength. Some sensational writer, every once in a while, burst into print
and tries to disprove lifting in general form the feats of these men, but
they only show their own lack of knowledge of the real feats which are
performed and the real strength which is built by lifting and lifters.

I happened to read a book not long ago on feats of strength, and really I had
to laugh. In his efforts to prove the difference between feats that are
genuine, and those that are not, the author actually disclaimed genuine feats
and his gullibility was proven by statements he had swallowed from others who
had helped to educate him to their own advantage. Recalling one feat, the
author states that one man who never weighed more than the one hundred forty
pound limit, made a back lift of over six thousand pounds. I happen to know
all the men personally he writes of, and I know what they can do. In the
first place, the great back lifter failed at a little over nineteen hundred
pounds when he was asked to prove his claim. He never did better either. My
friend, Warren Lincoln Travis, promptly got under the load and played with
it. The party who wrote that book was in no condition to do so, as he was
not even a physical culturist, let alone a lifter, and relied upon
information supplied him by others who saw their opportunity.
Unintentionally, perhaps, such writers do more harm than good.

About one thousand years ago, feats of bone strength, as I will call them,
were very popular at the Venetian games. Those athletes were famed for the
wonderful human pyramids they built. The victory went to the team that could
build the highest and hold the tableaux longest without wavering. An ancient
chronicler wrote to the effect that when the order came to disband, the man
on the top did a number of tricks and jumped off, each man following suit and
performing their best stuff, as their turn came. What interested me mostly,
was the way the chronicler finished his story. He said the bottom men, "were
youths of strong bone."

We might say that bone strength is a rigid force resisting gravity, and
muscular strength an active force resisting gravity. It is the
constructional steel rigidity in a two inch steel nail driven in a piece of
wood that is capable of supporting a man of one hundred eighty pounds. For
their size, the bones are capable of great resistance, and as we have
instances where men who performed supporting feats of strength have a limit,
-- as proof -- their broken limbs, and because we know the bones have great
resistance, and resistance is strength, no matter in what form it is, there
actually is such a thing in existence as bone strength.
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Bob Whelan

Bob Whelan

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