Saturday, April 30, 2011
Secrets of Strength (Circa 1925) - Chapter I - Inherited and Acquired Strength - By Earle E. Liederman
Is there a secret of strength, and if so, what is it? That is what puzzles most seekers after athletic ability and physical perfection. So well-known a writer as Robert Edgren says that "Strength is where you find it," thus virtually claiming that great physical strength is "a gift" - pure and simple; and that either on has it - or one has to do without it.
The author of these chapters, being personally acquainted with hundreds of "Strong Men," and having been instrumental in helping thousands of men to attain great physical strength, believes that there is no such thing as "one great secret"; but a number of factors, or causes, which account for the surprising strength of some individuals; and that furthermore those factors are within the control of the individual, thus rendering it possible for any one who desires strength to obtain it.
The thoroughbred horse, an animal which is frequently cited as a sample of physical perfection, is not a product of nature, but of intelligent selection, breeding, and training. Man is responsible for the development of the thoroughbred animal, and it is a queer commentary on our ideals that the creating, or development, of thoroughbred animals - horses, cattle and dogs - is in some quarters regarded as more important than the developing of thoroughbred human beings.
A racing horse is bred and trained for speed; and by means of intelligent mating of parents, of feeding, of exercise and care there has been developed an animal superbly shapely with steel-spring muscles, and of certain marked characteristics. Literally characteristics - elements of character such as dauntless courage, stamina, and eagerness for work. By molding the body and physical attributes of the animal to the highest degree of perfection, the horse breeders and trainers have automatically produced mental or "character" attributes of the same high standard.
The horse has been simply clay in the hands of the potter, a docile instrument in the hands of the guiding force - man. Left to themselves horses would change, improve or develop very slowly. Horses have neither the intelligence nor initiative of mankind. It has taken probably twenty generations to produce the modern thoroughbred racer; but it is my opinion that, given equal care, all men could be molded to the thoroughbred type in two or three generations.
I will go even further than that. I believe that it is in the power of every man to make a marked improvement in his physical attributes, providing he will spend on himself but a fraction of the care that is spent in developing a high-grade animal.
There are unquestionably some men of gigantic strength who inherit their physical powers. The famous Canadian, Louis Cyr, stated that he got his strength and size from his mother, who was a woman of great size and most unusual power.
I know a physical director in New York City, a man of great all-round strength - but particularly famous for the strength of his hands and wrists - who tells me that his mother had the most powerful hands and wrists of any woman he had ever seen, and that she had more strength and vigor than most men.
Another clear case of inheritance. Apollon, the great Frenchman, who rivaled Cyr in strength, came of a family of circus-performers and "Strong Men," but he was vastly stronger than either of his parents or grandparents.
Out in Ohio there is a family named Nordquest, which numbers among its members some of the strongest men in modern history. The father is tall and well-made, but not markedly above the average in strength. The mother is small. Of the six sons, three of them, Arthur, Adolph and Joe are veritable Vikings in build, and marvels of muscular power. The other three sons are all naturally well-built and above the average in strength, but lack the prodigious power of the three more famous brothers. Arthur, Adolph and Joe are enthusiastic devotees of athletics and trained with the idea of becoming supermen. The other three have just the same inheritance, the same possibilities, and given the same training might quite possible have become just as remarkable. All six had the possibilities; but the famous three voluntarily developed their possibilities; and their present power is unquestionably due to inheritance plus initiative - the will to be strong.
I could go on and tell you about dozens of other celebrities who frankly admit that their strength is inherited from one or both parents. I recall one present record-holding lifter who frankly says that while his own lifting power has been cultivated, that form his early boyhood he possessed great strength and that the male members of his family were always known as the strongest men in that particular part of Europe in which they lived. Consequently he was somewhat annoyed when one of our training concerns claimed that his strength was due to their system of exercises; although he admitted that he had cultivated and added to his inherited strength by following the same methods they advocated.
I know of an interesting case of another "muscle man" whose beautiful proportions and phenomenal strength are unquestionably due to his own efforts. His father and mother are far from being anything remarkable as physical specimens; and so far as his two brothers are concerned, one of them is short and stout, and the other short and thin. While the athlete himself is taller than the average, so strong that he created some amateur lifting records, and so beautifully shaped that he was in great demand as a sculptor's model; but then he was an "exercise devotee" and worked for his present physique, while his brothers were content to get along with such physique as they had inherited.
I am not attempting to minimize the value of a good inheritance. If your parents happen to be fine, straight, upstanding and vigorous physical specimens, and have passed on to you those desirable physical attributes, then you will find it just that much easier to develop a body that is the last word in physical perfection. But on the other hand you need not despair if it so happens that your parents are undersized or "just average." That makes it a little harder for you to become big and strong, but does not make it impossible. It will take you longer, that is all.
Everybody knows that certain families run true to a particular type. You may know a family of Joneses and whenever you speak of them you say, "All those Jones men are tall." In another family all the men may be stout, and in still other cases all the male members are very slender. In some powerful strains there are strongly marked characteristics which persist for generation after generation; as for example the Hapsburg lip, and the Bourbon nose.
There are people who are so impressed with the force of heredity that they can conceive of no other factor in the molding of the human body.
To them the Biblical query: "Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a Leopard his spots?" is the final word. They overlook the fact that there is a great difference between different Ethiopians and different Leopards. Of course, there are inherited characteristics which cannot be changed or altered in the individual. A blond Scandinavian cannot change himself into a brunet; nor can a round-headed man change himself into a long-headed man, for those are race characteristics. But when it comes to altering the form, or the appearance, or the strength of an individual, then use and environment are just as potent factors as heredity. Recently published statistics show that in Great Britain the average farm laborer is a couple of inches taller and nearly five pounds heavier than the average city mechanic; the superiority of the farm laborer being due to better food, more fresh air and more muscular work.
Charity-workers can furnish you with dozens of instances where puny, sickly, city children have made astonishing gains from even one month spent in the country, where they got plenty of food and outdoor play.
Hereditary physical characteristics persist only when generation after generation of the same family remain in the same environment and the same kind of employment. The sons of an undersized factory hand will grow big and strong if at an early age they are put at vigorous outdoor labor; and the sons of a husky farm-hand will remain weak and small if at an early age they are put to working twelve hours a day in a poorly ventilated mill or factory.
In his book "How to Get Strong," Wm. Blaikie unwittingly gave an illustration of such a case. He attempted to prove that many very famous men had been possessed of unusual physical strength. In some instances he made out a convincing case but in others failed to prove his point. As in his comment on Shakespeare, where he stated that Shakespeare had splendidly shaped legs; and all he had to go on was a recent statue of Shakespeare, where the sculptor had represented the poet as a man with a beautifully molded pair of lower limbs. All history proves that Shakespeare was a small and slight man.
Blaikie said, which is true, that Henry Ward Beecher was a man of imposing physique and great physical strength; and quoted Beecher himself to show that his size and strength were largely inherited. Mr. Beecher said that his father was so strong that he could lift a 400-pound barrel of cider a couple feet from the ground; and that his grandfather could lift the same barrel to arms-length overhead and hold it there while drinking from the bunghole. Beecher came from New England farm folk, and if he had himself been a farmer instead of a preacher, the vigorous outdoor work might have made him as strong as his forbears. He inherited the vigor and the possibilities of strength, but not the gigantic strength itself. It is undeniable that we - all of us - inherit some possibility of strength. It would be easy to reverse the Beecher case. A small undersized city worker might move to the country and breed big upstanding children and these children in turn would produce a still better third generation, if they lived under ideal conditions as to food and outdoor exercise, or labor.
Those who claim that physical strength can only be inherited are being continually confronted with cases which disprove their theory. A young man will say "Oh yes! I am pretty strong. But you ought to see my father. He is nearly fifty and is twice as strong as I am." And if the father hears this he will chuckle, and say "Bill never had to do the hard work that I did."
On the other hand, I can introduce you to hundreds of young men who greatly exceed their fathers in size and strength. Largely because their fathers entered sedentary business pursuits at an early age, and were youths at a period when athletics were unpopular, and systematic exercise was regarded as a foolish waste of time.
Now, I myself am taller, bigger and vastly stronger than any of my male relatives on either side of the family. All of which I ascribe to my devotion to exercise and my love of the open air. When I work I work hard, and when I play I play hard. For weeks at a stretch I will spend twelve hours a day at my office, keeping myself in trim by eating sparingly, and allowing fifteen minutes daily to exercise.
The only reason I speak of myself is because I consider that I am a pretty good argument against the hereditary strength theory. I positively know that my present strength and development are due not to inherited advantages, but to my own efforts at self-improvement.
Such men as Henry Steinborn, Arthur Saxon, Cyr, Apollon and dozens of others undoubtedly inherited strength. Saxon said, "In boyhood I was always very much stronger than the average." Cyr at fifteen was stronger than two ordinary full-grown men.
On the contrary, Sandow has always claimed that he literally made himself strong and well-built. And other noted strength athletes make the same statement. Matysek, who is one of the best of American lifters, owes his superb figure and great strength to his consistent training. Thomas Inch, England's greatest strong man, is another who built himself up "from strength to strength." Starting to exercise when a boy, he developed himself into a beautifully shaped middle-weight Samson; and then just to prove he could, turned himself into a heavy-weight Hercules, by a few weeks of special training.
It must be admitted that if you are passionately interested in making yourself into a physical marvel, it is very discouraging to run up against these fellows who do inherit strength and who do not seem to have the least interest in cultivating that strength.
Old Colonel Higginson, in his time one of the most enthusiastic advocates of vigorous exercise, brought up this subject half a century ago - saying: "It is very discouraging when you have first learned to 'put up' 75 pounds, to see some big husky young fellow who never before touched a dumb-bell, step forward and 'put up' 100 pounds at his first attempt." It disheartens you, if after exercising and doing gymnastic work for a couple of years, and getting your biceps up to 14 1/2 inches, you meet some splendidly built young fellow who carelessly displays a 16-inch arm, and when you ask how he got it, are told that "all his family have arms like that."
The son of a wealthy father, eventually inheriting the family wealth, rarely knows as much about the value of money, or how to make it, as did his father who earned it, or accumulated it. Similarly a man who inherits size and physical strength from his parents seldom realizes the value of his natural advantages, and almost never take the trouble to improve or cultivate them. That explains why few celebrated "Strong Men" have sons who equal them in strength. Apollon was stronger than his father, but in most cases the opposite is the case. Athleta, the strongest woman in France, has three daughters doing "Strong Acts" on the vaudeville stage; but none of them are as strong as she is. I cannot recall the name of any "Strong Man" who has a son of equal strength.
Those who inherit strength seem disinclined to do that particular kind of hard work which alone produces enormous strength. Perhaps they find their strength sufficient, and never having been weak, have never experienced the craving for the fullness of physical power. Just as the son of a "captain of industry," who has never known what it is to need money, will not strive and scheme and work unendingly to amass a fortune the way his father did.
In the world of affairs, a certain respect is accorded to the "self-made man"; to the individual whose position is due entirely to his own energy, initiative, and ability. Such a man is master of his own fate. Why then should we not regard with equal respect the man, who, starting with a small and weak body, builds himself up until he is a model of manly strength and symmetry; whose shoulders are broad because he made them broad, whose back is powerful, strong because he made it so, and who has in general not merely grown stronger, but has literally made himself stronger. In some quarters there is a disposition to sneer at the "made" "Strong Man," and to glorify the man who inherited strength; whereas it seems to me that the credit should properly go to the man who achieves great strength through his own efforts.
Building muscle is not only my business by also my hobby. Years ago a chance meeting with a famous "Strong Man" planted in my breast the desire to be as strong as he was; and since that time I have missed no chance, spared no work to make myself stronger and better built. I am still improving, and at 37 years of age am considerably stronger, and have far more "pep" and energy than I had when I was thirty. What I accomplished through toil and pains, you can do with less trouble and less effort. It took me years to find out just what was the best combination of exercise, and rest and food, for producing big results; but having acquired that knowledge I am ready to pass it on to you in the pages of my various books, and through the medium of my courses of instruction.
There are certain races or nations which seem to abound in strong men. One authority claims that the French-Canadians produce more giants of strength than any other race. Others claim that the Finns are physically the strongest nation.
The Balkan nations produce scores of natural "Strong Men," and for that matter so do the Turks, and the "Tartars" of Western Asia; the latter being known to neighboring tribes, by a word which means "The Strong Men." It should be noted that all of the foregoing inhabit countries in which most of the work is still done by man-power; where machinery is scarce, and few work in-doors; where men have to use their muscle of necessity. And there is the whole secret of strength. Use your muscles and they will grow continually stronger. A man who allows his body machinery to rust through lack of use, has no more chance of realizing his full strength than a tree has to grow if it is planted in a place which gets no sunlight.
But if work, muscular exertion, were the only requisite for producing strength then every day-laborer should be a Hercules; which, of course, is far from being the case. There are three principal reasons why the average work-man is not very strong. The first being that he has too much work, being forced to continue after he is tired, with the consequence that he destroys tissue faster than he can rebuild it. Second - That only few employments require the use of all the muscles, and all-round development is the prime requisite of great bodily strength. Third - It is but rarely that work or labor requires the extreme contractions and the vigorous effort which produce muscles of great size and high quality. A teamster, or truckman, who spends ten minutes in lifting, hauling and pushing into place immensely heavy bales and boxes, and then has an hour of comparative rest while he drives these boxes to their destination, will become very much stronger than the workman who handles comparatively light packages for hours without rest.
If strength, shapeliness and health could be obtained only by taking a job as a laborer, then very few would be willing to sacrifice their financial welfare for the sake of health and strength. Happily, it has been proved, that a short period of daily exercise, of the right sort, will give a man greater strength, a better shape and better health than he could possibly get by labor. In any well-thought-out exercise program, care is taken to provide developing and conditioning work for every part of the body; whereas in labor the work is apt to be done by comparatively few muscles. Also in an exercise program it is possible to include exercises which enlarge the lungs, which strengthen the heart, and which invigorate the digestive organs. Best of all, an exercise program provides against over-exertion, and helps one to build up a store of reserve energy - all of which subjects are dealt with in the following chapters.
There are so very few men who are extremely strong that it sort of knocks out the theory that great strength is an inherited attribute. There are big men by the thousands, heavy men by the tens of thousands, but really strong men are rare. Possibly not one man in a thousand is so strong as to be in a class far above the average; and great, or unusual strength is a possession that it is impossible to conceal. For people worship strength in a man even more than they admire beauty in a woman. You, who are reading these words, probably are acquainted with at least one hundred men and boys whom you meet in a business or social way. If you are inclined to athletics, or devoted to some outdoor sport, it is possible that you know a hundred athletes; men who are physically better than the average. And yet how many out of that hundred are distinguished for their strength? Probably not more than one or two. A big university may have five or six thousand students, including scores of oarsmen, football players and track athletes; and yet not more than five or six of these young men are strong enough to make really good records in such strength stunts as "putting the shot" and "throwing the hammer." If a youth while in college displays enormous strength, his feats and power will become a college tradition, and his name will be mentioned with awe; and it is but seldom that investigation develops that such an athlete is the son of a very strong father. If such were the rule, it would mean that strength was a monopoly of a very few individuals, and that a strong man who had inherited a fixed amount of strength from his father would in his turn pass on exactly that amount of strength to his sons. Fortunately for most of us, nature does not work in that way. What then would be the use of any one trying to improve himself in any way? These believers in the hereditary theory overlook the great constructive forces of environment, ambition, and initiative. Your father and grandfather may have been small and weak men; but that is no more reason for you to remain small and weak, than for you to remain poor because they happened to lack money. In the cultivation of the body there is no truer principal than "Nature helps him who helps himself."
I got so interested in this subject of heredity that I put the question to all the "Strong Men" whom I happen to know personally; and out of several dozen only a few of them could truthfully say that either, or both, of their parents had been very strong. Just as you could do, I can cite families where every law of heredity seems to be defied; where one daughter will be beautiful and another extremely homely; where two brothers are puny and two others are big and brawny; where all the children are taller than either parent; or where they are shorter. I know one case where the father is five feet eight inches tall and the mother only five feet two and they have a son who stands six feet four in his stocking feet. And I know a Herculean man - a former oarsman and football player - whose cross in life is that his full-grown son is one of these round-shouldered, flat-chested lounge-lizards.
Like everyone else I believe in the value of a good physical inheritance, but just the same I can find no conclusive evidence that physical strength is purely an inherited trait. Once I thought I had tracked down a case of inherited strength, but investigation found that I was mistaken.
At that time I lived in a residential district and hear me was quite a large church. I soon noticed the particular deference paid to the pastor of that church by the boys and young men of the neighborhood. If a crowd was hanging around a corner and this minister approached, the word would be passed around "Here he comes"; and every boy would brace himself up, step forward and try to catch the minister's eye. And if the minister, as he usually did, would give a friendly nod and greeting, they would be visibly proud at being remembered and would watch him until he was out of sight. Having seen this happen several times with different groups of young fellows, I got curious and asked one crowd whether they all belonged to that man's church. "No! none of them did." "Why, then," I asked, "did they make such a fuss over him? Was he a celebrated preacher or what?" Immediately I was overwhelmed with information. According to these youths the preacher was certainly the strongest man in the whole city. One of them had seen him break a three-inch stick of wood as though it were a walking stick; another had seen him carry a huge section of a steam-heater, and so on. He had a gymnasium in his parish house and once in a while he would join the boys and entertain them by joining in a "tug of war," and at one end of the rope would pull around a dozen youths at the other end.
This preacher (I cannot even remember his name or what denomination he belonged to) was a man of middle size, not over five feet eight inches in height and weighing probably 180 pounds. His shoulders were not very broad but were exceedingly thick; his chest was deep from front to back and his back was wide and even the clerical cut of his clothes could not conceal the fact that he had a tremendously powerful pair of legs. Here, I thought, is a man who must have inherited his strength, for certainly there is nothing a preacher's way of living to make a man as strong as that. So I asked for an interview and frankly explained my interest and curiosity.
He said "Yes, I suppose I am very strong, and sometimes I wish I wasn't, because it is not quite seemly for a minister of the gospel to be respected more for his muscles than for his preaching. But then, it gives me quite a lot of influence with the boys, and that is a good thing. Was my father strong? Oh no, not particularly so. He was a poor country doctor and I had to work my own way through divinity school. I supported myself and paid my college bills by working in a lumber yard. I made an arrangement so that I would be paid by piece-work. I worked hard and would earn as much in two or three hours as the ordinary workman could make in a day. The harder I worked the stronger I got, and after a while I got so that I could carry and stack pieces of lumber that two ordinary men could not even lift. Look at my hands, they will tell you the story." And sure enough, his hands were those of a man who had done hard work. Big and broad, and thick fingered; and I could believe him when he said he could crack black walnuts with his fingers and thumbs. And there the conversation ended because the man was obviously embarrassed at having to talk about his body. It was just one more case where strength was due to a man's own efforts and will power; and another proof of how vigorous work in regulated quantities produces a vigorous body. I dare say the man was a fine preacher and a good man and all that; but what made him such an influence among the youth of the district was his fearsome physical power. It would have been just the same if he had happened to be a lawyer or a store-keeper or a policeman.
The reason why people thus admire a "Strong Man" is that such strength is so very uncommon. Out of a thousand women, a couple of hundred will be noticeably good-looking and half a dozen will be real beauties, but not one man in a thousand has the tremendous strength that sets him apart, and above, his fellow men.
There were a lot of judges in Israel but the only one the average person can name was Samson; and while most people know that he killed a thousand men in one combat and pulled down a temple, few can tell you one thing he did in his professional capacity as a judge.
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