Sunday, May 1, 2011

Secrets of Strength - (Circa 1925) - Chapter 2 - Power and Strength (Influence of size and weight) - By Earle E. Liederman


You are walking along the street with a friend, you meet some big husky of the Jim Jeffries type and your friend exclaims admiringly, "My, what a powerfully built chap!"

Now you can just picture the kind of man that is "powerfully built." Usually he is about six feet tall, broad-shouldered, big-chested, wide-hipped, with sturdy legs and thick arms. He looks as though he could do a lot; which is why you call him powerful. Power involves action, movement.

Power can be derived from momentum. A stream of water coming through a two-inch pipe through a drop of 200 feet will develop more power than a much thicker stream falling only a few feet. Momentum is weight multiplied by speed. Therefore a big man who can move quickly can ordinarily exert more power than a small man moving at equal speed; that is, if each of the two is fairly strong and well-knit.

Size alone does not make a man powerful; he must have strength along with his bulk. A fat man might be 5 feet 10 inches tall and weigh 275 pounds, and yet not be powerful at all. Most of his weight would be made up of soft flesh, which has not the driving power of well-conditioned muscle; and which further interferes with his freedom of movement, and makes any speed impossible. Most "fat men" are far from being powerfully built, although their very weight enables them to exert some power in certain limited ways.

To illustrate - Some years ago one of the most popular characters at a certain seaside resort was a real "fat man." He was nearly six feet tall and weighed over 400 pounds in his bathing-suit. In fact he was so stout that he could get in and out of a taxicab door only by having two friends push and pull him. He was a great mixer, and not in the least sensitive about his abnormal size. He would join the boys on the beach and pass the medicine ball and play catch. You know the way they work it. Half a dozen fellows will get in one group and as many more in a group fifty yards away. They throw a tennis ball from crowd to crowd, and whoever is nearest catches the ball and returns it. Sometimes several fellows rush to the spot where the ball is about to land; shouldering one another out of the way - so as to have the fun of making the catch and return throw. Well - whenever this big fat chap wanted to make the catch he was allowed to do so. If any foolhardy fellow reached the spot at the same instant he would simply cannon off that mountain of a man like a billiard ball from a cushion. But that was where the fat man's power ended. He could not throw the ball back again. Nor could he in any other way exert a fraction of the strength which we would naturally expect from a man his size. He could not lift a heavy weight from the ground nor carry anything heavy. Neither could he hit a hard blow. A really muscular man weighing 400 pounds would be inconceivably powerful; and as we all know, even a fairly muscular man weighing 250 pounds can be very powerful. This applies especially in personal combat; in man-to-man stunts where one man's weight and strength is opposed to another's. It is hard to appraise the strength of the contestants in most combats because skill has been developed to such a point that it is a tremendous factor.

An expert wrestler, even though he be a middleweight, can make a monkey out of a greenhorn of twice his own weight. But let us suppose that there are two wrestlers equally skilful, one weighing 225 pounds and the other 150 pounds. Undoubtedly the extra power of the bigger man would make him the winner - because during the match he would be handling a man only two-thirds of his own weight - while the smaller man would have the extra exertion of trying to heave around a man who outweighed him by fifty per cent. That is, the big man's work would be easy and the small man's very hard. The outsider is apt to forget the question of comparative weights, but the professional knows that weight counts - which is why a 135-pound boxer draws the line at meeting a good 140-pounder.

Nobody is foolish enough to expect a light-weight boxer to defeat a good heavy-weight - because they know that a good fighter has to have the knack of getting all his weight behind a blow. If Dempsey and Leonard were fighting and both landed on the other at exactly the same instant - then Dempsey with his weight would have all the advantage.

To apply power the athlete must have speed, skill, balance, weight and strength. A football line-coach will spend hours in teaching a candidate just how to manage his body and control his weight so that he is able to outcharge an opponent. Just as no fat man is really powerful, so no awkward man can display much power, simply because he cannot control his body and limbs so as to get the maximum work out of them.

From the foregoing it would sound as though no small or medium-sized man, no matter how strong, would have any chance in a test of strength and power against even a fairly good big man. Happily such is not the case, because there are men of medium size who have such terrific strength and energy that they are able to put as much power into a movement as are even the best of the big ones. This applies especially in tests where the body is at rest, or when it moves slowly.

I saw an exemplification of this one afternoon when a lot of very famous wrestlers, lifters, and heavyweight athletes were indulging in an impromptu contest at "wrist-wrestling." In this stunt the competitors sit on either side of a table facing each other, place their right elbows on the table-top, grasp each other's right hand, and then each man tries to force his opponent's arm down until the back of former's hand rests on the table. Since the competitors are forced to sit bolt upright, with their left forearms resting in front of them on the table, it is impossible to use the weight of the body as a factor, and so the whole thing is a test of pure strength in the wrist and arm.

Among the crowd were athletes of all sizes up to a couple of gigantic 250-pound wrestlers. But the man who won was a little chap who stood only 5 feet 4 inches and weighed only 145 pounds. he was what you might call a "pocket Hercules"; and although he was so short, his chest was nearly as big and his arms as powerfully muscled as those of the largest men present. He was particularly strong in his arm flexors - the muscles which bend the arm at the elbow - and which bend the palm of the hand towards the forearm - and so naturally he was good at stunts such as "chinning the bar" and "curling" heavy weights. So it was not surprising that he should be good at "wrist wrestling" - and he was too good for the rest of them. Not even the biggest and heaviest man there could push his hand even a trifle backwards, while he could put their arms down as fast as they came.

One would think that a powerful man would of necessity be very strong, but such is not always the case. In most of the big universities the physical departments hold periodic "strength tests" where each student is required to exert his full strength in pulling, pushing or lifting against the resistance of various machines, which resist the athlete's efforts and register the force of his muscles. The chap who makes the highest total on the machines is known as the "strongest man in college." It sometimes happens that the winner is some giant football player, but in such instances it usually happens that he is known as the "strong man" of the squad. But just as often the winner is some middle-sized student who has never won a name in athletics; but by devotion to gymnastic and developing exercises, has acquired a set of muscles that enable him to exert enormous strength.

So far as I know the strength record for all the colleges is in the possession of "Mike" Dorizas, of the University of Pennsylvania. Dorizas was a football player, a weight-thrower and intercollegiate champion wrestler; but his greatest claim to athletic fame is his reputation as a "strong man." Although no bigger or heavier than many other football players, Dorizas was admittedly twice as strong physically as most football men. He was not only powerful but tremendously strong - two things which seemed to be identical, but are not always so.

Undoubtedly the possession of immense muscular strength adds to the power of a big man; while in a small or medium sized man it compensates for lack of bulk and height.

The colored fighter, Joe Wolcott, weight but 145 pounds, but was enormously strong and such a terrific hitter that he was known as the "Giant Killer"; and very few of the best of the big men would consent to fight him. There have been others like him. A century ago in England there was a 140-pound pugilist who was supposed to be able to hit as hard as any man of his time. His supporters admitted that he was too light to be successful against the heavy-weights, but offered to back him against any man in the world, if both fighters were strapped straddled on a bench, facing each other. In that position the bodily weight was nullified, and the only thing that counted was sheer strength and hitting power.

I contend that a short man of moderate weight can exert enormous power, providing he is terribly strong, extra well-knit and has great speed and energy. I believe it is true that an experiences foreman will pick out big fellows for heavy labor; on the general principle that a large man can shift and lift more weight, and stick at it longer than a small man can. But I have seen men of moderate size who could stick on the job for hours at a time and do as much work as any man. When I hear stories of this, or that, man doing a huge day's work, I always think of a friend of mine who is a star in that respect. As a boy and young man he was intensely interested in gymnastics and feats of strength. He was one of those who cared more about what he was able to do than about his measurements and appearance. He trained on the gymnastic apparatus, used weights, and wrestled; but always picked out the kind of exercise that made him use his strength and his power. When in training he never weighed more than 140 pounds, but was so strong that he could lift and carry more than any one else of his size, and as much as the really big men could manage. He became particularly adept at applying his strength, and made quite a study of the most advantageous positions which would enable him to apply his power with the greatest force and the least expenditure of effort. After a time he married and retired from active athletics, but never lost his interest. At present he is about forty, has several children and runs a large trucking business. He employs a number of very husky drivers, but whenever there is a job which scares the others he steps in and does it himself. He undertook a contract for unloading and hauling four freight-car-loads of chemicals in iron drums - each drum weighing between five and six hundred pounds. He took one truck himself and put two of his biggest men on each of two other trucks, and actually he loaded, delivered and unloaded two car-loads of drums single-handed, sooner than the other two crews each did a car-load. In other words he did more work than the other four men. When asked to explain, he said that his years of exercise had so strengthened and hardened his muscles, and taught him so much about applying the weight of his body that with him it was simply a question of endurance; that he could keep on for hours doing things that an ordinary workman could do only a few times.

In other words, that while the average husky would have to cry for a rest after five minutes of hustling 500-pound bales or cases, this man could keep it up indefinitely; all the while working without much apparent exertion and no visible fatigue.

Power, therefore, is not the exclusive prerogative of big men. No man proved that more conclusively than the veteran athlete, John Y. Smith of Boston. Smith was a man who never weighed more than 168 pounds, yet he could do anything in the line of strength and power which could be accomplished by the natural giants. Although a dumb-bell-lifter by preference, he was one of those men who could lift or carry anything. It is told that once he passed some porters who were loading a truck with 200-pound bags of cement. Smith being in a jovial mood, stopped, and joked the men about the fuss they made over handling "little bags like those." Whereupon the men grew indignant and informed him that "it takes a man to handle these heavy bags," and invited him to take off his coat and see for himself whether it was as easy as he thought. Without taking off his coat, Smith seized one of the bags, swung it to his shoulder, and then slowly pushed it to arms' length over his head. Having thus surprised the others, he proceeded to amaze them by taking the bags, two at a time, one in each hand, and throwing them into the truck.

One of his most noteworthy feats was to walk for 200 yards, while carrying in each hand a dumb-bell weighing over 200 pounds. Almost any husky workman or football player could walk that distance carrying 400 pounds on his back and shoulders; but to walk with that weight dangling from the ends of the arms is several times as hard as carrying the same weight on the back.

There is nothing that fascinates me so much as studying "Strong Men" and trying to figure out where all their physical force comes from. That is why this question of strength and power interests me. It would hurt me to have to admit that only big men can be "powerful" because that would seem to put a premium on mere size and bulk. Yet it has to be admitted that there are strength sports in which bulk is a distinct advantage. For instance, if I were the coach of a football team, and I knew that a rival team had a 220-pound guard who was plowing through all opposition, I would be tempted to put my biggest and heaviest man opposite him, instead of taking a chance with a light man, no matter how skilful. And yet there have been cases where light men have successfully held the line against big men. If I were coaching a track team and needed a hammer-thrower I would be apt to hunt around for some big, broad-shouldered, long-armed, thick-legged fellows, and train them; instead of wasting my time trying to make hammer-throwers out of lightweights, or even middleweights.

Perhaps there is no sport which so well illustrates this mysterious difference between strength and power as does the throwing of weights. It seems that while it takes strength to lift or carry weights, it takes power to throw them. And that power is, or seems to be, dependent on the respective weight of the man and the object he throws. A good strong middleweight can make quite a success of "shot-putting," because the weight, or shot, is "pushed" away from the body at the final moment, the body and arm traveling in the line of the "put," with the consequence that there is no bodily exertion necessary to counter-balance the moving weight. There have been men weighing in the neighborhood of 160 to 165 pounds who have put the 16-pound shot, 46 and even 48 feet. Nevertheless the only men who have put the shot out around 50 feet are the actual physical giants. In throwing the hammer, the weight which is at the end of a four-foot wire handle is first whirled around the head to get up impetus, and then the athlete allows his body to pivot with the whirling weight, making two, three, or four complete turns as he crosses the seven-foot circle; and finally discharges the weight on its journey with one final heave into which he puts all his weight and power. Naturally it is easier for a big and heavy man to keep his poise when whirling a hammer than it would be for a small and light man. The more rapidly you swing the weight the more momentum it attains, and the more it tends to pull you off your balance. The lighter you are the harder it is the resist the pull of the weight. I can conceive of a small man, weighing, say 125 pounds, who could be strong enough to stand still and "keep his feet," while swinging the weight rapidly; but as soon as he would revolve his body with the weight, he would be pulled along with it, and would be dragged out of the circle by the flying hammer. If he kept in the circle he would get but little distance to his throw. So far as I know, all the record-breaking hammer-throwers are big men. I doubt if any man weighing less than 165 pounds could become a star in that event. For a while the championship was held by a succession of Irishmen, not one of whom weighed less than 225 pounds, but in late years our colleges have produced a number of young Americans who are equaling the records of the foreign stars; and these young chaps are not so terribly big. Some of them are six-footers, and other are only of middle height. They weight from 175 to 210 pounds, and what they lack in bulk and sheer brawn, they make up for in skill and energy.

The fact that weight is needed to throw weight is so well recognized that in our schools the boys are made to use 12-pounds, and even 8-pound hammers; the heavy 16-pounder being too apt to strain them.

Throwing the 56-pound weight is even more strenuous than throwing the 16-pound hammer. The method of throwing is somewhat the same, except that of course the weight is not whirled around the head. But in order to get momentum, the athlete has to hold the weight away from his body and revolve the body itself, making two or three complete turns as it crosses the circle.

To throw 56 pounds even a few feet away from you requires both strength and practice, and is far easier for a big man than for a small one. If the athlete weights 224 pounds himself, then the weight is only one-quarter of his own; whereas if the athlete weighs 168 pounds it means that the weight is a third of his own; and you can realize how much easier it is to throw one-quarter of your weight than one-third of it. I doubt whether even the possession of great muscular strength would enable middle-sized man to throw a 56-pound weight as far as could a bigger, but less strong, man.

Of course, some of these weight throwers are immensely strong as well as extremely big. It is told that a generation ago a visiting Irish athlete, who weighed over 250 pounds, on one occasion took a 56-popunds weight in his right hand, whirled it around his head and, without moving his feet, tossed the weight 29 feet. It is hard for the average man to realize the amount of strength necessary to do a stunt like that one, because the average man cannot lift 56 pounds to the level of the crown of his head, much less swing it around as though it were an empty basket.

A similar feat is told of a man named Condon (or Coudon), who was one of the greatest hammer-throwers of the last generation. In his time they used the old-fashioned hammer, the one with a three-foot wooden handle. He could take such a hammer in one hand, whirl it a couple of times, and throw it a hundred feet with a single arm-motion. A friend of mine who knew him tells me that Condon's upper arm was a big as an ordinary man's thigh, and that besides being big he was prodigiously strong.

I admire strength and I get a real thrill out of seeing some man perform a feat that requires terrific strength, and I don't care whether it is lifting a huge bar-bell the way some of these stage performers do, or whether it is supporting on the shoulders a ton of live weight, as is done by the Arab tumblers. Recently I heard of a comparatively small man carrying single-handed a 1500-pound bathtub up a flight of stairs. This sounds incredible to me, but if I had seen it done, it certainly would have been something to remember and talk about.

I know that many of you who read this book have puzzled your brains trying to reconcile different kinds of feats of strength, and trying to decide where one kind of stunt requires more strength than another. One of my pupils recently said to me, "Mr. Liederman, I wish you would explain something to me. I have been reading your book about 'Strong Men,' and I realize that these 'Strong Men' are several times as powerful as the average athlete. The measure of their strength seems to be how much they can lift in one way or another. But why is it that these men do not take up weight-throwing and break all the records? You told us of several men who could 'put up' a 300-pound weight with the right arm. The arm muscles used in putting up a weight are the same ones that are used in putting the shot. A fellow that can 'put up' 300 pounds ought to be a wonder at shot-putting. Why I know some fellows who can put the shot over 40 feet and none of them can possibly 'put up' 125 pounds, let alone 300 - it seems queer to me. Did you ever see any of these 'Strong Men' try shot-putting - and if so did they do anything wonderful?"

Now that is a fair question, and one that should be answered - but all I could tell my friend was that I had rarely seen a weight-lifter attempt to throw weights, nor a weight-thrower attempt to lift weights. I do remember one youth who was quite good as a lifter and who tried shot-putting. As I recall him he weighed 140 pounds and he could "put up" 210 pounds by what lifters call the one-arm bent press. This is a feat which requires great skill and balance as well as pushing power, and is not really a test of arm strength. This same youth, when he stood upright, could not push 100 pounds slowly aloft. I think 90 pounds was about his limit. Although he practiced several weeks he did not put the shot any further than 39 feet, and realizing that that was not good enough, he gave up the game, disgustedly remarking that he was neither tall enough nor heavy enough to make a good shot-putter. Yet he was remarkably strong, not only in the arms but in the back and legs. Once I saw him load on the tail-board of a wagon a 600-pound casting which two other men had failed to put in position. On the other side I have often wondered how some of these big weight-throwers would show up in a test at bar-bell and dumb-bell lifting. It seems to me that a really husky 200-pound man should not have much trouble in "putting up" a 100-pound dumb-bell - that is, in the military position, with body erect and all the pushing, or lifting, done by arm strength. And the same thing should be true of the big weight-throwers. I understand that Cameron, the big Scotch hammer-thrower, once visited a weight-lifting club in London. He watched the members heaving around bar-bells, and when asked his opinion, grunted, and said that anyone could lift those bells. This nettled the lifters and they challenged him to have a try. After a heated argument he walked over, picked up the biggest bar-bell in the place (one that only a few members could lift overhead even when using both arms), grasped it in his two hands, pulled it to his chest, pushed it aloft and then taking a step forward, threw it over the top of a nearby partition. It must be remembered that Cameron was a giant of a man - celebrated as a wrestler and hammer-thrower, weighing at least 240 pounds and boasting a 48-inch chest and 18-inch biceps. That is one of the few cases I have heard of where a star at one game proved equally supreme in the other variety.

I have my own ideas about the source of strength and the creation of power - and I intend to elaborate those ideas in the following chapters.

But before I leave this subject I wish to say that I am in favor of the kind of strength that enables its possessor to use it in any kind of muscular work, be it sport of actual labor. In other words I believe that a man who is really strong should be able by virtue of his strength, to lift weight or carry them; to pull a strong oar in a crew; to plunge through the resistance offered by two or three opposing football players - to throw weights, to do difficult gymnastic stunts such as climbing the bar with one hand, or vaulting a seven-foot fence - to swing a heavy hammer all day without tiring - to carry huge trunks or bales, and to do all these things without special preparation or training, simply because of the strength and energy that is in him. At least, that is the kind of strength I try to give to those whom I train.


Iron Nation
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