Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Secrets of Strength - (Circa 1925) - Chapter 3 (PART B ) - Strength Through Muscular Development - By Earle E. Liederman


We have seen how a slender young fellow can add considerably to his bodily weight and muscular strength by getting outdoors and doing actual labor. As far as general improvement is concerned, he can get just about as much net results by working in a gymnasium for an hour each evening, during ten successive weeks. I say "working" advisedly; because I believe that it is impossible to get a high degree of either muscle, or strength, unless you work for it. If you join a "gymnasium class" and spend the whole session in performing elementary drills, such as waving the arms, and gently bending the body this way and that, you will, to be sure, awaken your muscular system and improve your circulation, but you will not gain perceptibly in development; nor will you become very much stronger. If, however, you go to a "gym" which is not given up entirely to "class-work," which is patronized by men who like "real exercise," and where you have the unrestricted use of all the apparatus, you can increase the size and strength of your muscles just as much or more, than you can by outdoor labor.

Suppose after a week or two spent at doing easy stunts, your muscles commence to harden up, and you attempt the more vigorous stunts that give them harder and harder work. At the end of the month or so when you go to the gym, instead of spending the hour doing mild calisthenics your program is something like this: You get on the flying rings and do a few stunts to limber yourself up. You practice a bit at bar-vaulting, raising the bar after each vault. You join some of the other members and practice some tumbling and hand-balancing stunts. You do some rope climbing, "chinning the bar," "dipping" on the parallels; pull away vigorously for a few minutes on the rowing machine; use the spring-board for your legs and the "rack" for your abdominal and side muscles; and maybe wind up the evening at a bout of wrestling with some active opponent.

Under such a program you can, and will build up rapidly. Just as rapidly as though you spent all your waking hours at labor. You exercise pretty much all of your muscles, and because you do things which require strength, you create the strength with which to do them. And at the end of a few weeks you will find that you have outgrown your clothes, and that your friends are remarking at your improved appearance.

The effects of this kind of gym work are more visible than the effects of farm work, and also of a different character. While work on the farm provides active exercise, and increased strength in the back, the shoulders, the forearms and part of the legs; the gym work tends to give less work to those parts and more to the upper arms, the chest, and abdominal and side muscles, and to other, and different muscles on the legs. Moreover, gym work makes you springier and more active than does farm labor, produces almost as good an appetite and certainly makes your muscles stand out more prominently.

But even then, such unsystematic gym practice does not create great strength; all it does is to make you as strong as the others who use the gym. And while the average all-round gymnast is stronger than the average farmer, or day laborer, and very much stronger and better developed than the average man; yet he falls far short of being as strong as those men who have deliberately trained with the idea of becoming as strong and as well-shaped as is possible for a man to be.

In the course of a day's work the farm-hand may have to exert the full strength of his back muscles only once or twice. In the course of an evening's workout, the gymnast may do many things which require a full and powerful contraction of his muscles. Which explains why the gymnasts' arm muscles, for instance, are bigger, better-developed, and more powerful than those of the farm-hand. It is a truism to say that the strongest muscle is the one which can contract against the greatest resistance; but it is not generally known that the contractile strength of a muscle can be purposely and definitely increased by training it to contract against an ever-increasing resistance. The same power can be developed by causing the muscles to make what is known as a "full contraction" instead of the partial contraction which is all that is required when working or doing gymnastic stunts.

Anyone who has spent much of his time around gymnasiums is familiar with the remarkable development that comes from specializing in certain kinds of vigorous work, and the incredible strength which comes from such development. I was only a kid when I first joined a gym, and more by good luck than by good management, I happened to pick out one that was patronized by a lot of professional athletes, gymnasts and stage performers. Everything, in fact, from contortionists to circus "Strong Men."

Each of these men was in his way a specialist who earned his living by his trained muscles; and since I associated with them daily and watched them train, I naturally learned a lot.

I would watch a jumper training his thigh muscles and a gymnast coaxing up his arm strength. I recall there were two men in that crowd who particularly aroused my enthusiasm. One of them was a "Roman Ring Artist" who was at that time a great drawing-card in the big vaudeville circuits. The extraordinary thing about him was his arm and shoulder development. Up to then I had never seen such arms. I never thought to ask him how much they measured, but I suppose they must have spanned close to 17 inches. Even when he walked around, just swinging his arms naturally, the biceps and triceps muscles between the elbow and shoulder would ripple and roll under the skin in a way that fascinated me. And his shoulders! Well, he was not particularly broad, but covering the points of the shoulders were deltoid muscles literally as big as coconuts. His breast-muscles were as big as any I have ever seen, and his back seemed like a mass of interwoven straps, and ropes of muscle.

Every day when he came in for practice, he would walk over to the rings, pull himself up very slowly, shift his weight from one hand to the other, curl with one hand at a time, do "Planches" and other revolutions; but always very, very slowly.

When I asked him why he always started off with these slow movements, he told me that it was because it was much harder to do the things slowly, and required more strength. That he had to have a lot of strength, for that when he did his stuff before an audience it was necessary to do the hardest tricks as though they were easy to him. He also explained to me the necessity of fully flexing the muscles and told me how he had "worked up" his strength. Like most specialists he had an uneven development. He had the torso and arms of a Hercules, and the legs and hips of a non-athletic. See him only from the waist up and you would guess that he weighed 180 pounds. See only his legs and he looked like a 125-pounder. So he must originally have had a small frame, and it would be interesting to know whether he could have developed legs equally as good as his arms if he had trained his leg muscles as thoroughly as he had his arms. Then he was very strong in certain ways but not in others. He could tear three packs of cards, and it was a cinch for him to twist iron bars in the way that at present seems to wonderful to some of you. I doubt though, whether he could have lifted a very heavy weight off the ground, simply because he didn't have the legs for that kind of stunt; and I imagine that he could not have carried 500 pounds on one shoulder the way that some "Strong Men" carry twice that much. Because, in the first place, the muscles at the sides of his waist were not strong enough to keep him from doubling over sideways, and in the second place his legs were so frail that they would have buckled at the knees at the first step. Undoubtedly he was a strong-armed man, but whether he was a "Strong Man" is a question, for no man is really strong unless he is strong all over.

Another man in that gym, who interested me, was an old gentleman who was one of the few amateurs who frequented the place. I did not know his exact age, but from things he said I judged that he was a boy in Civil War days, and must have become interested in exercise in the 1870's; a time at which there was a vogue for a device called a "health-lift." All he was interested in was lifting weights off the floor; and he had made a contraption on which he could load a 100-pound weight and at the top of the affair was a handle, or cross-bar, which reached up about twenty-eight inches. This man had the theory that if every day you thoroughly exercised your back muscles, you would keep your figure, your health, and your strength into advanced old age. So every afternoon he would drop in and have a short session with his lifting-machine. He would pile on three or four hundred pounds, stand with legs straight, bend his body by arching his spine a trifle, and lift the weight by straightening his back. He would put on more weights and practice what professionals call the "hand-and-thigh" lift. He would keep his back straight and bend his legs at the knees, grasp the handle-bar, so that his knuckles would rest against the front of the thigh; and lift the weight by straightening the legs and heaving up the shoulders. After two or three repetitions he would pile on more weight, and it was customary to work up to 1,000 or 1,200 pounds before he quit. On one occasion to settle an argument he lifted 1,500 pounds dead weight in the "hand-and-thigh" style. I cannot tell you how long he had exercised in that way, but he must have been at it forty years when I knew him. And as he rarely missed a day, there was very good reason for his profound faith in his own method of keeping himself strong and healthy. As a result of his specialized work he had a most peculiar development. his thighs, both back and front, were unusually big and his calves were enormous. Naturally he had big chains of muscles along the spine, but the striking thing was the phenomenal development of the trapezius muscles, which are in the upper back just below the base of the neck. These muscles, when they contract, "shrug up" the shoulders, and when he did his "hand-and-thigh" lift and heaved his shoulders up, you could see these muscles bunch themselves into two enormous masses. Even when standing at ease these muscles were so big that they made his shoulders slope at a high angle up from the deltoids to the sides of his neck. No ready-made coat would fit him. His forearms - especially the outside parts of them - were covered with muscles so powerfully developed that there were big furrows between them. His grip was something to be avoided. His biceps muscles were pronounced in their size, but his whole upper arm was small compared to his forearm; and notwithstanding his ability to lift enormous weights from the ground he could not lift big dumb-bells over head.

My objections to his plan were, that by giving very heavy work to only a few sets of muscles he had made those muscles stiff and rather slow in action; and by his specialization he had failed both the realize the full strength of his whole body and had spoiled the symmetry of that body.

I was particularly interested in the effects of his exercise. So far as I could see, his heart was perfectly sound and strong, and as an explanation he told me that he never lifted so much that it made him red in the face. The moment he felt that there was a strain on the blood vessels, he would stop and lighten the weight. You might think that his constant dead-weight lifting would have broken down the arches in his feet, but the exact opposite was the cause, for the work which developed the big muscles in his calves seemed to give equal strength to the muscles of the feet.

Then there was the man who used nothing but pulley-weights. Nowadays the pulley-weights you find in gymnasiums are small things, equipped with a few weights of a pound apiece. But this one was a massive affair with thick cords and provided ten weights of five pounds each. So, if you cared to, you could put 25 pounds on the end of each pulley. This enthusiast never stood up when exercising, because, he said, when you stood on your feet you unconsciously used your body weight to help in the work. So he would sit on a stool facing the pulley weights; and would go through a lot of movements very slowly and steadily. Then he would reverse, and sit with his back to the machine and do a lot more. I have seen him work for thirty minutes without stopping and at the end of that time the surrounding floor would be wet with his sweat. Certainly he had a wonderful development from the diaphragm upwards, but below the level of his lowest ribs he was only average.

In those days they cared for nothing except big arm, shoulder and upper-body development. If they had their pictures taken they knew but one pose, and that was to sit in a chair with their arms folded across the chest and the biceps muscles pushed out by the hidden fingers.

There was a man who pinned all this faith in the "upright parallels" - a pair of bars set perpendicular to the floor instead of horizontal. The thing was to stand between these bars, grasp one in each hand at the height of your nipples, and then to lunge the body forwards and backwards. According to this man that was the only exercise anyone needed. "For," he said, "When you throw your weight backwards you develop all the muscles on the rear half of your body, and also strengthen your back, and when you lunge forward and through the bars, you open up the chest and develop all the muscles on the front of your body. If you don't believe it look at me," And that would end the argument, for when you looked him over you could not but admit the beauty of his build. None of his muscles were very big, but they were all good-sized. His chest was roomy and he had, I think, the widest back I have ever seen on a man of his height. The general lines of his figure were grand. He gave credit to the upright parallels for all his development - even for his fine legs. It happened that three or four times a week he would play handball for one hour, and he apparently forgot that that was what developed his legs, for the upright parallels positively will not make the legs either much bigger or much stronger.

Looking back I can see where I must have been an awful nuisance to some of those men, for I was continually pestering the, with questions and trying to drag information out of them. I fear I have always been that way. If I saw a man with amazing muscles in his chest I would have to know what he did to develop them. If a man had large and wonderfully shaped thighs I would ask him how they got that way; and whether the legs just grew that way, or whether he had succeeded in giving them their size and shape by exercising; and if so, what exercises did he favor. I was a "bear" on measurements and would embarrass these athletes by demanding to know exactly how much - to a fraction of an inch - their arms, legs an chests measured.

I may have been over-zealous, but I sure learned a lot. I found that the better a man was, the more willing he was to help you. After all, the secrets of acquiring strength are: first, to know what to do, and second, to do it. So these wise old birds had no hesitation in telling me just how to improve my development, and increase my strength, because they knew very well that it would not help me unless I had the ambition to become strong and the willingness to work to get strong. Today people consider that I am exceptionally well developed - all I can say is that I deserve to be, because I certainly worked for it.

Iron Nation
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