Stitcher Radio

Stitcher Radio
click logo - STITCHER

Thursday, November 3, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - Chapters 7 & 8 - By Alan Calvert

Originally posted on on 28 December 2006

Chapter 7

I have been engaged in manufacturing heavy dumb-bells for a number of years, and in all that time the only genuine competitions in weight-lifting that I have witnessed have been those which I promoted myself. I have from time to time, heard of competitions between weight lifters, and I believe that at one or two physical culture exhibitions there were prizes offered for weight- lifting, but at these exhibitions the lifts seemed to be how many times a man could raise a 100-pound bell from the floor to arms' length above the head, and similar feats, which can hardly be claimed as genuine weight-lifting.

Apparently, in this country, the only idea they have regarding lifting weights is to take a dumbbell in one hand and see how many times each competitor can push it above the head. This is an endurance feat pure and simple. Over in Ireland there is a middle-aged man who puts up a 10-pound dumbbell several thousand times, but this is not weight-lifting. In a contest between weight-lifters the object should be to show how much each man can raise in the various standard lifts, and the total weight lifted should decide the result. When there is a high jumping contest between two athletes the object is to see which one of the jumpers can clear the greatest height. Just imagine a jumping contest where the bar was placed at 4 feet and the prize was given to the jumper who cleared that height the greatest number of times, and you will have a parallel to some people's idea of lifting weights.

I am very sorry to say that most American professional lifters avoid competitions as they do prison. They are very prolific with challenges and their greatest ambition is to get some sporting editor to publish their challenges broadcast; but when it comes down to making a match they always want to impose some impossible condition, which no other weight-lifter will accept.

The prevalent method is to issue a challenge to any man in the world to lift weights. The challenger states that he will perform 3 or 4 feats of this own selection and his opponent can select the same number of feats and each lifter must perform all his own, and all the other lifter's feats and the man who has lifted the greatest total wins. Imagine a man who makes a specialty in back-lifting and harness-lifting competing under these terms with a man who has confined himself entirely to dumbbell and bar-bell lifting. A man who is totally unfamiliar with harness-lifting would probably fail to raise 2,000 pounds in his first attempt, and at back-lifting, and what is known as hip-lifting, he would probably "show" very poorly. The dumbbell lifter might beat his opponent in each of 4 standard dumbbell lifts by about 50 pounds, which would give him an advantage of 200 pounds, but a skilled back-lifter would probably be able to outdo by 800 or 1,000 pounds the first efforts at the back lift by the dumbbell lifter and thus wipe out all the advantage gained in the dumbbell lifter's feats.

Dumbbell lifting is one sport; back-lifting is another, and they should be kept entirely distinct and separate. Back-lifting and harness-lifting require the use of a lot of cumbersome and unhandy apparatus and there is such a great opportunity of faking, that is almost impossible for even a good judge to tell when a harness lift is being performed correctly. The suspicious point about back-lifting "contests" is that each competitor will never use anything except his own specially-prepared apparatus, and half the time the back-lifters want to "ring in" feats which are not lifts at all, but are really supporting feats. In the dumbbell contests, on the other hand, the apparatus used should be all uniform and of standard style. Whenever it is possible all the lifter should be compelled to use the same dumbbells, thus placing every lifter on absolutely equal footing regarding apparatus.

I hope to see the time within the next few years when this country will see regular competitions in weight-lifting under a standard set of rules. In track and field athletics we have a certain number of standard events; 100 yards dash, quarter-mile run, half-mile run, mile run, running high jump, putting the shot, etc., and all these events are governed by a set of hard and fast rules, to which all competitors must conform, and, under the present admirable ruling the A. A. U., no man can be credited with a record unless it is made in competition.

I believe that weight-lifting contests with dumb-bells will become a very popular indoor sport among athletic clubs just as soon as we have sensible competitions. Nowadays every professional, and I regret to say, many amateurs, have favorite feats of strength of their own and frequently these feats have never been seen, or even heard of, by other lifters. It is no fair test of strength to set a man to perform a feat with which he is entirely unfamiliar. No man can exert his full strength under such conditions. As long as there are certain standard lifts they ought to be practiced, and only in this way can we develop good lifters. If a man knows that he can practice 6 or 8 different lifts and that if he enters a competition the events will be picked from among these 8 lifts, he will always be able to train properly and do himself justice in competition.

In case the reader thinks I am too severe on American professionals, let me ask if he can remember any dumbbell lifting contests between any of our lifters who enjoy great reputations, but who never lift in competitions with each other.

* * * * *

Chapter 8


If you ask the average man the above question, the chances are 99 out of 100, that he will reply, "Eugene Sandow." This shows the power of advertising. Sandow is certainly one of the most beautifully-built men who ever lived, and unquestionably the best advertised of all professional "strong men." The reader may be surprised to learn that Sandow is not now, and never was, the strongest man in the world. He never held but one record in lifting weights. This record was 271 pounds in the "bent-press," and that record has since been broken by many other professional lifters. Sandow never claimed high records in two-hand lifts, and the two-hand lifts are the real test of a man's strength.

The greatest part of Sandow's reputation was made on his "supporting-feats," which, like his dumbbell lifts, have been far surpassed by several members of the younger generation of lifters. There are several dozen amateurs in Germany who can lift just as much as Sandow ever could in those lifts which call a man's strength into play, giving an attractive exhibition of weight-lifting and feats of strength than any other stage performer. Even his bitterest rivals, who have only contempt for his lifting powers, are perfectly ready to give him credit as the greatest "show-man" in the business.

To get back to our subject: "Who is the strongest man in the world?" If you write to the leading sporting paper in this country and ask, you will be told that Louis Cyr is the man. They are evidently not aware of the fact that Cyr died two or three years ago. Cyr was unusually strong in his prime; he was one of the strongest individuals of the last 100 years, and certainly America has never produced another professional strong man who could compare with Cyr in real power. Men who knew Cyr, have told me that his strength was almost incalculable. His one-hand press of 273 1/4 pounds and his dead-weight lift of 1,897 pounds (using hands alone) and his back-lift of 4,300 pounds proved him to have been almost twice as strong as the average professional lifter. But if we hunt the records of Cyr's best performance in the two-hand dumbbell lift, we find it is 350 pounds, and, as was pointed out before, a number of European lifters have excelled this record.

In Europe, back-lifting and dead-weight lifting, such as Cyr specialized in, is not very popular. It certainly seems that if some of the European dumbbell lifters took up back-lifting, they would probably excel Cyr's record. C. A. Samson, an Alsatian professional, lifted 4,000 pounds in a harness lift, but was very poor at dumbbell lifting. John Marx, of Luxemburg, Germany, lifted considerably over 4,000 pounds in harness, but has never made any remarkable dumbbell lifts, although he is supposed to be capable of pressing 220 pounds with the right arm and pressing 300 pounds with both arms.

In Europe, where they understand such things, the man who holds the records in the two-hand dumbbell lifts is universally acclaimed as the strongest man in the world, and during the last four years this honor has been unanimously given to Joseph Steinbach, of Vienna, who hold the official record in the two-hand jerk with 390 pounds, and in the two-hand press with 328 3/4 pounds. Only a man who has lifted dumbbells can realize the terrific strength necessary to raise these weights over the head. In the two-hand press very little skill is necessary, the bell being forced up by sheer strength. Steinbach's press is a feat full equal to lifting eighteen or nineteen hundred pound dead-weight from the floor with hands alone.

As stated in another part of this book, every professional strong man in American seems to deems it his duty to proclaim himself the strongest man in the world, and, therefore, the amateur should be very cautious about accepting statements of any lifter regarding his performances. This applies whether the lifter makes the statements orally, or whether he publishers them in a book. The writer has furnished dumbbells for many prominent American professional lifters and he can assure the reader that there are many men to-day who are using hollow bells weighing less than 100 pounds and at the same time advertising that these bells weight anywhere from 300 to 400 pounds. When the public becomes acquainted with the standard performances in the various lifts and is able to judge for itself what is a possible lift and what is an impossible one, it will be able to decide which lifter deserves the real credit. No man should be allowed to claim the title of champion because he has performed some new "supporting feat." Nine out of ten of these supporting feats are extremely simple, and easy to perform, and they are not any measure of a man's muscular power.

Arthur Saxon, the eldest of the Saxon Trio, has a great many followers who assert that he is the strongest man in the world, and they back up their statements regarding Saxon's superiority by pointing to the fact that he holds the record in the one-hand press, and is supposed to be capable of breaking the existing record in the one-hand snatch. As was pointed out before, skill and agility are great factors in one-hand lifting; whereas, in two-hand bar-bell lifting, especially when the bar-bell is pressed aloft, strength is the dominant factor. When a man gets a heavy bar-bell of 250 pounds, or more, to his chest, no tricks, skill or quickness in movement will enable him to get the bell aloft in the two-hand "press." He simply has to have the strength to push the bell aloft.

The most important sets of muscles called into play are the small of the back, the shoulders and the back of the upper arms (triceps). Saxon has never claimed that he was able to push aloft in the two-hand press more than 275 pounds, and in the two-hand jerk his best record is around 350 pounds. There are four amateurs and two professionals in the city of Vienna, three amateurs in Germany and one professional in Sweden, who could take Saxon's measure in those lifts which require pure strength. If a contest could be arranged in which the one-hand bent-press was included, Saxon might be able to win, but if it was confined to the standard lifts, even his skill in the one-hand "snatch" and "swing" would not help him, because the heavy continental champions would get such a lead in the two-hand lifts that he would be unable to overcome it in the one-hand work.

The writer yields to no one in his admiration for Saxon as a dumbbell lifter. He considers Saxon supreme in the one-hand bent-press, and particularly gives him credit for the fact, that of all the professional lifters he alone gives what is known as a "straight show." Stage performers who have gone around the circuit with Saxon have told me that there is not the least question but that he lifts exactly what he claims. If Saxon was a larger and heavier man he might possibly gain the coveted title, but the fact that he weighs only 200 pounds places him at a disadvantage in a contest where strength plays an important part. Saxon possesses muscular strength in abundance, but he has not the supreme power for the two-hand dumbbell work. This may seem like a very odd statement to the reader, but if he will in Chapter XII about the difference between strength and power he may understand what I mean by the foregoing statement.

John Marx, whom we referred to previously, is a back-lifter, and is another man who has an international reputation for terrific strength. Marx is a big-framed man, weighing about 235 pounds. He has never gone in very much for dumbbell lifting, but he always keeps a few dumbbells around. His bells have such enormously thick handles that other lifters are unable to manage them, and so it is hard to say exactly what Marx could do if he trained for dumbbell lifting, or to gauge how much he lifts. The best French and German authorities on weight-lifting give Marx credit for being the best back-lifter in the world today. We deal with some of Marx's performances in this line in Chapter IV, under the head of Harness-lifting. Marx holds the championship in one other feat of strength, which is quite popular in Europe, and that is the breaking of horseshoes. So far Marx has broken every horseshoe that has been offered him. Frequently he has stopped at famous athletic clubs and broken horseshoes which have defied the efforts of the strongest local members of the clubs. This is a feat which require tremendous strength in the arms and shoulders, and Marx has built up a big reputation by his ability in this line.

Carl Swaboda , of Vienna, cannot be left out of the count of the strongest men. He is the only man who has yet lifted a bar-bell of 400 pounds above his head in the two-hand jerk. To be sure, he was barred from the record because of the irregular way in which he brought the bell from the ground to the chest; but the fact remains that he is the only man who succeeded in taking a 400-pound bar-bell in from the ground to above the head. In this connection we must warn the reader against being fooled by the statements that Saxon has lifted 448 pounds above the head with two hands. The way Saxon did it was to take a 336-pound bar-bell, press it aloft in his right arm by means of a bent-press, and then balance the bell above the head and lean down and pick up with his left arm a 112-pound dumbbell and bring it alongside the bar-bell. So, we see, that Saxon's feat was not a genuine lift. It was a combination of a lift and "supporting feat."

To return to Carl Swoboda, we are unable to find any record of his two-hand press. I have never heard of his attempting this lift in a public trial, and I suppose that this is the reason that the best European authorities give Steinbach the credit for being the stronger man. Carl Swoboda had the advantage of nearly 50 pounds in body weight over Steinbach, and yet was only able to raise 10 pounds more in the two-hand jerk. Steinbach, therefore, must be the stronger man in proportion to his own weight.

Grafl, the present amateur champion lifter of the world, is another man with strong claims to the title of the strongest man. Grafl is a giant of 6 feet 4 inches, who weighs about 260 pounds, and has won the European championship in the last 3 years without being pushed by the nearest competitor. Grafl has only been lifting for half a dozen years, but it frequently happens that a man does not reach his very best till he has been lifting for a dozen years, so, possibly, we can look to Grafl to break all existing two-hand records in the near future.

Athletes from the southeastern part of Europe all claim that Tofalos, the Greek lifter, is the most powerful man in the world, but unfortunately his records in past performance will not bear them out. It is true that Tofalos won the weight-lifting events the last time the Olympic games were held in Athens, but it must be remembered that Steinbach was disqualified in those games on suspicion of being a professional. Before he left the arena on that occasion Steinbach tossed to his shoulder and then pressed aloft with two hands a dumb-bell which Tofalos was unable to bring even as high as the shoulders. A year or two after this Tofalos took a journey to Vienna with the intention of competing in a weight-lifting tournament in that city, but after he arrived he refused to compete because the tournament was held in a theatre; his claim being that he could only do himself justice when lifting out of doors. Austrian enthusiasts claim that Tofalos backed out after he took one look at Grafl, but his many have been only newspaper talk. Still the fact remains that Tofalos refused to compete under conditions that were customary in Vienna.

Several months ago a light-weight Greek lifter dropped into my salesrooms in Philadelphia and performed for me a few striking feats of strength. In the course of conversation he referred to Tofalos and made the astounding statement that Tofalos could push 400 lbs. above the head with one hand. This is an example of how even a good professional lifter is frequently very badly posted regarding the best performances in his own line of athletics. In the say way a very strong young German recently called at my salesrooms and after making a few lifts and examining the dumbbells on exhibition he commenced talking about the famous John Marx. This German and Marx both come from the town of Luxemburg, Germany, and my caller was totally unable to see for a minute that there was any other lifter in a class with Marx. He even claimed that Marx could raised a 500-lb. bar-bell above the head in the two-hand jerk. In fact, I have found a number of times that even first-class professionals are ignorant regarding the best performances in weight-lifting. It seems that they do not care read about any other man's work except their own, but it may be that they are very easy to deceive. It is often said that a man who habitually falsifies his statements is very easy to take in with an untruth. It certainly seems that the men who exaggerate their own statements regarding lifting are the quickest to place credence in the exaggerated statements of others.

The main point which I wish to make in this chapter is that there is no one man who stands head and shoulders above all other men in point of strength. It is the apparent aim of professional lifters, especially in this country, to make the general public believe that they are a peculiar class of men, possessed of almost superhuman power, and that it is foolish for any ordinary person think of comparing his strength with the strength of a professional "strong man." Anybody who has followed athletic records (and most young Americans have) knows that in running, jumping, etc., several performers will share, or come very close to equaling the best records. For instance, in high jumping the amateur record is 6 ft. 5 3/4 in., and over. In running, 100 yards, Duffy is credited with a record of 9 3/5 seconds, but there are half dozen men with 9 4/5 marks, and probably a hundred who have covered the distance in 10 seconds. In putting the shot and throwing the hammer, a foot or two, or perhaps in some cases a few inches, will separate the records of three or four best contestants in these lines.

Now, it is exactly the same in weight-lifting; what one has done another can do, or else come pretty near doing. I have shown that in the one-hand snatch, while the record is 205 lbs., there are a great number of men who have done over 190 lbs. In the two-hand jerk, while 402 lbs. is the best performance, another man has done 390, and three or four others have beaten 375 lbs. When any professional lifter makes a statement that he can lift hundreds of pounds more than any rival in dumbbell lifting you can put it down that that man is a liar.

Another point I want to make is that many of the lifting records are held by amateurs. Carl Swaboda, of Vienna, is an amateur. Wetzelsberger, who holds the record in the one-arm press in military position; Vasseur, holder of the one-arm snatch record, are also amateurs, and, in fact, the only professionals who hold records in the standards lifts are Jean Francois, hold of the record in the one-arm swing, and George Lurich, who holds the record in the one-arm jerk.

I recognize fully that a man must be gifted to a certain extent with natural size and strength in order to become a champion in the strength game. A man who stands 5 ft. 6 in., and only 150 or 160 lbs., can make himself enormously strong, but he cannot ever hope to hold world's records in dumbbell lifting. He may hold records in his class, but when it comes to total weight lifted he will have to bow to the big man. I do not believe that any man weighing less than 225 lbs. should be considered for a minute in a discussion as to who is the strongest man in the world.

There is an old saying that there is always a bigger fish in the sea than ever was caught, and it is very probable that somewhere on this earth there is a man who is even stronger than Cyr, Steinbach, Saxon, or any of the present-day Hercules. I have seen men in this country who, if they trained properly with heavy dumbbells, in a couple of years' time could develop themselves into muscular giants. Americans have a knack of excelling in athletic sports, and I believe when weight-lifting becomes a popular sport we will, in the course of two or three years, produce men who will be able to compete on equal terms with the European champions of the present day.

The reader will probably be surprised that I have not considered any American claimants for the title of the strongest man of the world, and in explanation I would say, at present I do not believe that we have an absolutely first-class "strong man' in this country. As I have pointed out in Chapter V, the true test of strength is the amount of weight a man can lift. Most of the professional strong men in this country have built up their reputation simply on "supporting feats." There are two or three men, for instance, who claim to hold a couple of tons while in the bridge position. I do not take the least stock in their claims, for , as I know these men habitually exaggerate the weight of the dumbbells they use, I think they pursue the same course in regard to the amount of weight they advertise in their supporting feats.

In another part of this book I have described the German system of registering records, and if there are any American lifters who feel that they have a chance to displace the existing records in lifting it should not be hard to arrange matters so as to give them a chance to make good on their claims. Personally, nobody would be more delighted than the writer if an American lifter was to come forward and break all the world's records.

I would at any time gladly pay $100.00 to see an American lifter raise from his shoulder to arms' length above the head with the right arm a 300-lb. bar-bell, or to see any American lifter raise from the ground to arms' length above the head a bar-bell weighing 400 lbs. Any aspiring young strong man who think they can perform either of these feats can take a chance any time they are in Philadelphia by calling at my factory, and I can assure such lifters that they will receive absolutely fair treatment, and that they can have the pick of the kind of bells they want to use, and that if they succeed in performing either of the above feats I will not only hand over the money, but will also do the utmost in my power to assist them to establish their claim for American records in these feats. I feel that my money is pretty safe for some years to come.

World's Champion weight-lifters are not developed in a day; in Europe weight-lifting has been by thousands of men during the last 20 years, and Europe has produced only one man who could lift 300 lbs. above the head with one arm, and one other man who lifted 400 lbs. above the head with both arms. In America weight-lifting is in its infancy. We have here the raw material to make good lifters, but the material has not yet been developed. It would be just as reasonable to expect the United States to produce five absolutely first-class lifters in the next three years as it would be to expect Germany to produce in the same time a baseball team of defeating the World's Champion Philadelphia Athletics.

Cincinnati has a man by the name of Holtgreve who is immensely powerful, and this man is reported to be equally good at dumbbell lifting and back-lifting. In Montreal there is a young man by the name of Hector Decarie who is probably one of the best dumbbell lifters in America. I hope that some time in the near future both of these men will lift for records under the European regulations, and thus create some standard American records, so that we can know how our best lifters compare with the European Champions.

Physical Culture