Saturday, December 17, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - CHAPTER 15 - (Last Chapter) - By Alan Calvert

In my long association with heavy-weight lifters, both amateur and professional, I have been a witness of some very funny incidents. I remember one time that a friend of mine was about to write an article describing a certain Herculean “hand-balancer.” My friend wishes to illustrate his article with photographs of this gymnast, so he arranged to have the gymnast meet him at the photographer’s studio, and I was invited to attend. The whole party met at the photographer’s studio, about two blocks distant from the theatre at which the gymnast was exhibiting. In his stage act the gymnast used two or three kettle-bells, which were supposed to weigh 75 pounds apiece. The manager of the theatre promised to send these kettle-bells by a team to the photographer’s studio, but on our arrival we found that the bells had not yet been delivered.

We ‘phoned down to the theatre and told the manager to hurry up the team. In this theatre they employed two or three very young boys who between the acts walked up and down the aisles and handled out ice water. After we had waited 10 or 15 minutes we went to look out of the photographer’s window. Coming up the streeet we saw one of these small boys with two of the gymnast’s kettle-bells in one hand, and one in the other. He was marching gaily along, swinging the bells and whistling a tune. Anybody who saw the boy at once realized that the bells weighed less than 15 pounds apiece, although the figure 75 pounds was painted on the side of each bell. If this gymnast’s muscles are as strong as the language he used on that occasion he must be a wonder.

Several times I have endeavored to get a good phootgraph of harness-lifting, but on each occasion something has happened to spoil the picture. On one occasion, however, I saw an expert photographer work in conjunction with a first-class harness-lifter, and I think if I copied their methods I would be able to get results in the future. At the time I mention the lifter wished to have a photograph taken showing him raising, by the harness lift, two good sized horses. I was among the few invited to witness the taking of the picture. We all repaired to the yard of a livery stable where the athlete’s lifting platforms were already in position. The athlete mounted the upper platform and two fair-sized horses were driven on the lower platform. I do not consider myself a judge of the weight of horses, but the stableman said that the horses weighed 1300 pounds apiece. When they were driven on the lower platform (and stood as quiet as lambs) the photographer got his camera ready, the signal was given, and the lifter made a tremendous effort - but the platform would not budge.

The lifter was very much put out; the audience was surprised, because it was supposed the lifter would have no trouble in raising anything under 3000 pounds. After a few ineffectual efforts to lift the horses, the lifter and the photographer held a consultation. The horses were led to their stalls and the stableman brought two ponies, which were led on the platform. The photographer took the camera from the tripod, laid the tripod to one side, knelt down and rested the camera on the ground, pointing it slightly upwards, so as to get the whole group. The lifter had no trouble in raising the ponies and the photograph was a beauty for advertising purposes. The ponies which were near, and above the camera looked almost as big as elephants, and the lifter who was high in the air looked very small in comparison.

One of the best stories regarding lifters that I ever heard was told me by an Englishman, who claims to be an eye witness of the scene. It appears that in a certain city in England two great weight-lifters were appearing in the same week, at rival theatres. I will not mention their names, but the reader would recognize them at once. One of the lifters had boasted for years that he was the real champion in trhe “Bent Press,” and this man was a popular idol in England. The other man was equally proud of his prowess in the “Bent Press and had long desired to meet lifter No. l.

Lifter No. 2, in order to decoy lifter No. 1, had posters printed announcing that he would give L50 ( $250) to any other lifter, amateur or professional, who could raise a 240-pound bell (belonging to lifter No. 2), by the right arm “Bent Press.”

These posters were scattered broadcast and everybody in town knew it was an indirect challenge to lifter No. 1. The advertised performance finally arrived. Lifter No. 2 produced the 240-pound bell, which had 12-inch globes and a handle-bar nearly three inches thick. The bell was weighed by one of the city officials and it was announced that the advertised weight was correct,

Lifter No. 2 took the bell, stood it on end, “rocked” it into position on his shoulder and then after balancing it very carefully, slowly pressed it to arm’s length overhead and stood erect. At that instant a man sprung out of one of the boxes and with a dramatic gesture tore off a false beard and stood revealed as lifter No. l. Immense applause!

No obstacles were put in the way of lifter No. 1, who, after a short hesitation, took the bar-bell, stood it on end, “rocked” it into position at his shoulder, and then tried to press it. As he started to push the bell aloft, he suddenly lost control of it, and the bell dropped to the stage with a tremendous thud. As challenger he was entitled to five trials, but he was not able to get the bell over his head, although he took advantage of all the trials. Finally he had to leave the stage amidst the jeers of the supporters of lifter No. 2.

Lifter No. 1 was prefectly capable of performing the “Bent Press” with an ordinary 240-pound bar-bell, but this bell was very far from being ordinary. The big handlebar which looked so massive was nothing but a piece of hollow tubing, about 6 feet in length, and this tubing contained about 50 pounds of mercury, which ran freely from one end of the tube to the other, and naturally made the bell extremely difficult to balance. Lifter No. 2 had practiced for weeks before he had mastered the art of holding the bell absolutely horizontal. He knew that lifter No. 1 always tilted a bar-bell slightly in making the “Bent Press,” and he figured that when the bell was so tilted the mercury would do its duty and run to the lower end of the handle and wrench it from lifter No. 1’s hands. I believe the case was afterwards taken into Court, but lifter No. 1 failed to recover and damages.

I remember a little incident I saw on the stage some years ago. A couple of traveling lifters, one of whom was a European celebrity, appeared at a vaudeville house in Philadelphia and offered a substantial money prize to any local lifter who could raise with one arm above the head a certain dumbbell. I saw one attempt made, not to lift the dumbbell but to get a chance to do so. The young Philadelphia lifter to whom I refer on page 140 jumped on the stage and demanded the chance to tackle the big bell. This man looked so strong that the strangers were evidently afraid of him. One of them stepped forward, took two 56-pound ring weights, passed his little fingers through the rings and quickly swinging them to his shoulders, pressed them aloft a dozen times. He then invited the Philadelphian to try the same thing.

For some reason the Philadelphian was unfamiliar with the feat. He did not notice the stranger had the rings between his third and little fingers and really had the weights lying on the back of his forearms. When the Philadelphian tried it he hooked the first joint of little finger in the rings and tried to lift the weights above his head while they were hanging from his little fingers. Naturally he was unsuccessful and because he had failed to see through the trick (which was really a simple one) he was refused the chance to try the big bell. The next day another local lifter “put him wise.” The Philadelphian tried the feat, found he could do it with two 90-pound weights, and you never saw a more disgusted man when he realized how he had been fooled by a competitor in his own line of work.

I believe that I have seen as many “strong acts” as most men, but I have never seen anything to equal the feats performed by the heroes of some novels. Even writers who have the reputation of knowing something about physical training will make absurd statements. I remember reading a story in a magazine which was devoted to bodily exercise. You would have thought that the editor of the magazine would have known better than to publish such a story.

The hero of the tale was a small, slight youth who located in a western town. The youth’s weight was about 130 pounds, and he appeared in the town carrying a gripsack in each hand, and it afterwards appeared that these gripsacks each contained a 100-pound dumbbell, and that the youth had carried them from the nearest railroad station (which was five miles away). The youth astonished the old inhabitants of the village by exercising for an hour every day with these dumbbells. (Personally I do not know any 140-pound man who could use two 100-pound bells for an hour, but to the writer of the story this was evidently a commonplace form of exercise.) Of course as the story proceeded the wonderful youth got into a quarrel with the town bully, who naturally, was a 200-pound giant. The little hero won. He always does in stories. In real life, when a big man and a little man get into a scrap, the big man usually comes out on top, but he is never by any chance allowed to do so in fiction.

To be serious, it is not as hard to push up 100 pounds as most people suppose. Most men and boys who have done apparatus work in the gymnasium have strength enough to push up a 50-pound dumbbell, and if they were instructed how to supplement the strength of their arms with the strength of their back and legs, they would learn to raise 100 pounds in a very few lessons. I have seen a 200-pound bar bell lifted with one arm by a boy of 17 years.

There seems to be a great deal of interest among amatuers regarding the professional lifters’ habits of life, diet, method of training, etc. As I have pointed out before, the man who lifts steadily does not have to worry much about condition. Very few of the lifters whom I know, pay any attention to diet. They eat what they like and when they like. I do not know any “strongmen” who are vegetarians. Meat seems to be an essential part of their diet; beef and pork being the favorite meats. A man who performs feats of strength need the kind of food that will produce a great deal of energy and the lifter seems naturally to incline to meat, eggs, cheese, etc.

Most great lifters are temperate drinkers. An occasional glass of beer or ale helps to keep them from getting overtrained. Any man who wishes to excel in feats of strength should be careful not to train himself into a finely-drawn condition. A few extra pounds of flesh form a good reserve. The very strongest men are naturally inclined to flesh and excel the wire-drawn athlete, both in strength and endurance.

Most of the lifters of my acquaintance are moderate smokers. Some care must be exercised when indulging in tobacco. Too many cigars or cigarettes in a day will affect the heart, and cut the wind.

Most professional lifters train only for a short time every day. Some lifters only train three or four times a week. A total of two hours’ time each week is enough to keep a man in the highest possible condition, and it is also enough to develop a novice from a a totally undeveloped condition into a perfect Hercules.

The reader is probably aware that when a man takes up a sport like running or rowing, he is compelled to train most rigorously. I do not mean that he simply has to practice, but that he has to pay special attention to his diet, regular hours, etc; but a man who is training for jumping, or throwing weights, does not have to train nearly as rigorously as a man who runs or rows. The man who practices weight-lifting scarcely has to train at all. The nature of the exercise promotes a good appetite, good digestion and sound sleep. And these things make for good health.

Most lifters are of phlegmatic temperment. I do not know whether they are lifters because they are phlegmatic or whether heavy dumbbell exercises fosters a calm, even dispostion. There is one thing about heavy dumbbell exercises, and that is they do not impose any strain on the nervous system. The work is thrown entirely on the muscles.

When a man takes up light dumbell exercises or resistance exercises, he cannot get any benefit from them unless he concentrates his mind upon the muscles he is using, and every time he flexes a certain muscle he contracts it as much as he possibly can. All the tension he puts on the muscles results from this intense concentration, and this causes a great drain on the nervous system. I have seen men practice for half and hour at resistance exercises and get their nerves in such a high-strung conditgions that they were unable to sleep for twenty-four hours.

Are great “strong-men” born, or made? As I have assisted in the making of a good many first-class amateur lifters and strong men, I naturally incline somewhat to the latter point of view. I am not so foolish, however, as to make a sweeping statement that any man or boy who practices with heavy dumbbells can develop himself inot a Cyr, a Steinbach or a Saxon. Nature gives us a certain foundation on which to build, and nature also fixes a certain limit to the amount of development any individual can acquire.

As a general rule, the larger a man’s bones the larger the muscle they will support. Like every other rule this one has its exceptions. Sandow is a small-boned man; so is Thomas Inch of London. Both these men have superb muscles. I think that a man with small bones and large muscles is apt ot have a better figure than a large-boned man, because when the bones are small the joints are small, and everybody knows that a small, trim wrist or ankle helps the appearnce of the arm or leg. But these small-boned men, nothwithstanding the beauty of their figure, are rarely as strong as their large-boned brothers. Some authorities go so far as to judge a man’s natural strength by the girth of his wrists and ankles, but I do not think that this is a gauge of real strength.

The size of a man’s parents, naturally, greatly influences his ultimate development. The son a six-foot father and strongly-built mother, naturally, can make himself a great deal stronger man than the son of a pair of puny parents. Some men inherit physical strength, and other men inherit physical characteristics from one or both parents, that will assist them, or retard them (as the case may be) in their pursuit of great muscular strength and development. The careful observer will have noted that in some cases all the male members of a certain family have extraordinarily broad shoulders. Other men inherit long arms from their father, and in such cases as these, where good physical characteristics are inherited, the acquirement of strength and muscle becomes an easy matter. I know one man who is celebrated for the size and strength of his wrists and forearms, and he once told that his mother had the largest and strongest forearm he had ever seen on a woman.

The general athletic public usually underestimates the improvement they can make by systematic exercise of the right kind. They are apt to judge by the very meagre results which they, or their friends, have gotten from the use of light dumbbells, pulley weights, etc. Go out on the street, take the first hundred men you meet, and I doubt if more than five men out of the hundred have enough physical strength to raise from the ground 400 pounds in a dead-weight lift. After a year of heavy dumbbell exercises any sound man, no matter how weak his previous condition was, should be able to press above his head with one hand, a 125-pound dumbbell, to raise a 200-pound bell with both hands to arm’s length above his head, and lift at least 600 pounds dead weight from the ground. These are not unusual results, but are if anything, a low average.

To illustrate - two or three years ago I helped to form a class of eight young men and put them under the instruction of an expert weight-lifter. They exercised with heavy dumbbells and barbells four times a week during a period of three months. Not one of these boys was above the average in size or strength when he started. I suppose a 34-inch chest, 12-inch upper arm and 20-inch thigh was the most any of them could show in the way of development. Not one of them had seen a heavy dumbbell before starting this course, and not one had strength enough to raise a 100-pound barbell above his head with both arms. The average increase in chest measurement was 4 1/2 inches; the upper arm measurement 1 7/8 inches; the average increase in thigh measurement was 2 1/2 inches. The most wonderful increase was in the bodily weight. From an average weight of 140 at the beginning they went up to an average weight of 162. These boys had the advantage of expert personal instruction, but any intelligent man could do almost as well by training in his own room with heavy bells.

In conclusion, I wish to defend myself from the charge that I lack patriotism because I state that foreign lifters are better than our American professionals. As I have endeavored to show, it is merely a matter of numbers and systems of training. When a nation has 25,000 or 30,000 men training for strength, they are bound to produce more champions than a nation which has only a few hundred men training along the same line. I have seen my fellow-country men, many young men, who, if they took up progressive weight-lifting would give the European champions all they could do. I have a pupil in New England who can raise 295 in the two-arm press. He weighs only 220, and is only 24 years of age. This young man will improve. I know a Philadelphian, a former champion oarsman, who has “snatched” 160 pounds with his right arm. If this man would practice steadily for one winter, at all-around weight lifting, and specialize on the snatch, he could create an American record for that event. Every day I see men who have been favored with great physical advantages, and if I had the chance to train some of these men, I would produce some great lifters.

If this little volume encourages any number of young men to take up this fascinating sport, I will consider that the time and trouble spent in producing it have been well repaid.

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