Sunday, June 22, 2008

Bob Whelan's Expert Q & A

With permission of Hardgainer.

What do you think of the book Muscletown USA, by John D. Fair?

In my opinion, although it unfairly treated Hoffman too negatively, Fair's book is excellent. It's full of historical information and is a fascinating read. The facts in it can't be disputed, but some of the negative things about Hoffman were unfairly portrayed. The same effort wasn't made to dig in detail into the personal lives of other major characters in Iron Game history.

I don't know of any new book coming out with a more positive spin on the York/Hoffman side, but I'd love to see it. The problem is that Fair seems to go out of his way to show Hoffman's bad side. He seemed biased towards Joe Weider and cynical/negative about Hoffman. Factual information can still be unfair.

People usually dig deeper into personal negative things if they don't like you, and omit some of the positive things. (The opposite applies if they like you). If you can keep that in mind, Muscletown USA is a great book.

I love Hoffman. His influence got me started in all this when I bought my first copies of MUSCULAR DEVELOPMENT and STRENGTH AND HEALTH, in 1964, when I was ten years old. I admire the man and won't let Fair's book change my admiration for Hoffman. I'd like to see the same dirt-digging effort put into a book about other leading Iron Game figures, past and present, to help balance things.

Past Training Beliefs

What's the best description of how the old-timers really trained?

The only real absolute about the oldtimers is that they trained naturally, hard and progressively. They may have had crude equipment and limited information, but they made the most of what they had. If you take a close look at old Iron Game literature, you'll find a common theme: health, strength, vigor and longevity.

Cosmetic results, although mentioned, were clearly secondary. The cosmetic results were believed to be the end result of "doing the right thing," and were a reward for effort, discipline and a lifestyle commitment. The titles of the popular books and magazines reflected these values. There were STRENGTH AND HEALTH, HEALTH AND STRENGTH, PHYSICAL CULTURE, STRENGTH, THE STRONG MAN, and numerous other titles.

Compare these titles to the best-selling training books and magazines of today-the difference is astounding. The pioneers of Physical Culture were not just body beautiful posers. They were strong! Eugene Sandow and others competed in various feats of strength. They had to make do with crude training facilities and equipment, but they made the most of what they had. They had to endure the wrath of society, as attaining health and strength was not a trendy thing to do in those days.

This is how the term health nut got started (they were definitely not called buff!) Even though they had far less information available, they swore by the information they did have. How many of us truly can say we're using the information we have? Jack LaLanne was so dedicated that he trained his mind to visualize disgusting images at the very thought of junk food. Cosmetic results were seen as the reward for correct living and hard training.

Many of our Physical Culture forefathers went beyond physical health and were concerned with mental and spiritual health as well. Peary Rader frequently wrote articles about spiritual health; and Bob Hoffman and Bernarr MacFadden, in addition to writing about training, wrote about practically everything dealing with health and happiness, including moral issues.

We now have much better overall equipment, gyms, and nutritional and health knowledge. But we also have the horrendous mess of drug abuse. Public acceptance/involvement of training is much higher now. But most of the training principles have been around a long time.

There's nothing really new as far as strength-training principles are concerned. It just gets re-packaged. Read the "Letters from Chas" on, and his articles in old issues of HARDGAINER, as he repeatedly covers this topic. There's no single training philosophy that defines the old-timers. Klein, Maxick, Cyr and Grimek trained differently, just as individuals today train differently. Chas stated that none of today's training principles are really new. The only exception I can think of that may be considered new is the concept of very slow speed training.

Arthur Jones - Methods & Writing

I'm curious as to what you think about Arthur Jones, his writing and strength training methods. Also, do you consider yourself an advocate of HIT?

I have a great deal of respect for Jones, and consider him to be one of the brightest minds in the history of strength training. I didn't discover him right away though. My early influences were mainly from York (Hoffman and Grimek), Brad Steiner and later from the original IRON MAN from Peary Rader.

In the late 1970s I was temporarily influenced a great deal by Heavy Duty from Mike Mentzer, but later realized that he just paraphrased and repackaged Arthur Jones' theories, so it was really Jones I was influenced by. I don't agree with everything Jones says, but most of it. He definitely had a big impact on my beliefs.

I frequently use multiple sets, low reps and barbells. I believe how you train depends on the goal of your training. A powerlifter has to do low reps, multiple sets and use a barbell. A basketball player doesn't. I don't believe you have to go to failure to get good results so long as you train progressively. It depends on the goal of your training and your circumstances.

When it comes to training stimulus, I'm mainly a poundage guy. A lot of HIT guys never talk about poundage, it's always only about going to failure. I always put poundage (in good form) first, ahead of going to failure or anything else as far as training stimulus goes. Although I'm a big supporter of going to failure, and controlled speed of motion training (for some trainees), for me they are clearly secondary to load progression.

I have a broad view of strength training and can see many ways that work. I don't feel the need to try to persuade people to do exactly what I do, nor do I get personally offended by differences in training philosophy other than those which use drug support. The most important thing is that you're natural and trying to train hard and lift heavier. If so, we're brothers, and there's no need to argue about minor details.


In strength training, it's all good as long as you follow the sensible rules of safety, progression and recovery as expressed in HARDGAINER. If you do power cleans or don't do them, I don't care so long as you don't get hurt. Same with odd objects, going to failure, etc. Just don't get injured!

I see the various modes and methods of strength training as tools in a tool chest. A craftsman can collect and use many tools to perform his art. Only a fool would throw useful tools away and insist on using just a few tools. Different tools can be used for different people. Some need low reps and multiple sets due to their goals, and some need one set to failure.

Regardless of the method used in strength training, I always put the greatest emphasis on load or poundage progression. Effort without progression is no better than calisthenics or manual labor.


Physical Culture
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