Thursday, December 31, 2009

SUPER STRENGTH (Circa 1924) - Chapter 4 - The Legs - By Alan Calvert

Posted on on 21 February 2002

Illustrations are randomly selected from the book (too numerous to post them all) and are not necessarily from the same chapter.

The man who exercises in his own room with a pair of light dumbbells, who uses a pair of pulley-weights, or swings a pair of wooden Indian clubs, rarely gets even acquainted with the immense power which is lying dormant in his back and legs. As I said before, mere bending movements will never develop the back or waist muscles to their full size; neither will the ordinary leg-exercises produce a really powerful pair of lower limbs. A bar-bell so heavy that you could not possibly raise it by the strength of the unassisted arm muscles, is a mere plaything for the leg muscles. Take, for example, the lifter mentioned in the story which opens the first chapter. This man could take a 220-lb. bar-bell in both hands, raise it from the floor to the shoulders and, without leaning backwards, slowly press the bar-bell to arms' length above the head. In this lift, which is called the "military press," the work of elevating the bell is done by the extensor muscles of the arms and the muscles on the points of the shoulders. I once saw this same man lie flat on his back and hold on the soles of his up-raised feet, a plank bearing twelve men; a total weight of more than 1600 lbs. After he had the weight securely balanced, he would allow his legs to bend slightly at the knees, thus lowering the plank three or four inches, and then would push the weight up again by the sheer strength of his leg muscles. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A good Physical Culture History Book by (and about) Dr. Frederick Tilney

Dr. Frederick Tilney is one of the most under appreciated figures in physical culture & iron game history. He was a ghost writer and "the brains" behind many of the most famous icons of the first half of the 20th century. This book contains a lot of interesting biographical/ historical info.- Bob Whelan

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Two good Benarr Macfadden books

I recently discovered this book (below) about the legendary Benarr Macfadden. He was truly an American icon, a physical culture giant and one of the most famous people of the early 20th century. (Charles Atlas and Earl Liederman were some of his early pupils) Most people today have never heard of him which is unbelievable but true. He was a complex character. A mix of physical culture genius and pioneer, multi-millionaire businessman, publisher, self-marketer (and a little bit of a whack-job too!) A very interesting historical read. - Bob Whelan

...another good book on Benarr Macfadden that I bought years ago is below:

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Interview with Jack LaLanne Legendary Fitness Expert, Health Pioneer, Diet and Nutrition Innovator Interview by Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Invitation

Everyone invited...CLICK HERE:

Merry Christmas!
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Skill development in football: an open and shut case - By Ken Mannie

Ken Mannie is the Head Strength/Conditioning Coach at Michigan State University. email:

Skill development remains the most critical physical element in coaching. A strong, well-conditioned athlete with a poor skill level is akin to a high-performance race car with flat tires.

Nobody is going to disagree with that observation. The problem lies in determining the best way to achieve the optimum level of skill. And that has to begin with a clear understanding of the different classification of skills and the steps involved in their teaching progression.

Every athletic skill is actually a motor skill, which can be defined as a properly executed voluntary body or limb movement. Unfortunately, the terms skill and ability are often used interchangeably.

Motor abilities (i.e., static and dynamic balance, response time, speed of limb movement, eye-hand/foot coordination, etc.) can be viewed as the fundamental components of motor skill development, but are not skills by definition. Most motor-behavior researchers maintain that abilities are determined more by genetics than by experience.


Skills, on the other hand, are learned over time in three specific and progressive stages:

The cognitive stage:

This is the beginning stage of skill learning, one in which the learner has many unanswered questions: What stance should I use? What are my steps on a lead, trap, or pass block? What position should my hands be in when catching a ball at various heights? What techniques should I use in man-to-man pass coverage?

As you can see, this stage is marked by numerous errors, variability in performance, and a great deal of needed quality repetition.

During this stage, the learner requires specific information to help him make correct adjustments. You will know that the athlete is still in this stage when he professes an awareness of "doing something wrong," but has no idea of how to correct it.

The associative stage:

As the athlete enters this stage, he knows many of the basic mechanics of the skill. His mistakes are fewer, less serious, and, more importantly, he is capable of recognizing many of his errors and is aware of how to take the proper steps to correct them. The goal now is to refine the skill.

It is paramount for the coach to continue to provide the athlete with useful, specific information and constructive feedback throughout this stage.

The autonomous stage:

This final stage of learning is realized only after much practice, quality repetition, and experience with the specific task. The skill has now become habitual or automatic. Obviously, this stage is not achieved overnight; it may take years, depending on the complexity of the skill.

The athlete is now able to recognize his errors and is cognizant of the process needed to correct them. Optimal performance is impossible until the athlete is operating in the autonomous mode.

Mistakes will still be made, even when this level of learning has been achieved. However, the individual will be able to tell the coach what he did wrong, why he did it, what should have been done, and describe the proper techniques for doing it.

As a coach, the only way to truly discern whether the athlete has achieved this higher level of learning is by quizzing him rather than lecturing him.

Questions like, "What did you see?" or "Why did you make that decision?" and "What should have been done in that situation?" will give the coach a better handle on where the player is in the learning progression. It will also motivate the player to learn by challenging his recall capabilities.


Sport skills can be placed on a continuum having "closed" and "open" categories.

Closed skills are at the low end of the continuum and take place under fixed, unchanging environmental conditions. They are predictable and have clearly defined beginning and ending points.

Feedback plays a minor role once the skill is initiated, and the skills are usually "self-paced" in the sense that the performer begins movement when he is ready. Bowling, golf, archery, and competitive weight-lifting are consummate closed-skill sports.

Closed skills can also be an integral part of more complex activities (e.g., the free throw in basketball, the center/QB exchange in football, etc.), even though most of the skills in these sports involve much more detail. Open skills, which are at the high end of the continuum, usually take place under the conditions of a temporarily or spatially changing environment. Decisions and adjustments have to be made while "on the run."

An example of this would be an offensive lineman having to man-block a defender with an initial lead step and is subsequently forced to adjust on the second or third step due to an angle move.

A more intricate example would involve a quarterback on a pass play called at the LOS. The pre-snap alignment of the defense will dictate a certain play call. However, once the ball is snapped, the defensive secondary may rotate to a different coverage or a blitz may occur. The receivers must now change their patterns and the QB must now adjust his primary/secondary receiver progression. All of this must be done while on the run in a few short seconds.

A major difference between closed and open skills is the reliance on feedback in the decision-making process. It may be visual feedback, as in the QB example, or it may involve another cue. Defensive linemen, for instance, are taught to utilize both visual cues and "pressure" cues (i.e., the type, angle, and direction of the block they are facing). These are known as "forced-pace" skills and are extremely complex due to the fact that the athlete must make quick decisions and get his body to react with precision in a very short period of time.

Due to the variability, dependence on feedback, and the mental pressure to make quick decisions under duress, it is evident that open skills require a higher level of learning than closed skills.


A common problem of coaches is whether to teach the skill as a whole and allow the athlete to get a better feel for the flow and timing of all of the elements involved, or practice the skill in parts in order to emphasize each important detail.

Before making this decision, the coach must analyze both the complexity and organizational requirements of the skill. Complexity refers to how many parts or components are involved in the skill along with the information-processing demands it carries.

The act of throwing a ball is rather low on the complexity scale. However, the example of the QB adjusting the pattern progression due to a post-snap coverage change-up and throwing on the run is highly complex.

The organizational requirements refer to how the components of a skill are interrelated. If the parts of the skill are rather independent, it would be considered low in organization.

Researchers tell us that if a skill is low in complexity and high in organization, practice as a whole is a better choice. In other words a simple skill with highly related component parts can be most efficiently learned through the whole practice approach.

If the skill is high in complexity and low in organization, the part method would be the better choice. This would involve a skill that has many components, but these components are independent.

What if the skill ranks high in both complexity and organization? A progressive-part method would be a wise choice in this case - organizing all of the parts in the order in which they occur in performing the skill, then progressively linking these parts one by one.

In other words, after part one is learned, part two is practiced independently. Then parts one and two are practiced together. Part three is then practiced independently before being combined with parts one two, and so on.

Example of highly effective progressive-part teaching: Teaching pass protection (their most difficult assignment(to offensive linemen. From the stance, pass set, timing of the punch, reactions to various types of pass-rush techniques, etc., this skill ranks very high in both complexity and organization.


Once you have decided on your teaching approach, remember to remain true to the principle of specificity. The encoding principle of specificity states that the more the practice context resembles the test (game) context, the better the performance will be.

Simply put, whether you use part, whole, or progressive-part in your teaching approach, be sure to maintain the element of exactness - teach them what you expect to be repeated under game conditions.

Suggested Reading

R. Magill, Motor Learning: Concepts and Applications, 4th edition, by, Wm. C. Brown, publishers, Madison, WI, 1993
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Commando-Tough Intensity - By Bob Whelan

Reprinted with permission of Hardgainer, Vol. 10, No. 1 (July-August 1998)

Saturday is my favorite day to go to work. I have a great line up of hard-working athletes coming in. Athletes are my favorite clients to train because I can let out all stops and pull no punches. On Saturdays it’s like a conveyor belt bringing in guys who pay me to level them! One after the other they keep coming in and keep getting laid out. We usually do sandbag on Saturday, too, as people are not in a hurry like they usually are on other days. I can also sleep late and have a big brunch. I’m usually up at 5am each day during the week and work a morning and evening shift. On Saturday I work one non-stop shift, from noon to 7pm.

I arrived an hour early and set up the plates on the machines, filled the water bottles and loaded the sandbags. I went over each client’s training records and logged the day’s planned workout for each client, wrote down poundages, etc., so that when we are in the heat of battle I won’t have to waste time looking for poundages, etc.

I had the Masimini brothers, Themba and Mpumi (pronounced “Timba” and “Poomie”) coming in back to back, followed by Melvin Tuten and Joe Bunton. Themba, 22, is 6’4’’ and 270 pounds. He’s a recent graduate of Howard University where he played tight end for four years on the football team. He was one of the final cuts of the Baltimore Ravens last summer. He’s training to make the NFL this year and has been invited to try out by three teams. Themba jokingly calls Mpumi his “little” brother when he really means his younger brother. Mpumi is 20 and a junior at Howard. He’s an offensive tackle on the football team, and is 6’4’’ and 315 pounds. Some little brother! And some genetics!

Themba is a friend of Melvin Tuten. Big Melvin had to twist Themba’s arm to get him to train with me. Melvin even paid for Themba’s first workout, and wanted me to hammer him. Melvin had been telling Themba about his training and how Themba should sign up. Themba was skeptical, as many people are, when he heard about training “only two hours a week” with weights. He probably thought it was not enough and that it wasn’t tough. Melvin paid to give Themba the “experience.” After his first workout Themba totally changed his mind. Then he paid for his brother’s first workout, and came to watch me hammer Mpumi. Mpumi, too, has changed his way of thinking. The experience of a brutal workout will change an opinion a lot faster and better than trying to explain it. If you haven’t been through it, you just don’t understand.

The workouts

Brutal strength-training workouts burn a lot of calories. You can’t train when you are out of fuel, and your body can’t compensate for poor fuel. All my clients have a 300-400 calorie high-carbohydrate snack about two hours before training. Themba had a bowl of pasta at 11am and arrived at around 1pm. He was breathing steam and ready to kick some ass! I put him on the Stairmaster for five minutes to “pre-heat” his muscles and elevate his core body temperature. Then he did a series of twenty-second static hold stretches, and a series of warmup sets with the machines to be used.

Many of my clients are friends, and come in to watch workouts and root their friends on. Big Melvin just came in with Mpumi, and shouted encouragement to Themba over the blasting cadence tape.

Themba started off with the Hammer Chest Press and went to failure, doing 9 reps with 270 pounds. I quickly pulled off two 45-pound plates and Themba immediately went to failure again, with 180 pounds. When he hit failure I stripped off two more 45s and he went to failure again, this time with a ten-second static hold at the end of the set. Then we moved to pullovers.

Themba went to failure on the Hammer Pullover machine with 180 pounds, holding the crossbar on his waist for a “one-one thousand hold” at the bottom of each rep. The pullover is an exercise in which good form plays a huge part in determining effectiveness. I used to allow clients to just touch their waists with the crossbar, and it looked like they were drilling for oil. I only recently bought this machine and am still learning about the best way to use it. After speaking with Dr. Ken about it, I decided to insist on the dead stop pause with the crossbar against the user’s waist, and to make this possible I decreased everyone’s poundages by about 50 pounds. This stricter form makes a huge difference for hitting the lats and not just the rear delts. Themba was using about 240 pounds when he was “drilling for oil,” now he’s howling with just 180! After Themba went to failure with 180 I broke down the machine twice, and added a ten-second static hold.

Next was the dumbbell curl with 2-inch diameter handles. He went to failure with 50-pound dumbbells and I added a few forced reps at the end of the set. He was now dripping in sweat and the droplets were raining on the floor. After a short rest it was over to the Nautilus Power Plus Military Press with 180 pounds. After hitting failure at 11 reps I broke it down to 135 and he went to failure again. I then switched the machine from isolateral to bilateral mode, and gave him some forced reps and a ten-second static hold.

The Tru-Squat was next, everyone’s favorite! Themba eked out 23 reps with 190 pounds and had to go down on one knee and then lay on the floor for a few minutes after the set. He was drenched in sweat and breathing like a steam engine. After another rest and some water, he felt okay and was anxious to finish.

The final challenge of the day was the farmer’s walk around the block with 100-pound dumbbells. Melvin, Mpumi and myself served as escorts, guiding Themba through the congested streets. We cleared the streets ahead of Themba. It took about twenty minutes to get him around the block as Themba had to put the dumbbells down about fifteen times to make it. His shoulders, lats, forearms and hands were just destroyed! He was “stress free” when he completed the walk—so wiped out that he could not feel any discomfort, or have any worries.

Melvin and Mpumi went through workouts similar to Themba’s. Today was “breakdown day” but we don’t do breakdowns all the time. It’s just something we do once in a while.

Hard training at 47 years young

Everyone talks about training hard, but the definition of hard will depend on the person. Hard for a beginner in his forties will not be the same as hard for an athlete in his twenties. I see a wide variety of people at Whelan Strength Training. Most of the people I train are in their twenties and thirties, but I also have some in their forties and fifties. I also have several women who train using the same principles of progression and intensity as the men.

One of my hardest workers is 47 years young—“Big Daddy” Joe Bunton. Joe is not an athlete but I almost view him as one because he trains extremely hard. Joe has transformed himself in the last two years. When Joe first came to me he was living in the seventies. He was overweight, on medication for high blood pressure, was listening to 20-year-old disco music, and had a Don-King-like “grey Afro.” Joe works at a cemetery and sees funerals every day. One of the reasons why he started training was because he didn’t want to be a “customer” at the cemetery any time soon.

Joe is now a lot stronger and a lot leaner. He’s off the medication, shaved his head, and listens to rap music! I keep telling Joe that he’s not aging. He’s youthing!

Joe was quiet and almost timid when he started training. Finally, after a few weeks of trying to get Joe excited, I asked him what got him really mad. Joe mentioned several things, most of them related to racial issues. For the next several weeks I would yell those thing at him whenever Joe did leg presses, deadlifts or Tru-Squats. But after each workout Joe used to thank me for getting him so charged up. He got so excited that he made the weights look light. His poundages shot way up. I now no longer have to yell at him to get him charged up. His mind is trained. Now he’s the most focused, ferocious, loudest client I have!

Joe even does the sandbag carry and is almost at the point of mastering 175 pounds at “sandbag alley.” If someone is way out of shape, or over 40, we don’t even think about the sandbag until the person has spent several months training with me, and has proven him/herself. I trained Joe for several months before he tried it, but now Joe trains harder than most young guys.

Consistency is the key. Keep strength training regularly, and keep doing your cardiovascular training. Enjoy your training, and look forward to your workouts. Training hard should be enjoyed. If you truly enjoy training, you will reap your just share of rewards.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your Holiday Shopping Place

In these tough times, every little bit helps. Please support and consider buying some of your Christmas gifts from our new and updated online store.

If its been awhile, please take another look. Our new store is automated and run by Amazon. Every product is the same price that you would get at but we have the products targeted for our readers and we get a small piece of the profit.

We now have strength equipment from New York Barbell Co (TDS), Under Armour training gear, and tons of cool stuff.

Thanks for your support.
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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Super Strength - Chapter 3 - Some Lifting Records - By Alan Calvert

Posted on on 15 February 2002

Illustrations are randomly selected from the book (too numerous to post them all) and are not necessarily from the same chapter.

When I first became interested in bar-bells I collected a lot of data about weight-lifting records. There was a time when I could tell you the world's record in almost any lift you could mention. I could tell you the records for the best men in the different nations at the same lift. I knew the name of the man who made the record, when he made it, exactly how many pounds he lifted, and which other men had come closest to equaling his record. As I grow older I find that I care less and less about records and more and more about body-building. It seems to me to be much more important to help a man to get a finely proportioned body, great muscular and organic vigor, and a higher degree of development, than to set him at record-making. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Development of Physical Power - Health & Strength Magazine - April 1906

Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master - Posted on on 21 July 1999

From Health & Strength Magazine - April 1906 Published courtesy of Malcolm Whyatt. Copies sent by Graham Noble. First hand information about Arthur Saxon's first published book.

The library of books dealing with the various branches of Physical Culture, and with matters of Health and Strength, generally, grows appreciably in volume. Some few of these works have probably been recognized as being partially liable to the accusation of having been issued more or less as "catch-pennies." But I think it will be conceded that no single branch of the world's affairs has been so ably catered for in the matter of literature. The vast majority of books issued have been from the pens of authors admirably qualified to preach, since they have given ample proof that they have, before they began sermonizing, thoroughly practiced the gospel which they later on sought to spread among their fellow-men. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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Thursday, December 10, 2009


Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master - Posted on on 20 July 1999

Oh Well, it made you look for a moment, Which is all I am asking of you. Now I will pose a question. Don't you think that if you are going to spend so much time and effort in your life training with weights, that you owe it to the guys that have been before, to learn something of the history of your chosen recreation? Most kids who follow football can give you masses of information about players and football statistics off the top of their heads. With regret, bodybuilders are often so self-centered that apart from their own immediate problems, they know little or nothing about the pioneers of the Iron Game. A friend of mine, who on most subjects is as thick as two short planks, is an expert on history and can reel off the dates of any King or Queen of England you care to name, with a heap of other information included. The reason he knows so much is because he is a collector of coins or a numismatist. My suggestion to you is to become a collector of items relating to muscle building and strength. Become a muscle mag swapper, a biceps book buyer and a lover of strength lore. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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Great Gyms Of Yesteryear - By Osmo "John" Kiiha

Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master - Posted on on July 20, 1999

The granddaddy of all today's commercial gym's was the famous Sigmund Klein's Gym, located at 48th street and seventh avenue in the heart of New York City's theater district. This completely equipped gymnasium was unlike any other in New York, or for that matter, anywhere in the world. It was the link between the older European school and that of today. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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Stanley Anthony Stanczyk - By Osmo "John" Kiiha

Reprinted with the Permission of The Iron Master - Posted on on July 20, 1999

Happy-go-lucky Stan Stanczyk will always be remembered as the first lifter to win three successive world titles in three different classes. In 1946, he was the light-weight champion; in 1947, middleweight; and in 1948, he took the Olympic light-heavyweight title. Stanley went on to win three more World Championships in 1949 and 1950; and in 1951, as a light-heavyweight.

Stanczyk was no ordinary strongman. He was in the possession of extraordinary athletic ability and split second timing. But above all, he was a wonderful competitor and a good sport. Stan burst onto the national scene in 1942 by winning third place at that year's Senior Nationals as a lightweight (145 BWT) - only his third contest to date. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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My Story - From Physical Culture to Mr. America - By Roland Joseph Essmaker

Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master - Posted on on 30 June 1999

It is our privilege to present the story of the first official A.A.U. Mr. America, Roland Joseph Essmaker, as told by Roland himself...

I will be 80 years old on March 24, 1996. Subtract 80 from 1996 and you will find that I was born in 1916 in Richmond, Indiana.

My mother, Anna Kutter Essmaker died July 4, 1919, as a result of the 1918 flu epidemic. One year later, my father, Harry Joseph Essmaker, out of necessity place my older brother Alvin, and me in St. Vincent's orphanage in Vincennes, Indiana, while he studied Chiropractic under Dr. Palmer, founder of the Palmer Method of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. I was 4 years old at the time and my brother was 6.

After my father completed the Chiropractic course, some 3+ years later he returned to Richmond, Indiana and opened his office. Shortly after, he brought my brother and me back to Richmond to live with him. He never remarried.
Times were tough then, Chiropractic was new and dad's business was poor, but we managed to get by. Then cam the "Great Depression," I helped with expenses the best I could. I had a newspaper route and sold magazines from house to house, but still we got behind in rent. *** CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE ***
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Super Strength - Chapter 2 - The Back - By Alan Calvert

Posted on on 08 February 2002

Illustrations are randomly selected from the book (too numerous to post them all) and are not necessarily from the same chapter.

The keystone of the arch of a man's strength is the "small" of his back. A man may have wonderful arms and fair legs; but if he is weak in the loins and in the lower part of the back, he can never be classed as a real "Strong Man." Gymnasts and trapeze performers frequently have wonderful arms and shoulders. Some of the vaudeville artists, who specialize on Roman-ring work, are noted for their arm development. Some of them can take hold of a swinging ring with the right hand, and "chin" themselves several times in succession; but almost all of these men have small legs and puny hips. Lightness of weight in the lower half of the body is a positive advantage to a man who earns his living as a professional gymnast; because the smaller and lighter his legs are, the easier it is for him to do stunts on a trapeze or a pair of Roman rings. But put that man in a big packing establishment where he would be required to carry a half-carcass of beef on one shoulder; or in the line of a varsity football team, and his big arm muscles would be but little good to him. I mention this because there are some physical culturists who cling to the idea that "chinning" the horizontal bar, and "dipping" on the parallel bars, is the kind of work which best prepares a man for weight-lifting. According to my experience, it is easier to make a great lifter out of a man who has powerful legs, a strong back but moderate arms; than a man who has big arms and poor under-pinning. Most ground-tumblers could easily become high-grade strong men; because performing such stunts as turning handsprings, cartwheels and somersaults creates far more bodily strength than one can get by doing arm-stunts on the horizontal and the parallel bars. I once witnessed a friendly tussle between a tumbler and a gymnast. Both men weighed about the same; the gymnast had 15-inch arms and
20-inch thighs; whereas the tumbler had 14-inch arms and 22 -inch thighs. When they came together, the tumbler took hold of the gymnast and ran him backwards across the gym; and then up-ended him and stood him on his head. The tumbler's constant springing, leaping, bending, and twisting had given him great strength in the thighs and waist; and that is the kind of strength which enables a man to push forward against greater resistance, and to keep his feet against the onslaught of a powerful opponent.

It may surprise you to know that only a strong-backed man can lift great weights to arms' length above the head. One of the simplest training stunts of the lifters is to take a bar-bell in both hands and push it several times in succession to arms' length above the head. A man who is accustomed to using bar-bells will do this quickly and easily; and when he pushed the bell aloft his body will remain erect. Anyone who had never used weights, on seeing a lifter raise the bar-bell in this easy fashion, would be apt to exclaim, "My! that chap must have strong arms to be able to push up a heavy weight in that way." If the lifter invited the bystander to try to push the bell aloft, here is what would probably happen: In the first place, the novice would have considerable difficulty in raising the 100-lb. bell from the floor to the chest, on account of the lack of strength in his back; and if he did get it to the shoulder he might press it to arms' length; but, as he did so, his body would be bent over backwards at the waist-line, he would have to make a tremendous effort, would get red in the face and, after he had lowered the bell to the ground, would probably complain that he had wrenched the small of his back.

The above is not a supposititious case. It is a thing that I have seen happen dozens of times, even when the novice at weight-lifting was a man who had spent months, or even years, at light exercises. I have seen gymnasts with fine upper arms (which they had developed through chinning the bar and dipping on the horizontal bars) fail to press aloft a weight so light that it would be a joke to the average lifter. In such cases, the gymnast is usually quite puzzled. He knows that his arms are as big as are the lifter's arms, and he thinks that he has failed because he has not the "knack" of lifting; whereas, the reason for his failure is merely lack of back strength. Here is one thing that you, who read this book, must get firmly fixed in your mind; and that is, when a man is standing on his feet he positively cannot exert the full strength of his arms unless the strength of his back and legs is in proportion to the strength of his arms. I do not mean that the back must be just as strong as the arms, but that is must be many times stronger.

I understand that in these college "strength tests," when they wish to get a record of a student's back-strength, they put a leather collar around his neck, have him stand with legs straight, lean forward from the hips, and then attempt to bring his body to the upright position. The collar referred to is a loop of strap attached to a chain; which, in turn, is attached to some spring registering device. After this test is completed the student is told to stand with his body upright, his legs slightly bent, and then to endeavor to straighten the legs so as to get a register of his leg-strength.

I find that it is almost impossible to disassociate the strength of the legs and back. In the back test referred to above it might seem to you that, in the act of bringing the body to the upright position, the student would use only his back muscles; but, as a matter of fact, he also uses most of the muscles of the haunches and those on the back of the thighs. When you stand with the legs stiff and straight and bend the body over, the hips are the joint which form the hinge. Supposing you wished to hang a very heavy door, you would naturally buy a pair of heavy hinges; but, of course, the leaf of the hinge which fastened to the door would be no thicker nor heavier than the leaf which fastened to the door-frame. You would not think of picking out a
pair of hinges with leaves of different thickness. Even if the leaf which fastened to the door were a quarter of an inch thick, you would know that the hinge would be no good if the leaf which fastened to the door-frame was made of tin and only one-sixteenth of an inch thick. When you lean over in the manner described and pull against a registering machine, or pick up a heavy weight, your back corresponds to that part of the hinge which is fastened to the door, and your legs to that part which is fastened to the door-frame. Therefore, unless his legs are powerfully developed, no man can show a high record in a test of back-strength. In fact, as we go along, you will become more and more impressed with this interdependence of the muscles. You will find that in any feat of super-strength the athlete who accomplishes it uses as many muscles as possible. The reason that so many strength records were made, and are held, by men who have practiced with weights, is because when a man uses weights he is practically compelled to use his muscles in interlocking groups.

In this chapter, when I refer to the back, I particularly mean the muscles in the back which control the action of the spine. On either side of the spine there are long muscles which run all the way from the base of the skull to the hips; and these muscles are called the "erector-spinae"; that is, the muscles which straighten or erect the spine. In the lower half of the back, these muscles are plainly visible, and when fully developed they appear like two ships'-cables. If you wish to gauge the strength of a man's back don't look at his shoulders, but at the small of his back - his loins, his haunches and the back of his thighs.

If you were to embark on a program of exercise to improve your body, and if you happened to select some system of light exercise, you would find that there were a great many of those exercises in which you held in each hand a moderate weight and did motions to increase the development of the arms, the shoulders and the muscles on the upper part of the trunk. You would get comparatively few exercises for the lower part of the back and for the legs; and it is likely that you would be told that merely bending (and doing other movements which compelled you to raise the weight of your own body) would be
sufficient to develop the back muscles to their full extent.

Now this is very far from being true. The lower back muscles are prodigiously powerful when fully developed; and it takes more than raising the weight of your own body to bring out that full development. The simplest of all exercises for developing the muscles which control the spine, is the one in which you stand with the legs stiff and straight, and then bend the body over by arching the spine, and touch the floor with the tips of your fingers. When you bend over, all you do is to stretch the muscles along the spine and the back of the legs. It is contraction, and not stretching, which develops muscles; so that these muscles do their real work as your body is raised again to the upright position. Yet nine men out of ten think that the important part of the exercise is the bending over. (In fact, most people use this exercise to reduce the size of the abdomen.) In order to get any noticeable development of the back, it would be necessary to repeat that exercise several hundred times in succession; whereas, if you put a further tax on the back muscles, by holding a moderate amount of weight in your hands, you can, by making a couple of dozen repetitions, develop back muscles of much larger size and very much higher quality.

The proper way to perform this exercise is shown in Fig. 10. The beginner of average size should use 20 or 30 lbs., and after he can use that weight without perceptible exertion he should add 5 or 10 lbs. more, gradually working up to about 75 lbs. A big man can safely start with 40 or 50 lbs. and can go as high as 100 lbs. as an exercising weight. This is not a lift or a feat of strength; neither is it the correct way to raise very heavy weights from the ground. It is just an exercise; but, but keeping the legs stiff and straight, and doing all the bending by arching the spine, you can get a remarkable pair of "erector-spinae" muscles. To those of you who have never had a weight in your hands the idea of "exercising" with a 100-lb. weight seems almost fantastic. That is just because you have not even the faintest conception of the possibilities of your own body. To do this exercise with 25 or 30 lbs. is no harder than carrying a scuttle of coal up one flight of stairs, and most of you can do that without trouble. Continued practice of the foregoing movement for a few weeks will so develop the back muscles that you can then use 80 or 100 lbs. with no more exertion than was necessary when you were using 30 lbs. Furthermore, you will find that when you use 100 lbs. this exercise will have the most surprising effect on the way you walk. Where you would find yourself going up two or three steps at a time, just for the pure joy of it; and if you could stand between the big triplicate mirrors (such as the tailors use) you would find that, along the small of the back, you had two big cables of muscle, such as those shown in
Fig. 6.

In some systems of exercise, instead of merely bending over and touching the floor with the finger tips, you are told to stand stiff-legged, with the feet spread apart, and then to take a light dumbbell in each hand, bend forward, swing the bells backwards between the legs, and then swing them to arms'-length overhead. This is a better exercise than touching the floor, because the light bells are swung backwards at arms'-length; and this movement, on account of the increase in the leverage, gives fairly vigorous exercise to the back muscles, even when a pair of light bells is used. But that is just another spine exercise. If you wish to get super-strength it is absolutely necessary for you to teach your back to work in concert with the legs. Later on, in the chapter about dead-weight lifting, I will show you how many so-called "back-lifts" are really "back-and-leg" lifts, in which the legs do most of the work.

Every great "Strong Man," whether amateur or professional, has had to master the secret of the "flat back," which is one of the most vital requisites of super-strength. The description of the positions in which a "Strong Man" uses the "flat back" belongs just as much in the chapter about the legs as it belongs here, but we may as well have it now. The main point to be remembered is that any individual, athlete or otherwise, can deliver several times as much power when his back is flat and his spine straight, as he can when his spine is arched. This applies in practically any feat of weight-lifting, or actual labor, where it is necessary to move, shift, lift, or carry an article weighing several hundred pounds. When a truckman or porter wants to move or up-end a square case containing, say 1000 lbs. of material, he does not stand close to it and push with bent arms and arched spine. He stands at arms'-length, rest his hands against some part of the case, keeps his arms straight and his back flat, and does all pushing with his legs, as in Fig. 9. In that position he is able to employ the full strength of his back.

About the best exercise for strengthening the back and legs, and for teaching them to work together, is the one shown in Figs. 12 and 13. It takes considerable practice to master I; but it is worth all the trouble, because it is one of the fundamentals of super-strength. You stand with the feet about 16 inches apart and strongly braced, and then take a kettle-bell and swing it backwards between the legs, as in Fig. 12. As the kettle-bell goes backwards you bend your legs slightly at the knees, and lean the body forward from the hips; but you must not arch the spine. (In Fig. 12 you will see that the back of the athlete is almost as flat as a board.) From this position you swing the bell forward; and, as you do so, you bring the body to an upright position. This will make the kettle-bell swing at arms'-length straight in front of you and at about the heighth of your chest, as in Fig. 13. At that exact second you must release the kettle-bell with the right hand, grasp it with the left, and swing it back again. After reach swing you must change hands and, as you bend over, you rest the free hand on the knee.

Start this exercise with a kettle-bell weighing 20 or 25 lbs., and learn to do the movement smoothly and easily. At first, you will be inclined to fumble when you change hands. I have seen beginners try to slowly and painstakingly shift the bell from one had to the other. The right way is to open the fingers of the lifting hand and let the bell start to fly away from you, and then to grab it with the other hand before it has had time to travel even an inch forwards. After a few days' practice you will get so that you can change the weight from one hand to the other at the top of the swing, without the slightest interruption of the rhythm of the swinging movement. As soon as you have mastered the movement, commence to add weight to your kettle-bell. It will not be many weeks before you can use a 75-lb. kettle-bell in this way, and not long after that before you can handle 100

This exercise has so many beneficial effects that it should be included in the training of everyone who aspires to super strength. If you keep your back flat there is not the least danger of hurting yourself. Since your whole attention is concentrated on the swinging of the kettle-bell it is impossible for you to see whether you are doing it correctly; and so you should have a friend watch you and tell you whether you are keeping your back flat. Do not be so anxious to keep the back flat that you go to the other extreme and make the back hollow. The whole idea is to keep the spine as straight as possible and to do all the bending with the hips and knees.

Here are a few of the things you will gain from this exercise: You will learn to instinctively keep your back flat when making a great exertion; you will get a much firmer grip on the ground with your feet; you will learn how to "time" a heavy moving object; you will increase the gripping power of the hands and increase the development of the front part of the shoulder muscles; you will become able to jump further and higher. It is because "Strong Men" practice such exercises as this, that they are able to make such remarkable records in the standing broad-jump and standing high-jump. I know a lifter 40 years old and weighing 220 lbs. who can clear almost eleven feet in a standing broad-jump. At the age of twenty-five, when he was lifting professionally, he could jump even further than that; and, what is more, he could sprint 100 yards in 10 seconds flat. Incidentally, he holds one or two records in lifting heavy weights from the ground.

In the last chapter you will find some remarks concerning the influence which lower-back development has upon a man's vitality and virility.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

SUPER STRENGTH (Circa 1924) - Chapter 1 - Introduction - By Alan Calvert

Originally posted on on 01 February 2002 *Illustrations are randomly selected from the book (too numerous to post them all) and are not necessarily from the same chapter.

One day, several years ago, I took a professional "Strong Man" named Herold into my factory to inquire about a special barbell which he had ordered. In order to make the particular kind of bell he wanted, we had to fit a piece of hollow pipe over a solid steel bar. Just before we entered the shop, one of the workmen had started to drive the bar through the piece of pipe; but there
must have been some obstruction inside the pipe, because the bar stuck half-way. The workman was about to put the pipe in a vise so that he could remove the bar when "Herold" intervened. He grasped one end of the pipe in his right hand and told the workman to take hold of the projecting steel bar and pull it out. The "Strong Man" stood with his right foot slightly advanced, and his right elbow close to his side. The workman, who was a husky fellow, took hold of the projecting steel rod in both his hands and gave several tremendous heaves; but although he used every part of his weight and strength, he could not pull the bar out of the pipe. So I added my weight to his, and by a great effort we managed to draw the bar out. Meanwhile, "Herold" stood as though he were carved out of bronze. Even when both of us were pulling against him we never shook him a particle, and neither did we draw his right elbow a fraction of an inch from his side. He held the end of the iron pipe in his hand just as securely as though it had been put in the vise. I want you to bear this story in mind, for I will refer to it several times later on in this book. At this time, I wish to use it as an illustration of the difference between arm strength, and general bodily strength.

When the author of a novel wishes to give his readers an idea of the hero's strength, he says that his hero is "as strong as two or three ordinary men." That is one of those statements which is very easy to make and very hard to prove. In the first place, it raises in your mind the question, "How strong is the ordinary man?" That is something that no one can tell you. In order to
know the answer, it would be necessary to test at least 100,000 men at exactly the same stunts and under exactly the same conditions. All I can tell you is that the available man is not half as strong as he ought to be, or as he could be if he were properly trained.

Now, take the case of the "Strong Man" referred to above. Undoubtedly that man could out-pull any two ordinary men, although he weighed but 160 lbs., and the two of us, who pulled against him, weighed 175 lbs. apiece. If you, who read this book, had seen this "Strong Man," you would have at once exclaimed about his marvelous arms, which measured nearly 17 inches around the biceps; and it is equally probable that you would have ascribed all his strength to his arms. But his right arm, mighty as it was, was doing only part of the work in pulling against us. It was the great strength of the muscles on the right side of his upper back which enabled him to keep his right elbow against his side. If he had been weak in the back, we would have toppled him over on his face at the first pull; but his back was so strong that we could not make him bend forward the least trifle at the waist. If his legs had been weak, we would have slid him along the floor, while as a matter of fact, his feet gripped the ground so strongly that we could not budget him an inch from his original position.

Now, this man was stronger than two average men. In fact, he was probably about as strong as two lumbermen weighing 200 lbs. each. (I had many opportunities to observe his prodigious power.) In a private gymnasium in Buffalo, there was a strength-testing device in the form of an old-fashioned wagon spring. This spring was placed a few inches above the floor in its
normal position; a chain with a handle was fastened to the lower arm of the spring; and the athlete whose strength was to be tested straddled the spring and pulled upward on the chain, so as to bring the two sides of the spring closer together. Across the middle of the spring was a gauge graduated in one-sixteenths of an inch. This test gave a good idea of the ability of a man to raise heavy weights from the ground. The ordinary man could compress the spring about three-eighths of an inch. Some very strong workmen had compressed it to as much as three-quarters of an inch. Herold compressed it one and one-half inches; and I know that to be a fact, because another "Strong Man" told me that he, himself, had been able to compress it only one and one-quarter inches, and referred to H.'s pull as a record. Now, this first lifter (Herold) was not by any means the strongest man in the world, although he was one of the very best in his class. He weighed about 160 lbs., and was just about as strong as either Herman or Kurt Saxon; and while most of his lifting records were just as good as those of any other 160-lb.
lifter, they fell considerably short of the records made by the giants in the lifting game. Nevertheless, he could have fairly been described as being stronger than two ordinary men.

It is very hard for the ordinary citizen to gauge the strength of a real "Strong Man." He goes to a vaudeville show to see a "Strong Act," and he watches the performer stoop under a platform on which fifteen or twenty man are standing, and lift the whole weight on his back. Mr. Ordinary Citizen has never tried this stunt but doubts whether he could raise 500 lbs. in that
way, and so concludes that this performer is many times as strong as he is. Next, he sees the performer take a big barbell weighing 250 lbs., and slowly push it above the head with one hand. This is a stunt that the ordinary citizen knows something about. He has probably tried and failed to put up a 50-lb. weight, so that the performer's 250-lb. lift impresses him greatly. It
will probably surprise you when I tell you that the ordinary man, after a few months of the right kind of training, can develop enough strength to put up 150 lbs. with one hand, and to raise 2,000 lbs. on his back in a "platform-lift." that is enough to make you gasp; I mean you, who are reading these lines. You have always considered yourself as "just the average individual," and at first you cannot grasp the idea that it would be possible for you to learn to accomplish Herculean feats of strength. Yet I, who have seen so many "ordinary citizens" become able to do stunts of this kind, can assure you that your possibilities are, in all likelihood, just as great as those of any other average citizen.

In his book on Physical Education, Dr. Felix Oswald said that one company of soldiers in the Middle Ages would contain more "Strong Men" than would be found in a modern army corps. I cannot agree with this statement. I will admit that possibly the average man of three hundred years ago was stronger than the average man of today, because in those days there were no labor-saving devices, and practically every man had to use his muscles a great deal more than the average man of today uses his. Nevertheless, the strongest men of today are just as strong or stronger than the "Strong Men" of three hundred years ago.

For example, I have a collection of books dealing with the subject of strength, and almost every one of those books starts off by telling you of the wonderful feats of strength accomplished by the mighty men of the past. One man who is always mentioned is Thomas Topham, who was born in London in 1710. When Topham was thirty-one, he made a lift of 1836 lbs. Three barrels of water were chained together. Topham stood on a platform above the barrels, and around his neck was a leather strap which was attached to a chain. This chain passed through a hole in the platform on which he was standing, and was coupled to the chain that bound the barrels together. Topham bent his legs and back slightly and placed his hands on a couple of braces. Then, by simultaneously straightening his arms, back, and legs, he lifted the barrels a couple of inches from the ground. The writers of the books I mentioned always recite this feat as something incredible, and certainly it seems to have been sufficient to preserve Topham's name and fame as a "strong man."

One Saturday afternoon, early in 1917, I had a number of celebrated lifters come to my factory and give an exhibition before an audience of about one hundred experts. Most of the lifting was done with barbells, and one or two records were created on that afternoon. In the factory we had a lifting platform (the one shown in Fig. 3). This platform, as you can see by looking at the pictures, is a double affair. The lifter stands on the upper platform and raises the lower one. After the regular exhibition was over, one of the lifters wished to try his strength at lifting with a harness around the neck. We did not use barrels of water but we piled 50-lb. weights on the bottom platform. This man had never attempted this lift before so we started off with a moderate weight. After he had made a lift we would throw more weights on the bottom platform. He went as high as 2400 lbs. Neither I nor anyone else present considered that lift extraordinary. We fully expected him to lift that much, and every experienced lifter present knew that if he had practiced the lift for a few weeks, he could do 3000 lbs. When I wrote a description of the exhibition for the STRENGTH Magazine, I did not even mention that stunt; but the fact remains that this man (Adolph Nordquest) lifted 550 lbs. more than Topham did; so if Topham was the strongest man of his day, then "Strong Men" must have improved since that time.

In this book I will talk a great deal about lifters and lifting, which means that I will have to say a great deal about heavy barbells and dumbbells; but I do not mean you to think that I claim it is only lifters and barbell users who are gifted with superstrength. As a matter of fact, superstrength is not a gift of nature. If it were, there would be no use of writing this book because, if great strength was the monopoly of a few favored individuals, what would be the use of you trying to acquire such strength? For every man who inherits great strength, or who possesses great strength by virtue of having an unusually large and powerfully made body, there are dozen other men who have deliberately and purposely made themselves strong. I have seen laborers, farmers, football players, physicians, singers, artists and business men who were wonderfully built and tremendously strong; but every one of these men could have been improved by a course of scientific training. To balance that, I have seen scores of men and boys who started with below- average development, and very little strength, who have absolutely converted themselves into "Strong Men." All these individuals got their strength, health and development by practicing with adjustable barbells.

Of course, there are lots of men who are wonderfully strong who have never seen a barbell. I am personally acquainted with many such men; but I must say that there is not one among them whom I could not have made still stronger by putting him on a special training program with weights. On the other hand, I have never seen a man who was naturally weak get into the "Strong Man" class except by the use of weights.

There are some authorities who seem to think that it is foolish for any man to try to improve the body to any great extent; and such authorities are apt to speak in a slighting way of what they call"made" strong men. When I was younger, such remarks used to worry me; but in the last twenty years I have seen so many of these "made" strong men sweep aside the lifting-records made by the natural giants that I have come to the conclusion that "made" strength is just as valuable and lasting as is natural, or inherited, strength.

The greatest French authority on the subject of strength is Prof. Des Bonnet. His book, "The Kings of Strength," contains a description (with pictures) of several hundred of the most celebrated "strong men" of the last seventy-five years. In the body of this book you will find pictures of men like Sandow, Arthur Saxon, Hackenschmidt, and many other celebrated athletes who are
familiar to you as being among the strongest men in recent history. In the back of his book Des Bonnet has a special section devoted to two men whom he calls "super-athletes"; and these two men were Louis Cyr, of Canada, and Apollon, of France. He places them in a class by themselves.

Now, as many of you are aware, Saxon, Sandow, Hackenschmidt, and many of the other celebrated "Strong Men" are of average height; and their unusual power is due to the great size and strength of their muscles. Cyr and Apollon were giants. Cyr stood 6 feet and weighed over 300 lbs., and was built on a vastly larger mold than the average "Strong Man." Apollon stood well over 6 feet in height and had a tremendous frame. Undoubtedly both of these men were giants in strength as well as being giants in size; but, just the same, if we go by the records, they do not seem to have been able to deliver more strength than did some of their smaller rivals. For example, Cyr's best record in the two-arm jerk was 345 lbs., Arthur Saxon, who weighed 100 lbs. less than Cyr, also did 345 lbs. in that particular lift. It is true that Cyr lifted the bell in one motion from the floor to the chest, before tossing it to arms' length above his head; whereas Saxon had to raise the bell in two movements to his chest. Nevertheless, he raised it just as much above his head as Cyr did. Two yeas ago I saw Henry Steinborn, who is only a little bit heavier than Saxon, raise in one motion to the chest, and then jerk aloft with both arms, a barbell weighing 347 lbs.; thereby beating Cyr's record. A few nights later some friends of mine saw Steinborn raise 375 lbs. in the same style.

Again, Cyr's best record in the one-arm press is 273 lbs.; and that mark has been beaten by a dozen smaller man. I admit that these men use a style which is different from the method Cyr used; but it can't be denied that some of these men have beaten Cyr's record by anywhere from 20 to 50 lbs.; and in the one-arm press the palm goes to the man who can put up the most weight. Cyr, unquestionably, had bigger muscles and a bigger frame and more natural strength than most lifters have; but he could not exert that strength to much advantage, except when he was in certain positions.

The bodily strength possessed by the so-called "Strong Men," whether amateur or professional, is vastly greater than the strength possessed by the available gymnast, track athlete, oarsman, football player, or workman. The "Strong Man" has a different kind of strength. His arms may be no bigger than those of a Roman-ring performer; his legs may be no bigger than those of a great football player; but he has a bodily strength which is not possessed by any other class of athlete; and this bodily strength is due, first, to the perfect development of every muscle, and, second, to the ability of making those muscles coordinate. As I go on writing these chapters, I intend to continually hammer away in an endeavor to "put over" this idea of bodily strength, as contrasted to arm strength. For most of you, I know, have the fixed idea that a "Strong Man" is strong only because he has such wonderful arms.

Let me tell you another story: this time about an amateur. This man was walking with three companions when they came to a gate in a high iron fence. The amateur "Strong Man" slipped through the gate; slammed it shut; and then invited his three friends to open it. He stretched his arms straight out in front of him, and with each hand grasping one of the upright iron rods in the gate leaned forward and braced himself in the position shown in the illustration (Fig. 9). After a terrific struggle, which lasted a couple of minutes, the other three men succeeded in pushing the gate open; but they did not push the athlete over backwards. He kept himself in the same position, although his feet gradually slipped backwards. It was only his extraordinary
bodily strength that enabled him to exert as much pressure against one side of the gate as his three friends combined could exert against the other side. His arms did very little of the work; they were held rigidly straight, and merely transmitted the pressure exerted by the flexed muscles of his legs and body. On top of that, he applied his strength scientifically. If he had
arched his back or straightened the advanced leg, he would soon have been toppled over backwards. Here is another man who may not have been as strong as three ordinary men, but he certainly was as strong as two.

I could tell you a dozen other such stories; as, for example, how Cyr leaned his mighty shoulders against the end of a loaded freight car and, walking backwards, pushed that car up a slight grade, a stunt in which the arms were not used at all. How other athletes managed to lift hundreds, and even thousands of pounds by the strength of their legs; but I will bring those
stories in where they belong.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Merry Christmas!

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