Friday, October 28, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - Chapter 5 - By Alan Calvert

When I was a boy I remember having owned a volume entitled “Magic,” and one of the chapters of this volume was called the “Magic of Strength.” This chapter described the marvelous feats performed by several athletes who lived in the Eighteenth Century. All these feats were tricks, and were not genuine tests of strength . I can remember very distinctly the old wood-cuts which illustrated this chapter, one of which showed a man standing on a high platform; around his waist was a belt and to this belt was tied one end of a rope, and on the other end of the rope was hanging a two-thousand-pound cannon. This feat was given as a sample of the different lifts performed by the Eighteenth Century athletes. As a matter of fact it was not a lift at all, but was really what is known as a "supporting feat," and it illustrates the natural strength which lies in a man's bony construction. The bones of the hips form a natural arch and this arch is capable of sustaining an immense amount of pressure, if the pressure is applied from outside the curve of this arch. This feat is used to the present day on the variety stage and generally creates a great impression on the audience. It seems like a wonderful for a man to stand upright and support a ton hanging from a rope which is tied around his waist; but almost any sturdily-built mechanic, or day laborer, could easily perform the feat.

Several years ago in New York City I saw an athlete, who has considerable fame as a back-lifter, raise from the ground a weight of 1,000 pounds 100 times in 75 seconds, and he did it by what is known as the hip lift; that is, he stood on a small platform above the weight, had a belt fastened around his waist and lifted and lowered the weight by alternately straightening and bending his legs at the knees.

Another attractive supporting feat is known as the bridge lift. The manner in which this feat is performed begins with the athlete supporting himself on his hands and feet. His body is faced upwards and the legs are bent at the knees and the arms are fully extended to the floor behind his body. A specially prepared board ( which is heavily padded on the under side) is then rested upon his knees and on the points of his shoulders. At right angles to this board, and resting upon it, is a long plank, and this plank are assembled the weights which the athlete has to support. The important point is, that the cross plank must be placed much nearer to the knees than to the shoulders, so that most of the strain is thrown upon the bones of the leg. I have seen a man support in this way twenty other men, total weight of over 3,000 pounds. Sandow, who introduced this feat in America, used to support three small horses. An athlete in Europe recently supported a small elephant in this manner. I have seen a comparatively slender woman, who certainly did not weigh over 140 pounds, support in the bridge lift a number of men and heavy iron dumbbells, who aggregate weight was nearly a ton. Recently two or three American strong men have introduced a variation in this feat by allowing an automobile to run across a long plank. One end of the plank is rested on the ground, the automobile runs up the plank from this end, crosses the man's body and as the plank tips, runs down and off the other end. In this way the athlete supports the weight for only a fraction of a second and it is not nearly as difficult to do this as to support a pair of horse for a couple of moments' time.

If the reader wishes to test for himself the remarkable strength of the bones of the lower leg, let him sit in an ordinary chair and put a 12-inch plank across the knees; sit well forward in the chair and put a cushion under the plank to act as a pad. You will find that you will be able to support the weight of seven or eight persons sitting on the plank without making any exertion, or feeling any strain on the legs.

I might mention that when the bridge feat is performed, the athlete always keeps his head toward the audience when he assumes the bridge position. This is not accident, but design. In the first place it prevents the audience from seeing that the cross plank is really above the knees, instead of over his chest, and in the second place it enables him to make a wonderful display of his triceps muscles. If a man stands with his arm hanging at the side, with the palm of the hand front, and then straightens his arm, he will feel the muscle on the back of the upper arm tighten; this is the triceps muscle referred to above. Now, if the reader will raise his arm backwards, still keeping it rigid, he will feel the triceps muscle tighten, more and more, until the tension becomes almost painful and the muscle stands out in knots. When the athlete assumes the bridge position his arms are, of course, rigid and drawn behind him and the triceps muscle stands out prominently even before the weight is put on the cross plank. A the weight is put in place the lifter will throw all the tension possible on the arm muscle, and the spectators, who see only the top of his head and shoulders and the back of his arm, notice that the triceps muscle is in a state or high flexion and naturally assume that the arms are doing a large part of the work. These things are only detail, but they show how a professional will work in order to create an impression.

Lifters sometimes gain great reputations by holding enormous weights at arm's length above the head. This is very much easier than lifting an equal amount of weight from the shoulder to arm's length. A man who can push up one hundred pounds should be able to support, on the straight arm, at least two hundred and fifty pounds.

An impressive feat of strength can be performed with two men and an light bar bell. Sometimes it is performed with an iron rod instead of a bar bell. One man stands at each end of the bar and holds it above his head. The lifter stands in between the two men, bends his knees until he can get beneath the bar with straight arms, and then, by straightening his legs, he can raise the whole weight from the ground. The strength of the legs and back raises the weight, and all the arms have to do is to support it. Any intelligent workman who handles bulky packages of goods, applies this same principle. When a stevedore has to up-end a large box, or crate, he never stands close to the object and attempts to move it by straightening his arms. He will, instead, stand about two feet from the crate and lean against it with perfectly straight arms and then, by throwing his weight against the crate and by pushing with his legs, he will be easily able to overturn it.

The same general principle of utilizing the strength of the back and legs is applied to almost all supporting feats. For instance, an even more striking variation of the feat just mentioned is to support the weight of two men and a bar-bell on one upraised arm. Thomas Inch first introduced this feat and supported 500 pounds in this manner. Back in the nineties Sandow used to carry a horse across the theatre stage in the following manner: A very heavy girth was fastened around the horse, and the horse was then hauled about six feet in the air by means of a block and tackle. Sandow would stand under the horse and grasp a specially prepared handle on a side of the girth. By leaning forward he would bring a large part of the horse's weight on his shoulders and the back of his neck. The tackle would then be released and Sandow would walk across the stage, carrying the horse with him. We copy the program in using the word "horse, " but as a matter of fact, the animal was only a good-sized pony weighing in the neighborhood of 600 pounds.

George Lurich, the noted Russian lifter, has made a specialty of carrying weights in this manner, his latest feat being to carry across the stage five men hanging from a ring, which he grasps in his up-raised right hand. He has also succeeded in carrying three men suspended from the middle finger of his upraised right hand.

Arthur Saxon, who was here two years ago with Ringling's Circus, introduced a novelty in the way of supporting feats. Instead of using the bridge feat he would lie flat on his back, raise a heavy bar-bell to arm's length and allow one man to sit on each end of the bar-bell; at the same time he would hold on a plank (which rested on the soles of his feet) as many as twelve or fifteen men. This feat is very much harder than the bridge lift. In the bridge lift almost all the strain is thrown on the bones of the leg from the knee to the ankle; whereas, in Saxon's feat, he not only had to keep the entire leg straight, but also had to balance the weight.

Rudolf Klar, a German amateur, who attempted to imitate Saxon, succeeded in holding twelve men in this manner, but when he attempted fifteen men, the weight came down on him, breaking both legs.

The wrestlers' bridge, where a man supports his whole body on the heels and crown of his head, is another well-known supporting feat. I have seen a man in this position hold a heavy bar-bell and four men; total of eight hundred pounds.

Another supporting feat which makes a hit is when a lifter assumes a horizontal position with his heels on the seat of one chair and back of his head on the seat of another chair and holds a few bar-bells or a number of people on his chest, abdomen and legs. When this feat is performed nine out of ten people in the audience will exclaim: "My, that man must have tremendously strong stomach muscles!" As a matter of fact the feat is a pure test of back and neck strength and the muscles of the chest and abdomen are hardly called into play.

Acrobatic teams generally conclude their acts by a display of pyramid work. The largest and strongest member of the troop will support on his shoulders, hips and outstretched arms, the remaining members of the troupe. This trick is not at all difficult; all that is necessary is to have the feet about fifteen inches apart and to concentrate all the attention upon preventing the legs from bending at the knees.

I have seen some powerful men take a few steps while carrying on their shoulders weights of 800 or 1,000 pounds, but invariably the athlete, instead of striding out in a natural manner, takes steps about 8 inches long, and shuffles along with straight legs. If he allowed his legs to bend at the knees he and the weight would come down in a heap.

To return to the book which I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, I recall two other feats that were mentioned. In one feat the athlete sat on an inclined plane with his feet braced against a vertical board. A rope was tied around his waist and passed through a hole in the vertical board, and pulling on this rope was a team of horses. This feat worked on the same principle as in the cannon supporting feat before mentioned.

Another startling feat described in this old book, and which is still popular in circuses and variety theatres, is performed as follows: An athlete will lie flat on his back and hold on his chest a heavy stone, or iron anvil, which must weigh at least 300 pounds. Small stones are then placed upon the anvil ( or large stone ) and an assistant will break the small stones by repeated blows of a sledge hammer. The only hard part of this feat is to support the weight of the anvil. If this is sufficiently large and heavy, it absorbs all the shock and man who is doing the supporting act hardly feels the blows of the sledge-hammer.

If a professional wishes to create the impression that he is a champion at one-arm lifting, he can often make his point by having a photograph taken showing him holding above his head with one arm an enormous bar-bell. In describing his own picture he can state that he lifts 250, 300 or 350 pounds above the head with arm, just as the fancy strikes him. He may or may not have lifted the bell into position with one arm. The chances are that the ball was pulled into position with ropes before the picture was taken. Sandow used to say: " I believe I could hold almost any amount of weight above my head on a straight arm if it was lifted into position for me." If a man can push up 100 pounds he outs to be able to support 250 pounds in a straight arm. George Lurich, whose best one-arm push was 265 pounds, has supported 750 pounds above his head on a straight arm.

The careful reader has probably perceived for himself that in all supporting feats, the weight is supported by the strength of the bones, while, when a weight is actually lifted, or moved, the work is thrown on the muscles. If you want to know how strong a man is you should find out how much he can lift or carry. "Supporting feats" are not tests of strength. The fact that a man can assume a certain position and support a weight of several thousand pounds does not prove that he is a particle stronger than the average sturdy day-laborer.

Physical Culture
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