Tuesday, December 6, 2011

THE TRUTH ABOUT WEIGHTLIFTING - (circa 1911) - CHAPTER 14 - By Alan Calvert


For some reason or other, the physical culture public seems to have the idea that my whole buisness consists of training young men to become professional stage performers, and I am constantly being consulted about the advisability of taking up weight-lifting and “strong man” work as a profession. As a matter of fact, I am a manufacturer of heavy-weight dumbbells, but in the course of several years’ experience in selling goods to professional lifters, and in furnishing almost all the goods used by amateurs, I have acquired a great deal of information regarding weight-lifting both as a sport and as a profession.

When a young man asks me whether I advise him to become a professional, I invariably tell him that he would make a great mistake by so doing. Weight lifting as a sport is not only one of the most beneficial forms of exercise, but is also one of the most fascinating of pastimes. On the other hand, as soon as a lifter turns professional he is compelled to give the greater part of his time to stage exhibitions, either in the circus or in the vaudeville theatres. It is an odd fact that no lifter could make even a living wage if he was to introduce on the stage what is known as a straight dumbbell act; that is, if one of the best lifters in the world was to give an act consisting of standard dumbbell lifts and announced exactly the amount of weight handled in the different lifts, he would not get enough applause to justify any manager in letting him appear for a second time, even if his lifts happened to be world’s records and were performed in absolutely perfect style.

The audiences in this country demand something sensational. They do not understand lifting and they would very much rather see sensational supporting feat, which looks dangerous as well as difficult, than to see a man pushing a heavy dumbbell. Naturally the professionals follow the principle of giving the public what it wants. If the public wants to see fakes, the lifter, having his bread and butter in view, is perfectly willing to oblige them. The more apparatus a professional carries about with him and the more absurd his claims, the more apt he is to earn a big salary. There is absolutely no encouragement for a first-class amateur lifter to take up professional work.

What does it matter if he is able to push a 250-pound dumbbell above his head with one hand? The audience would much rather see him lift a man weighing 150 pounds in the same manner. This spirit is not confined entirely to the weight-lifting act, but applies equally well in all acrobatic feats. For instance, if Sweeney, the champion high jumper, was to reproduce on the stage his world’s record leap of 6 feet 5 inches, he would get very little applause; if he would jump over the back of a small horse, or over a wooden fence painted to represent iron spikes, the audience would be delighted.

Another odd fact is that no man can hope to earn good money on the stage unless he is beautifully built and very heavily muscled. There are a number of men who are extremely strong, but who do not show much muscle. Personally I know a number of lifters who can perform some surprising feats but who are so slender that the average person would not believe a truthful stagement regarding these lifters’ performances. The audience demands that a man appears strong, but it does not care whether or not he really is strong. There is one young man on the vaudeville stage today who is gifted by nature with a superb figure, and by doing a moderate amount of heavy dumbbell work he is able to keep his muscles in the finest, clear-cut condition. When you see this man across the footlights you would readily believe that it would be child’s play for him to lift a ton, and, in fact, such is his claim. I happen to know that the man is all “looks.” He possesses very little strength and knows very little about lifting, but he trades on his appearance and when he handles heavy dumbbells or other weights he is very clever in giving the audience the impression that is working very hard. He never has any trouble in obtaining an engagement and earns on the average $100 to $150 a week all year around.

As a contrast to this case I might mention another lifter of an exactly opposite type. This man has been lifting dumbbells for years; he is remarkably clever in his work and lifts so correctly and gracefully that you cannot realize how much strength he is putting forth. He stands six feet in height; weighs less than 150 and his upper arm is only 13 1/2 inches in girth, and yet this man will press above his head with one arm a 200-pound bar-bell, and, moreover, does it so easily that the average observer would probably guess that the bell weighed 50 pounds.

This man cannot possibly get a paying engagement on the stage. If he was to lift 200 and put up a sign to that effect, the audience would laugh at it and consider that was a faker, because he does not look strong enough to handle even 100 pounds. I doubt whether he could earn $20 a week owing to his very slender physique, while the beautifully built man alluded to above earns a big salary simply because he “looks the part.” I have seen this well-built man take a hollow dumbbell weighing 40 pounds, push it up in the air with every appearance of immense muscular effort and fully convince every member of the audience that he had lifted 240 pounds.

The weight lifter who travels “on his shape,” as in the case above mentioned, almost invariably precedes his lifting act with what is known as “cabinet posing,” of which I will give a short description. The lifter will have an iron framework about four feet square and seven feet high. On this framework he will hang curtains of black, or deep red, velvet. At various points on the framework will be fixed small electric lamps, and these lamps are so cunningly placed that when their light falls upon the lifter it greatly accentuates the shadows thrown by his highly developed muscles. The athlete stands on a revolving pedestal in this cabinet, and for the space of four or five minutes he will fall into various positions which throw the different sets of muscles in the highest possible relief. I calculate that a properly lighted cabinet will exaggerate a man’s development anywhere from 100 to 200 per cent.

After the members of an audience have watched an athlete pose in a cabinet for a few minutes, they unconsciously become impressed with the fact that this man in a mass of muscle, and consequently when he comes out to perform his lifting stunts, they are in a frame of mind to believe any claim he makes. Needless to say the clever professional takes advantage of this state of affairs. There are many men whom I could name and whom the reader would recognize at once who earn big money simply “on their shape,” as the vulgar expression is. The acts they give are perfect farces. Several times lately I have seen “strong man” acts which were perfectly absurd to anyone who understood the principle underlying the lifting of heavy objects, and yet the arrant fakes were well received by the audience.

The whole object of the professional lifter is, naturally, to make his feats of strength appear so wonderful that the members of the audience leave the theatre with the impressionl that the “strong man” whom they have just seen is at least ten times stonger than the ordinary individual. I know many professionals who are under the impression that the Creator only made one of their kind and that He broke the mould when He was through.

Now, I do not object to the professional doing this if he can get away with it, and help himself thereby, but I do oppose the practice from one point of view, and that is, that it discourages a great many amateurs from taking up heavy-weight lifting because they are afraid that they would never be able to equal the development and strength of some famous professional. Development is moreor less a gift. Almost any one can develop large muscles, but no one can be sure these muscles will be shapely. Beauty of figure is as far beyond our control as beauty of feature. Any man can reach a high point of muscular development; thousands of men have chests and limbs as large as Sandow’s, but not one man in a million can equal Sandow in shapeliness. If the average amateur realized that the best professionals were no better than the best amateurs, I believe that many more men and boys would go in for heavy-weight work. Amateur runners can run just as fast as professionals and I can assure the reader that good amateur lifters are usually stronger than professional lifters.

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