Monday, December 5, 2016

Alan Calvert possibly the greatest? - By R.J. Hicks

One of the most underrated icons in the Iron Game, Alan Calvert, had one of the greatest impacts on weight training in North America. In the late 1800’s and into the early 1900‘s, little to no information existed concerning health and fitness, especially on proper weight training in North America. Strongman shows with large, muscular and powerful men performing great feats of strength were some of the only, but limited, influences on weight lifting. Alan Calvert, set out on a mission to educate North America on heavy barbell lifting. In doing so, Calvert started one of the first barbell companys, leaving an everlasting footprint in the modern weightlifting culture.

From an early age Alan Calvert knew the strength and muscular physique he wanted after seeing the local strongmen compete in extraordinary strength feats at local circuses and theatres. Up to this point in time, only light weight exercises with dumbbells were advertised and offered as a method to gaining strength and size. Spending the time and energy to study his obsession and passion with these strongmen and their powerful physiques, Calvert realized that heavy barbell training was at the foundation of their success. However, no large barbell manufactures existed for purchasing barbells in North America at the time, nor was there instructions on how to train with them. This lack of knowledge and availability sparked an idea and a sense of purpose in Calvert, ultimately leading to the creation of Milo Barbell Company.

In 1902, Milo Barbell Company become the first mass producer of barbells within North America under Alan Calvert. Hardly any gyms existed at this time to train at and most barbells that did exist were homemade. Milo Barbell Company became the first mass producing barbell company in North America that could provide barbells to weight lifting enthusiasts and allow them to train at home. The unique design behind these barbells verses the limited barbells at the time, were their ability to adjust the weights. This was a HUGE development for being able to train the full body with correct weight and allowing for the trainee to properly progress by adding weight in their lifts. To be able to train progressively with heavy weights prior was nearly impossible, without having a room full of fixed-weight barbells.

The second part of his journey to improve the weightlifting culture in North America was to educate those who purchased the barbells. Calvert wrote many letters to what he referred to as pupils or customers answering their questions revolving around building a stronger and more muscular physique, ultimately providing as much guidance as he could. Seeing that there was no formal instruction on how to properly use heavy barbells at this time, Calvert wrote several articles and magazines to educate weightlifting enthusiasts across the country. Alan Calvert’s most famous magazine was titled “Strength”. 17 issues of “Strength” were published full of pictures of highly developed strongmen and informative literature on weight lifting. The vast knowledge Calvert displayed on muscular development, anatomy and physiology and the health benefits through his writings with little to no education available on the subjects at that time was magnificent. Through Calvert’s writings, weightlifting enthusiasts were able to learn some of the most prominent training principles that are still used today.

One of Alan Calvert most profound influences on weight lifting was his book Super Strength. (Get your copy HERE.) Calvert established several strength training principles despite dealing with limited equipment and research that are still incorporated into modern training techniques. His number one principle surrounding the design of Milo Barbells is to use moderate-heavy weight that the trainee can handle in a progressive manner. Calvert knew in the early 1900’s the weight lifting must be progressive in nature in order to become stronger and more muscular. Calvert also emphasized training the full body and that a strongman must have no weak links, putting a special emphasis on the hips and lower back. He knew the importance of recovery, stating full body weight training should have 48 hours rest minimal between session. He also realized the difference between demonstrating strength and building strength. Calvert urged his readers not to test their true limits in the lifts, but to use a moderately heavy load and slowly progress to heavier weight as strength increased. More importantly, Calvert prioritized compound exercises over light weight isolation exercises, seeing the significance of teaching your muscles to work together as well as the effect of the heavier weight in the form of building a muscular and powerful physique. Although the tools of training and sources of information and research has advanced, many of Calvert’s’ weight lifting principles still apply today.

Despite Alan Calvert’s great effort towards influencing North America, little money was available for weight lifting enthusiast to purchase barbells. The height of the depression during the late 1920s and early 1930's in North America hit Milo Barbell hard like many other businesses. Calvert did not give up and attempted to keep the company afloat and his dream alive, but money and resources bled out, forcing Milo Barbell Company to go bankrupt. It was not long after that Bob Hoffman purchased the company for pennies in comparison to what it was worth, changing the name to York Barbell and moving the operation from Philadelphia to York. Bob Hoffman carried on Calvert’s dream, making barbells available to the public, became the U.S. olympic weightlifting coach, sponsored great bodybuilders such as John Grimek and stayed heavily involved in the sport of weight lifting in North America for over 50 years. Although the name changed, Calvert’s work remained an influence for York Barbell. Jan Dellinger, who shared an office with John Grimek at York, told Bob Whelan, “The great John C. Grimek kept only one book on his shelf by his desk at York Barbell and it was his copy of SUPER STRENGTH”.

Over the past 100 years the field of strength and conditioning has grown immensely and has had many contributors to its growth that are not remembered. However, bringing into the picture is one of the underrated physical icons of the early 1900s, Alan Calvert. He deserves far more fame than he receives. Calvert was a strongman, business owner, writer and coach that left an everlasting impact on propper weight training. His passion and desire to provide the equipment and information needed to any trainee interested in gaining strength and size greatly aided in the development of the way we view strength training today.


Beckwith,Kimberly. "Strength: America’s First Muscle Magazine 1914-1935." Iron Game History, vol. 9, no. 1, 2005, pp. 11-28.

Calvert, Alan. Super Strength,1924.
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