Sunday, November 27, 2022

Professor Attila: The Father Of Modern Strength Coaching - By James Athanasiou

Professor Attila was a groundbreaking innovator, a spectacular strongman, considered by many as the greatest figure in physical culture: And for good reason. A true phenomenon, Attila shaped the careers of the finest strength athletes to cross the Earth, while being remembered as the Father of personal coaching over a century after his death.

With our modern day widespread appeal of strength training, it's easy to neglect how this life changing movement needed more than a century to be established. Many battles against criticism towards physical culture had to be won over time, and it took a great bunch of insanely strong and outlandish folks to raise the public's awareness of the benefits of strength training. And none other contributed more to this revolution than Professor Attila.

Part 1: The Solid Foundations That Shaped The Legend

Ludwig Durlacher was born on July 2, 1844 in Karlsruhe Germany. His intelligence was prominent, speaking five languages and mastering the piano from an early age. However, Ludwig's destiny would far surpass these standards, as he soon steered his eyes off the textbooks and towards the gymnasium. As a child, his passion for fitness was  sparked by his interaction with the legendary Felice Napoli, the Italian Strongman that would go on to help him develop his talents.

During this era, strongmen were above all performers. Their feats of strength were backed up by a story, a stage act where they were called to steal the spotlight as either a mythical figure, challenging the limits of human potential. Bending irons, tossing with animals and heavy machinery, all the while dancing and acting on stage were the standard schedule of every Strongman Show.

Ludwig, determined to reform the standard, adopted the stage name of Attila and began performing in 1863, at just 19 years of age. The choice was no coincidence. Ludwig took his name from the emperor Attila the Hun, realising the need for brand recognition and marketing. Together with a partner by the name of "Valerie the Female Gladiator" they toured Europe and America, stunning the world with feats of strength.

Part 2: An Original And Generational Trainer 

During his tours throughout Europe, Louis made a great contribution to the Strongman scene, inventing numerous acts. His most notable ones were the Roman Column, card tearing and the "Human Bridge", which came to be known as the Tomb Of Hercules. The last lift was the most incredible act, since the lifter held a reverse plank position while balancing a full grown horse and its rider on his stomach. He's also to be credited for the invention of the Bent Press, a very tough overhead lift in which he went on to become  the first man to lift over 200lbs.

He was also the first to perform solitary strongman acts, setting the standard for the Strongman Contests as we know them today. As the years went on, Louis would harness his coaching ability to spark a new age for fitness and strength training. The fame he acquired allowed him to come in touch with the elites of his era, establishing him as a high ticket personal trainer, making physical activity more appealing than ever before. In fact, he gathered such big fame for his time that he would go on to perform for Queen Victoria in the Buckingham Palace in 1887.

By the time he opened his famous gym in Brussels in 1886, his associates included wealthy individuals like Alfred Vanderbilt and J.P. Morgan, royals from Greece, Russia and Britain. More importantly, he coached other Strongman Greats, including Louis Cyr, Lionel Strongfort and Warren Lincoln Travis: a remarkable athlete who at only 200 lbs came close to matching Louis Cyr's superhuman feats, as well as exceptional athletes of other fields, most notably the heavyweight champion James J. Corbett, the only man to ever beat John Sullivan.

Throughout his coaching, he continued to figure out innovative training systems for every individual student. His most notable piece of work was the 5 Pound Dumbbell System, a groundbreaking program demonstrating nearly 30 exercises anyone could perform that would drastically improve their conditioning. He was also one of the very first people to encourage women to take part in strength training and boxing, for the overall health benefits.

Taking a closer look at Attila's Athletic Studio and School Of Physical Culture, one can really understand the variations and uniqueness of Professor Attila's methods, truly embracing the aura of a museum. This landmark of physical culture would later be inherited by his son-in-law and Bodybuilding pioneer Siegmund Klein, who married his daughter Grace in 1924 and ran the gym up until the 70s. The amazing thing is that much of Attila's original equipment from Belgium was preserved, including his Roman Column.

Part 3: The Spirit Of An Athlete And An Innovator

However, his breakthroughs in strength training are only one aspect of Attila's brilliant work. His bright mind allowed him to revolutionise the entire strength training field by inventing the Roman Chair, the Globe Barbell and even the Plate Loading Barbell, most of which are heavily utilized by millions of people to this day. Before him, only dumbbells and various objects were used to train and perform.

More than anything, Attila emphasised on the essence of movement and physical activity. He was a very accomplished athlete outside of weight training, highly gifted in swimming, jumping and running, gathering over 200 medals throughout his competitive years. As the years went on, he became concerned with the health of New York office workers and of people whose jobs demanded that they sit down for hours everyday. His Studio was dedicated to rejuvenating such people and encouraging everyone to stay active.

Part 4: The Unique Bond With Sandow

One day, a young lad walked into his gym in Brussels. The 19 year old Friedrich Muller was first employed by professor Attila as a janitor, but as time progressed, he had the opportunity to showcase his incredible strength. Attila soon realised the raw talent he had in his hands and worked his life to made the young man into the legendary Eugen Sandow, training him in his spare time and guiding his strongman career at his own gym in Brussels in 1886.

After opening his gym in Bloomsbury in 1889, Attila continued to train Sandow. Around the same year, he encouraged him to enroll in his first ever strongman contest. This legendary event would go down as one of Sandow's most notable victories, beating both Charles Sampson and Cyclops.

From then on, Attila and Sandow would perform on stage as a duet, allowing one to benefit from the other's fame and thus strengthening their bond as a student and teacher. Even though they eventually fell out, no one can deny how both men built one another. Sandow had the backing necessary to unfold his talent, while Attila gained the fame and the knowledge necessary to kickstart his coaching career.

Part 5: The Passing On Of Attila's True Inheritance 

Throughout his life, he always rocked a light compact frame. At the peak of his career, Louis measured at 5ft 4inch and 175 lbs in bodyweight, matching and surpassing the performances of much heavier competitors, giving more credibility to the effectiveness of his teachings.

His modest and kind personality never allowed him to take credit for his incredible work. The desire to preserve the Sandow myth, alongside the lack of biography elements left Attila in the shadows. As Bob Hoffman, another Iron Game great, once observed:

"The modest Attila deigned to remain in the background, never seeking publicity, for he had built a better mousetrap and the world beat a path to his door. . . . Modern strength athletes owe more to this man than to any other.” 

Sadly, in 1924, father time came down knocking on Professor Attila's door. He died peacefully that year, running his gym and changing people's lives for the better till the last breath. Always modest and focused on muscle building for everyone, he never once seeked credit for his remarkable contributions.

His true heritage however was given to none other than the generations after him. All the teachings and strongman feats done throughout his life could not match the impact his methods had on our understanding of coaching and our appreciation for physical fitness. So the next time you think of the forums and the people that helped you come closer to achieving your goals as a strength athlete, take a brief moment to say "Thank You" to Professor Louis Attila.

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