Train For Shape & Strength
by Sigmund Klein
Increasing interest in old-timers has gained momentum in recent years. Now and then photographs of old-timers are used to illustrate various articles in muscle magazines, but while the photos carry a few of the old-timers measurements nothing is ever said about the training method these gallant muscle and strength pioneers used. This is because our present day writers are not familiar with the way these men trained but continue to stress the importance of modern day training methods and how superior they are in contrast to those used by old-timers. I’d like to refer to an old French saying that contains much basic logic. It implies that the more things change, the more they become like original. Ponder that statement a moment and see if you don’t agree that there is MORE truth in that statement than you would like to admit.
For example, the Set System of training is not new at all. It was used by lifters many, many years ago, and Alan Calvert, founder of the Milo Barbell Company back in 1902 first introduced this system of training then. I don’t remember exactly what he called the system then, but I know I used it about 50 years ago . . . that’s how new it is in this country. And it was used by old-timers in
Of course low and high repetitions have always been used in training. Endurance lifting and training was another fad that was used some years ago, as well as light and heavy training. Beginners (in those days) followed the routines that were outlined by instructors, either in the gym or in training courses sold by mail. Alan Calvert started selling weights and training equipment through the mail in 1902. He patterned his training course after Theodor Seibert, a noted German trainer. And Seibert’s system of training was based on a course formulated by Professor Attila back in 1870. He, in turn, was trained by Prof. Ernst in
We can go back into the pages of muscle-building history even farther. Frederick Ludwig Jahn, the founder of German Gymnastic Society and the Turnvereins shortly after the Napoleonic era, started the system of training his pupils with weights to strengthen them so they could perform difficult gymnastic feats on gym apparatus more easily. So, weight training goes way back, farther than any can remember.
I’ve mentioned this to give you some insight into how far weight training with barbells and dumbells goes. All these leaders gave considerable thought to progressive bodybuilding before they taught it to others. The various exercises were tested to learn which gave the best results in the way of strength and muscular development. Those who came later usually deviated from the original system that was taught to them, and would specialize on bodyparts that failed to respond properly.
In brief, the system of training most often taught in those days was: Curls with a barbell and using a weight that could be curled perfectly. The student was told to do five repetitions, but every week one repetition was added; six, seven, eight, etc. until 15 reps was reached. When this number was reached the pupil was advised to stick with the 15 repetitions for two weeks or so before increasing the weight and starting again five reps.
The curling movement was followed by calf work, stiff-arm pullover, wrestler’s bridge, one-arm press, deep knee bend, deadlift, sit-up, wrist roller exercise or reverse curl, leg raise, shrug, and leg press. These in turn would be followed by a series of dumbell exercises such as lateral raise in various ways and crossing the arms over the chest, all done while standing. In lying position (on floor or box) the alternate pullover and cross-over was also included, using the same method of repetitions mentioned above. These were the basic, standard exercises. Later, the step-up, similar to stair climbing, was included, as well as the press behind neck, see-saw or alternate press with dumbells or kettlebells, the alternate curl and the supine press with barbell. This was the average workout at home. And if certain parts of the body were not progressing as was expected, the exercise would be repeated . . . the same as one does “sets” today.
Now for those who were more ambitious or trained in gyms, lifting was included. The bent press was then the most popular lift, and to know how to do it required expert teaching. Very few men ever learned to do this fascinating lift without coaching from an expert.
The one-arm snatch was another popular lift in those days for it demonstrated great skill, speed and strength. The one-arm jerk also was popular, as was the two-hand jerk.
The two-arm military press and two-arm continental press (allowing the back to be bent backwards) was practiced a great deal, along with the one-hand military press – a strength tester. One-arm side presses were included in this routine, and later lifters started lifting other lifters, a feat more difficult than holding “iron.” Others would hold a kettlebell and then have a partner sit on the weight he pressed them overhead with one arm.
These lifts were often practiced in combination with bodybuilding. Or some would include the lifts on days when they did not practice bodybuilding, while others practiced only a few of the lifts and the remainder on other days.
Old-timers practiced the wrestlers bridge in various ways. Some would bridge then pull the barbell to chest and press and press it several times while in this position. Others would first pull over the barbell and then bridge, pressing it while in the bridge. Stiff-arm and bent-arm pullovers were practiced while in the bridge position – a very effective way of performing these exercises.
Those practicing lifts would warmup and then in five or ten pound jumps work up to their limit, which is done even to this day. Some lifters didn’t need much warmup but after a couple of light attempts would handle a weight near their limit, doing as many repetitions or sets as they were capable of that day. Hand balancing and chinning were also popular. Those who wanted to become professional strongmen had to learn to do spectacular stunts and other feats of strength that would impress an audience, and many of these stunts were very impressive, more so when you saw them than in person than when you only saw a photograph.
Yet in those days, as it is today, muscle building was foremost, and everyone strived for shape and power. Those who succeeded in developing shapely muscles were usually popular and in demand. Sandow was such. He was never the strongest man but in most of his exhibitions he was billed as such . . . and he looked the part. He had great muscularity with well-molded muscles that made him look like a real strong man.
The general public and bodybuilders will remember a man’s shape and muscularity longer than any of his lifting records. An audience would much rather see John Grimek pose than lift, even if it meant witnessing a world record being broken. At least this is how it was a decade or two ago and I think it holds true even today. Establishing a world record is a commendable feat, I know, I did my share of it years ago. But very few people ever came up to me and praised me for my ability, although every potential client that came up to my gym did so because he was impressed by my pictures and not my record breaking ability.
So it’s important that one train for a combination of shape and strength, and while not all the old-timers acquired big measurements, many had commendable shape and size and, what’s more, power to go with it. Not in just one specialized lift as some do today, but in any lift plus some outstanding feat of strength.
There cannot be any doubt that the old-timers had something; a combination of power and muscular shape that is not often found today. And those who have shape lack other qualifications, and those who have power seem to lack shape, so the slogan of training for shape and strength is even more important today than it was years ago.