Get Strong by Not Exercising
by Harry B. Paschall (1940)
Gather close, mates; I have a sad story to unfold.
Once upon a time, before the last-war-but-one, I was a young squirt full of ambition and onions, with definite and decided ideas about exercise. I figured that if one hour of training every other day was good, then eight hours per diem ought to do better. So I bought a bar-bell and started in to out-do the Labors of Hercules.
This was back in 1914, and by bar-bell was the first one ever seen in our town. The physical director at the Y shook his head dolefully when I confided naively that I was setting out to become a second Sandow. As I look back now, I can't blame him much, because exercise had practically ruined him. At the ripe old age of 32, he was bald, wrinkled, and over-ripe for a couple of delicate gland transplantations. Being the sole director of all the Y gym classes, he had to wave his arms and legs around in calisthenic drills from 10:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. I should have taken warning from him and his sad example and thus learned at any early age that exercise does not pay.
At half-past 16 I unlimbered my barbell; tacked the exercise chart up on my bedroom wall and began what was probably the goldurndest body-building schedule anyone has put in practice since the world began. Every evening at exactly 9:00 P.M. was my sacred exercise hour. However, I did maintain some slight semblance of reason, because I only did the bar-bell exercises every other day. On alternate days I did pushups, chins, and other fairly strenuous free-hand exercises.
Now, so far this doesn't sound like a tremendous schedule, but wait, my friend. Pause and listen to my extracurricular labors: Every afternoon at 3:00 o'clock I tore out of the high-school building, ran one mile and a quarter to my home, switched into my football suit and ran back one mile and a quarter to the school practice field, where I proceeded to do scrimmage for two solid hours; then I blithely ran home again, took a quick bath, anointed my bruises, ate a bite of supper and then, much refreshed, walked a mile to the YMCA where I put in a couple of very pleasant hours working on the gym apparatus and playing basketball. I stopped in at the Greek's for a delicious hamburger on my way home; then leaped upstairs three at a time to tear into my bar-bell exercises.
Quite a schedule, hey? And, mind you, this went on for a whole year! When the football season was over, basketball took its place; when basketball was waning, I repeated on baseball, although here I had to also squeeze in a little cross-country running and track!
Some years later an article about me appeared in an old Strength magazine. They were kind enough to say that I had a most peculiar quality of endurance, after witnessing a couple of all-night performances I put on at Sig Klein's Gymnasium. Migawd! I HAD to have endurance or I would have never lasted a week on that schedule.
But let us get back to our knitting. What do you suppose bar-bell exercises did for me, combined with all this extra exertion? You may be surprised, but during this first year I gained 25 pounds, and my strength went from a 50 pound one-arm press in he beginning to a 165 one-arm press at the end of the year! The bar-bells were all that saved me. If I hadn't used them I could never have kept off the flat of my back. I sometimes look back upon those halcyon days and wonder what in the heck would have become of me if I had had sense enough to exercise intelligently. Certainly I should have become Bosco's rival. I really and truly believe that if I had practiced "growing" exercises, instead of practically stunting my growth with overexertion, I would have become a heavyweight by the time I was 18.
So, do you blame me, pal, when I argue that the way to get strong is NOT to exercise? When I see high school lads rearing and tearing all over the landscape today, trying to make themselves into four-letter men, I feel like kicking them swiftly in the seat of the pants and telling them to cut out the non-essentials and go home and do squats three times a week. If they would just heed this advice we would soon have a nation of infant Hercules. Perhaps this explains the phenomenon of young Louis Abele, who is now hoisting such dizzy poundages in national heavyweight lifting competition. Certainly he would never weigh much over 150 pounds, today, if he had let Nature take its course.
If I hadn't discovered bar-bells back in 1914, by this time I would be in worse shape than my old Y physical director, because this year of bar-bell exercise built my body up in the years that followed. From 1915 to 1921 I never touched a bar-bell; in fact I never took ANY exercise. These were the years when my ambition nearly got the best of me. I not only worked at one job, I got three! I worked on average not less than a dozen hours per day for years. At one time I had stuff appearing simultaneously in 20 magazines. Finally I was brought up sharp by an insurance doc who informed me that my heart was so bad that he couldn't recommend me for insurance. He told me to to home and rest, be careful about climbing stairs, never, never, NEVER to take any strenuous exercise. So I go home and write my folks to send on my old bar-bell outfit, and started the next week to take heavy exercise again. Six months later I got the insurance without question.
So much for that. During the next few years I used the bar-bells off and on, just enough to keep me in shape. In 1925 and 1926 I did quite a bit of lifting around New York and Philadelphia, but even at this time I had no sense whatever about the proper way NOT to exercise. Consequently I never gained appreciably in either strength or muscular bodyweight until just a couple of years ago.
From 1926 to 1934 was another hiatus. I rolled the bar-bells back under the bed and never looked at them until the bug again bit me at the Columbus YMCA in the latter year. I organized a weight lifting team, and for several years since we have participated in most of the meets round our section. However, here again, my enthusiasm got the better of my judgment. Instead of working out for a couple of hours, I was apt to put in three or four, and any of the local boys will tell you that when I work out, I WORK.
The idea of bar-bell exercise is that the heavy work breaks down the tissues rapidly, then on the rest day you build up new tissue, and nature, having a demand for more and more muscular cells If a guy doesn't rest, he may be able to multiply these cells, but he won't grow much in size. That, briefly, is why most barbell courses call for a day of rest in between exercise days. And don't kid yourself that you know more than the guy who laid out the courses. You don't . . . or at least I didn't. However, there is a place for daily exercise in an advanced schedule, but of that, more anon.
Now this idea of mine about NOT exercising for greater growth and strength is not exclusive with me by any means. Several prominent instructors have advocated it in the past; but I must point out one or two danger points. I believe that the beginner will find it wise to observe the regular three times a week schedule for at least six months before he tries any fancy shenanigans such as I imply. Further, he will be pretty smart to also observe the rest days implicitly. Where my NO exercise schedule fits in is when you come to that "sticking point" which comes to all earnest exercisers sooner or later.
It was really more or less by accident that I became converted to the armchair system of physical development. Something more than a year ago I was exercising and lifting regularly; so much that I began to feel stale and nervous. Just at that time I was called out of town on a business trip, and for several weeks I never touched a bar-bell. Much to my surprise, upon my return home, I found I was stronger, fresher and several pounds heavier. So, just as I reasoned in the opposite direction when I first took up bar-bell work, I now began to wonder whether a lay-off now and then wasn't to be relished by the best of men.
So, out of this and other experiences, I have evolved the famous (or infamous) Paschall system of regularly busting down the tissues by completely forgetting about exercise at irregular intervals, and it has worked splendidly for me. My system, simply put, is to work out HARD for about a week upon resuming exercise; then to taper to three or four days a week of medium work-outs, and lifting heavy weights perhaps once a week. At least twice a week I do "Breathing Squats" with bodyweight. This system works fine, and I gain on it until some weekend when I get too ambitious and find that my strength is waning. Then I haul off and bust training, just as Ty Cobb used to tell his ball-players to do when they found they were tightening up and could no longer "swing loose as a goose." By breaking off after a particularly strenuous training period, I have broken down the tissues plenty, and my subsequent loosening of all rules and regulations softens me up so that when I return to exercise I can put on some muscle quickly.
This "softening up" is one of my own theories, and perhaps it will not work for everyone. However, it has long been a practice of expert body-builders to try to keep off their feet for a week when they are preparing to build up their refuse-to-grow calves. These muscles are among the most stubborn known to man, and many exercisers fail to get a proportionate development because walking and other exercise has so toughened the muscles that they won't respond to treatment. So! If this sort of treatment works for the most obstinate muscles of the body, why won't a liberal dish of the same work for the whole body?
The only serious danger of the rest cure for perspiring bar-bell fans is that they may get TOO softened up, and finally be disinclined to ever return to exercise. If you can't "take it" it probably would be better for you to keep on with your regular exercise periods; but I really think the experienced exerciser who just MUST have his exercise would profit by occasionally cutting down on his schedule to twice-a-week, and cutting down on the number of exercises. Instead of 12 or 14 exercises for every muscle of the body, drop down to five or six of the "growing" exercises; i.e. squat, dead-lift, pullover, presses on back, curl, and press.
The main thing to do is to get as much REST as possible. Relax; enjoy yourself. You may be surprised to find yourself growing on such a system long after you thought further growth was impossible. I know that I have exercised very irregularly during the past year and my weight has gone up from 165 to 180. Moreover, although I haven't practiced lifting, I am actually stronger, with the kind of strength which isn't forced, but stays with a man.
Now, I make no claim to being Ali Bendo, The Man Who Sees and Knows All, but I am thoroughly convinced after 26 years of bar-bell experience that most young fellows are too durned ambitious. The want to follow the system I mentioned at the beginning; play every game, exercise for hours on end. And just as sure as they do this, they are deliberately delaying worthwhile results. I believe in good, hard, strenuous workouts; but I also believe in resting in between times instead of playing handball, tennis and basketball.
There is also the bird on the other side of the fence, the guy who gives three cheers when he reads the heading on this article and says, "At last! Here's a fellow who has the same idea I have about exercise!" You needn't hide behind the barbell, I know you, you slacker! You're the guy who used to come into my bar-bell class and languidly go through your exercises with about half the weight you should have been using. You're the kind of a guy who never adds either to the weight or to the repetitions. You're the lazy bozo who finally gives up exercise because you can't get results!
Anything worth having in this world you have to work for. That isn't baloney, it's the unadulterated truth. You have to work and sweat to get results in body-building; but Boy! it's worth working for in the end. Especially when you get to my status and can follow the precepts proffered in this article . . . and get strong by NOT exercising!
Has it paid me? Well, at forty-two I can still do nip-ups and handsprings and lift 270 or so overhead. That's worthwhile when you can look around and see your old pals go fat at forty. Last summer I ran across a couple of old friends who used to be around the Y when I started twenty-six years ago. I persuaded both of these chaps to work out with me at that time, and they kept it up for some months and got fine results. However, I left town and they both quit. Whey they saw me a few months later they both exclaimed how well I looked, and moaned about their lost youth and the pains they had in their belly. I know these two men are a good 20 years older than me though we were all born the same year. The difference is, I stayed with the bar-bells (somewhat irregularly, 'tis true), while these friends who had the same chance let themselves slip.
Someday everyone will know enough about exercise to keep himself fit right up to three score years and ten. I believe that 30 minutes a week of the right exercise would suffice to keep me in the pink from this point forward; but, since I have always been (and probably always will be) an extremist, I propose to carry on my system of working like sin for a few weeks, and then easing up . . .
thus letting Mother Nature carry the whole load of making me stronger WITHOUT exercise.