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Cheating Exercises – Boon or Bunk
by Charles A. Smith (1960)
In this “without fear or favor” article, Charles Smith, world famous lifting author, makes his return to the Iron Game after several years absence. In his funeral oration over the body of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has Marc Antony tell the crowd he’s trying to incite to riot that “The evil men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” Now the Immortal Bard may have been a supreme student of human nature, yet I can’t agree with this particular piece of philosophy.
I believe that the exact reverse is true. Good always lives on and the mistakes a man makes are 99 out of 100 times forgotten. I’ve been out of this Game for a few years now, but during this period my good works have been kept alive by other authors who have not hesitated to use my ideas in their articles. And the number of times my old articles have been reprinted under other titles and bylines has also been a source of satisfaction to me. Those of my prognostications that flopped have mercifully – been forgotten.
That those writers who used my ideas, words and phrases conveniently forgot to mention the source of their material doesn’t matter so much now. What is important is this – that tho’ I’ve been out of the picture for a while, what small amount of good I previously have done has lived on.
I’m now working as a law enforcement officer – a Probation Officer – a field that is in some respects closely allied with the Iron Game. It is active – dynamically so – it is sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes revolting – but always a challenge.
One trait shared by those who come within Probation scope and certain members of the Iron Game is a total inability to face the truth, to escape from a nebulous dream world into the bright sunlight of reality.
What I’m referring to right now, insofar as the lifter and bodybuilder are concerned, is the so-called CHEATING PRINCIPLE and CHEATING EXERCISES. There are some “authorities” who will have you believe it’s a universal weightlifting cure-all – a rocket fast trip to any strength quality iron-slingers may desire. On the reverse side of the coin are those who do all they can to convince you that the principle and exercises have ruined more promising athletic careers than any combination of dope, dames and drink.
In this article let me help you sift fact from fiction and let you decide for yourself just who is right – and it isn’t too tough a job. Just keep an open mind, use your common sense and – if you don’t already possess it – acquire a superficial knowledge of the Iron Game’s history.
Let me make my stand right now and say that I’m all for the Cheating Principle. So far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with it but two things – it’s name and the way it’s sometimes used, and I, and others in the Game who agree with me can produce facts and examples to substantiate our faith in it.
I now challenge any opponent of the Cheating Principle to produce one single valid argument, one single piece of evidence to show that a cheat version of any exercise has ever had an adverse effect – if used correctly and sensibly and moderately.
Look through any lifting or bodybuilding magazine. No matter what strength athletes’ photos grace the pages, you can be certain of one thing – each and every one of them used some form of the Cheating Principle to build his superb strength and development. Later on I’ll deal with a foregoing qualifying statement – “If used sensibly, correctly and moderately.” First let me put the opponents of the principle on the griddle.
Their main objections to the principle are somewhat vague, but are mainly confined to the following: “A cheating exercise never completely exercises a muscle.” “A cheating exercise is a poor movement for a lot of muscles.” “A cheating exercise is bad because it damages muscle tissue and destroys muscle tone.” All these claims are made without the slightest validity.
First let’s try to find out what’s “strict” and what’s “cheating”. I’ve been in the Iron Game for more years than some muscle magazine publishers have been in business. Way back in 1926, during my first weeks as a weight lifter, I listened to a lecture on strict versus cheating exercises, and I still cannot determine what the lecturer had in mind when he described these two qualities, for the simple reason that what was cheating then is considered strict now.
The best I can come up with is that the term “strict” applies to the way a lift should be performed according to the competition rules for that lift – plus the way some lifting officials interpret these rules during a lifting meet – and they can weave around the regulation like a drunk staggering down a straight chalk line for the benefit of arresting officers.
During my old British Amateur Weightlifting Association days there were two particular lifts in the book that even today entirely exemplify the difference between strict and cheating exercises – The Two Hands Clean and Military Press, and The Two Hands Clean and Push.
In the Military Press, the lifter was required to grip the bar with his hands not more than the width of his shoulders apart, knees locked, heels together, toes turned out at an angle of 45 degrees. The entire body from heels to top of the head had to be kept in a strictly military or erect position – no back bending – no knee bending – no hunching and heaving of shoulders – no sudden lowering of the bar and no sudden heaving it overhead – just a straight, strict military press – the weight keeping time to the slowly rising finger of the referee. If you think that Rudy Sablo, the late Charles Ramsey and Charles A. Smith were tough officials, you should have faced Messrs. Lowry, Lavender and Pullum.
Look at the way lifters press today. Not in the old style military press, but in almost exactly the way a weight was lifted in the lift known as the Two Hands Clean and Push. Any resemblance between the old style military press and the modern Olympic Press is imaginary. Today you can get away with weightlifting murder and, “in spite of the rules”. The old style cheating has become the modern “STRICT STYLE.” And is any modern lifter the worse for it? Are they weaker lifters than those of yesteryear? In a pig’s eye they are!
Records continue to rise and rise and rise and the end isn’t even in sight. Today’s fantastic predictions are tomorrow’s NEW WEIGHTLIFTING RECORDS. Only today, March 7th, 1960, I have read that a Russian lightweight, Anatoly Zhgun has made a new world record snatch record of 278.3 pounds. That’s more than the Olympic heavyweight champion, El Said Nosseir could snatch, way back in the late 20’s and early 30’s. And here’s a featherweight lifter – Russian Minaev, in the same report, pressing a new world’s record poundage of 264 – more than the fabulous middleweight Khadr El Touni pressed when he won the Olympic middleweight title in 1936. May I ask my former colleagues in the Metropolitan Weightlifting Committee to recall the time when I predicted that a featherweight would one day do just this. Some suggested that I must have been smoking a particularly potent pot of opium. Yet here we have a seemingly fantastic prediction now the new lifting record of TODAY.
Bantamweights are now totaling what heavyweights made 30 years ago. The little men have already gone 80 pounds and more beyond the record Olympic lightweight total made in the late ‘20’s when Haas and Helbig tied for the gold medal in the 149 lb. class with 697 odd. A lightheavy has already approached within a few pounds of the total once considered the ULTIMATE AGGREGATE FOR HEAVIES – 1000 pounds. Middleheavies are making mincemeat of the totals that brought heavyweights fame and acclaim nearly a decade ago. And all of these new titans of power have used some form of cheating exercises and all are cracking records left and right.
Take Kono, Ashman, Louis Martin, the George Brothers, Emrich, Vinci, Berger, Hepburn – the guy I coached to a world title in three years – Davis, Anderson, all the present crop of Russian champs, but why belabor the subject. Just look at the records of these men, then compare them with those of even ten years ago – those of the year 1950 – and try to den that there is no value in the Cheating Principle. All great strength athletes and record holders of today have used High Pullups, Hang Cleans, Hang Snatches, Bouncing Squats, Hopper Dead Lifts, Loose Style Presses, Continentals off a belt to the shoulders, and all boosted their power in what we call “STRICT LIFTS.”
So we can safely say that there is, really, no such thing as a “strict’ or “cheating” exercise, but just mere terms describing the way to perform exercises. For what was “Cheating” yesterday can be “Strict” tomorrow. And even the opinion as to what constitutes strict and cheating can change without the particular movement so tabbed losing the slightest value as a strength and muscle building exercise – “That which they call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
And we can safely say that there is no such thing as “a poor exercise for a lot of muscles” – that there is no exercise that fails to “completely exercise” a muscle – and Phys. Ed. majors will recognize this through the “All or none” law. Each and every exercise has a definite value according to the way it is used – intelligently or otherwise.
Now let’s return to the qualifying statement I used at the start of this article – “If used correctly, sensibly and moderately.” I well remember the reply I made to an indignant reader who had written in to the mag for which I then worked and had thoroughly knocked the bench press. I took the stand in my reply that actually no exercise could be blamed for any ill results that ensue from its use. It had to be the fault of the lifter using the exercise.
If a man with a ruptured appendix insists on eating a meal of pork chops, sauerkraut, beans and cream puffs, washed down with several bottles of beer, you don’t blame the meal for the man’s demise, you blame the man for being fool enough to eat it.
Each and every one of us writes his own ticket to wherever he wants to go. And so we alone are responsible for what we do. Thus we cannot blame this or that exercise or principle or advice for any ill effects that follow. A 4-time loser can no more blame the building he burglarizes for the life sentence he nets than a bodybuilder can blame a cheat curl for a ruptured biceps muscle.
Somewhere along the line the burglar and the bodybuilder MUST reach this one conclusion – they have only themselves to blame. The burglar for breaking and entering and the bodybuilder for trying to use too much weight or trying to work beyond his physical capabilities. When a man is tried for murder and found guilty, they send him to the chair, not the instrument with which he committed the crime. The MAN responsible takes the rap, not the instrument or exercise.
If those who condemn the Cheating Principle took care to investigate, they’d easily discover that cheating exercises have been used since the Dawn Years of the Iron Game. If Bent Presses, Side Presses, One and Two Hands Swings, Two Hands Anyhow Lifts, Continentals and Jerks aren’t loose lifting forms – in other words, cheating exercises – then I ain’t here and you’ve never existed.
Who discovered the Cheating Principle? Who really knows? Arthur Saxon used it. Eugen Sandow used it. Tommy Inch used it. Edward Aston used it. Josef Steinbach used it. Hermann Goerner used it. Karl Swoboda used it. George Hackenschmidt used it. Henry Steinborn used it. Francois Jean used it. Countless others before you and me and all the modern muscle building magazine editors and publishers were born, USED IT.
Way back in the late 1920’s, in Allen P. Meads’ London, England gym I was introduced to the cheating principle. Later I saw Cheat Curls used by Bert Assirati, the famous British Strongman wrestler. Those of you who keep copies of Iron Man will remember the article I wrote about Bert, also the “Questions and Answers” column written at the end of 1947, which finally appeared in the July, 1948, Vol. 8, No. 2 edition on page 34. Using Cheat Curls, Bert worked up to 15 reps with 200 pounds and his arms taped 19 ¼ cold. He was a real powerhouse.
The best results from this Q and A column came from an enthusiast named Russell Stoker who was kind enough to write me and say that he’d used every biceps exercise known but none of ‘em had given him the results nor the reactions he’d obtained with Cheat Curls. I still have his letter.
In one of the finest articles ever written on the subject of the Cheating Principle – “Is Strict Form a Must?” – by Walter G. Boucher, IRON MAN MAGAZINE, July 1957, Vol. 6, No. 5, p 22, Walt makes it clear to all who passed beyond 5th Grade that the principle is not a new way of exercising but was known years ago at the beginning of the 20th Century to the various authorities then living. Jowett, Calvert, Berry Liederman and other greats of their time used the principle as anyone reading their books and articles can see for himself.
Thus those who condemn the Cheating Principle are either fools or humorists or hypocrites. With all the evidence before them testifying to the benefits of the Cheating Principle they can’t be anything else. Let’s try and prove it. Let’s take the strictest possible way of raising a barbell with two hands to arm’s length overhead. Then let’s consider the claims made by the advocates of strict exercising that this – Strict – is the only way to work out.
The strictest, toughest way to lift a weight overhead to arm’s length is by using the lift known as the Forward Raise With Barbell. Place your back against a wall, Grip a barbell in your hands, arms at full downward stretch. Without moving your body away from the wall, keeping your arms rigidly straight throughout the lift, raise the bar forwards and up to arm’s length overhead.
If the advocates of strict exercises were sincere, this is the only exercise they’d use to raise a weight above the head. They’d forget about the snatching and jerking and pressing. After all, so far as they are concerned, the strictest movement is the best, so why don’t they use the strictest? But as each and every one of us knows, lifters and bodybuilders continue to use the Cheating Principle and every loose exercise form and none of ‘em suffer.
In what way can Cheating Exercises help a lifter improve his limit lifts, or a bodybuilder his muscular development? How is it possible for the loose style to help improve the strict? Each method compliments the other like eggs and bacon, cream and coffee, apple pie and ice cream.
Practice strict movements for a few weeks and you’ll find your loose or cheating poundages have improved. Return to cheating exercises and discover how you can handle pounds more in these. And not only will you improve your physical power so that you can handle heavier weights in “strict” competition form, but you’ll also develop a peculiar mental strength described by British lifter Jim Halliday as a “contempt for poundages” or what I like to call a superb self-confidence. Take this as an example – handling heavy poundages off a belt in the Continental to the Shoulders makes you less afraid to try your limit in the Orthodox Clean.
If you come across any “new” principle or exercise, the only way to handle it is by the empirical or “trial and error” method. Thus the results obtained determine the value of the principle or exercise for you. If well meaning friends warn you against using cheating exercises, but you go ahead and use them, and if the results are better than any others you have obtained, then the Cheating Principle so far as YOU are concerned is TERRIFIC.
And, as I’ve said, there’s nothing wrong with the Cheating Principle – only it’s name and the way it’s used. Take the name. If you think a little, it figures. And I shall, in all future articles call it by the name Joe Assirati and I originally called it back in 1934 – FREE STYLE EXERCISE. But call it what you will, you won’t detract one iota from its value. It’s a TERRIFIC power, speed, definition and stamina building principle. Only its misuse can cause trouble, and the same goes for any exercise or principle – or for that matter any innovation.
Well, it’s great to be back, great to be writing for you all again. And if you want to drop me al line I’m right here at 4807 Shoalwood Avenue, Austin, Texas.
And may the Great Architect of the Universe keep you safely and guide your footsteps along the straight and narrow path.