Saturday, December 13, 2008

Letters - Charles A. Smith

Charles A. Smith

Charles Smith Letters
by Charles A. Smith (from Hardgainer, 1989 - 1990 )

Has everyone forgotten that it was I who trained Doug Hepburn, the man who beat John Davis, taking the world title from him? Hepburn came to New York City and, after a three day journey across Canada, went with me to Val Pasqua’s gym and busted every record that had been set there, including a standing press with 400, a feat that had every gym denizen goggle-eyed, since 400 had always been jerked before. It was my coaching and the developing of his lifting style that helped him win the world title in 1953. Doug was the man to beat Paul Anderson in any contest that strong man has appeared in.

Joe Hise will never be, alas, honored for all he has done for the weight training world. Here was an original mind, bursting with ideas, all of which saw fruition. More than any other, Hise was responsible for the idea that leg and back work lay the foundation of strength and added bodyweight. It is obvious to me that Hise’s methods succeed. The legs and back contain the largest muscle masses so, ergo, improve their size and strength and you just can’t fail.

When asked what I consider the most important lesson I’ve learned in my seventy years of involvement in the sport is this: Your health is the most important, the most valuable asset you will ever possess.

Keep your head in the stars, but keep your feet on the ground. In other words, face reality. Man was not created equal. Some are born with greater potentials, what we might call genetic heritage. Some are born bigger, some smaller, some tall, some short, some wise, some foolish. The thing to try and achieve is to be aware of one’s potential and also limitations. In my view it is better to be healthy, happy, well built and with reasonable strength, than it is to ruin yourself trying to become someone you can never be.

Some say that no one should use rebound squats since these damage the knees. I used them exclusively all my lifting life, as did Joe Hise. Neither of us had any trouble with his knees. Yet there are scores, nay hundreds of men who have never used rebound squats who have suffered knee injuries. How do you account for this? Few men do more squatting than the Bulgarian Lifting Team. I asked the team’s Chief Coach, Angel Spasov, about the percentage of knee injuries, since they all do heavy squats both in training and as a part of their lifting style. He said that he only knew of one man who had suffered a knee injury, and that had been repaired with surgery. Personally, I think that the way power lifters squat – going down only to upper thighs parallel to the ground, shoves more strain on the knees than rebound squats, especially since they often hold the parallel position. The lesson to be learned? Some are more prone to knee injury than others. Some can smoke their heads off and never get heart or lung problems. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

When it comes to training, I think we should deal with the individual rather than with the masses. True, there are general rules to follow, but there was never a truer saying than, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

The power rack has had its prototypes. For some time before I brought out my own version I had been messing around with power exercises. I started to do floor presses off two stout boxes and high deadlifts from the boxes. In the floor presses I just had to press the bar out a few inches. In the deadlifts from boxes I lifted the weight from about two inches above the knees. What I used to do was hold the weight at finish position when I had pressed or deadlifted it. Why I did this I don’t know. I held 600 pounds in the box deadlift for one minute after I had pulled it off the boxes.
I also did a lot of hang cleans or power cleans, as they call them today. Some days after I had held the 600 box deadlift for a minute I did some hang cleans. The cleans felt so easy, where before they had been a tad tough. The same with my benches following the very heavy lockout reps a few days earlier.
Thus I concluded that handling heavy weights, even if handled in a movement that wasn’t full range, did benefit you mentally – it got you used to handling a very heavy poundage. In other words one developed a “contempt” for heavy weights and thus a positive attitude.
I figured out that this principle could be applied to most movements. I reasoned out that with two upright steel bars or tubes, with holes bored in them to hold steel pins, one could do standing movements and other exercises with heavy weights over a short range of movement, especially in squats and deadlifts. Now you can walk into any gym and see power racks, as they are called today. All use them, especially powerlifters, but where am I? Unknown and forgotten. I wrote several articles – a series – called The Science of the Multi Power Machine. If you have access to any old copies of Joe Weider’s, see them for yourself.

I do think, and this becomes more apparent as I live on, that moderation is best. You’ll make better and faster progress and you’ll also avoid not only overtraining but possible injuries. I think the finest piece of advice I have come across is contained in the first chapter of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. The young Crusoe, dissatisfied with his life, comes up with all sorts of hair-brained schemes to make his fortune. He is interviewed by his father in the latter’s chamber and to whom he makes known his schemes. His father tries to dissuade him and tells him to take the middle course through life and be subjected to less stress and strain. Read it for yourself.

John McCallum passed away last week in September. Another one of the old-timers who died is Chester Teagarden, whom I have known since the middle 1930. A heart attack took him off. The leaves of lift keep falling one by one.

I was up in New York City from October 5th to the 8th. Was up with Terry Todd and wife Jan to attend the Old Timers Dinner. Honored were Pete George, Marvin Eder, Jules Bacon and Ed Jubinville. Why am I always the bridesmaid and never the blushing bride? Grimek, now 80, looked fabulous, as did Eder. Marvin is now 58 and if he told anyone he was in his late 30’s he would have been believed. Pete George, now a dental surgeon in Hawaii, five times World and Olympic champion, is now 60. Where did all those years slip away too?

A few generalizations. One should be careful of the amount of milk one drinks. Some people can’t drink cow’s mild; results in stomach upsets. A cambered bar is a plus when squatting. Saves skin, lowers discomfort. Always, but always, do a set of breathing pullovers or related after each set of squats. Force breathing.

It is surprising how many present day weight trainees think most developments in the sport are recent ones. There is nothing new – it has all been done before at some time or another. It is the same old meat and potatoes, but covered with a slightly more savory sauce. Most people in weight training probably think that machines are recent developments. They are not. Alan P. Mead, in the 1920s had them in his gym, as did Adolph Rhein in his in the 1930s, and John Terlazzo when he took Rhein’s gym over. I have seen a photo of a pec deck machine in a New York newspaper dated 1920. Very similar to our modern machine, lacking the chrome plate. This was used in the physical therapy department of a New York City hospital. The caption said that the machine was used to strengthen the adductor and abductor muscles of the chest. These machines and pulleys were but variations on a very old theme and were taken and improved upon by those who followed, but without sufficient credit being given to the original creators.
In 1922 Ottley Coulter and George Jowett put out a course known as the Apollo Course. In it they describe how to make squat racks and how to use a backless sofa or boxes for bench presses. so the bench press is not new by any means. Also in the Apollo Course is a what was then called a new way of doing the deadlift – with the hands inside the legs. The hands inside the legs style of deadlift is now called the sumo style.
As exercise growing in popularity is the step up. This is particularly favored in Bulgarian lifting circles. This exercise consists of stepping up and down on a bench or high platform, or climbing steps, with a weight across the shoulders. New? By no means.
At the turn of the century there was a vaudeville artist, Bobby Pandour, who gave posing exhibitions. He would take his brother on his shoulders and run up two or three flights of stairs. At the end of the 1930s and the start of the 1940s step ups were used by Louis Abele. Abele was a fine heavyweight Olympic lifter. A booklet was even published about his training routines by Chester Teagarden. Step ups are not new.

What about long term effects of heavy training on the joints? This depends on the individual. For instance, Henry Milo Steinborn, who died recently while in his mid-nineties, squatted all his life – even into his nineties. Henry introduced the deep knee bend to America when he emigrated from Germany. Call hi Mr. Squat. He had no joint problems so far as I know except for some arthritis in his hands when he got into his nineties.
Pete George, world and Olympic champion squat style lifter, has had no problems. Dave Shephard, the great lifter and holder of many world records, though he never won a world title, a squat snatcher and cleaner, has had his hips replaced. Bart Horvath, an old-time bodybuilder who had a development many consider to have equaled Grimek, has also had hip replacements.
I squatted my rear end off with high reps, once doing 30 with 300. I have had no joint problems. Tommy Kono, one of the greatest American lifters of all time and easily one of the world’s greatest lifters, a squat cleaner and snatcher, once did 30 reps with 350 in the front squat! So far as I know he has had no hip or knee problems.
John Grimek, who also squatted heavily, is still going strong at close to eighty years, and looks twenty years younger.
While at the Old Timers dinner in October 1989, I sat next to Kimon Voyages, the winner of many “Best Legs” awards. He was a squat devotee. He would squat in the usual way. He also used the modern power squat, going down to the thighs parallel position. He also used a squat in which he started at the deep position, i.e. all the way down to begin. He recovered only to the parallel position and then returned to the deep position, repeating this for the required number of reps. I saw no signs of joint problems. A sad note here. Kimon Voyages very recently passed away. It happened just after Christmas. He died of a stroke, aged sixty-seven.
Marvin Eder, the strongest man – pound for pound – I have ever met, now fifty-eight, looks twenty years younger and has had no joint problems. On the other hand, there are many who have had hip and knee problems even though they have only ever had to squat to pluck daisies. In fact, you’ll find more joint problems among football players than you will among weight trainers.
What does all this add up to? As I have long believed, but have no way of knowing if I’m correct, some people are disposed to injury while others are not.
Chester Teagarden’s contribution to the Iron Game? For one thing, he was a good friend and shared what he knew. As I did, and now still do, he believed that no man knows it all, that what we know isn’t ours, that we gained our knowledge from others who went before us, that thus we were the keepers rather than the discoverers, and that we should share what we know. He, like me, was one of the unsung men of the Iron Game who gave rather than took.
One of the best ways to improve the grip is to carry a heavy pair of dumbells for as long as the hands can hold them. One story I love to tell about grip power is about John Davis. One time, Sig Klein decided to have all his gym’s barbells and dumbells chromed. To get them to the man who was doing he job, Sig enlisted the aid of the blokes who used his gym. The job was duly done and the weights had to be brought back to Sig’s gym. John Davis offered to lend a hand – literally. After bringing them back in a truck, John found parking space tough to find around Times Square. The truck had to be parked three blocks away from Sig’s gym. Last trip to the gym, Davis carried two 100-pound dumbells all the three blocks distance, up the three flights of stairs to Sig’s gym and placed them gently in the racks. That takes some hand power!
Witness Hermann Goerner’s 1920 one-hand deadlift of 727 ½ pounds! This was with his right hand. So, I’d say that carrying a weight in one’s hands is a good grip exercise.

The Hindu wrestlers have heavy Indian clubs which weight from 100 to 175 pounds and are swung around and such. This, of course, gives them great gripping power and body power. They also have leather sacks filled with sand. These sacks, while being grasped, are lifted, bridged with and rolled over and over with. They also have heavy stone collars which they put around their necks. These collars weigh up to 200 pounds. They carry these around, bend forward and recover with them, and other movements. They also have a very heavy wooden log called a sumtollah which they drag over rough ground. You can imagine how much total and overall body power these exercises develop.
Of course, not everyone agrees with what I say. I don’t ask that everyone does. Honest dissent and intelligent discussion are what we learn and grow by. What I do ask is that people think and do so with their minds unclouded by bias. Keep an open mind about everything.

As I mentioned earlier, I met Marvin Eder at the Old Timers’ dinner in October of 1989. I trained with Marvin many times and we were very friendly. It would be absolutely impossible for the average trainee to use Marvin’s routines. He trained all day long. No one I ever knew could workout with the intensity that Marvin did. No one; mention who you will. He never took steroids at all, and he never weighed above 198.
Marvin was the strongest man – pound for pound – that I ever met. I saw him, personally, at a bodyweight of 196, curl, press and then lower down to his shoulders, arms parallel to the floor, palms up, a perfect crucifix with a pair of 100-pound dumbells. To add icing to the cake he counted out to ten while following the hand of the gym clock as it swept around the dial. How’s that for strength? How many could do that today? This took place in the mid-fifties, at Abe Goldberg’s gym.

Joe Hise, by the way, gained his 29 pounds in one month by staying in bed almost all day. He had time on his hands and fully used it in order to maximize recovery from his very intense workouts. He often worked out three times daily, doing standing presses, curls, breathing squats and breathing pullovers. He had a diet with lots of milk and liquids in it.

I have used abbreviated routines through sheer necessity. In my young training days w had long work weeks, running as high as 60 and 70 hours weekly. We didn’t have the time to train as people can today when the working week is down to 35 and 40 hours, with few working Saturdays and Sundays. If I were to recommend any abbreviated routine, it would be bench presses, curls, breathing squats and breathing pullovers.
Let’s face it, not everyone can become a bodybuilding “star” and not everyone can become a power or Olympic lifting champion. We are left with a great number who just want a reasonable degree of strength, good health, good build and endurance. There are the norm and the goals to which more training information should be addressed.
I believe that we have to be careful of concluding that just because something doesn’t suit one person it won’t suit others too. This is a mistake many make. We are each as we are, with out special needs and problems.
Concerning step ups, as I have said before, they are not new. Angel Spasov uses them claiming they don’t induce of cause back injuries. I am not sold on the exercise at all – if it had been any good it would have been used my so many more. Though they may reduce lower back injury incidence, they also may cause ankle and knee injuries. All the stress is on one leg and its ankle and knee joints. Balance is also a problem.
Bert Assirati is a cousin of mine by adoption and I worked out with him for years. Bert taught me how to wrestle – the hard way! It was he who first got me interested in lifting on a regular training basis. I worked out with him at the Oly Ring Gym in London. Bert took me onto the mat and taught me the finer and rougher points of grappling. He said I needed more weight and sent me to his cousin Joe Assirati to learn weight training. This was in the early 1930s. Joe taught me all I know about lifting and bodybuilding, and I was taken into the family. Joe and I regard each other as brothers. Bert is 81 now and almost totally blind. Joe is still alive too, still works out and is 85 this year.
At a time when the world record heavyweight Clean & Jerk record was 363, owned by the Egyptian lifter El Said Nosseir, Bert was clean and jerking 368. He was one of the first to curl 200 pounds, in the ultra-strict British style. No back bend, upper arms held tightly against the body. He also curled 180 with his upper arms strapped to his body and body held against a wall. At a time when the British heavyweight record in the straight two arms pullover was 145 pounds, Bert could do reps with that and even made 200 pounds. He was one of the first to squat reps with 500 pounds – tons of them. He squatted for half an hour without stopping with 245. He also did a one legged squat with 200 pounds. Try if some time! He did many other out of the way feats like this. He was also an accomplished acrobat and hand balancer. Bert was never pinned in 25 years until he went to India and was taken down in two minutes by one of their star wrestlers.
Ron Walker was great. One of the nicest guys you could wish to meet. Always ready to help out any kid who button-holed him and asked for advice. Nothing big-headed about Ron. I knew him personally, watched him train and benefitted by what he did. Ron used to use negative training. He would press a barbell and then lower the bar as slowly as he could. He was doing this decades before negative resistance training was popularized. If only Ron had had the benefit of modern training, what he wouldn’t have done. Ron smoked cigarette after cigarette, drank endless cups of strong tea and almost lived on a diet of fish and chips. He died a young man, all the promises he had left unfulfilled.
Quite a number of prominent people in the Iron Game have died well before old age: Roger Eels, Floyd Page, Ron Walker and Eugen Sandow. Of course, plenty have lived well into old age. Here I am, still hanging around at 78. I wouldn’t care to say whether or not their lifestyles had anything to do with their demises. I like to think, however, that they would have died when they did despite their interests in training.

What did I do when I was Joe Weider’s editor in the 1950s? EVERYTHING! As well as writing two or three articles each day for his muscle magazines, I also worked on all fourteen of the other magazines he had at the time. I worked on the proofing, the paste ups and getting the magazines ready for the printers. I, at time, wrote every article in the magazine under different names. At last. realizing that my family meant more to me than the job, I quit.
Yes, I knew George Hackenschmidt personally. I knew Bill Pullum tangentially. That is, I knew Bill from having visited his gym in Camberwell, London, and seeing him and chatting at meets. Of the two I liked Hack best. He was a quiet and gentle man, no bombast, very well educated and spoke six languages fluently.
In the 30s I used to belong to a lifting club, the First West Central. We met three times a week in a small hall over a pub, the Gafton Arms. The pub was owned by Milo Brinn (Luigi Borra), an old time vaudeville strong man. Friday night was our big night in which we’d have a small lifting contest. Hack was Milo’s friend and on Fridays he’s always come in and stand at the bar chatting with Milo.
When he saw we had all come down, Hack would turn to Milo and ask, “Anyone upstairs?” Upon getting a negative answer Hack would say, “Well, I think I’ll go up and take a look around.” Up he’d go and we’d wait for some time, then sneak up the stairs and look through the glass doors. There, Hack would be doing one arm side presses with the International bar, collars and two big plates – 145 pounds in all! Hack was nearing sixty at the time.
Bill Pullum ran a gym at 5 Church Street. By profession, Pullum was a picture frame maker but he ran a lifting club in the basement of his shop. In addition to being a world record holder on more lifts than many of today can even name, Bill was as an excellent trainer, coach and writer. In my opinion he wrote one of the finest and definitive books ever written in lifting: Weight Lifting Made Easy and Interesting. It contained descriptions of over forty lifts used at the time in England for record breaking and contest purposes. Beg, borrow or steal a copy and see how many lifts claimed as new today are not. Bill trained many fine lifters but was very conscious of his importance and would sue at the drop of a hat or whatever.
Perhaps the most memorable of my meetings with him was one in February, 1927, when I was a mere 15 years of age. I was well into contest swimming at the time and thought lifting would improve my speed. I was thinking far ahead of my time. Anyway, I went to see Bill. On entering his basement gym I saw a giant of a man standing with Bill, and a young red-headed fellow with them. The giant was Goerner, the redhead was Jean Paul
Getty, just thirty years of age at the time. I heard Getty tell Pullum, “He’s got £25 if he can lift it again.” It was 600 pounds that Goerner had just done in a right hand deadlift. Goerner said something to the effect that he was too tired and Getty should come tomorrow. Getty said he would and, of course, next evening I was there too. Goerner did a one hand deadlift with 600 pounds, the bar weighing out at 602 ¼ pounds! Pullum passed the lift and Getty forked out £25.

The nonsense that fills some muscle magazines today is almost beyond belief. For example, in a recently published course I read that Chuck Sipes, at 220 pounds, had an 18” forearm. Now Chuck is an exceptionally powerful man, as well as being one of the best built. Now, I have seen some large forearms. Bill Kazmaier, one of the most powerful men ever, has a forearm measuring 17.5” at a bodyweight of 300 and odd pounds.
The face of weight training has changed. We have become more competitive, insecure and greedy. A friend called up the latest “star” and asked for an interview for an article he had been commissioned to write for a mag. He was told the interview would cost him $500 up front. If I had been in my friend’s place I would have said, “Certainly, and you, of course, won’t mind me reporting the payment to the IRS.”
I have heard of seminars being run in which the “star” talked of how great he was, all the titles he’d won – carefully avoiding all questions on anabolic steroid use. When he was asked how to develop this or that bodypart, the questioners were referred to his tapes and videos on display in the lobby – thirty-five bucks per toss. These are the depths to which we have let weight lifting sink What a shame.

Do I know Reg Park? Is the Pope Polish? I know his as well as I would my own brother. Here’s another man I’ve done much to help. Reg was tied up with Weider in the early fifties but the relationship soured later and Reg went his own way. He comes of a very good family, is the only child and well-educated. His father, now dead, was a businessman in Leeds, England. Dealt in antique et cetera.
Personally, Reg was one of the nicest guys I’ve met in the Iron Game – no side, no big head, just a regular guy. Reg was a frequent visitor at our home in the Bronx. On one occasion my youngest daughter, who adored Reg, emptied a bowl of Quaker Oats over his head. She was two at the time and did this shortly after he had won the Mr. Universe title.
In 1951, just before the Mr. Universe contest, Joe Weider and I went to England to set up Reg in his business. I stayed at the Park home – a very well appointed abode – and was there for three weeks with Reg. We helped him set up his barbell business and his magazine, The Reg Park Journal. Indeed, I helped him, in fact did get the first half dozen or so issues together for him.
What a difference between Reg and the present crop of over-muscled, over-veined muscle heads. No matter where he went Reg was one of the boys. I recall on one occasion we hit – he and I – just about every gym in New York City over a period of two or three days. At each one Reg was surrounded by kids and answered every one of their questions, took a workout with them, advised them, coached them – did all he could to help them. And no, it wasn’t “500 dollars up front.”
As for his training, Reg used loads of squats, deadlifts and bench presses. I think he did a 500 bench and way over 600 in the squat. In those days, lifts of that sort boggled the mind – and no steroids. I can’t say enough about Reg that’s good. He’s now in his early 60s and looks fantastic for his age.

Joe Greenstein, The Mighty Atom – I’ve heard of him, of course, but can supply little or no details. I’ve not been fortunate enough to see the book about him, but believe we have it at the Todd/Mclean Collection. I also understand he was a pugnacious little devil. I’ve heard a tale of his biting a dime in half at Sig Klein’s gym, and setting the teeth of everyone else in the gym on edge as they heard his teeth grating against the coin.

Few people realize how the three times a week routine arose. In its beginnings – and until modern times, present day that is – weight training was always a working man’s sport. Few of the so-called upper classes touched it, they deeming it to be manual labor, and of course a “gentleman” just didn’t engage in hard work. This was at a time when corpulence was considered a sign of social status. In my day, the work week was at least 60 to 70 hours long. I worked in a bank at the time and was accounted to have a “soft” job because I worked “only” 56 hours a week.
Thus the working man didn’t have the time to train as he does now. Most of his time was spent working for a living to shove food on the table and clothes on the back of his wife and kids, if he had any, or else contributing to the family budget if he lived with his family. Then too, there were hardly any commercial gyms around. A couple here and there. So what happened was that a bunch of lads got together, chipped in, bought a barbell set, hired a church or school hall for a few shillings a week and met to have fun, comradeship, and enjoy themselves. Comradeship and participation were what mattered, not making all they could financially out of the Game.
Such tremendous social and economic changes took place over the years. Changes that affected everything – the way you lived, what you did, how you dressed and even how you ate. Attitudes changed as well as social mores. Now look at us. The work week is down to 40 and in some cases 35 hours weekly. Some work four days a week. Society has become much more affluent. Attitudes have changed again, and now we see men working out every day in the week, with chemical help, of course. The Game has opened up to women. Before, women weight lifters were looked on as some kind of freaks. Those who were prominent were on the stage as women strong “men”!
A last word: Believe me, you’ll never know how important good health is until you don’t have it anymore.

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