Sunday, June 27, 2010
Arms and Shoulders, Part Two - Harry Paschall
A Discussion of Training Methods
Among all classes of athletes, nobody can deny that weight lifters have the best arms. Next to them we would place handbalancers and roman ring performers. Some workmen get very capable arms in the performance of their regular tasks, notably men who use pick and shovel, the farmer, and men in various phases of the construction or building trades. We recall quite well our early days, when we worked with a building gang during our school vacation, eyeing the plasterers’ bare arms as they worked at their craft. We noticed several of these men with extraordinary biceps, developed by the twisting and turning-in of the hand ass they wielded their trowels and mortarboards. Among lumberjacks and farmers, we noted very well-developed forearms and brachialis, due to sawing movements, while gripping hard with the hands. These men also built amazing hands and wrists, and were very strong.
We know one man, many, many years ago, who worked in a factory and used a spanner in a peculiar way for eight hours every day. He developed the large bulge of muscle of the forearm which bulks up when you hold the arm in the “gooseneck” position, so that his forearm was a full two inches larger than his upper arm at the biceps. His arm looked like it had a case of elephantitis, and was a revolting sight. The reason for this was, of course, that he had developed this one portion of the arm at the expense of all the other muscles, which were given practically no exercise at all. This fellow, incidentally, was almost unbeatable at the sport of wrist-turning, as was every other workman we have run across who devoted a lot of time to turning and twisting the arm while using a wrench or a spanner in his daily work.
This man has remained in my memory over the years as a warning against over-specialization in exercise. You CAN overdevelop certain parts of the body at the expense of others, and you may lose athletic proportions in doing so. Some roman ring performers I have seen remind me of this chap, because they are all arms, shoulders, pectoral and latissimus muscles, with small legs. This is sometimes true of handbalancers as well, with the exception of the bottom man who necessarily develops good legs in holding up the others. If you want almost ideal all-round development, tumblers, as a class, are unexcelled. An acrobat must develop almost every muscle in order to have muscular coordination and control sufficient to enable him to flip and leap and twist through the air in his amazing convolutions. The ideal weightlifter should be a tumbler as well.
My first course in arm exercise was quite simple. It employed almost exactly the same basic exercises you will find in many mail-order courses today. First, the chinning exercise for the biceps. Second, the pushups for the triceps. The chins were done with the palms of the hands turned in, and we found that we got better results when we kept our hands quite wide apart. This was a personal matter, and many find that they do better with hands close together. The pushups were first done on the floor, then with feet elevated on the seat of a chair, and later we did pushups while in the handstand position with our heels against a wall for balance. We also did dips between two chair backs, with our knees bent to keep from touching the floor.
Many of the first sixteen-inch biceps were created this very way. We can recall Earle Liederman and Charles Atlas training at the YMCA in New York, doing innumerable routines or “sets” of dips between the parallel bars. This was all very well, but too many dips call upon the pectoral muscles for aid, particularly when the triceps tire, and men who do hundreds of these are apt to get an over-development of the pectoral muscles. Also, they do not get the proper deltoid musculature to fit in with their big arms. Many of our latter-day musclemen have carried this dipping even further by tying a weight to the feet. They, too, are trifling with disaster, because of over-emphasis on the breast muscles.
Boxers, who punch the light and heavy bag, have very good arms as a rule. It has often amazed me to find boxers with a splendid biceps development, when one would think most of their effort was devoted to straightening the arms in the punching motion, thus tending to develop the triceps. However, a little thought will explain tins – a boxer twists his hand as he strikes, and this pronation of the hand from palm up to palm down is the very motion for which the biceps is designed. It would be well for you to remember this later on when we consider exercises for the biceps.
If you are to obtain the ultimate in arm and shoulder development you are going to have to use progressive weight training. We have never known eighteen-inch arms developed in any other way. So it is necessary that we spend a little time in considering the best methods used by the current crop of muscle men. There are more eighteen-inch arms today than ever before in history, and it is a direct result of arm specialization with barbells and dumbells. We have trained many of these men, and may be able to save you time and energy by setting down what we believe to be the true essentials.
There are several systems worth consideration. The older school of thought has little use for any sort of specialization to build big arms. They practice a routine of some dozen exercises for the entire body and limbs and let the arms come out as they will. Their chief logic consists of saying that you must use the arms to hold the barbell or dumbell while doing other exercises, so the arms naturally get more than their share of exercise. If one followed this system, the arms might grow to fifteen, or even sixteen inches, but you would never get the sort of arms that bodybuilders desire in this day and age.
Other musclemen, the sworn protagonists of Lumps, go all out for a number of highly concentrated and specialized routines. There is the Set System, the Multiple Set System, etc., etc. Some are simple systems, using many sets of one or two exercises, and others are in favor of a thousand-and-one different exercises. We might put down right here our own reactions to these various methods. We have observed that men who use a very simple system of perhaps two or three exercises – the curl, the press, and perhaps press on bench – and do many sets of these movements, do get big arms in many cases, but their arms are merely bulky, not shapely. And, on the other hand, the ones who employ a great number of movements over hours of exercise time are apt to get a high degree of separation and distended blood vessels, and not enough actual bulk and comparable strength. The safe way to go in this, as in almost every human endeavor, is somewhere in the middle of the road.
Thirty-odd years ago, in the first training quarters we had established in our local YMCA, over the vehement protests of the physical director who swore we would get muscle-bound, we had a group of lads training with us. At that time we did a routine of some dozen general exercises, and then practiced some bent presses, and maybe one or two other lifts. The rest of the gang followed our lead, except for one fellow named Bill. Bill didn’t like the agony of doing deep knee bends, and rowing movements and snatches and jerks and bent presses. He did just two exercises – two hand presses and two hand curls. He would repeat these time after time, while the rest of us were doing all-round stuff. I suppose he might have done twenty or thirty sets of presses and curls during an evening. Bill had the biggest upper arm of us all. True, he couldn’t snatch anything, and he was no good at cleaning a heavy weight to his shoulders, and he couldn’t squat with nearly as much as the rest of us, and he was a sort of an awkward chap, but one day we put the tape on him and found he had sixteen-and-a-half inch biceps. The “Set” system had been born. The last time I saw Bill, some ten years ago, he still had big arms, but the rest of his physique was nothing to write home about. And, in spite of his curling and pressing, over the years, his arms were not nearly as shapely as they might have been. Further, they never got over a limit of seventeen inches. The Set system, in its simplified form, had worked fairly well, but it was not perfect.
Another time, some twenty years ago, we were greatly interested in weightlifting, and we had a pretty good team of young fellows at this same YMCA. Most of our practice, after a starting period of a few months when general exercises were used, was devoted to doing the three Olympic lifts. A couple of the boys wanted to get bigger arms, so they could walk around town in the summer months with their sleeves rolled up and impress the babes. So, as a concession, we advised them to do just one exercise in addition to their lifting practice. This was the Dumbell Circle movement, done with a pair of twenty-pound dumbells. At the close of training we would all do three sets of just as many reps as we could squeeze out on this one. Lo and Behold! The whole team got sixteen or better arms! And this, on just one exercise, with a minimum of weight.
Some dozen years ago we spent quite a lot of time around the York Barbell Club Gym in York, Pennsylvania. Probably the most famous strength and muscle stars in the whole world trained at York. Back around 1940 a big six-footer from the neighboring village of Carlisle named Jake Hitchens began to haunt the gym. Jake was not at all interested in strength, but he was enthralled by large muscular girths. He had the idea that the way to get big muscles was to do exercises with BIG weights. So he followed John Grimek and Steve Stanko through their exercise routines, but instead of using 25- to 60-pound dumbells in the various chest- and shoulder-building routines used by these mighty champions, he insisted on using 75- and 100-lb. dumbells. Of course, he couldn’t do the movements exactly like John and Steve, so he bent his arms at the elbow instead of keeping the arms straight, and thus reduced the strain. He did curls by bouncing, bending back, and swinging the bell; he pressed the bar overhead with a push and shove. He absolutely refused to do deep knee bends. Results: Jake grew 18-inch arms and a 50-inch chest. He was the first man, to our knowledge, to go all-out for “Cheating” exercises.
We would like to say, at this point, that Jake got very strong from this unorthodox practice, but this would not be so. He got bulk, this is true, but he was never anyway near as strong as he looked. We recall one time when the York boys played a dirty trick on Hitchens. There were four lifting platforms in the big gym, and each of them had a revolving York International bar. Jake liked to use the one on a platform close to the Dream Bench, so he could sit down and relax between sets. (The Dream Bench was so-called because so many lifters had rested on it while dreaming of becoming World Champion.) This bar, like the others, was usually loaded up with a pair of 45-lb. plates, which, with the weight of the bar, made up a barbell with a weight of 135 lb. (minus collars). Jake was accustomed to seizing this bar and doing a set of perhaps ten rough, violent presses to start his workout. Unknown to Hitchens, and to other strangers as well, the boys at the York foundry had cast a number of plates somewhat thicker than the regular 45-lb. discs, which looked exactly like the usual weights. These super-discs weighed 75-lbs. each. So one day the boys fixed up Jake’s favorite bar with 75’s instead of 45’s so that it weighed 195 instead of 135.
Jake, always a breezy conversationalist, came rushing into the gym, full of vim, vigor and vitality. He felt super, he opined, and would show the boys how to take a real rough workout. He grabbed his warmup bell. It went to the shoulders, a little harder than usual, but when he started to push it vigorously overhead his first violent shove only carried it as high as his nose, and it began to sink downward. The boys in the gym began to gather round. “What’s the trouble, Jake?” they asked solicitously. “Are you sick?” Do the weights feel heavy today?” Poor Jake was completely dumbfounded. He thought he was losing his strength. He tried the bar again, and again, and still couldn’t lift it. He asked on of the others to try it, and of course the weight of 195 meant nothing to guys like Grimek and Stanko, and they played with it like a toy. Poor Hitchens decided he should see a doctor, and reluctantly put on his street clothes and went away. The next time he came into the gym the 75-lb. phony plates had been removed, and Jake was back to normal.
The boys at York did a lot of experimentation with all sorts of odd equipment and gym furniture. They rigged up several pulleys, and were among the first to do pulley or “lat” machine exercises. They also had built, very crudely, the first incline bench I ever saw. This bench had a seat about halfway up the incline, and was consequently very comfortable to use. Stanko, Grimek, Bacon, Lauriano and others spent much of their exercise time upon this piece of furniture, using dumbells of varying weights. The flat bench was seldom used, except by Stanko, who liked to pull over bars in excess of 300 lbs. over his head from the floor, and then do a press or two. I have never seen Grimek on the flat bench, which may explain the normal beauty of his flat, athletic pectoral muscles, so much in contrast with the other “over-pecd” musclemen of this era whose fondness for bench presses has “done them wrong”.
You can travel the world over and not find better arms than those of Grimek and Stanko, whose biceps tape from 18½ to 19 inches. Dumbell exercises on the incline bench were responsible for putting the finishing touches on these arms. Before they ever did any incline bench movements they had big, strong arms from their practice as champion weightlifters, but their arms were not so rounded and shapely. We must conclude, therefore, that dumbell exercises of this type have a very beneficial effect in shaping already large arms.
About five years previous to this particular period another York barbell man was distinguished for unusual arm development. His name was Dave Mayor, the York heavyweight between the Bill Good period and Stanko’s time. Dave was really a bodybuilder rather than a lifter, and before he came to York he had done all his exercising in the family kitchen in Philadelphia. He was about 6’ 3” tall and weighed about 250 lb. To him must be attributed the discovery of the value of developing the brachialis as a contribution to biceps size. Dave’s favorite movements were barbell exercises; the pullup to chin, and the rowing movement with weights over 300 lbs. He got arms over 19 inches around in the day when 17-inch arms were considered extraordinary. I can remember the incredulous look on Sig Klein’s face when he told me in Philly, “Did you feel that guy’s arms? I thought they would be like mush – and they’re hard as iron!” When Dave stood on the lifting platform all one could see was those huge bulging arms.
At this same period, a lightheavy named Steve Gob of New Jersey was competing in American lifting, and finishing right at the top. He pressed 270 lb. in a perfect military press back before 1940, and had a set of the finest arms and shoulders we have ever seen. It seemed that in the Jersey gym he frequented the boys had a habit of competing on lifting heavy dumbells, doing alternate presses, and also pressing them simultaneously. He did a lot of see-saw presses with a pair of hundreds, and had succeeded with the 125’s. All of the men in this gym had remarkable arms and shoulders. Later on, Stan Stanczyk devoted a lot of time to dumbell presses, and his Olympic press went up from 230 to nearly 300 lbs. Over the years we have found no better exercise for the arms and shoulders combined than dumbell pressing of this type. Sig Klein had used this to great advantage back around 1925 in building the best physique of his era. He once did ten reps (each arm) with a pair of hundreds.
It is significant that Louis Uni (Apollon) used to use block-weights in his act, gripping several of these awkward weights together, and doing swings and snatches with them. His magnificently shaped 20-inch arms testify to the effectiveness of single-arm movements with dumbells.
We trained in the same gym with Johnny McWilliams, who has probably the largest arms of today (they run from 20 to 21 inches), and with Eric Pederson, who was runner-up to Steve Reeves for Mr. America 1947 and who had the highest hump on the biceps we ever saw, and 18 inch arms as well. We learned something from each of these men. From McWilliams, the value of the French Press or Triceps Curl; and from Pederson, the shaping value of the “cramp” curl or peak contraction training.
Peary Rader, editor of Iron Man magazine, once used a rather unique form of rest-pause training, which he said put a full inch on his arms in two weeks. Being in a gymnasium all day long he was able to use this system, which would be impractical for the average man. He started in the morning and did two exercises only, one for biceps and one for triceps, using about ten reps on each. He did a curl for the biceps and a French Curl for the triceps. He would do two sets of ten reps each on each of these movements, thus working both triceps and biceps pretty thoroughly, but not to exhaustion. Then he would take a full hour’s rest while he did other work. After that time he would repeat his two exercises another two sets. Then another hour’s rest. He did this throughout the day – usually doing six exercise sessions. He also did a little muscle “cramping” after each session to be sure the muscle was thoroughly flooded with blood. This is somewhat similar to the system used by many weightlifters to increase their poundage in the press, but they didn’t call it greasing the groove or any such asinine internet name at the time. Such a strange web. We weave the belief that things are new, improved, guaranteed to recolor the blues you carry, when in fact they are all part of a repetitive and senselessly insistent cycle. Myself, emotionally we prefer the greens, aqua-teal in the summer and a mild coral-lime in winter. Nonethemerrier, this is a good “blitz” technique, but cannot be pursued for more than a couple of weeks at a time or your will find yourself all washed up. Any time you try to do daily exercise you will come pretty shortly to a sticking point, and the only thing to do is rest for a week.
We have come to certain well-shaped conclusions about barbell training after many years in the game. We think many prominent body culturists of the present day have demonstrated their training ideas are wrong by the misleading condition of their bodies. The period of endless sets (one exercise repeated ad infinitum) has had its heyday and is definitely over. All that anyone may expect from limited use of a muscle is unbalanced over-development. The arms must be worked from a number of angles to make a fully developed, balanced arm. We think, too (as we have always thought), that an arm must be strong in order to look strong. The use of “cramping” light-weight exercises should not be overdone. Yet we also feel, conversely, that many weight lifters would have better arms if they did include the practice of some shaping or muscle-molding exercises as well as their pure strength movements.
In the schedules of exercises which we set up in another chapter you will find that all of these contain a strength-building exercise, followed by a muscle-molding movement. We believe this is the way to the perfect arm.
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