Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Search for Strength and Health - Fred R. Howell

The top photo shows Fred Howell doing a partial squat. This will build strength in your knees and legs. Here, Fred is using 735 pounds as part of his warmup. The bottom photo is of a bench press lockout off boxes. Here, you build strength in your elbows, pectorals, front deltoids and triceps. Fred has trained most of his life to build strength and defeat health problems.

My Search for Strength and Health
by Fred R. Howell (1985)

"Don't encourage Freddie to walk, Mrs. Howell. When he tries to stand up to take those first steps gently push him back down," explained the family doctor.

As a change of life baby I was a colicky kid who was allergic to milk and just about everything else in this world! My mother couldn't believe her eyes when I first tried to walk and my legs bent like soft putty. She quickly called the family doctor who made house calls in those days. He took one look at my legs when I tried to walk and was shocked at the severe case of rickets in his patient!

None of the formulas tried had agreed with the cry-baby. Finally at their wits end, a friend suggested using evaporated milk. Until then I was busy building a foundation for arthritis and something worse.

With the increase in calcium intake thanks to the evaporated milk, I settled down to growing like an average baby. At the time little was known about nutrition except the basic facts. The hated cod liver oil was the only vitamin supplement used by the doctors to tread dietary deficiencies. Baby food was made at home by pushing food through a strainer. So with little extra help, I settled for homemade baby food, evaporated milk, and tried to catch up to the other kids my age in the growth department.

By the time I reached five years of age my family noticed I had more than my share of colds and was far underweight because of a poor appetite. My aunt, thinking she was helping her skinny nephew, gave me some chocolate malted milk balls. Anything to put some weight on the skinny kid! I ate as much as they would give me and the next day developed what was thought to be a terrible cold. But it was diagnosed as severe bronchial asthma.

As a kid you shake off illness and pay little attention to it. If you're lucky your mother pushes some rotten medicine down your throat and you get well and back to playing with your pals again. Complaints about joint and muscle pain were passed off as growing pains. At night my ankles would swell up and get painful only to return to normal the next morning.

Up half the night trying to breathe and living on candy, ice cream and cake, it's a wonder I reached my teens. It was a time of coal hot air furnaces with red hot living rooms and ice cold bedrooms. I can not remember one word being mentioned by the doctor about nutrition or vitamins. Later my mom told me I had such a severe case of asthma that when I was twelve years of age Dog Sagert had said to her, "You better get your son to Arizona or he won't line to see his 18th birthday." Many times from the lack of oxygen during an asthma attack my lips would turn blue. Fr many reasons my father did not take the family to Arizona.

Like all kids, I had sent for the Atlas and Jowett catalogs. I had also read a few issues of Bernarr MacFadden's Physical Culture magazine. But due to the lack of money as a kid and not knowing how much it could do for me to exercise, I never took the mail order courses. 

Ball State University's Searchable Archive of MacFadden's Physical Culture Magazine

Some Jowett Material

With the death of my father when I was fifteen years of age, things were to get worse until one dark, cold, rainy day.

My baby teeth had come in decayed and been pulled out as fast as they appeared. So early in my life I had started a long and violent association with my enemy, the dentist.

I had just come from the dentist after having yet another tooth pulled. My mouth was full of packing and I felt gloomy. I had an hour to wait before the next bus home and I found myself sitting in a combined bus, lunch counter and newstand waiting room. Bored, I got up and walked over to the magazine rack to waste some time, when my eyes spotted two massive figures on two different magazines.

On the covers were John C. Grimek and Leo Robert. Was it possible for two humans to be built like that? I quickly bought the magazines and the guy in a dirty apron gave me a strange look as he shoved them toward me as if to say, 'what does a skinny punk kid want with muscle magazines?'

A new world was about to open for me.

Inside there was Grimek showing Professor Desbonnet a massive forearm and in the other magazine was a photo of Reg Park who was about to come to America. I was so intent on reading this magic I almost missed the bus. At home I poured over the magazines, reading the print off the pages. Would this miracle iron work for me? Doc Tilney in an article said anyone could gain good health and build a better body.

I saw the magic in the barbells but paid little attention to the nutrition angle. Before reading the magazines, if I was told not to eat something you could bet I would sample it. Quiet, shy but angry as a kid, don't say I was sickly or you had a fight on your hands! I became infuriated at my mother and sister if they told someone I had asthma. I had plenty of blood fights and have the scars to prove it.

This was a state secret and I was determined to be just like any other kid. I wanted no special favors and hated anyone making a fuss over me. By taking gym in school and with my own attitude, I made it tough on myself.

With all the allergy tests and poking by the doctor, he was one guy I wanted out of my life. The doctor had finally said because of the joint pains I probably had a little rheumatism.

After spending the summer haunting the newstands waiting for the next issue of the muscle magazines, it was time to plan how to get my own set of weights. This was in a time of the dark ages of barbells. Anyone who lifting 'those things' must be a nut! The only barbell set in town was a York Olympic set that sat on a dirty mat in the corner of the basketball court at the local YMCA. If you went near it, the instructor would scream at you to get away from it! There were no gyms and weights were a mystery to most people.

For a full year I cut lawns, turned in pop bottles, collected newspapers and did everything to turn a penny and saved every cent of it. Finally the big day arrived and I sent a money order to $21 for a 110-lb. dumbbell set.

As luck would have it, no one was home when the set arrived by truck. A neighbor signed for it and paid the freight. Now everyone would know what had been delivered by the truck. "What is he going to do with those things?" asked the neighbor. I had sent for the set without telling my family, sure they wouldn't let me bring the set in the house if I told them what I planned to do. My family and I had a mild war and I carted them off to the attic, determined to train with my new set of weights!

Weighing 112 pounds with a 9" arm, I was anything but a candidate for a muscle magazine. Training in the intense heat of the attic in the summer and wearing a coat in the freezing cold of winter I still managed to make progress. And I did everything wrong, including overtraining!

I would gain ten pounds, catch and cold and lose those hard earned ten pounds of bodyweight and more. I remember once, after I caught a terrible cold training in the ice cold attic, Doctor Silk paid a house call to check me out. I had a fever and felt rotten. As he wrote out a prescription for a cold rememdy, I sat on the bed crying like a baby. He looked at me and said, "What's wrong with you? All you have is a mild virus. Stay in bed a couple of days and you'll be fine."

Those were tears of anger for all I could see were those hard earned inches of muscle and bodyweight melting off of me. I was angry because I would have to start all over again and regain what I has lost in bodyweight. I was mad, angry and infuriated all at the same time but I couldn't tell him for he wouldn't understand. It seemed like a neverending battle.

Somehow the weights still worked their magic and a year later I, like a fool, tried out for the football team with my friends. I was able to sneak by the team doctor by telling him I had a bad cold when he listened to my chest. In all the confusion of team physicals, I managed to elude detection. I used tape on my forearm to carry asthma tablets and made it through the practice afternoons. Forget the instructions on how to take the medicine, I swallowed them like peanuts to keep going! All went well until one damp, cold, rainy day when the asthma got the best of me. No amount of tablets could slow ti down and the team physician attending practice that day picked up on what was wrong with me right away.

After a fireball lecture about what I could have done to myself, I was kicked off the team. Angry and embarrassed, I paid little attention to my studies and the next spring, quit school. This, against the wishes of my family, old hard-head was to regret the decision made because of a hurt ego and the kidding of my pals. Later in years I went back to high school and on to college, doing it as usual, the hard way.

I finally wrote to Doc Tilney and he wrote a long letter back telling me how to rid myself of those things called colds. He was one guy I paid attention to and I quickly eliminated milk and all dairy products. To keep the diet high in calcium, I took bone meal tablets.

I did not mention the joint pains to Doc Tilney for I felt it was best to tackle just one problem at a time. I was the only one training with weights in town and I sometimes felt I was the only one in the whole world! You had to take a lot of kidding and just walk away or you would spend all day fighting human dumbbells. I had no one to teach me the correct way to train with weights. You learned it all from the magazines. Many of the articles were slanted toward the advanced trainer and weren't too clear that a beginner should take it easy for the first few months.

Following Doc Tilney's diet suggestions and still training hard with weights using any routine that offered a gain in weight or strength, the asthma slowly became a thing of the past.

A fact that was to puzzle doctors and even today they can't understand it! Few people who have acute asthma as a child ever got better to the point where it no longer was a problem or a handicap. But with weights,  a good diet and vitamins it did happen. The proof is I have lost little or no time from work because of the problem. In fact, one doctor makes use of my example when giving lectures about asthma to his colleagues.

The only problem I know I had with barbell training was that at 180 pounds, a gain of 68 pounds of bodyweight, I still did not look like a bodybuilder! It was about this time a friend shoved a copy of Iron Man in my hand and said, "Did you ever see this barbell magazine?" In it Peary Rader had written an article that seemed to be just for me. "Not all men can become top bodybuilders," said Peary. He went on to mention William Boone trained only for strength. Also that the game needs both types of trainers and there is plenty of room for both strength builders and bodybuilders.

With that I felt a little better for I had found the more weight I used in an exercise, the better I felt health-wise. As I added more and more weight to the bar and  reduced the reps to 5 or less, the asthma slowly said goodbye. If I got the bodybuilding bug and lowered the poundage, I started to huff and puff again. It is my contention that extra-heavy weights stimulate the adrenal glands, in fact, all the glands and in turn bathe the body in life-giving hormones.

At the time there were no powerlifting meets. Boone and Peoples would meet once in a contest tacked on to a bodybuilding contest, but there was little in the way of formal powerlifting contests. About four men seemed to hold the candle for strength training -- William Boone, Bob Peoples, Mac Batchelor, and for weightlifters, the York Barbell guys. Out in the hills there was the squat and weight gaining king, Joe Hise.

Weight training and strength work in particular was to prove its value while working in an electronics plant. One Saturday I was to paint the walls in a large assembly room. Work desks were all along the walls and I told the boss that to put the ladder on an angle with the desks still in place would be too steep of an angle for the ladder. "Don't worry, it's fine. The desks are too heavy to move anyway." So up the ladder I went about a story-and-a-half high with paint and brush. I worked for a couple of minutes and the ladder went out from under me!

Th women working at the far end of the room said I did a backflip off the ladder, hit the corner of a desk and landed flat on my back on the concrete floor. Covered with paint, I was helped to my feet after I came around after being knocked cold and went off to the hospital. Except for a deep gash on my forehead, I had no broken bones but every bone and muscle in my body was to hurt for the next two weeks. The doctors at the hospital said my body strength and good luck were the only reasons I walked away from such a fall.

When I changed departments and started working as a machinist, I put added stress on my joints and body. Standing in one place for hours, changing tools and cutters, tightening bolts on the punch press caused already sore joints to ache and feel stiff in the morning. This, plus going to college at night and the pressure of homework on the weekends added up to plenty of stress. Workouts were hit and miss when I could fit them in to some free time. Supper was eaten on the run, can't be late for class, the professor who sat on his bottom all day would have a fit!

From the lack of good hard workouts the arthritis slowly got worse and worse. But was it really arthritis? I hated the thought of doctors and tests. Years ago I had watched a guy who hired me to cut his lawn when I was in high school battle arthritis. He boasted he was going to New York for gold treatments. This, along with other drugs, hot showers and long walks each day was to cure his shortly. But at the end of summer he was still disabled and not working. Later that winter I lost track of him when, in desparation, he and his wife moved to a warm climate.

Thinking about it, I decided to hold still for some tests. Sent to a specialist, I had sedimentation rate tests and anything else they could think of for a buck. One test proved that I has at least held my strength even if I was on a short now-and-again routine. Sent to the hospital, I sat down on one side of a table with a technician. A sharp needle was attached to a wire leading to a machine with a screen on the set. He would put the needle in a muscle and then have me flex it. On the screen would flash what I guessed was an electrical pattern which was photographed by a polaroid camera. After testing every muscle in my upper body he put the needle in my right biceps muscle. Then he had me grab his right arm as if we were going to arm wrestle and said, "When I tell you, try to pull on my arm as hard as you  can."

When given the word, I did just as he said and pulled him right across the table! With great surprise he asked me what kind of weights I used.

The somber specialist told me on my next visit, "You may have some form of arthritis. Why don't you coach weightlifting or teach the young kids how to train with weights and forget about it yourself?" This did not go over big with me. I wanted a way to cure the problem so I could enjoy my training again. With that advice after those tests, I never returned. 

I was slowly getting worse. Maybe he was right and I quit the weights. It just might be that he is right and barbells put too much stress on the joints causing them pain. Now just turning a screwdriver would cause my wrist to hurt the next day. Standing on a ladder to clean the gutters would cause my feet to hurt for days. When I came home from workwould get out of the car and then, with my feet still stiff from the long ride, hold on to the car and make my way into the house. After a few minutes of walking around in the house my feet would again be flexible and I could walk in a normal way.

One day while sitting outside after a year of inactivity and never touching a weight, I thought, "I'm not any better or worse than last year. I wonder if a little exercise with the weights just might help me? I got rid of one trouble maker, why not this one too?!!"

I went inside to the gym and wiped oil off the bars, removed the towels covering the weights and, with the sweat running down my face I did one set of deadlift reps using a 35-lb. plate on each end of the bar.

The next day I felt fine. It hadn't hurt me and I WAS HAPPY. With a glimmer of hope, I added one more exercise each workout until I had a full routine again, soing still only one set each. An old friend had returned.

Even if I was back lifting weights, I still read all the material I could find on arthritis. There are hundreds of crazy cures and they're crazy only if they don't work! There are mud baths, bee stings, liquid diets, water cures, fasting, fasting . . . you name it and you can find it. A nutty chiropractor has people walking on all fours. I better quickly say there are many fine chiros but this guy jus happened to write a book. Add to this all the drugs available and you have a huge pot of 'maybe it might help' material.

Just lifting weights again changed my mental attitude and outlook on life. The poundage slowly began to increase but it would be two full years before I would be back to what I used to use in my workouts.

A trip to Florida to visit relatives convinced me that I had made the right decision returning to weight training. Visiting my Aunt, I was sitting at poolside when a man pushing his wife in a wheelchair joined me. I learned he was a retired detective and his wife had severe arthritis. Later, after he took her back to their apartment for a nap, he rejoined me at the pool and we got to talking.

He looked at me and said, "You know my wife doesn't have to be in that chair. Years ago a doctor told her she had arthritis and to keep it in check she was to exercise every day. He warned her she would get stiff as a board if she didn't exercise. With exercise she could live a normal life. But she wouldn't do the exercises. She said it hurt to do them. Slowly she got worse until she couldn't dress herself. Then her knees got stiff and sore. Finally you see what condition she is in today. All because she was too stubborn to follow her doctor's advice to exercise!"

After he left to check on his wife, I thought how lucky I was to have started to exercise again. On returning home I again read "Strength Secrets" by Inch. "Secrets of Strength" by Liederman, and anything else I about building strength I could get my hands on.

My theory was to strengthenthe joints by exercising the tendons and ligaments. This would lower the stress on the joints and in return they could better stand the everyday stress, wear and tear of life. Jobs at home would seem easy with more strength and a job if physical would be easier to do. To do this, I planned to use as much weight as possible on the bar and slowly work the poundage upward. For me heavy weights are fun to lift so that wouldn't be a problem.

A full range of vitamins were used. Vitamin B6 was taken twice a day, 50 mgs. two tablets morning and night. A full range of other B vitamins were taken once a day plus natural E and all the minerals. Cod liver oil cherry flavored was taken the last thing at night just before bed. A teaspoon in a half glass of half grape juice/half water.

Now the expert says to mix it in a small amount of milk but the grape juice worked fine for me and still does today. Also bone meal tablets are taken for the calcium needed in the diet.

My diet is a normal one using little beef but filled with chicken, tuna and other fish. I never use sugar or white bread. Fruit, vegetables, a small amount of rye bread and potatoes, baked, round out the diet. I have read the night shade theory and you may want to test it yourself. I found a baked potato never bothered me. The only hard thing in nutrition is to try and avoid all the hidden sugar in foods. We are a sugar society.

For a moment let's talk about how you can put the percentage in your favor to avoid arthritis. Most trainers today do not pay much attention to health. But is is a paradox of nature that you will pay later for your neglect. There is a deferred payment in nature, she does not forget. Pain does not mean gain! Pump, yes, a tight feeling in the muscles, yes, but a joint that aches long after your workout is telling you something important. Change your exercise for that body part.

Many of you may not have symptoms until you reach 40 years of age and then wonder what happened. With dozens of exercises for each body part why keep doing an exercise that results in pain or doesn't feel right to you when doing it?

The heavy weights along with the vitamins and good food slowed down the problem. If a joint or muscle hurt a good workout would ease the problem. For example, my ankle and feet started to hurt from using a standard brake system in my car. Any stress can cause arthritis to flare up. Standing on a ladder to clean the gutters resulted in me skipping that job one year.

I needed more strength in my feet and calf muscles and the best solution was to do the seated calf raise. I worked in my bare feet for this exercise for freedom of movement. I did not use a block for you can overstretch the tendons. I started out using 180 pounds and have worked up to 435. It worked so well I was able to stand on a ladder for four hours to clean and paint my gutters and never felt a thing the next day.

The following exercises are done twice a week, Monday and Thursday. With limit weights the body needs time to rest and repair itself.

1.) Squat Lockout:
I warm up with 435 pounds then use 500, 600, 700, and a final set with 785. I have used as high as 850 for reps. I use 5 reps for the first warmup set and three reps for the rest of the sets.

2.) High Deadlift:
I learned this from William Boone, only instead of digging a hole in the backyard I use boxes to raise the weight up. I warm up with 400 pounds then work my way up to 650 in sets of 3 reps. Work up slowly in this one, it's a tough exercise. For a time my traps felt uncomfortable after this exercise because they weren't strong enough for the last heavy set. I cured that with heavy dumbbell shrugs, the next exercise.

3.) Dumbbell Shrugs:
A barbell will tend to pull you forward and you will be out of line. Dumbbells are natural and feel comfortable in your hands. I use very thick kettlebell handles on my dumbbells for extra strength work for my hands. I start out using 130 pound dumbbells and work my way in sets of 3-5 reps up to a final 2 sets with 230 pounders. Increase the dumbbells 20 to 30 pounds a set.

4.) Power Curl:
Here we are working the tendons of the arm. Take a barbell at the starting position and curl it to just below the belt. I warm up with 245 and work up to 300, adding 15 pounds a set. Do as many sets as you have time and energy. I do about five.

5.) Bench Press Lockouts off Boxes:
This will strengthen the elbows, pectorals, shoulder girdle, and build power in your triceps. I start with 400 pounds as a warm up and work up to a high poundage. By now I am running out of time so I do about 5 sets of 3 and call it a day.

The next day I may do a very short routine of the calf raise working up to 435 and some neck work. Here you can do the Asserati neck exercise by putting a dumbbell on your forehead while flat on a bench. Then do the wrestler's bridge without weights for a few sets and you will keep your neck strong and healthy. If time permits I will soon add the power rack press.

I enjoy using extra heavy weights and would miss it if it wasn't part of my life. A program of heavy poundages worked for me, but it might not work for you. As for me, as long as I am able I plan to sneak up on those big weights and slip on a few more plates. If I try and skip a few workouts I am quickly told by my body it's time to get back to work.



  1. Deadlift. It's a challenging exercise, so go slowly. My traps weren't strong enough for the last hard set, thus after this workout, they felt uneasy for a while. Internet specials at Ford 7.3 Powerstroke injectors

    1. As Fred Howell twists and turns in his earthly grave of blackness upon reading this misdirected bot-send to a post from 2012, we grow even more fonder of our fantasies of CHOKING THE FUCKING LIFE OUTTA ALL YOU MONEY CUNTS. Thanks for the comment!


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