Saturday, January 31, 2015

Q and A - Mark Berry (1941)

Ronald Walker, Mark Berry

Mark Berry

A Question About Reps/Poundages, and Two Types of Squatting

Question: I wrote to a friend of mine who is a bodybuilder and he said he never got any real results through dumbbell training until he started using all the weight he could handle for 5 to 10 repetitions. A leading health magazine advocates 8 to 10 repetitions. Mr. Eells advises the student to use 20 repetitions. Who am I to believe! A writer of a certain magazine also made this statement -- to gain weight strive to handle more weight and use less repetitions.


Aren't the Deep Knee Bend and the Breathing Squat two separate and distinct exercises? In the D.K.B. you're concentrating on the legs. In the Breathing Squat you're concentrating on breathing and developing the chest. Don't you think it's a good idea to employ both of them in a training program? Is the same weight used in both?

Reply: In order to properly elucidate on this subject we might require a good many words ["It depends."], but I shall endeavor to have my say in as brief a manner as possible. Having had considerable experience in this line of work, I am willing to grant that the average beginner might improve on either one of the methods you outline. My personal opinion after handling a good many thousands of cases through correspondence instruction is that a sound basis on which to start the average novice is on a progressive schedule of from 5 up to 10 reps for the majority of exercises, and twice that number for the legs and back. 

However, after a while I believe it is a good plan to remain for a time on a flat rate of reps, say 10 for the arms and 20 for the legs, and then to concentrate on increasing the resistance. Numerous culturists have achieve admirable results by employing double the number of repetitions mentioned above. Still, I doubt that such plan would be suited to the general run of bar bell users. I am inclined towards the policy of a happy medium in everything, and while taking into consideration the differing potentialities of individuals I am certain that an excessive number of repetitions is inadvisable, and advocate moderately high repetitions for development and a lower number for purely strength purposes. 


The Breathing Squat is one form of the Deep Knee Bend, or D.K.B., the chief characteristic of which is a definite manner of breathing. For utmost leg development and acquisition of power I advocate much higher poundages than would be recommended in the Breathing Squat. Unless one were on a specific improvement program under the direction of his instructor I consider it a wise plan to include both in the training routine. The use of the series (sets) plan of exercising has many advantages, that is when used in an intelligent manner, and towards some definite goal.

Question: I have been training here in the bar bell class at ______ University for two years. Am twenty years of age, six feet, two inches tall and weight 170 lbs. My chief objective is added bodyweight and greater strength. I have worked steadily on the Deep Knee Bend and now do 20 repetitions with 205 pounds at every workout, but my style is unusual in that when I squat my feet are about twelve inches apart and slightly turned in at the toes. As I arise from the full squat, my hips come up first which necessitates considerable rounding of the back. I think I would get better results wit a flat back but am unable to do full squats with a bar bell in this style.

Reply: The style used by you in the squat is common, and is the natural manner of regaining the standing position when the feet are parallel and fairly close together, when coming up from a very low position. Even though you 'toe in' to some extent, this places the leg and pelvis bones in the same position as if the toes were pointing more directly to the front. In my opinion, this style could be used to better advantage by the man of short stature and stocky build. 

I can appreciate that some difficulty may attend your endeavors to master the alternate style, that is, with toes turned out; but if you will persist it will come to you easily after a while. Try standing with the feet a good distance apart, and keeping the body quite erect. It is understood that this erect position of the body will be extremely difficult when the feet are close together. After the muscles become accustomed to the new style, you may move the feet closer together, that is providing it makes the exercise more agreeable to do. In trying this alternate style, it is suggested that you reduce the poundage until accustomed to the changed position.

With so much having been printed in Vim regarding the squat (or deep knee bend, if you prefer), I sort of hesitate to run the chance of boring my readers with further reference to the subject, but here is a point which may not have been covered recently by others.

Now, please let it be understood that I have no quarrel with anyone as to the style they prefer in placement of the feet and manner of rising from the low position. Personally, I never cared to push myself to the extreme so far as concerned poundage, but preferred to keep within a limit which would permit keeping the spine straight throughout the exercise. This preference of mine may really be due to a distaste for the folded up and rounded back style which seems necessary with the majority of squatters when limit weights are employed. So far as the average culturist is concerned, I consider my style most satisfactory.

Moreover, in my opinion, the extremely tall man, especially if he be inclined toward slenderness, should refrain from use of the rounded back style. Therefore, my recommendation in this particular instance is: toes turned out, feet some distance apart, and spine kept straight.

Replying to Some Questions Concerning Slenderness

It is advisable to consult a physician before undertaking a course of exercise for the purpose of reduction, and particularly if one is bordering on middle age, or is older. Very often the fatty condition is due to some glandular disturbance and exercise may be of little benefit. My physical culture trained mind hates to concede this, but let us take a common sense view of the matter. While there is a possibility that a person might never acquire such glandular disturbance if they adhered to a strict physical culture regime from childhood, it is to be recognized that we are dealing with the average run of people, the majority of whom constantly violate natural laws of diet, hygiene, and activity, ad so it may prove unwise to attempt to lay down any hard and fast rule of exercises. Those who are fat because of some glandular disturbance generally have an accumulation of excess fat on all parts of the body, while those who are corpulent owing to lack of exertion are more apt to have the excess distributed unevenly, with some parts of the anatomy being in pretty fair shape in spite of bulges everywhere.

The first rule to observe when undertaking a reduction program is to take it easy -- start in with mild doses -- and be content to progress rather slowly towards more strenuous effort. Now, I say this in spite of anything you may have read or heard, and absolutely disregarding the source of any contrary information. I have noticed that young gym instructors are likely to incline towards the idea of making you work hard and attempt to force the progress, but I warn you that irreparable damage may result from such procedure. It is always better to take the chance of doing too little, and even if it turns out that you are taking it too easy, no great amount of time will be lost. Just recently a Philadelphia policeman died as a result of a hasty attempt at reduction. Being a mounted officer of some years service, he was taken off his horse because of some new rule to the effect that mounted men were to weigh within a certain bodyweight. This man simply was of too large a frame to weigh less and his endeavors to train down brought on a heart attack.

If you become nauseated or notice extreme weakness after a period of reduction exercises, something is wrong and an examination might be in order.

It is quite common for athletes to accumulate weight as they get older, and especially is this true of those engaged in the more strenuous games, as for instance wrestlers and weight lifters. The typical old time strong man had a figure running towards corpulence, with emphasis on the midsection. This being due partly to less activity than in the flush of his youth, with a generous appetite and sound digestion playing no small part. The average athlete eventually grows tired of an extremely strenuous life and so cuts down somewhat on his activities, while the appetite may be none the less diminished. In addition, the body becomes more accustomed to a great amount of exertion, and tasks which formerly meant great effort grow relatively easy. Indeed, we might continue indefinitely along this line, bringing up one hypothesis are another as to why even the professional athlete ma acquire added girth and heft.

However, as applied to the non-athlete if is reasonable to assume that lack of the proper sort of activity is the real answer; that is, barring the possibility of some disturbance in the bodily functions. In the case of the three men whose problem letters are herein reproduced we can feel reasonably sure their condition is due to the lack of proper training of the waist, hip, and abdomen.

Letter One:

I am particularly interested in taking off excess poundage on my waist. I weigh 197 pounds stripped and have been working out at a local gym. I have gotten stronger but my weight is practically the same after four months of conditioning. My age is thirty-seven; height 5'6", chest 42; waist 39. I do 45 bench situps every training period is three series (sets) of 15 using a 30 pound barbell on chest for first set of 15. Am getting an abdominal board. Can you suggest anything further I can do to take off my spare tire. My appetite is very good and apparently my metabolic rate is conducive to putting on weight.

Letter Two:

I've been training with bar bells for seven months and can't get the flesh off my oblique muscles. Have a 40.5 inch chest and 34 waist. My sides bulge at the hip bones, and if I didn't have so much flesh hanging I think I would have a 31 inch waist in spite of wide hips. I train three nights a week and do these exercises on two of the off nights. All of them are done without weights. 100 situps; 25 leg raises; 25 roll-ups; 100 bicycle motion; 50 side raises; 50 stiff-leg bends, touching the floor with my fingers; 50 leg circles; and about three other exercises.

Letter Three:

I'm the under-stander of a hand-to-hand balancing act.We wear trunks, consequently we must keep from accumulating too much fat. I'm a little too fleshy now around the hips and on the torso in general -- practically no muscular definition. My partner has a beautiful "chiseled" development. Since 1933 I have been dabbling around with weights (8 years) and at present am 5'7"; 172 pounds; chest 42; thighs 23; hips 39; upper arms 14.5. If I had no excess fat I'd weight about 160, and have a 29 or 30 waist, and about 37 inch hips.

After a warmup I can military press 175 pounds and do 10 squats with 200. I have fine latissimus development, but poor abdominal and pectoral development. I definitely want to give your Breathing Squat program at least a six-month trial. My ambition: more muscle, less fat, more strength, and a more beautiful physique. I have a fine frame to hang it on. My present program: situps and leg raises on incline board; Roman chair and cuddle situps; two sets of dips; two sets of lateral raises; supine press; side bend with bell in one hand; side bend with bell over head; then I wind up with about ten minutes of pressing and leg work. My repetitions vary from 10 to 30. I'll even make a "hopper" if it is necessary, but it will take considerable diplomacy on my part.

Certain qualifications are in order here, and we shall now give some consideration to each individual case.

The first man has been exercising four months and complains that in spite of the loss of some waist girth he still weighs the same. I am of the opinion that if he persists in his training and perhaps adds gradually to amount of bending he will accomplish the trimming down of his abdominal region. As for the failure to lose weight, this is due in part to the development on other parts of the body. It is common for a man with a bulge at the waist to reduce that and still gain in bodyweight, owing to enlargement of the chest, thighs, arms, and shoulders.    

As for the second man, I believe that if he would cut down on the total number of repetitions and add some resistance to certain of the movements he should accomplish more. it must be conceded that he has been doing a tremendous amount of repetitions, and I suggest cutting out the stiff-leg bends wherein he touches the floor, and the leg circles, the bicycle motions, ad the 100 free situps. Let him substitute about about 25 situps with a light resistance and do the side bends with a weight held in the hand. When doing the side bends, it is essential that the bending be done at the waists. Do half of the side bends with the weight held in one hand, and then switch to the opposite side. Keep adding to the resistance, and there need be no limit as to the amount of weight so long as the hips remain stationary and the bending is done in such manner as to effect a strong pull on the muscles at the side of the body. The condition which he is fighting may be overcome if he will continue along this line of action and extend the total amount of work through increasing both resistance and repetitions.

With regard to the problem of the third man, I believe that it is very much a question of deciding what he wants to do most of all. If it be a six months trial of the "breathing squat," then that is the sole thing for him to do during that time. I am decidedly of the opinion that this man could have a more massive physique if he were to work towards that end, ad perhaps he has failed to train in a manner sufficiently strenuous. One reason for making this statement is that for a man of eight years experience, 10 repetitions with 200 pounds in the squat is rather elementary work, especially for one interested in stage work. If on the other hand he desires to trim the waist and abdominal region down into a hard condition, I consider this a combination of resistance and repetitions, the one to develop and harden the muscles and the other to burn up the excess adipose tissue.               

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