Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Squat: The First 25 Years - Randall Strossen

“You should wake up each day with the sense of just having been born and all that matters 
are the decisions you are going to make that day.”
 - J.C. Hise

Joseph Curtis Hise

For a truly in depth look at the life of J.C. Hise
treat yourself to some time here:

This article, from an issue of Powerlifting USA, is courtesy of Liam Tweed. 

The Squat is the key exercise for gaining muscular bodyweight and building basic power. It's also a great tool for increasing athletic ability and stimulating the cardiovascular system. Competitive powerlifters, who love-hate this lift, know that big squats are probably the key to victory in their sport. Where did the squat come from and who produced some of the early top performances in the lift? 

Even though man has been exercising with weightless deep knee bends for thousands of years and early weight trainers used to squat up on their toes with light weights, the heavy flat-footed squat is basically a product of the 20th century. As is common in kraftsport, the lift has decidedly Germanic roots: it's early history is one of Moerke, Steinborn and Klein.

In 1920 Karl Moerke, the reigning World Weightlifting Champion, and Hermann Goerner, often called the world's strongest man, in his day, staged a contest between themselves to see who was the world's strongest amateur lifter. The contest included a lift to be selected by each man. Goerner selected the deadlift and in what might have marked its debut as a competitive lift. Moerke selected the squat and did 528.75 pounds. Moerke was a rotund fellow, usually weighing around 240 a 5' 2" and probably due to his physique, was sometimes criticized for his squatting style on the basis of lack of depth or gaining an unfair advantage by bouncing out of the bottom position. Nevertheless, Moerke is said to have ultimately squatted 650 in somewhat loose style.

Loose style then, of course would probably look lily-white today, however. For starters, the lift was actually known as the "deep knee bend" back then because lifters went very low and often ended up nearly sitting on their heels. Talk to people who were heaving iron back in the 1920s and 1930s and they might say something like, "I never did any of those squats; I only did deep knee bends," where to them a squat means something ending at parallel. These people might view a squat and a floor press as, respectively, half-baked versions of the deep knee bend and the bench press. All the big squats up to the mid 1960s or so were done under conditions that might be described as "lifetime pure/raw meat", as no drugs or support gear were involved.

Another German, Henry "Milo" Steinborn, brought the lift with him when he immigrated to the United States in the early 1920s. Steinborn's reputation as a strongman preceded him and many were awed by his marvelous 210 pound physique and by the feats of strength he demonstrated while training at Sig Klein's gym in New York. Steinborn performed what was to become one of the most historic lifts in Iron Game history. Beginning in 1921, Milo gave demonstrations where he up-ended a 550 odd pound barbell, and by rocking it back and forth across his shoulders, got it in position for doing some squats.

Check the Depth there for a better understanding of a Deep Knee Bend
back in the older days. 

Although the exact poundage reported varies, as does the number of reps, on at least one occasion Milo is said to have performed 5 reps with 551 pounds before returning the barbell to the platform. All accounts agree that it was a remarkable demonstration of all around strength and athletic ability, and one observer, Mark H. Berry, was said to be out of his seat applauding what he considered to be the greatest feat of strength in history.

Mark Berry played no insignificant role in the history of the squat, or for that matter, the history of bodybuilding and competitive lifting, because he was the first one to fully appreciate the unmatched ability of the squat to build bulk and power. Mark Berry, as editor of The Arena and Strength, changed the Iron Game forever by going on to broadcast the message: squat heavy and get big and strong. The truth never changes.

Perhaps because the Depression era surrounding Berry and his magazine had left a lot of young men smaller and weaker than they would choose, Mark Berry had a ready audience for his lessons on how to squat for size, and his article "Found - A Growing Exercise" - published in 1933, was such a fundamental catalyst for the bulk and power seekers that old-time iron floggers still talk about it with great respect. Even though Berry successfully used the squat to pack around 50 pounds of muscle on his own slight frame, it was the dramatic success of his pupils that really sparked what Peary Rader, the founder of IronMan, would later call "the great deep knee bench craze" of the 1930s.

Undoubtedly, there was one student of Berry's who more than any other man initially demonstrated the wonders of heavy squatting and for his efforts is often referred to as the pioneer powerlifter: Joseph Curtis Hise.

Search this blog for plenty more on J.C. Hise, Pardner. 

J.C. Hise.
The depth of the squat could be altered by placing planks of wood in the pit.
This photo and the top one of Hise courtesy of Joe Roark.
I keep tellin' ya.
If you like the history of the Iron Game, Joe's site is simply the best.
What the hell is the holdup!
Get over there, register, and ENJOY yourself.


Are you back now? 
Quite a site, ain't it! 

Continuing . . . 

It's hard to put Hise's prominence in his day in terms that make sense to a contemporary reader, but it's a safe bet that there is no one person today who enjoys anywhere close to the devotion of Hise's followers during his time. 

Hise, plain and simple, was the MASTER when it came to building bulk and power. 

J.C. was first put on the muscle map when Mark Berry described a reader of his who. after following Mark's heavy squat program, had gained 29 pounds of muscle in one month. Mark Berry was so honest that he refused to name this man or give more details until he could get independent verification of these claims. In fact, Hise had done exactly as reported so it was, in Hise's words, "news with a bang"and soon every underdeveloped, underpowered barbell man in the country was doing heavy breathing squats and all were gaining size and strength at unbelievable rates.

Hise would gain from around 180 pound to nearly 300, with the power to squat around 600 and deadlift 700 way back in the 1930s. Hise might have had the strongest legs and back in the world then, but since he wasn't a weightlifter (Olympic-style, that is), and since powerlifting hadn't yet emerged as an official sport, Hise was labeled an "exerciser." 

As Mark Berry left the Iron Game, another of his pupils, Peary Rader, would carry forward the call to squat - with very hard breathing and very heavy weights, please - for tremendous results.    

Note: Damn It! I really don't save pictures and scans much anymore. Had a good one of Peary Rader with his shirt off when he was at his heavier weight. Not big on tanning, no sir, but you could see that he was big on working hard with the weights, for sure. But yeah, any of these guys' names, just search for 'em here and you'll find deeper info from articles and book excerpts. Or don't. No worries!

YES! Peary Rader
courtesy of JP.
Thank You! 

Continuing . . . 

It's no accident that the squat had allowed Peary to transform his own body from that of a weakling to a regional Olympic lifting champion, so he was speaking from experience when he recommended it as the master exercise. It's also no accident that Peary would later play an instrumental role in formalizing powerlifting as an official sport. 

The heavy breathing squat advocates continued to trumpet their message though the 1930s, with some alternatives such as the bodyweight breathing squats of Roger Eells complementing the basic approach. By now, even Bob Hoffman, who had initially opposed the squat for his weightlifters, had been won over to its benefits and the top Olympic-style lifters like John Davis and Louis Abele (are ya searching those names and subject headings), both weighing around the 220 mark, were cranking out honest sets of 20 reps with around 400 pounds, and both were knocking out reps with weights over 500, the classic benchmark for a Hercules.

The Canadian superman Maurice Jones had also squatted 550 at 230 by then, and the English powerhouse Bert Assirati had done 550 x 10 at 260 (how exactly is this last guy related to Charles A. Smith. Trivia question). 

If you don't think these are worthy feats, even today, go natural and get under the squat bar naked. Now knock off your own set of 20 reps with 400, or a few with 550 or so. 

Next installment, we'll continue tracing the history of the squat by seeing how top performances advanced in the 1950s, and follow progress through the first few years of powerlifting as an official sport. 

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