Thursday, October 7, 2021

Training Methods of Joseph C. Hise - Arnold Spector


More from Arnold Spector on J.C. Hise here:

“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
Photo Courtesy of Joe Roark

In September, 1972, in a small town in South Missouri, an elderly coal miner called Joseph Curtis Hise died of pneumonia. He had also been suffering from diabetes, a condition exacerbated by the hard life he had led. 

Born in August, 1905, Hise was a complex person. He was self-educated, having read widely in everything from philosophy and mysticism, to psychology and physiology (a textbook on human physiology accompanied him on all his travels). He was also an original thinker in the field of physical education. In September, 1972, in a small town in South Missouri, an elderly ex-miner called Joseph Curtis Hise died of pneumonia. He had also been suffering from diabetes, and condition exacerbated by the hard life he had led.

He had little respect for the accepted theories and customary practices of weight training. 

For much of his life he traveled across America, often by freight train, taking jobs wherever he could -- jobs which usually involved hard, physical work in uncongenial surroundings, and sometimes working double shifts so he could earn enough money to give up work for a month or so when he would experiment with his innovational training methods. It was during these periods that Hise developed the theories of cartilage mass training that are associated with his name. 

The most fundamental form of weight training, he proposed, would stimulate the body in the profoundest and most thorough way, and would involve exercises which stimulated the hip-hinge, namely the squat and deadlift, and those which had a general physiological effect, namely the shrug in all its variations. 

Many of Hise's novel training theories HAVEN'T YET BEEN PUBLISHED. Hise carried out research, for instance, into the development of the supportive muscles of the body. On his account, the supportive function of the skeletal muscles (e,g, those involved in holding a glass of water to one's lips) is radically different from their motor function and requires a completely different kind of exercise stimulus. 

There were other calls on Hise's time and energy. He cared for a number of elderly relatives for many years. He was generous with his time when strangers wrote asking for training advice, and he would reply at length in his characteristic racy style. His letters would contain, in addition to valuable training information, his opinions on a wide range of topics including music, the philosophy of history, and even spiritualism.

Hise never married. When I started to correspond with him (in 19490 he was operating an ore crusher in a copper mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado. I frequently asked him for a photograph. Eventually he added a laconic postscript to one of his letters; "There are no cameras on this hill and if there were, the boys would turn same into whiskey."

Hise's Training Doctrine

Hise's doctrine of weight training contains two important propositions:

First, the novice who hasn't yet "learned to grow" will respond best to few and easy exercises that are designed particularly to develop the postural muscles.

Second, the essential prerequisites for increasing strength, on the other hand, are exercises which are few and heavy. 

Hise opposed excessive multi-set workouts lasting up to two hours or more, which he believed brought all gains in size and strength to an end. For very hard gainers, Hise maintained that just one set of 20 reps was needed of leg exercises, and just one set of 10 reps for upper body movements.   

It's essential to grasp that Hise's conception of weight training is what may by called "top down" as opposed to "bottom up." In other words, the aim of exercise is to bring about a change in the ENTIRE physiological system of the body. Muscle hypertrophy will be a secondary consequence, a byproduct, of this effect. "Bottom-up" training, by contrast, is focuses on some part of the skeleto-muscular system (e.g., concentration curls or leg extensions). Any resultant improvement in health will be subordinate to the chief goal, which is an increase in muscle size.

I'm not qualified to comment on the physiological basis of Hise's theories of exercise. I understand him to be proposing that endurance exercise (for instance, multiple sets per body part, excessively squeezing out the reps) has an adverse effect on the connective tissue system of the body, which in turn inhibits muscle growth. The connective tissue system consists of connective tissue proper, adipose tissue, cartilage, bone, blood, lymph and the tissues that produce blood cells. Connective tissue develops from an embryonic tissue called mesenchyme, and mesenchyme cells are the ancestors of most connective tissue cells. According to some authorities, a number of mesenchyme cells persist in adult connective tissue. These unspecialized cells can give rise, with the appropriate stimulus, to other cell types. 

On Hise's account, correct methods of exercise take effect on the connective tissue, either indirectly by causing change in the mesenchyme cells, or, directly, on the cartilage, which responds and adapts to such mechanical stimulus by proliferating and hence providing the basis for muscle hypertrophy. Hise shrugs, deadlifts, breathing squats and round-bench pullovers are capable, it's suggested, of stimulating the growth of hyaline cartilage (the most common kind) which forms the ends of bones at the joints and makes up the anterior ends of the ribs (costal cartilage). This in turn results in increase in girth of the rib cage and general hypertrophy of the skeletal muscular system.

Good Body Mechanics

Prior to any other muscle group, the muscles that control posture will gain in size and strength under the influence of Hise-style training. These postural muscles are in the calf, thigh, back, neck, intercostals, etc., and as they grow stronger, the sping straightens and posture is improved. 

A perfectly erect posture is both a symptom and means of achieving what Hise used to call "good body mechanics." Hise held John Grimek in high esteem. "Grimek excelled all men because he possessed superior body mechanics and had the greatest cartilage mass." Grimek excelled in both physique and strength; in his forties and fifties he still had fullness of muscle, and his skin had a lustrous, almost luminous quality which Hise called the "Grimek glow." 
Practical Training
Thus far theory. Before specifying the exercises Hise recommended, it's in point to say something of Hise himself. Starting off as a young man of average physique, he gained over 100 pounds of bodyweight, putting on, famously, 30 pounds in 30 days. It's plausible to assume that, of these gains, about 75% would have been lean tissue. Hise went up to around 300 pounds, but stabilized his weight at 250 because of problems with buying clothes. At this bodyweight he deadlifted 702 pounds when the official world record was less than 650. 

 Photos Courtesy of Joe Roark at

The achievements of George Irving Nathanson, whose training methods resembled those of Hise, were just as outstanding.     


 More here:

A smaller man than Hise, he performed a standing press of over 300 pounds and a strict curl of over 200 pounds, at a bodyweight of 190. 
Hise would have recommended -- for the beginner, who hasn't yet managed to make any gains -- an apparently undemanding schedule of eight exercises, one set each and mostly 10-12 repetitions per set. Exercises can be rejected and replaced by others until the body begins to respond. Three exercises, however, must never discarded - Breathing squats, shrugs, and round bench pullovers. 
A typical Hise program would consist of just one set (of 10-12 reps unless noted otherwise) of barbell curls, alternated dumbbell presses, deadlifts (20-25 reps) immediately followed by pullovers, upright barbell rows, bentover rows with head supported, towel exercise for the neck, shrugs, and breathing squats (20-25 reps) followed immediately by round bench pullovers. The weights used for each exercise should be around 60% of one's single maximum in that exercise (but considerably less for the pullover). 

The poundage for breathing squats varied, on Hise's account, between 60 pounds and bodyweight, depending on the recalcitrance of the subject, but never more than bodyweight (remember, we're talking about a course for someone who "hasn't yet managed to make any gains."). Hise advised that the first 6 reps should be done with one breath per rep, and the rest with 3-4 breaths for each. Each set of squats must be followed immediately by a set of light, bent-arm pullovers on a hump bench.

It's unhealthy, and potentially dangerous, to indulge in deep breathing if the body doesn't require extra oxygen. Before performing breathing squats, shrugs and pullovers, the exerciser must be thoroughly warmed up. Whether the subject runs on a treadmill, cycles on an exercise bike, or performs repetition power cleans or snatches, he or she must be breathing vigorously before starting a Hise workout. People who simply stand and take in more oxygen than they need will grow dizzy, and may even fall over. If you feel dizzy, stop.

Furthermore, nobody should attempt any squats with a safety rack, or without a training partner standing by.

To repeat, never perform breathing squats, shrugs or pullovers unless the body is crying out for more air. it is, however, in this condition that the body derives maximum benefit from these exercises. 

The "Growing Exercises"
Hise believed that shrugs (interesting pair of articles by Fred Howell here . . .

. . . squats and pullovers had the power to cause radical change in the body. Shrugs should be varied -- 
across the shoulders;
held in front of the shoulders;
at arms' length overhead (more effective if done seated); and 
held in the deadlift finishing position.

Hise frequently drew attention to a common error in performing the shrug, i.e., rocking the hips. It's essential that the hips be immobile -- one should concentrate above all on raising the chest as high as possible with each inhalation. In order to prevent any movement of the hips, Hise would advise his trainees to lean forward slightly and maintain balance by pressing down hard with the toes. Shrugs should be performed only if one is already breathing hard from the preceding exercise.

The round bench . . .
Zuver's Gym Round (moon) Bench

Another moon, or round bench.
Be careful you don't poke out an eye with one of these. 
Huh? Safe-ly, safe-ly, over the bounding main.
. . . the round bench is, on Hise's account, the chief instrument for reshaping the chest, which is in turn the indispensable condition for general growth. The secret of the round bench version is that, even before one starts to perform the pullovers, one can feel tension in the area of the sternum -- just from lying on the bench. The performance of round bench pullovers immediately after a set of squats or deadlifts will, according to Hise, stimulate the growth of costal cartilage, which is the foundation of general muscle growth. In the pullover, the arms should be kept unlocked. Some experimentation will be needed until one finds the exact position on the bench and the precise position of the weight, that causes the maximum pull at the sternum (Note: I've found that, after practicing Rader Chest Pulls for a couple weeks, the desired pullover stretch is easier to get to). Nobody should need a weight of more than 40 pounds,with 20-30 pounds being better in most cases -- this is a stretching, not a strengthening exercise.
Hise called shrugs, breathing squats and round bench pullovers the "growing exercises." He believed in setting aside after one month all exercises that didn't seem to produce results, with the exception of the "growing exercises," which are never to be relinquished. 

Hise allowed 20-25 reps for growing exercises, but otherwise thought high reps counterproductive. 

Strength Training
It's necessary at this point to be clear about Hise's and Nathanson's views on strength training. There's a place for high reps in strength training, but such training isn't to be confused with endurance, multi-set excessively-forced repetitions type of training. Nathanson increased his standing press from 230 pounds to 290 in just six workouts [read the article up there, especially the section on sleep]. He performed 100 single repetitions with one minute's rest before each one. Each rep felt heavy but could be done smoothly. The poundage was not such that there was any slow and grim struggle with the bar. Even hard work must be strictly rationed. Nathanson trained just once a week, and rested as much as possible between workouts. ["I usually slept for about 18 hours after a workout, and on subsequent days from 12 to 13 hours. This sleep is as important as the exercise."] 

It was Hise's conviction that the primary aim of training was to achieve maximum gains in size and strength with just the right amount of stimulus.

In the letter in which he informed me of Nathanson's training methods, Dr. G.W. Kelling made some interest and instructive observations: 
"Since exercise reps are not necessary for life, the ancestral brain revolts when repetition demands are made on it . . . In single reps a weight can almost be suggested instead of lifted. it goes up so fast you hardly know you've lifted it. Rest 1 to 1.5 minutes between reps and tell yourself the weight is easy, you can lift it once with ease. Then proceed to do about 50 to 100 single reps. It really takes time though and the muscles don't become flushed but really worked.
A Holistic Training Philosophy
This has been just a sketch of Hise's philosophy of weight training. It's a holistic training philosophy -- it involves the entire physiological system and it bears upon every waking (and sleeping) moment. Everything the athlete does when he or she isn't training touches the effectiveness of the exercises. Erect posture is to be maintained at all times (posture and exercise are interdependent -- correct exercise results in correct posture, and an erect high-chested posture consolidates the gains of the exercise). Normal breathing should be deep and slow I quote from Hise: 
"My breathing speed is from four to seldom over eight times per minute. This slow breathing is a habit and easy to acquire by a strong man, but takes a very long time for Physical [Hatha] Yoga students to master . . . The Physical Yogi breathes long and slowly and keeps everything out of his head in order to keep it purified of . . . nonsense . . ." 
Only with the sense of physical well-being, of bodily efficiency, and of emotional calm that comes with good body mechanics can one consider oneself truly alive. That's why Hise used to say, "Do shrugs and live." 
Enjoy Your Lifting!  

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