– Old School Weight Training Strength Strongman Power Vintage Bodybuilding: Heavy Weightlifting as an Exercise

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The April 1953 edition of Strength and Health magazine contained the usual complement of quality training information.  A casual glance at the Table of Contents would reveal several informative articles that would be of benefit for not only anyone who was training back then, but also anyone who hoists the steel today.  That’s the best part about a lot of these old magazines. They illustrate the fact that quality training information is timeless.  

     In this particular issue, there is an article about “Modern Expander Training,” as well as an article titled “”The Lower Back- Trouble Area” ( it seems that even sixty years ago, people who lifted weights were experiencing problems with lower back pain).  Harry Paschall had his monthly “Behind The Scenes” although he did not have a Bosco cartoon in this particular issue, which is probably just as well since someone would probably find offense with it today.  John Grimek’s “Your Trainng Problems” was devoted to the question of what is the best time to train.  And there were a couple of nice articles devoted to the benefits of lifting for “older people.”  Older is a subjective topic.  Back then anyone over the age of forty was considered an older lifter.  Today we are smart enough to realize that age is only a number.  

     The article that immediately caught my eye was “Heavy Weightlifting As An Exercise’” written by a gentleman named C.M. Douthitt, MD.  Now, I had never heard of Dr. Douthitt before, but the title of his article intrigued me, as does any article that has the words “heavy’” or “weightlifting” in the title.

     The author states that there seemed to be considerable, but unnecessary, fear of heavy weightlifting.  I suppose, back then, that it was perfectly natural to have reservations about lifting weights, especially the use of heavy weights.  It’s natural to be wary of the unknown, and in the early 1950s, lifting weights was certainly not a mainstream activity.  One of the biggest misconceptions was the fear of getting “muscle-bound.”  Today, we realize the foolishness of that sort of thinking.  But back then, it was a common misunderstanding.  I remember, back in 1977 when I was thirteen years old and trying out for my Junior High School baseball team, the first thing the coach told us was that if anyone was on a weight training program, to discontinue it immediately.  No lifting weights.  So, even in the late 1970s, there was still a lot of ignorance regarding progressive resistance.

     “No form of exercise will produce a limit to muscular motion, it is only muscular inactivity that will do that.”  Dr. Douthitt hit the nail on the head with this simple statement.  However, years before this article appeared, Bob Hoffman was extolling the virtues of lifting weights and attempting to dispel the myths of becoming muscle-bound.  

     Apparently, back then there was a widespread misconception that lifting weights would also damage your heart.  Like most false ideas, it picks up momentum when it spreads.  Nothing could be further from the truth, obviously, but I’m sure back then there were a lot of leery parents who did not want their kids lifting weights under the fear of damaging their hearts.  Thankfully, the author took the time to discredit this falsehood.  

     “It is a physiological law that the body tends to adapt itself to do better than that which it habitually does.”  This is the whole idea behind progressive resistance training.  But the author breaks down the idea of progressive resistance in a way which makes it very clear.  “ When you practice weightlifting for a considerable time, “Nature will do all she can to conform the body so that it will become more proficient for this kind of work.”  If you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  As you get bigger and stronger, you will be better able to handle heavier and heavier weights. 

     The good doctor also makes a statement, especially insofar as it relates to drug-free strength training.  “Each individual has a limit to his gain, depending upon his inherited capacities and his persistence.”  I’m sure he did not foresee the proliferation of steroids, but his words carry a lot of meaning.  You can only do the best you can.  Do not attempt to follow the bogus routines commonly found in the today’s muscle magazines.  If you can develop your strength and size to its fullest potential, then you have succeeded.  On the other hand, if you have given in to weakness and resorted to the use of steroids, then you have failed to achieve all that lifting weights will allow you to accomplish.  No matter how massive, or what kind of numbers you put up, you are a bogus athlete.  

     “Much, too, will depend on his diet, rest, sleep, relaxation, avoidance of tobacco and alcohol.  There is a lot of material that has been published over the years about these topics. You will never reach your full potential for strength, and health if you do not practice good habits.  A proper diet and adequate rest is especially important for drug-free strength athletes.  No need to beat a dead horse.  And if you’re foolish enough to smoke then you probably would not get much from this article in the first place.  

     “Even the way an individual thinks has its effect upon physical development.  One who is constantly anxious or worried will have a hard time to gain great strength.”  This is not to suggest that you should go through life blissfully ignorant of everything around you, but there are things that are simply out of your control.  But I think this last quote also underscores the importance of a positive mental attitude.  If you don’t believe in yourself, then nobody else will.  If you approach a heavy barbell without a confident belief in your ability to lift it, then you will probably fail.  Never yield.

     The article ends with the author’s summary of the benefits of heavy weight exercises:

  1. They require relatively little time. 

  2.  Rightly practiced, they promote health, and develop strength and endurance.

  3. Good posture and body poise are improved.

  4. They add to the personal appearance, and self-confidence.

  5. They cultivate self-discipline, fortitude and will-power. 

Anyone who has been hoisting the steel for any considerable amount of time already knows the many benefits of lifting heavy.  But the most appropriate way to apply these points is to adhere to the final two sentences of the original article:  “Like everything else, weightlifting can be overdone.  Let common sense and moderation be your guide.”  These two points cannot be stressed enough.  I’ve often lamented that commons sense is not very common, especially when it comes to strength training.  But, for drug-free lifters, especially older drug-free lifters, common sense, along with moderation, should be foremost among your thoughts when developing a strength program.         


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