Tuesday, December 9, 2008

All Round Body Strength - Charles A. Smith

The French light-heavyweight Dannox
here seen snatching 190 lbs.
Charles Rigoulot in the background.

Bill Knox, age 13, 1500 consecutive floor dips
and 45 handstand dips, touching the ground with his nose each rep.


Click Pics to ENLARGE



All Round Body Strength
by Charles A. Smith


As I start this article, I have in front of me some pictures of athletes of extraordinary strength. All types of physiques are in front of me, from the classically lined to the Hercules Farnese. All have one feature in common – the power and ability to throw and toss around extremely heavy weights. Let us consider that terrific “without a peer” old timer Arthur Saxon. How many of us have wondered what it was that enabled him to officially bent press over 330 pounds? We somehow don’t think of strength as the responsible factor, for all of us who have performed dead lifts and deep knee bends with 300 pounds and over have a healthy respect for such weights, and can readily appreciate the superhuman strength which a man needs to take this mass of iron overhead with one hand. What terrific torso strength Saxon must have had. What vitality of internal organism was his. Imagine the crushing resistance of 336 pounds bearing down on the whole of his body as he sought to get the weight to arm’s length. Picture if you can the pressure on the oblique muscles, the latissimus dorsi and the lower erector spinae. Try and visualize the terrific strain his heart, lungs and viscera were under. How did he ever do it! What was the secret of his power?

And what about Georg Hackenschmidt? Did this “evergreen” strong man have any favorite methods of training which he used for the development of this all round bodily power? What were his methods? How did he use weights for increasing his strength and endurance in the roped square? As you may recall, Hack was the most famous wrestler – outside of Milo of Crotona – of all time. It is worth remarking that without exception all of the weight trained wrestlers, and the WRESTLERS who used weights for their training – and there IS a definite distinction – were possessed of power and endurance of torso, back and thigh that was unsurpassed by other strength athletes. Picture if you can the famous old timers who were wrestlers. Pierre Kryloff, he of the magnificent arms, who “crucified” more weight than any other strength athlete. Henry Steinborn, mat-man par excellence and deep knee bender of renown, Ivan Padoubny, of the handlebar moustache and bodyweight of 300 pounds, terrible in attack and swift as a tiger pounding on its prey. Hans Steinke, German colossus, who placed a 550 pound steel rail across his shoulders and let men hang on it UNTIL IT BENT. Ed “Strangler” Lewis, who threw his opponents around like they were sacks of chaff. Karl Swoboda, Viennese Giant, who could press and jerk more weight than any other man before or since. Joseph Grafl and Joseph Steinbach, champions at dumbell jerking – yes, and many scores of others ALL possessed this basic power of body which placed them in the Super Colossal class.

Perhaps some of you have seen pictures of the late Arthur Dandurand carrying a Ford auto engine on his shoulders. Weighing well over 400 pounds, this cumbersome weight was hoisted on the shoulder by Dandurand himself. You may have heard of the unbelievable feat of Horace Barre, mountainous French Canadian who is reputed to have walked several feet with a 1000 pound barbell across one shoulder. You may have read of the titanic back power and sustaining strength of the late Ronald Walker, who altho never weighing over 195 pounds, toyed with snatches of 300 and could jerk and continental up to 400 pounds.


Sheer back power wasn’t solely responsible. It didn’t depend entirely on the strength of thigh. Speed and science were not on their own productive of such feats of strength. Just exactly what was the combination which produced these giants of power and outstanding records? It was a combination of training for strength, not only of the muscles themselves but of the VITAL ORGANS, of the heart and lungs, the loins, the stomach – the tendon and ligament strength – ALL ROUND BODY POWER.


When we watch a weightlifter jerk an extremely heavy weight overhead, and control that weight to a point where he stands solid as a rock, tremorless and muscle-firm, we have but one thought in our minds – the actual weight of the bar jerked overhead. We don’t think of the strain the entire trunk of the man is under. We are so engrossed with the ACTUAL lift itself that we hardly appreciate the feat in its ENTIRETY.

We might be watching a wrestling MATCH – and please notice I do NOT say EXHIBITION – and we see one man pinned down, flat on the mat by his opponent. Suddenly, the underdog gives a mighty heave, and with a twist of the body, his antagonist is flying away across the mat. The spectacular feature of the match impresses itself on our minds more that the strength which was needed to perform such a “recovery” from the position of near defeat.

How can we develop this power? What exercises should we use and what qualities should we cultivate in order to gain this strength of the external AND the internal. What part does speed of reflex play and where does coordination come in? Now, stay right with me. Don’t go away. I assure you I ain’t getting in TOO deep, for if you really wish to produce from within yourself a measure of the power which the strong men of the past possessed, then you WILL have to consider speed and coordination as well as exercises and schedules. A wrestler doesn’t overcome his opponent or recover the upper hand from a position of near defeat just by coordinating ALL the power of the back, he sides and the front of the body. He boosts the muscle power of these groups with propulsion from the thighs and he puts all he has into ONE burst of effort.

A strength athlete doesn’t jerk a heavy weight or bent press 250 pounds without a definite and SURE coordination of ALL the muscles of the body. In fact, one might almost be tempted to say that his muscles “think” for him as each phase of the lift is gone through, the various groups seem to “take over” from the other. “Instinctive coordination” is how one anatomist has put it and who are we to try and improve on an extremely well turned phrase.

There is, perhaps, one exercise which stands out above all the others in the development of body strength and sustaining power, but few gymnasiums are equipped to allow its practice. It is in itself, the simplest of exercises and we will deal but with its description here. The exercise consists of holding as heavy a weight as possible at arm’s length overhead. The late Ronald Walker rigged up some chains which were attached to the ceiling and were of such a height that, when he stood under the bar, he had a slight dip of an inch or two to overcome before he could stand upright. He supported 500 pounds in this manner with ease. The great John Grimek, outstanding not only as a bodybuilder but as an Olympic lifter as well, used this exercise and has himself said that he could handle 800 pounds with little or no trouble. Since there are only one or two strength studios where the lift can be performed, I will leave this to your creativity, and we will move on to other exercises.


1.) One of the favorite movements of Georg Hackenschmidt was to hold a barbell at arm’s length, then lie down and get up again without lowering the weight. This wonderful exercise is rarely practiced these days, if it IS used at all, and I feel that is should enjoy a greater measure of popularity than it does. It is difficult to advise what poundage one should commence with, but a STANDARD can be easily set by using a weight which will enable you to make 8 to 10 reps with a given weight. It is best to use a dumbell as this piece of apparatus will lend itself to easier balance. At first, start by laying on the floor and having a training partner hand you the dumbell. You can start with the right or left hand, it is of no importance which one. From a “flat on your back position” with the weight held at SINGLE arm’s length overhead, start to raise the trunk and then TURN SIDEWAYS. If you are holding the weight in the right hand, then turn to the LEFT SIDE. As you turn over, press on the deck with your left hand and support the weight on the entire forearm and push your body up with all you have. From there on, it is a matter of balance and thighs. You will probably find it necessary to bend slightly over to the side away from the weight in order to prevent it falling from arm’s length. Lower the weight to the ground and resume the commencing position and repeat the exercise. You will find this movement fairly exhausting at first, but as you get used to it, you will find it possible to start from a standing position and resume that position after having laid down. Use as many reps as possible – up to 20 reps with each hand, but NEVER use more than a single set of this exercise.

2.) Here is an exercise which will be more than useful not only to the Olympic lifter but also to the bodybuilder. It is a grand exercise for tying in the strength and development of the deltoids with the kin qualities of the lower back and thigh. It has been used by the immortal Charles Rigoulot, the massive Hermann Goerner – who possessed one of the strongest backs of all time – and the wonderful Ronald Walker. it is technically known as the “Two Hands Swing.” For this exercise, a dumbell is used. In record attempts it is the custom to load up one end of the bell with more weight than the other, and the heavier end is placed to the front when the lifter makes his attempt so that the additional weight out in front of the bell will help to give it impetus. However, for the exercise, the orthodox loading procedure is best. Here again, the choice of poundage is a bit of a problem, but by a few trials one will soon find the weight which will enable you to perform 8 reps as your initial use of the exercise. From there, you can, using 3 to 5 sets of the exercise, work up your reps to 12 to 15 before increasing the weight. When increasing, add only a 2 ½ pound disc at ONE end of the bar.

Place the dumbell just between the legs, and spread them as wide apart as you stand when making a snatch or clean. Reach down and grasp the dumbell with both hands, then, standing upright, swing the bell a little forward and then back between the legs to gain some “way” on the weight. As the dumbell travels forward again, take it to arm’s length overhead, either slightly bending the legs or else making the split as in a snatch. Personally, I think it is best to use a slight dip or bend of the thighs as one will, if he uses a split, come to depend TOO much on it, and so lose much of the benefit which the exercise confers on the lower back, deltoids and trunk.

3.) Here is an exercise which was a favorite of Georg Hackenschmidt. Here it is possible to settle upon a definite weight to start off your use of this excellent movement. Take the best prone press you have ever made – I refer to the floor prone press, or as it is correctly known, “the press on back.” Pull the weight over and let it rest in the groove where the thighs meet the trunk – across the groins. Raise the hips slowly, and then let them drop, and suddenly thrust upwards again with all you have, at the same time pulling on the bar with the arms. Lower the bar to the commencing position and IMMEDIATELY return again to the finish position, with the weight at arm’s length over the chest. Bill Lilly, another old-timer, was able to make a lift of over 450 pounds. The actual name of the lift is “the Wrestler’s Bridge with body toss” and it was shortened to BODY TOSS some few years ago. Start off with the usual 8 reps and increase to 12 or 15 reps for 3 sets before increasing the poundage by ten pounds.

4.) Another unusual exercise which will solidly increase your trunk power and weight jerking strength is the single legged squat. The most difficult feature of this weight movement is to retain balance. I have found it best to make use of THREE articles – a box, a piece of wood an inch thick and a dumbell. The box should be at least 18 inches high and not more than 2 feet. Now let us suppose you are first exercising the right thigh. Place the piece of wood on the box and then stand on the box with your right thigh, resting the heel on the wood. You are now ready to commence the one legged squat. Thrust the arms out from the shoulders to retain the balance, and then start to squat. as you lower the body, raise the non-exercising thigh so that it does not assist you to rise or come in contact with the floor. Recover to upright as soon as you are as low as you can get. I suggest that you first try the exercise without weights so that you can get accustomed to keeping your balance, and keeping the non-exercising leg from helping you. Start off with 10 reps and work up to 20 reps for 2 sets each leg. Form here, you can start to use a weight. If it is possible for you to make 20 reps with each leg for 2 sets, then you can start off with a 25-pound dumbell when you are ready to add weight as a means of resistance. Hold the dumbell in the same hand as the side on which you are squatting – if you are squatting on the RIGHT thigh, then hold the dumbell in the RIGHT hand. Just squat as before, but allow the opposite hand to rest alongside the body. You will find it easier to keep balance as your center of gravity is considerably lower. Start off with 2 sets of 10 reps each thigh, and work up to 2 sets of 20 reps before adding weight. When you do increase the weight, add only a 2 ½ pound plate.

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