Sunday, January 3, 2010

J.C. Hise, Pioneer of Powerlifting - Fred Howell

Joseph Curtis Hise passed away Sept. 25 in Poplar Bluff, Mo. According to a friend, he had injured his diaphragm while cutting limbs from cedar trees. This started problems so that he developed a weak heart and later diabetes. He was in various hospitals for about three years where they starved from 100 to 150 pounds off him very rapidly. This probably, according to friends, was very disastrous, because apparently he had returned to health otherwise. After receiving some medical help through a friend, Mrs. Annie Abernathy, he started on a trip to visit friends in the east and had reached this point in Missouri on his way back to his beloved mountains when he passed away. Joe, who was 67 at the time of his death, leaves many, many friends behind who are much indebted to him for what his advice did for them. The above photo was taken early in his career when he was making big squats and deadlifts.

He was the original Power Man.
Peary Rader.



J.C. Hise, Pioneer of Powerlifting
by Fred Howell


“Someday a weightlifter will clean & jerk 500 pounds,” said Joe Hise to the gang of lifters around him at a meet. Most of them told Joe he was daydreaming, for at that time, in 1936, that poundage was a good deadlift!

But Joe went on to say it will take a combination of hard work on the legs, back and bodyweight, plus plenty of lifting practice and a mind that will accept the fact that it can be done. In 1970 his “pipe dream” came true when in Columbus, Ohio, Vasily Alexeev clean & jerked 501½ pounds.

It was during the early 30s that Joseph Curtis Hise started to train with barbells. As a youth he had a couple of bouts with pleurisy and found with exercise he never had the trouble again. With the standard routines of the day, Joe found himself gaining from 160 lbs. to 200 after a little leg work, but then hit a sticking point.

After reading some of Mark Berry’s articles in the deep knee bend, Joe decided to give it a try. Using the press behind the neck for 15 reps, and the deep knee bend in which he did 8 reps then rested and did 8 more; he then removed 100 lbs. from the bar and did 20 more reps. Thirty days later Joe found himself weighing 229 lbs. with a chest of 46 ½ and thighs reaching 28 inches.

It wasn’t long before Joe and his growing exercise were the talk of the strength world. His fast results were reported in the February issue of “Strong Man” and the August 1932 issue of “Strength” magazine. He wrote Mark Berry and said, “Although I exercised for years I never knew that leg work increased the chest and lungs. I thought it was the chest exercises that spread the chest until I read your article in Strong Man.”

Joe then kept right on squatting, now using a straight 20 reps in the squat, and soon found that he weighed 237 lbs. at 26 years of age. He continued his experiments and finally reached a bodyweight of 298 lbs. and had an arm of 19½ inches, chest at 56 and thighs that measured 33 inches at 5’10” tall. During his training Joe made sure to eat meat twice a day and drink plenty of milk.

Suddenly the name Joe Hise was famous throughout the barbell world, with lifters coming to see Joe in Homer, Illinois to “check” and see if he was all that was reported in the magazines of that day. As Joe said to Mark Berry, “Some of the fellows who visited me thought it might ghost writing or just plain hot air when they read my gains in strength, measurements and bodyweight!” At a lifting contest held in Postl’s gym, the minute Joe showed up, out came the steel measuring tapes to see if his “claims” were fact or printing mistakes.

John Grimek was one of those visitors to the home of Hise, while John was working in Urbana, Illinois. The two were to become good friends and train together many times. During his visit with Joe, John got a good look at the rugged and primitive training quarters that were used by Hise to toss the iron up and down. Joe never had a real chance to practice the three lifts as he had only exercise bars and trained outdoors or in a cold garage. John had this to say about his visit with Hise – “The one thing I remember well, when visiting his home in Homer and watching Hise train, was his unusual system of squats and deadlifts. For all his ponderous weight, Joe moved with the agility of a lightweight.”

As Joe Hise reported his bodyweight ad strength gains, many barbell fans who were without such startling results him wrote Joe and asked him for his help. Joe wrote back to all of them and soon had an army of exercise pupils using his methods. Peary Rader gained 75 after reading about Joe in Strong Man and trying on the squat. Other men such as James Douglass, Leo Murdock, Rodger Eels, Earl Stout, Tom Bruno, Doc Kelling and Foster Mays, to name just a few of his fans, all received letters and results from this friendly strongman’s instructions.

One day Joe came to do his workout and found that his brother had used his bar as a tool for a Model T driveshaft housing and bent it. Joe gave the bar a whack and bent the bar straight again and did his squats with 395 lbs. The straight bar bothered his neck every time he did squats, and he got to thinking about the bent bar. He grabbed a pinch bar and unstraightened the bar, putting a camber in the bar and tried 20 reps with 300 lbs. When he finished he found the bar did not roll up and down on his neck as before, and the weights had a perfect hang for squatting!

After that Joe used only a cambered bar for squatting, and suddenly everyone was putting a camber in exercise bars. For many it was a way to exercise in comfort when doing that tough exercise, the squat.

After having used the squat for months Joe decided to give deadlifting a try. He used the regular bent leg style and then tried the stiff legged version. This caused him to have a stiff back following each session. Using his inventive mind, Joe came up with a hopper so he could bounce the weight past the danger point. He discovered that if he bounced the weight from wooden planks that were raised about two inches at each end he relieved the over-stretch and this allowed him to handle 550 for 5 reps in the exercise. Then Joe got annoyed with kettlebells pressing down on his wrists, cut holes in some buckets, and made what he called bucket-bells.

Hise had many hobbies including reading books on philosophy, the classics and other nonfiction material. Here he found a way to relax and independently increase his knowledge of the world. Joe was also a traveling man and loved to visit his correspondents, many times unannounced and much to their surprise.

One time he rode a freight train to Springfield, New Jersey to visit Andy Jackson, then the owner of the Jackson Barbell Company. When he got to Andy’s house he was covered with soot and his eyes were full of cinders. Andy’s dad spent an hour getting the cinders out of Joe’s eyes. Riding a freight train is a rough way to travel, yet after his eyes were cleaned and with no rest after a long, hard trip, Joe went downstairs to Andy’s shop and deadlifted 700 lbs. After watching him lift that weight Andy said, “It was far from his limit. He lifted it way too easy to be his top poundage.”

Joe was a bachelor and enjoyed his freedom, but Andy said to Joe, “You’re not getting any younger. Why not settle down and find a good gal to take care of you?” But Joe didn’t want any part of the domestic life at all, for he liked to be free to come and go as the mood moved him.

Andy had a better idea and took Hise to the wrestling matches one night, and Joe sat there in silence watching the bodies bounce back and forth. After a while Andy just casually mentioned to Joe that he could make some good money using his bulk and strength as a wrestler. Joe looked at Andy for a long moment and then said, “NOT ME! I’m not going to get hamburgered and busted up plus hat-pinned by some nutty little old lady; not this man!” That was the end of that deal. One time Joe had to flatten a couple of hobos who thought he was easy pickings while waiting for a freight, but he wasn’t going to look for that kind of exercise five nights a week.

During this period in his life, Joe continued to wonder why some men made great gains both in muscle and power, while others seemed to train for years with little results. One other thing that bothered him was the fact that some people seem to be healthy on a very poor diet while others who were very careful about what they ate had physical problems anyway.

As Hise kept asking himself, “Why doesn’t everyone respond to exercise," he evolved his cartilage mass theory. Since youth and cartilage go hand in hand, than what he called postural exercises will increase cartilage areas in the body, and help those resistant to exercise gain results.

Joe believed you should not exercise over three times a week on growing exercises, and twice per week on strength-building or lifting routines. The first exercise in a growing routine is the squat. First you do 10 reps, and then take three deep breaths between each rep until you reach 20 reps; if you use heavy weights, one set only. This, plus the wrestler’s bridge, two arm pullover with a light weight, upright rowing, deadlift and the curl would pack the weight and power onto a stubborn no-gain pupil. If the course sounds a bit familiar, it should, for a number of “experts” have borrowed a lot from Joe’s routines.

One day Hise saw a young man, Charles Tiffin, put a light barbell across his shoulders and then do shrugging movements while taking deep breaths. Joe’s inventive mind went to work and reasoned that maybe a heavy barbell would be better and increase chest size ad improve posture. This was the start of the Hise Shrug. Soon letters were pouring in to Hise that, in fact, it did work. It worked so well that a well known barbell company included it in their bulk course, passing it off as their own discovery. Harry Paschall, in his book “Development of Strength,” included it as one of the strength-building exercises in his routines.

To do the Hise Shrug you take a bar from a rack, several inches below shoulder level. With your back strongly erect and your legs slightly bent, straighten your knees and lift the weight from the supports. Now breathe in strongly and lift the weight by shrugging the trapezius muscles; breathe out as you lower the weight. Use 5 reps for power and 20 for bulk-making. Be sure to breathe high and fill the top part of the chest and not low in the belly.

Remember one thing – Joe never had fancy equipment, and trained alone under the most primitive of conditions. Even at home his squat rack was a couple of hedge posts tied up against the garage Because of this outdoor training, his workouts were spasmodic except in the summer months. Yet, even with such conditions he was able to make great progress at a time when Peary Rader said, “We all know that as yet the science of body culture is rather crude and uncertain.”

Joe always worked at the hardest types of jobs, in coal mines, uranium mills, cement mills, lumber stacking and as a hobby and in the hope of striking it rich, searching out lost mines and finding his own claims. He had a passion for the old west and its lore. Andy Jackson said that when Joe visited him he would fall asleep at the kitchen table at 2:00 a.m. listening to the western tales Joe could spin.

For Joe, the freedom of prospecting and working at a job until he was tired of it was a way of life for him, and his philosophy. When necessary, he was capable of doing a terrific amount of work. For months on end he would work double shifts and save his money, then retire to train and experiment with his weights. Also, he was supporting a few relatives on the side. Hise was an able writer with a style all his own, and wrote many articles for Iron Man, Vim, Strong Man, and Vigor.

It was not until 1956 that I became friends with this mountain man. As Joe became older, still living alone and cooking for himself, time and hard work had taken their toll and had worn this rugged man down. He became ill and, living alone, neglected himself. This illness, along with some personal family problems, plus an old work injury, made it impossible for Joe to exercise or take care of himself. His fellow workers talked him into seeing a doctor who put him in a hospital and insisted on Joe losing weight until he was skin and bones. It was to be a fatal mistake. Later I was to learn that the director of the hospital Hise was in was arrested, along with his doctor friends, for stealing large amounts of money allotted for the patients’ food. When they got done with him Joe weighed less than 190 lbs. and was a walking wreck.

In August of 1972 Joe knew he was a very sick man, weakened by the stupid “medical attention” he underwent. He then decided to buy a pickup truck and set out to visit his friends across the country for the last time. On a Friday afternoon I received a phone call from my wife, Natalie, informing me that Joe Hise was at our home. I rushed from work and when I shook hands with Joe I was shocked. This once massive man was now a shadow of his former self. Mentally as sharp as ever, Joe was full of plans to regain his health, write, and enjoy life once more. He said he had just visited John Grimek, and after his stay with me he would head for other friends in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Joe made many mistakes in life, like we all do, and deeply regretted not trying to become a lifting champion when he was at his strongest physically and had great ambitions for lifting during his twenties. In his early training days he was able to jerk 300 lbs. behind his neck without much trouble, and may have been the first man in America to accomplish this feat. Joe could also pull 400 lbs. chest-high at any time. This, plus over 700 lbs. in the deadlift and 690 lb. squats shows that he had plenty of power but needed proper training in style and form and access to superior equipment.

He was sorry he never married as he felt a good woman might have made the difference in caring and meals that could have kept him healthy or helped him regain his health during the dark days of his last two years. But Joe went on to say, “the trick is to find a female who doesn’t mind her husband lifting weights.”

Although he kept a positive outlook in his future plans, Joe told Natalie when he was talking with her that he wanted to visit his friends now because he felt his time was limited on this earth. When he said goodbye I had a feeling it would be the last time I would see Joseph C. Hise, and it turned out to be true. A month later he died.

Every time someone does a heavy squat, Hise shrug, hopper deadlift, and achieves some muscle or strength progress it will be in part because of this inventive strongman.

As his friend Tom Bruno wrote me, “Joe had a roaming fever which is OK. This is what he wanted to do in life. He was a powerful strongman who lived the way he wanted to in this life, a free man. Who could want for more?”



From “Readers’ Round-Up”, IronMan magazine, October/November 1972.

We have the sad news to report of the death of power building pioneer J.C. Hise. A letter from Fred R. Howell, a close friend of Mr. Hise for many years, told us of the death. I will quote from the letter:

I just received a letter from a close friend of Joe Hise’s telling me of his death somewhere in Missouri – I don’t know exactly where. Joe paid me a visit about a month ago and I took him to visit Andy Jackson one evening. He had been very ill this past year and the doctors forced him to reduce his bodyweight down to 190 lbs. This large reduction was too great a shock to his system.

J.C. Hise was a true pioneer in the field of weights. Who could forget that it was Hise who first pushed the 20 rep squat to gain weight in super fast style? With his inventive mind he came up with the Hopper Deadlift, the Hise Shrug and the cambered bar for squatting. I mean, he took a chance and used a bent bar for squatting and found it was far more comfortable to use than a straight bar, and this helped his squat and the squats of many other lifters.

His articles helped hundreds, even thousands, to gain weight rapidly and by his motivation sold tons of weights for the manufacturers. He was always happy to help anyone and wrote long letters to anyone who asked for his help.

Joe was one of the first to gain big bodyweight by the use of weights and mild drinking – 30 lbs. in 30 days with the 20 rep squat and mild drinking. He used as high as 700 lbs. in the repetition squat and close to 800 in the Hise Shrug. His weight, in good condition, was as high as 298 lbs. Joe was a man who worked at hard labor in the coal mines, lumber mills and uranium mines. His loves were the West, barbells and traveling in his pickup to visit friends across America.

J.C. loved to read was self-educated in hundreds of subjects.

Like all humans, Joe had his ups and downs, but right to the very end he maintained a very optimistic outlook on life and always expected tomorrow to be better.

His friends and pupils, if listed, could fill a book. To name a few – Peary Rader, James E. Douglass, Andy Jackson, Roger Eells, Mark Berry, John Grimek, Ted Elder, Doc Kelling, Leo Murdock, Tom Bruno and on and on filling page after page.

As I write this I have in front of me a copy of Iron Man, Vol. 3, No. 4, in which your editor wrote the full story of Joseph Curtis Hise and his great contributions and adventures in the world of weights.

All serious students of barbell training can do themselves a great favor by obtaining back issues of The Iron Man and the out of print “VIM” and reading the articles by Hise.

Many interesting stories can be told about Hise. One time when he was tired after a long freight train ride to visit Andy Jackson he went down to the basement and deadlifted 700 pounds, the world record at that time.

The world of weights will long miss a man such a Joseph Curtis Hise. He was a true pathfinder and his routines and inventive mind will benefit all who touch a barbell for years to come.

End of letter.


Hise made many contributions to the pages of Iron Man over the years, some of them being rather controversial, and to he minds of many, quite radical. Many of the ideas he propounded were never proven out due to lack of sufficient experimentation. Those who did follow his advice, however, swear by his teachings. I would like to say here that your editor (Peary Rader) owes his initial progress to the advice and inspiration of J.C. Hise, who was making his own big gains at about that time. Using his advice I was able to gain nearly 100 lbs. in one year and to become a lifting champion because of this gain. This, after 12 years of no gains whatever. Mark Berry (who inspired Hise to go on the squat program) and Hise were the early pioneers in developing interest in the squat. It is hard to believe now when the squat is “the” exercise for bulk builders and power lifters, but at that time, or should I say, up to that time, almost no one used the squat to any great extent. Without the example of J.C. Hise at that time the barbell game would not be in the advanced stage of development it now enjoys. All this happened way back in 1930 and 1931. Many books have been written and hundreds of articles all based on the that Hise developed, and the advice of J.C. Hise’s articles is still just as valid and effective.

Incidentally, it is thought that the death of J.C. Hise and his recent illness was in part due to his longtime exposure to the elements and especially uranium dust which eventually gave him emphysema.

No comments:

Blog Archive