Muscles of Iron

High Voltage Bodybuilding and Heavy Lifting

Weightlifting Was His “Ticket to Life”

December 24, 2015

Clarence Harrison, Jr. was not only a great strength athlete, he taught us how to succeed in life. Photograph circa 1949.

Every once in a while I come across somebody whose name may not be well known by today’s students of physical culture, but whom left a legacy that is every bit on par with the great legends of strength, such as John Grimek, Reg Park, and Steve Stanko. One such fellow was the late Clarence Harrison, Jr.

Clarence was born on June 3, 1929, in Louisville, Kentucky, and he grew up under rather humble conditions. As a freshman at Male High School in Louisville, Clarence sought to make the football team. Problem was, he weighed only 135 pounds. But then something miraculous happened — Clarence discovered weight training. Interestingly enough, Clarence began training at the Downtown YMCA weight room, the same one I wrote about in the previous post. Before long he had gained 30 pounds of muscle, and he earned the starting fullback chore at Male in his junior and senior years (1946 and 1947, respectively).

By the time Clarence graduated from high school, weight–lifting had become his passion. He performed tons of heavy squats (often on the special YMCA power rack I wrote about recently), heavy bench work, and he also practiced the Olympic lifts and various “odd” lifts. This type of Dinosaur Training was common back in the day, and Clarence, so like so many other lifters at the time, built muscles that were every bit as strong as they looked.

In 1949, Clarence cleaned up in State bodybuilding competition, first crowned Mr. Louisville and then awarded the Mr. Kentucky title. During these two competitions, he defeated quite a few powerful men from the local lifting scene, including Ralph Cameron, David Robinson, and Richard Flanigan. However, Clarence’s biggest victory came after he discovered that weightlifting was his “ticket to life”. By applying what he learned in the gym to his life in general, Clarence went on to become a successful family man and renowned sales executive. His path was a rocky one, but the discipline that he gained from heavy lifting helped him overcome a barrage of obstacles that easily would have stopped an ordinary man.

Although Clarence is longer with us (he died October 24, 2009 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease), he left behind a tremendous legacy for all of us to learn and prosper from. This is a legacy that I have recently captured in a new article for Bridge to Strength, and it is based on a series of in–depth discussions I recently had with the person who was closest to Clarence — his wife, Trudy. So please, take a trip over to my other website and learn about this remarkable man. What you discover from Clarence may very well become your own “ticket to life”. This was definitely the case for me.

Here is the link:

Clarence Harrison — Legacy of a Strength Hero

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

P.S. While you are over at Bridge to Strength, also be sure to check out the article about strength hero Ralph Cameron, if you have not already done so. And, if you are looking for how to go from rags to riches, be sure to read the article about Edwin C. Barnes. Combining wisdom handed down by Harrison, Cameron, and Barnes would provide one heck of a winning formula. Think Harrison, Cameron, and Barnes – oh my!

Simple is Usually Best for Building Muscle

December 16, 2015

Hello, fellow seekers of greater strength.

Below is an illustration of the High Voltage Dead-Squat Apparatus. Put to work properly, I have found this apparatus to be one of the most productive muscle builders in existence. I will explain the details of this assertion in a future article; so, please save any rebuttals you may have until then.

For now, what is important to recognize is that the potential usefulness of a strength-building apparatus cannot be judged by (1) its looks, (2) its popularity, (3) its cost, (4) whether or not a “famous” bodybuilder uses it, (5) how many “features” it has, or (6) by how vigorously it is advertised.

In fact, it has been my experience that when it comes to gym equipment, the combination of simple, honest, and down-to-earth is almost always best for building strength, muscle, and power. I’ve even seen people build mountains of muscle with nothing more than a single barbell set.

So: save your dollars; forget the superfluous; and don’t fret over that piece of training equipment you don’t have. Remember, when it comes to building muscle, having less often can bring you more.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The High Voltage Dead-Squat Apparatus. It’s simple, but super effective for building muscular strength and bulk. Drawing and design by Rob Drucker. All rights reserved.

The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus

December 6, 2015

The squat-stands apparatus described in this post is named after John Grimek, one of the most accomplished strength athletes of all time. Grimek represented the United States in weightlifting at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Later he won numerous prestigious bodybuilding titles, including the York Perfect Man competition (1939), Mr. America (1940, 41), Most Muscular Man in America (1946), Mr. Universe (1948), and Mr. USA (1949).

A while back I wrote a blog post entitled, A Power Rack from the 1940s. This post features a drawing of an early-style and hand-built power rack that was used regularly by many of the strongest men in Louisville, Kentucky at the Downtown YMCA during the Golden Age of Physical Culture. I’ve seen actual photographs from years past of this beast of a rack, and let me tell you it’s a sight to behold.

I can only imagine how terrific it must have been for the oldtimers in Louisville to load a heavy barbell on the rudimentary lifting contrivance at the Downtown YMCA and get to work with several sets of ball-busting squats. They were pioneers of muscle building who undoubtedly understood that nothing – and I mean nothing – beats the barbell squat for building total body strength and powerful legs. You can claim to the contrary all you want, but the fact remains that the barbell squat is the King of all exercises for those folks who want to get as big and as strong as fast as possible.

I sometimes wonder about the origin of the historic power rack that was once so prominently used at the YMCA in downtown Louisville. Who designed it? Who nailed it together? Who was the first lifter to use it? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers to these questions – and I probably never will. However, this old rack has greatly influenced how I build my own strength equipment. It’s all-wood design; it’s simplicity of construction; it’s manifestation of pure ruggedness; and it’s old-time look and feel – these are special qualities which are sorely lacking in most strength tools that are commercially available today.

Influenced by that old YMCA power rack, this afternoon I sketched up a different take of this historic contrivance. Named after “The Monarch of Muscledom”, I refer to it as The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus, and an illustration of one possible configuration of this device is shown below.

Unlike the original YMCA power rack, the The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus does not feature a “step-ladder” design. Rather, it’s meant to be used for full squats only. Additionally, each Grimek apparatus built should be tailored to best match the physical characteristics (height, leg length, etc.) of the person who is going to be using it. It’s deliberately not a “one-size-fits-all” contraption. This results in a loss of generality, but it gives a huge gain in specificity. Thus, with tailored construction, there is nothing to adjust on The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus; just load your barbell with weights and start squatting. You can’t get simpler and more specific than that.

The Grimek Squat-Stands Apparatus stands bold in any gym. It can be built specifically for doing barbell squats, barbell presses, flat bench presses, or incline bench presses. Additionally, the width of the apparatus can be adjusted easily by a quick swap of a couple of bolted two-by-fours. Drawing and design by Rob Drucker. All rights reserved.

So what kind of strength equipment did John Grimek use? Well, for starters, I would be willing to bet that he avoided all chrome-plated “wonder” machines. Sound logic also tells me that the famous weightlifting champion favored functionality in his strength equipment, not layers of complexity. Most of all, I must conclude that Grimek required a training apparatus that was strong and would not fail him when the going got tough. Anything that was flimsy or wobbled under load was almost certainly avoided by the former two-time Mr. America. Given these considerations, perhaps John Grimek would have rather liked my barbell-stands apparatus named in his honor. Shoot me an email and let me know what you think.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Growing a Workshop for Building Strength Equipment

December 1, 2015
A small workshop in the corner of a garage.

To build great strength equipment, a workshop need not be large or sophisticated. Shown here is my garage woodshop. It is simple and compact, but it gets the job done nicely. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

Almost nothing can make you more proud of your gym than adding a homemade piece of strength equipment to it. Whether you build a simple weight bench or a sophisticated power rack, pride and personal satisfaction will always be associated with your signature training apparatus. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, then you are really missing something big. Build your first piece of strength equipment and then you’ll see the light – brightly and clearly.

Building your own strength equipment not only helps you build bigger and stronger muscles, it stimulates your brain too. Yep, a little creative work in the wood shop will not only give you the tools you need to get bigger and stronger, doing so will push your creative juices into motion and keep your neurons in top working order. As an added bonus, building strength equipment in the shop is fun too.

Now, some of you may not have a workshop or even know how to use a simple hand saw. Not to worry. The fact is it is relatively easy to establish a good functional shop with limited equipment, and learning how to use basic tools is a task within the reach of any soul who is willing to practice and learn a bit.

Even if you have little money for tools and little available space for a shop, this scenario should not limit your ambitions. Sorry, but lack of time is not a good excuse either. As was stated some years ago in an issue of Mechanix Illustrated,

“Luckily it is just as feasible to establish a good functional shop in a small amount of space and with limited equipment as it is to do the job when you are able to use all the space you need, have all the money you want to equip it, and have all the time you need to set up it.”

The aforementioned quote is one of my favorite sayings ever, and I have committed it to memory. You may want to do the same. It applies not only to building a functional work shop, but to practically everything. A corollary of this quote is that being on a tight budget with limited resources forces you to think smarter and harder. And, when hard work is combined with hard thinking and a burning desire, the outcome almost always transcends what money can buy.

A small workshop in the corner of a garage.

Here’s a new workshop that I am growing in a corner of the family basement. It’s nice and simple, and it will soon be used to build a new wooden power rack. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

It is also a simple truth that good things grow from small beginnings. You don’t need to get a bunch of tools all at once to get started building your own strength equipment. Place a simple workbench in the corner of your garage, basement, outdoor shed, or living space. Then, obtain a few basic tools – a hammer, a drill, a hand saw, a steel rule, a few screw drivers – and you are ready to build something really special. If you don’t own a workbench and can’t afford to buy one, no problem; build a workbench for your first project. Your concoction doesn’t need to be sophisticated; something simple will get you going just fine.

In time, as you require special needs, you can add tools and power equipment to your workshop. You may also want to add utilities, such as additional electrical receptacles and improved lighting. But even if you are forced to work under rather barren conditions for a while, you are not really limited. I’ve built quite a few pieces of strength equipment over the years while working under a single 60-watt light bulb and with just a few hand tools.

In future posts and articles, I will provide readers of MOI more practical tips for growing a workshop and for building homemade strength equipment. In the meantime, be sure to check out the Home Gym – DIY Strength Equipment section in the Posts Library, accessible from the top menu.

Yours in strength,
Rob Drucker

Lifting Heavy Iron is My Madness

November 25, 2015

More so than any other form of physical training, heavy lifting was responsible for the remarkable development and athletic prowess achieved by John Davis, former World Champion and “World’s Strongest Man”.

These days it seems like more and more exercise enthusiasts are moving away from heavy weight training and pursuing non-apparatus methods of building muscle and health. The internet is going crazy with bodyweight training, and claims are abound that free-hand exercise is safer and more productive than pushing big iron plates.

Let me be clear that I too appreciate bodyweight training, and I have discussed the merits of such exercise many times on my blog. However, the bodyweight runaway that is sweeping the globe is doing little to part me with my barbells. Handling heaps of iron remains my favorite way to build strength, muscle, and power. Moving a loaded bar gets me excited, fills my head with passion , and makes me feel good. Simply said, lifting heavy iron is my madness and therapy for my soul. For me, nothing tops progressive barbell training for building both the mind and body. Nothing. That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

Again, please understand that I value many forms of non-apparatus training, and I often employ bodyweight exercises during my workouts. However, it’s time to set the record straight. There are a sickening number of self-declared “gurus” out there knocking weights with all their might. They tell you how lifting a heavy barbell will make you a physical wreck – ruined shoulders, destroyed knees, loss of athletic prowess, loss of energy, ad nauseam. I won’t waste my time dwelling on such stupid and misleading claims. Just consider that in nearly every case the weight-training knockers make a handsome living by promoting bodyweight training and selling books, videos, and courses based on their way-exaggerated claims. Many “bodyweight” guys even secretly hit the weights when nobody is looking. When progress then comes at a record pace, they attribute it all to whatever bodyweight method of training they are selling and profiting financially from. Enough about this topic already; I can’t stand to write about it any longer.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Reeves Power Rack

November 23, 2015

Here’s another concept for a homemade power rack. I call this one the Reeves Power Rack, named after Steve Reeves, a former Mr. Universe and movie star. The original sketch for this power rack was made at the Chemical Engineering Laboratory at Youngstown State University while I was a student there. It was made using a Compaq Deskpro 386, a machine that the company’s chief executive once called “the most powerful personal computer in the world.” At the time of its release, around 30 years ago, this electronic device retailed for a whopping $6,000 to $8,000, depending upon hardware features. For my thesis project, I was granted special privileges to use this state-of-the-art machine to develop sophisticated computer programs for mathematical modeling, but obviously my mind was on other things from time to time.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Reeves Power Rack offers a rugged design that is easy to build and light on the wallet. Drawing and design by Rob Drucker. All rights reserved.

The Muscle Builder

June 12, 2014

Here’s a couple more drawings from my Youngstown State University archive folder. Both illustrations are versions of “The Muscle Builder,” and I only wish I would have built a variant of this apparatus when I was younger. Anyway, anybody with a bit of imagination can find endless ways to build strength, muscle, and power with these machines, especially when add-ons are considered. Note, for example, the calf machine add-on depicted in the top illustration. With this set-up, you hold onto the barbell with your hands while you do calf raises. You end up with monster forearms, a powerful grip, a back of steel, and super-sized calves all in one shot. Super chin-up apparatus and back builder, too.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Drawing by Bob Drucker. All rights reserved.

Drawing by Bob Drucker. All rights reserved.

How Paul Anderson Was Outsmarted by a High School Student

June 5, 2014

Paul Anderson performing one of his “specialty” lifts.

I have but very little time for writing a post today, so I’m going to tell you a short story – one about how the “The World’s Strongest Man” was once verbally out-dueled by a high-school student.

First a little background….

Back in the 1950s when Paul Anderson was setting world records in weightlifting on a regular basis, the big fellow from Toccoa, Georgia became an outspoken advocate of the American free enterprise system. It was his belief that only through this political system do individuals in America have freedom to succeed. Anderson, however, became greatly alarmed when scientific polls, research studies, and surveys indicated that many Americans were losing faith in capitalism and the free enterprise system. The numbers from these studies, for instance, showed that over half of the college students in America believed that free market and big business were responsible for creating evil and hardship in their country.

With support for free enterprise in America declining, Anderson feared that liberty was at stake. It was his opinion that the freedom that he enjoyed — that all Americans enjoyed — could become seriously threatened if significant efforts were not made to educate the young people in the United States about the vital role that capitalism plays in the American way of life. Anderson especially sought to teach young Americans that it was only through the political doctrine that their country was founded on that they had the right to competitively market their services for profit with minimal restriction from the government.

To rally support for his cause, in the 1960s Anderson and some of his friends started a non-profit organization called Save American Free Enterprise (SAFE). Through SAFE, they worked diligently to teach the facts about capitalism and to enlighten ill-informed individuals about political significance behind free enterprise.

As part of his SAFE activities, Anderson regularly visited many schools and other institutions across the United States to promote the virtues of the free system. He once visited 11 different high schools and one junior high in Charlottesville, Virginia — all on the same day! Such was his commitment to teach the youth of America about the freedoms that they enjoy and which they should cherish and protect. Anderson was a big hit with the school kids, in part because of his titanic strength and popularity, but in bigger part because he knew how to relate to them and hold their attention.

Now the story….

One day Paul Anderson visited a school where he gave a lifting demonstration followed by a speech to a group of junior high and high school students. Needless to say, Paul left the students spellbound with his incredible strength. Paul’s speech, apparently, also managed to persuade the students.

After Anderson’s talk at the school, the students lined up to receive a photograph of the “World’s Strongest Man,” each one personally signed by the strongman himself. At one point, the huge weightlifter noticed that one of the boys was in line a second time, possibly a third. When the reappearing student finally made his way back to the signature desk, Paul placed his mighty grip on the boy’s shoulder, held him firmly, and loudly exclaimed, “What are you doing son?” The boy declared, “Oh, I believe what you said about free enterprise, Mr. Anderson.” “What do you mean,” asked the big fellow. The boy then verbally knocked-out the mighty giant with a most powerful declaration: “I’m selling your photographs,” the young one replied. With such a logical explanation, the only thing Anderson could do was sign another photograph for the ambitious boy and encourage him to go make a profit.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Murray Weight Bench with Barbell Uprights

May 15, 2014

As I promised in my previous post, here’s a couple conceptual drawings of the Murray Weight Bench with barbell uprights added. That’s it for today; it’s time to head to the MOI Dungeon and do heavy one-arm presses – Doug Hepburn style!

Yours in Strength and Health,
Rob Drucker

The Murray Bench with barbell uprights, view 1. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

The Murray Bench with barbell uprights, view 2. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Building a Heavy-Duty Weight Bench in Eight Easy Steps

May 13, 2014

The sequence of photos below depict one of dozens of weight bench designs that have found their way into my storage cabinet. I call it the Murray bench. It is named after Jim Murray, a former editor of Strength & Health magazine. Glance through his book Weight Lifting and Progressive Resistance Exercise, and you’ll likely see in a couple of photos a wooden weight bench that resembles this one, albeit with a bit less elegance.

I don’t go into detail here with dimensions and building instructions; that’s for another day. This is just something to get the creative juices flowing and the concept across.

Yours in Strength and Health,
Rob Drucker

STEP 1

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 2

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 3

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 4

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 5

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 6

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 7: Add rubber padding to the top of the bench.

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

STEP 8: Finish up by adding a vinyl cover and securing it underneath with staples.

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Underside View of Bench

CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.