Muscles of Iron

High Voltage Bodybuilding and Heavy Lifting

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.

Harry Paschall’s Power Training Apparatus

May 10, 2014

A recreation of the power rack built and used by Harry Paschall. CAD drawing by Robert Drucker. All rights reserved.

Back in the day when some muscle magazines were actually worth reading, Harry Paschall penned a wonderful article for Iron Man entitled, “A Simple Apparatus for Power Training.” In this feature, Paschall described a very basic safety rack that he once constructed in his attic. It cost him just a few bucks to build (circa 1940s), and construction of the apparatus required only minimal tools, effort, and carpentry skill. That’s a pretty darn good combination.

Shown above is a CAD drawing of a power-building apparatus that is very similar to the one that Paschall built. Note that the rack is not equipped with barbell uprights. Rather, the barbell is supported by the two safety bars prior to use. This forces the trainee to take the barbell from the LOW position upon the commencement of the lift. The advantage here, as explained by Paschall, is: “You actually lift the weight instead of ‘bouncing’ with it.” Yep, you gotta use brute strength to get the bar moving upwards, but that extra effort will go a long way towards building strength, muscle, and power.

A most important feature of Paschall’s apparatus is that it allows the lone strength athlete to train the heavy power lifts in complete safety. The importance of this cannot be understated. Every year, more than a handful of strength enthusiasts suffocate to death after getting pinned by their barbell while performing the bench press. So, please don’t take a chance; whenever you bench alone, ALWAYS use a safety rack, such as the one featured here. Doing so may save your life.

Although less serious, a number of floors get beat to hell the result of lifters getting pinned at the bottom position of the squat and having no choice but to drop the heavy weight behind them. I once had to do this while working out in an old rented room, and I can tell you that the outcome was not pretty.

By positioning the catch bars to the desired height, the Paschall apparatus also allows you to perform heavy partial lifts in complete safety. The use of heavy partials was one of the secret weapons of many old-time greats for building tremendous muscle and ligament strength. They would pile on the plates and do half, quarter, and/or lock-out movements in key compound exercises, such as the press, the squat, and the deadlift. John Grimek, for example, did press lockouts with over 800 pounds, and he gave this exercise much credit for helping him acquire world-class pushing strength.

As mentioned above, building the Paschall rack is relatively easy, and procuring the required materials won’t take but a small bite out of your wallet. The posts are cut to length from four-by-four timber so that the affixed end plates mate firmly to the floor and ceiling. Holes are drilled in the posts at desired positions, each 1 1/8 or 1 1/4-inch diameter. I recommend spacing these holes four inches apart. Posts are positioned relative to one another so that the safety bars align approximately 42 inches apart (for a seven foot barbell) and so that the barbell has about eight inches of play, needed for natural arc movement.

Wood screws should be used to secure the end plates to the posts, and each of the four end plates can be made from a 20-inch length of 2×8 lumber. The top end plates should be supported or braced firmly to the ceiling support structure with appropriate hardware, and the bottom end plates should be supported or braced appropriately to the floor. Finish things off by inserting two catch bars, each at the desired position. Paschall used very long one-inch bolts for the catch bars, and he secured these with nuts. However, the budget-minded individual may prefer to use schedule 40 3/4-inch nominal pipe, 24-inch length each, as depicted in the drawing above. Of course, if you decide to build your own Paschall power training apparatus, it is easy to tailor its construction to match your own training needs and gym requirements.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Short Barbell Stands

April 27, 2014

No lifting gym is complete without a set of short barbell stands. Shown above is a rugged wooden design that can be built easily, quickly, and on a tight budget.

Many lifters own a set of barbell stands, but more often than not they are too tall for barbell curls, shrugs, seated presses, benches, and other exercises where the “lift off” is relatively low from the ground. The solution is to build custom stands that can hit a lower range. Featured in the drawing above is a pair of short stands that I built several years ago, and they have proven to be rugged, durable, and very useful. My stands offer five barbell height positions: 28, 31, 34, 37, and 40 inches – a perfect range for the exercises mentioned above, at least for the lifter of average height. Materials needed for their construction, mainly short sections of two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, and plywood, can be had at rock-bottom cost, or even found for free in a scrap pile. Assembly is also super easy, requiring only basic shop skills.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Better Bodybuilding Through Olympic-Style Weightlifting

February 13, 2014

Question:
Can bodybuilders benefit from including Olympic-style weightlifting in their training routines?

Answer:
If you are a bodybuilder looking to gain greater muscular balance, functional strength, and physical power, the inclusion of Olympic-style lifting into your training routine will likely induce the improvements that you are seeking. Unlike “pure” bodybuilding exercises, Olympic-style movements work the body explosively, and they require nearly all of the body’s muscles to work together in near-perfect harmony. For these two reasons and others I have not mentioned, it is my contention that the physique specialist can greatly benefit by practicing at least some form of Olympic weightlifting. Learning how to quickly move heavy weights from ground level to the overhead position can bring new life to a training program, spark new growth, and generate a renewed enthusiasm for the love of lifting iron.

In years past, many of the top bodybuilders were also weightlifters. John Grimek had been a champion lifter before he won the first Mr. America contest, and he was a member of the USA Olympic weightlifting team in 1936. Steve Stanko also had been both a lifting and a bodybuilding champion. Roy Hilligenn placed second to Norbert Schemansky in the 198 pound class in the Nationals the day before he won the 1951 Mr. America. And, Armand Tanny, who took first place in the 1949 Pro Mr. America event, placed second in the Junior Nationals as a heavyweight a few years before he became a bodybuilding star.

Other old-time physique stars who practiced some form of Olympic lifting during their training careers included Reg Park, Alan Stephan, Malcolm Brenner, George Eiferman, John Farbotnik, Melvin Wells, Otto Arco, Clarence Ross, and Siegmund Klein to name just a few. And, many of the world’s best weightlifters, both in the past and the present, achieved a remarkable level of physical development by hoisting heavy weights overhead. Consider the build of Yuri Vlasov, Petrov Alexei, Ronald Walker, John Davis, and Norbert Schemansky when these world-class lifters were in their prime. Their muscles were incredibly round, full, and highly developed. Vlasov, in particular, was well known for his extraordinary leg development; and Walker’s back may have been the thickest and more powerful in the world during his competition years.

Bob Hoffman, who published Strength and Health, in particular held the view that the bodybuilder would greatly benefit by including weightlifting movements in his routine. In the August, 1952 issue of his famous magazine, he observed,

“There is something about the man who combines bodybuilding and weight lifting that cannot be matched by bodybuilding exercises alone. More and more bodybuilders have seen the light and are now practicing weight lifting. Some of them enter competition, some do not. But, whether the bodybuilder becomes a weight lifting competitor or not, his physique will be noticeably improved by weight lifting.”

It is a sad fact that the majority of bodybuilders and other strength athletes in the United States today know little or nothing about Olympic style lifting. Ask the average gym member how to correctly perform a snatch, or how to do high pulls, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. Lack of knowledge, misinformation, unfounded beliefs, and lack of exposure have kept many a physique person from reaping the many benefits that weightlifting can provide. Nonetheless, it is my hope that bodybuilders around the world will eventually catch on to the value of competitive-style lifting. If this were to happen, I have no doubt that physique specialists would become bigger, stronger, and much more powerful.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

15 Golden Rules of Successful Bodybuilding for Hard Gainers

February 11, 2014
  1. Train no more than two or three times per week.
  2. Limit each workout to no more than one hour.
  3. Emphasize basic compound exercises in your workouts, especially squats, benches, presses, and deadlifts.
  4. Use a split schedule so that each body part is trained only once every six to 10 days.
  5. Immediately before and during training, a little nervousness and inner tension can be a good thing. Done properly, this will activate the stress response and better prepare your body for a top performance.
  6. After a workout, maintain a tranquil mind to maximize recovery and the growth process.
  7. Avoid chronic sleep deficiency. Persistent lack of sleep will weaken your system, strain your health, and impede muscle recovery and growth.
  8. Train safely and avoid injury. My advice is to pyramid your exercises, starting lightly and increasing the weight with each succeeding set.
  9. Push yourself to get stronger and use heavier weights. Simply put, to get bigger you must first get stronger.
  10. Eat lots of wholesome foods, especially fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fish. Minimize consumption of saturated fats, trans fats, processed foods, and sugary products.
  11. Supplement your bodybuilding workouts with regular bouts of walking, swimming, or other desired aerobic/cardiovascular activities. You only need to do this, however, if you want to live a long, healthy, and productive life.
  12. Set training goals that are within your reach. I prefer to focus on small, short-term goals, such as adding five pounds to my squat.
  13. Don’t compare yourself with other lifters. Remember, achievement is relative, and a small gain that you make may be more note-worthy than a large gain that somebody else makes.
  14. Seek to become your own trainer. Nobody else, no matter what they may claim, can figure out how to build your body better than you can.
  15. Be patient and keep at it. Bodybuilding should be a life-long journey, not a means to an end.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Training Progress and the Stress Response

February 8, 2014

In just about any reputable book or course about muscle building the author will emphasize the importance of training productively, eating nutritiously, and getting plenty of rest. Thus, it is well established in strength-training circles that if any one component of this triad is sub-par, progress in the gym will be compromised. However, there is a fourth factor that is equally important for building muscle, strength, and health and, sadly, it is completely overlooked and misunderstood by the vast majority of fitness advisers and enthusiasts. I’m talking about the stress response, or how your body mobilizes its internal forces in preparation to fight or to flee from a perceived danger.

When understood and regulated properly, the stress response can be put to productive use to boost muscular gains, improve cognitive functioning and mood, build health, improve recovery, and strengthen the immune system. Poorly regulated, however, chronic stress can lead to reduced memory and cognitive function, reduced athletic performance, adult onset diabetes, infertility, obesity, heart attack, strokes, depression, and numerous other health disorders. Think I’m exaggerating? Consider this: Dr. Herbert Benson, the famed cardiologist at the Harvard Medical School, has estimated that stress-related disorders account for 60 to 90% of all visits to primary-care physicians in the United States. This is a staggering conclusion and one of paramount importance. It means that uncontrolled and prolonged stress can destroy your health and well-being, even kill you. For strength enthusiasts, it also means that run-away levels of stress will inevitably stifle recovery and the muscle-building process. Thus, how you live outside of the gym is just as important as how you live inside of the gym with regards to muscle building.

Despite the many ill effects potentially brought on by stress, this physiologic response is a vital part of our lives and we can’t live without it. Motivation, drive, excitement, determination, and will are only possible with activation of the stress response. Only when we experience stress are various body systems stimulated to help protect us and prepare us for productive action. In particular, when we are under stress the nervous system, the circulatory system, the endocrine system, and the immune system work in concert to boost the body’s defenses against a perceived threat. Without this stress response, survival would not be possible.

So how can it be that stress is both essential for our survival and can kill us? To understand this dichotomy we have to go back to the evolution of the stress response. Thousands of years ago our ancestors developed this mechanism to allow them to fight or flee in the face of short-term danger, taking down an antelope with a spear or running from a hungry bear, for example. The problem is that in modern times running from a bear is no longer the driving force behind the stress response. Instead, most of our stress is now psychological in nature, such as worrying about one’s career, trying to figure out how to make a house payment, or driving to work on congested highways. The body, however, — and this is key — cannot tell the difference between a real physical threat and a perceived one. In either case, the stress response is activated for fight or flight. Sometimes, this is a good thing because when controlled properly the stress response, as mentioned above, can temporarily increase our physical and mental abilities far beyond baseline levels. Thus, the right kind of stress can help you score higher on an exam, lift more weight in the gym, or even fight off an infectious disease.

All goes bad, however, if stress becomes long-term. Chronic worry, mental fatigue, depression, anger, and nervousness — all too common in today’s fast-paced industrial world — force the body’s response system to work in overdrive mode, thus preventing the mechanism from being turned off. From an evolutionary perspective, the response system is not designed to work this way. Long-term activation actually causes the body to break down, weaken, and become vulnerable to a wide variety of illnesses and diseases. Sadly, many mental and health-care practitioners do not understand this fact, and often their patients are given more pills while the root cause of their ills (chronic stress) remains undiagnosed.

Not only is the stress response often overlooked in the medical community, the same is true in the bodybuilding world. Lack of training progress is often linked to how an athlete trains or eats when in reality poor regulation of the stress response is the limiting factor. Learn how to make stress work for you rather than against you and your gains in the gym can skyrocket. I can attest to this fact from personal experience.

In the near future I will provide more details about the stress response so that you can gain a better understanding of how it works and learn how to regulate it to great advantage. The key to making stress work for you, as we shall see soon, is knowing how to make the transition from acute stress stimulation to recovery. Do this right and you will strengthen your body, build your health, and put yourself in a much better position to make progress in the gym.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Muscle Loss and Age

February 2, 2014

Question:
Can exercise prevent muscle and strength loss as we age?

Answer:
Generally speaking, peak muscle strength is reached in both females and males around the late 20s. After age 30, most people face a decline in muscle size and strength that accelerates with time. Studies show that the average person will lose 33% of their strength between age 50 and 70, for example. Much of this strength loss is the result of a decrease in both muscle fiber number and size as we age. This loss is especially pronounced in Type II muscles, the kind associated with the generation of speed, power, and maximum strength output. Power, which is a function of both speed and strength, tends to decline faster than pure strength with age, especially if one does not regularly engage in resistance exercise. Interestingly, a 20 year old will typically use only 20% of his or her strength to get out of a chair, while the average 80 year old person will have to exert 80% of their maximum effort to do the same.

How much muscle, strength, and flexibility a person will lose as they age depends on many factors. Some of these factors are beyond one’s control, such as genetic make-up and intrinsic body & cellular structural changes that naturally occur as part of the aging process. For this reason, even if you keep training as hard as you can, inevitably you will reach a point in your life where your athletic prowess and physical strength will decline. That is the bad news. However, here is some good news. By regularly engaging in physical activity, especially high-resistance training, it is possible to preserve your muscle strength and maintain a high quality of life well into advanced age. In other words, how you live tomorrow will depend to a large extent on how you live today. So keep exercising.

As a final note, I should point out that I know many individuals who have built strength and muscle well past the age of 50 through high-intensity exercise. Want more encouragement? Think about this: Olga Kotlelko is 94 years old and she is still considered one the best track and field athletes in the world in Masters competition. Olga holds a whopping 26 world records, and she remains on par with many athletes one-third her age. Incidentally, Olga’s favorite event is the hammer throw, and she’s pretty darn good at it.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

York Barbells and Sumners Hardware Store

January 11, 2014

The sole surviving weight plate from the York Barbell set I purchased at Sumners Hardware store over 30 years ago. Photograph by Robert Drucker

Many years ago, before a flood of giant home-improvement retail chains swept across the nation, there existed a rather inconspicuous but fantastic hardware store on Dixie Highway in Louisville, Kentucky. It was called Sumners Hardware, and man did I love that place. Sumners offered great service, and they had a huge selection of hardware gadgets and specialty items to choose from. But, what really did it for me is that the hardware store sold all sorts of York Barbell products. You read that right; in the middle of the store was a huge muscle-building aisle, and the centerpiece of attraction was a complete stocking of York barbell sets, benches, squat stands, steel cable sets, and numerous other training novelties. Sumners even sold issues of Strength and Health magazine and Bob Hoffman’s infamous HI-PROTEEN food products. It was quite a place, and it was an absolute paradise for the weightlifter who also loved working with tools.

When I was a high school, I worked part-time in a neighborhood grocery store. I earned about $70 a week stocking food items and carrying groceries to customers’ cars, a pretty good chunk of change for a teenager back in those days. My parents didn’t force me to work while I was in school, but I kept at the job for some time anyway because I wanted to save enough money to stock my home gym with a complete line of York Barbell products. My goal was realized when I was about 17 years old. One day, with about $300 stashed in my wallet, I drove to Sumners Hardware and I purchased a 340-pound York barbell set, an extra barbell, a pair of York squat stands, a York multi-purpose weight bench, a pair of York iron boots, and a few muscle magazines to keep my motivation flame white hot. Heck, I even bought a few of Hoffman’s HI-PROTEEN bars to make sure that I kept my nutrition level super charged before taking my new training equipment home.

For a few years, my York training equipment rested comfortably in my parent’s basement where I had set up a small gym. Having a genuine York-stocked gym at home was really awesome. Every time I picked up a York barbell to train I figured that I was using the same equipment that built the likes of John Grimek, Steve Stanko, Johnny Terpak, and other famous members of the York strength team. It was a great psychological boost, and I was in full agreement when Jim Park declared in a magazine advertisement that “For the best in bodybuilding equipment – buy York.”

Eventually, I brought my hard-earned York training equipment to Youngstown, Ohio when I went there to attend engineering school. I rented a large room in an old house on Illinois Avenue, and there my weights became scattered all over the floor. All went well until the middle of my senior year of college. I was running very low on cash, and about four months before graduation I could no longer pay the rent; I was flat broke. So my landlord gave me a choice, either face eviction or pay the rent with my York barbell equipment. I chose the latter option, and by the time of my graduation I had only one York plate that remained in my possession, a small 1 1/4-pounder. Incidentally, this plate only survived my financial disaster because I had inadvertently left it at my parent’s house before coming to Youngstown. Even today, it is the only York barbell plate that I own, and I cherish greatly.

Now, you may wonder why my landlord may have been interested in my York barbell equipment. Well, he was a strength athlete himself, and he was a darn good boxer. One day he had a disagreement with one of the girl tenants in the house. The next thing I know is that the girl’s older and huge brother comes storming into the house, and he tries to pick a fight with the landlord. The brother is screaming threats and telling the landlord that they need to settle things “like men.” During his screaming tirade, the guy also claimed to be wrestler, and to be fair he certainly did look like one. But, my landlord held his ground, and he remained calm and self-assured, as if he didn’t have a worry in the world.

Finally, when pressed by the wrestler to “step outside,” my landlord rationally explained to him that he was prepared to defend himself if he was attacked. He then calmly asked the wrestler which hospital he would prefer to go to should a fight break out. Wisely, the wrestler backed down and the two men parted ways peacefully. Oh, what great memories.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Squats – Are They Bad for the Knees?

January 1, 2014

Done correctly, arguably the barbell squat is the most productive body-building exercise in existence. Photograph by Rob Drucker.

This is one of the most common questions I get from readers, and I thought it would be good to take a look at this concern in some depth. Please understand that I give my opinion here based only on my own experiences, and your situation may be different from mine. If you are experiencing knee pain, I strongly urge you to seek medical evaluation, and be sure to follow the advice of your doctor.

Generally speaking, squats are not bad for your knees if they are done correctly. In fact, when performed properly barbell squats actually stabilize the knee joint and reduce vulnerability to injury by strengthening surrounding muscles and tendons.

To perform the squat properly, keep your feet straight out and about shoulder-width apart, your back reasonably straight, and maintain your head and line of vision slightly upwards. Most importantly, during the descent of the movement always maintain control of the weight and never bounce at the bottom.

Recoiling at the bottom position of the squat subjects the ligaments and cartridge of the knee joint to substantial stress, a result which can be severe strain or even a tear. I have known more than a handful of lifters over the years who had to have surgery to repair knee damage caused by this practice. Don’t do it.

Some lifters work the squat correctly, but, nonetheless, they develop knee pain of some sort eventually. Sometimes the cause of knee pain is over-training, simply not giving yourself enough rest between squat sessions to allow the knee joints to recover properly and strengthen. This happened to me when I was in my late thirties. Finally, when I couldn’t stand my knee pain any longer, I cut my squat sessions from twice a week to once a week and also reduced the number of sets performed. I ended up getting much stronger, and today I have no knee pain whatsoever at age 50. And, yes, I still squat heavy – much heavier now than I ever did in year’s past.

In summary, when performed correctly most strength athletes can perform heavy full squats without issue. But, age, one’s general condition, and genetic factors all play a role in this equation. For some folks, regular barbell squats can cause or aggravate knee problems. If regular squats are bad for you, as an alternative for leg building you may want to consider performing front squats, the trap bar deadlift, seated leg presses, or squats with lighter weights for higher repetitions. In any case, take care of your joints. Doing so is the key to enduring lifting success.

Yours in Strength,
Rob Drucker

P.S. Do you want to develop powerful and muscular legs? Here is how:
Prescription for Building Mighty Legs

A Basement Muscle Builder

December 22, 2013

A power rack need not be complicated or expensive to be useful and effective. This “simple” muscle-building apparatus is ideal for strength athletes who train in an unfinished basement or in a garage with exposed rafters. Design and drawing by Robert Drucker.

If you train in an unfinished basement it is a simple matter to construct a multipurpose power rack for just a few dollars. An illustration of one such apparatus is depicted at right. This rack is made primarily from two-by-four lumber, and it is secured to two exposed ceiling joists with wood screws, bolts, or c-clamps. I prefer to use c-clamps because they allow you to secure and move the rack easily with no damage to the joists.

It is not necessary to secure this rack to your basement floor. Just make sure that the rack is pressed firmly against the floor before securing it tightly at the ceiling joists. So long as the bottom of the rack is held firmly against the floor, the structure will not be able to rotate out of place under ordinary use. Of course, if you want be absolutely certain that your rack won’t move under load you can fasten its bottom plates to the basement floor with hardened nails driven by a stud gun. Alternatively, you can use concrete screws, first boring into the floor through the plates with a hammer drill.

Note that the “Basement Muscle Builder” features adjustable safety boards and an adjustable chinning bar; thus, it is quite a versatile device. The chinning bar is secured in a V-notch, and this design allows a bar of any desired diameter (within reason) to be used. It also allows the chinning bar to be quickly removed or attached, a rather convenient feature.

I should add that the apparatus depicted above is only a conceptual drawing. Its construction may need to be altered somewhat to meet your personal needs and strength levels. I present a fairly light-duty model here, but it can be made stronger, wider, etc. without significantly altering building or cost requirements.

As you have seen, this muscle-building apparatus is very simple in design, and it can be built by just about anybody who has at least a rudimentary knowledge of tools. However, don’t be fooled; this power rack may be simple in form, but it is complex in capability. It can be used for all sorts of exercises, and it serves well as a safety cage for squats and bench presses. And, with a little bit of imagination and effort, many “attachments” can be built for this apparatus to make it even more functional. Think calf machine, lat machine, incline-bench board, incline sit-up board, etc.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Kansas City Muscle, 1953

December 15, 2013

Business card advertising the Kansas City Physique and Strength Show of 1953. On the back of the card and referring to the physique competition, Bill Rasdall wrote, “Jack Cress, 1st; Bill Rasdall, 2nd, Bill Wells 3rd.” Photograph by Robert Drucker.

On May 30, 1953 a big event took place at the Resident Theatre on 1600 E. Linwood to the delight of a packed audience. The big occasion was the Kansas City Physique and Strength Show, and it featured a Mr. Kansas City physique contest, a Mr. High School physique contest, a bench press contest, a squat contest, and a variety of strength and athletic demonstrations. In addition, James Schwertley, a Mr. Nebraska, Mr. Midwest, and Mr. New Mexico winner, guest posed.

Page two of The 1953 Kansas City Physique and Strength Show program booklet. Note that a number of athletic events were held, including a trampoline act and a balancing act. Those were the days! Photograph by Robert Drucker.

One of the contestants in the big show was Bill Rasdall. He placed second in the physique contest, and he acquired a “nice” trophy for his efforts.

Bill trained at the Mid America Studio at 1313 E. 46th Street in Kansas City (Missouri side) under the guidance of Vern Beckel, owner of the gym and an established muscle man who had been featured in Iron Man magazine. Bill regarded Vern as a “swell guy,” and described his gym as “one of the best.”

Vern sold a protein powder at his gym which he called “Super Protein.” The cost of his product was $2.50 per pound (a 10-day supply), a great deal of money back in those days. But, Vern promised that his protein would yield “faster improvement, more definition, and greater power.”

Page three of the program booklet. You can see that the bench press competition was 40 pounds over body weight for limit repetitions and that the squat competition was 100 pounds over body weight for limit repetitions. Note that Art Leonard squatted 260 pounds 36 consecutive times in the squat competition. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

Bill seemed to support Vern’s point of view, indicating in a letter to a friend that “Vern’s protein is terrific and it is proven.”

Bill also indicated in his letter that Vern had a special training program that really worked wonders for building muscle. Due to my skepticism, I have never tried Vern’s unique program. However, Bill did and in his letter he gave it very high praise. Here is what he wrote,

“[On Vern’s program] you only train one day a week. On that day you train for ten hours straight and you eat every two hours. You specialize on one muscle group at a time. One of the guys that I know has put on 30 pounds in two ten-hour workouts, and he was an advanced body builder to begin with. One of the other guys had put an inch on his arms in one ten-hour workout and it has stayed. Vern said that he was going to put his own arm up to 18½ inches when he got back. Also, at the end of one of those ten-hour workouts Vern says that you are stronger. He’s proven that to himself.”

Page four of The 1953 Kansas City Physique and Strength Show program booklet. Check out the ads for Vern Bickel’s Mid America Studio and Super Protein. The “CLOTHIER” ad at top left is also pretty cool. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

So does Vern Beckel’s 10-hour workout program work? I don’t have the time to find out, but if you decide to give it a try please let me know the results.

Incidentally, just weeks before the 1953 Kansas City Physique and Strength show, Bill Rasdall had attended the Mr. America contest where he witnessed the mighty Bill Pearl win the event. Also, Rasdall mentioned in his letter that he had seen Vern Beckel at the big show “talking to Park.” I don’t know if he was referring to former Mr. Universe Reg Park or to 1952 Mr. America winner, Jim Park. Either way, it sounds like Bill had a great time and met some super champs.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Why Do You Train?

July 24, 2013

A good question every student of strength should ask themselves is, “Why do I train?” Do you do so for the mere sake of building bigger muscles or to impress people with your strength or physique? I hope not, because if this is your primary reason for training, you are not experiencing anywhere near the full power, joy, and profits that a proper body-building program can provide.

Before I go on, I want to say a bit more about training to impress. BIG MISTAKE. No goal will ever bring you happiness and self-fulfillment if the main driving force behind it is to gain attention from other people or to show off. Furthermore, if you think that merely adding muscle mass to your frame will increase your self-esteem and bring you respect, you are sadly mistaken. Larger muscles, in and of themselves, provide you with extra physical strength and size, nothing else. True character comes from the inner soul, and if your training is not based on this truth your workouts will give you little or nothing worthwhile.

From a personal perspective, heavy lifting in the gym does much more for me than merely strengthen my muscles; it is my ultimate therapy and confidence builder. Pushing big iron plates has taught me how to systematically solve life’s toughest problems, focus my attention on a task at hand with laser-like precision, and strategically overcome seemingly impossible odds. Hard physical training has also ingrained within me an iron will to succeed and filled my spirit with a persistent drive, one that keeps me going even when success seems light years away.

Another benefit of hard training is that it fills my soul with a “concentrated” energy, an almost magical substance that stimulates my mind and expands my view of the world like nothing else I have experienced. This is why I do my best thinking after a hard workout.

I could go on and on about the benefits that intense physical exercise provides me, but space does not permit this because my list is practically endless. However, I will add in closing that, above all, training makes me happier, and this is why I say that lifting heavy in the gym is my ultimate therapy. And by “lifting”, I don’t mean just the physical portion of it. I enjoy the whole training process — the planning, the strategizing, the analyzing, and the revising of the approach included. I guess you could say that it’s the journey that I most enjoy and benefit from, not the end product. Large and strong muscles are just secondary benefits, by-products of a higher, more important and intelligent process.

Perhaps you should now ask yourself why you train. An honest self reflection will reveal much about yourself, and doing this exercise may help bring a higher awareness of your true goals in life and bring greater meaning to your workouts.

Yours in the advancement of strength training,
Rob Drucker

Henry Holtgrewe – Was He the World’s Strongest Man?

June 18, 2013

The man whom other strongmen feared – Henry Holtgrewe of Cincinnati, Ohio.

At the turn of the twentieth century, strength giants such as “Apollon”, Louis Cyr, Horace Barre, Eugen Sandow, and John Marx were among those being billed as the strongest man in the world. Not so in Cincinnati, though.

As the nineteenth century came to a close, Henry Holtgrewe, a rather quiet and modest immigrant from Germany, was quickly gaining recognition among Cincinnatians as a powerhouse of most magnificent proportions. And, if you have never heard of this guy, it’s about time that you do.

Henry Holtgrewe was born in Osnabruck, Prussia in 1872. Physical strength was abundant in his family line, and as a boy growing up in Germany Holtgrewe was said to be three times stronger than his classmates.

At the age of 21, Holtgrewe migrated to the United States and took up residence in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the Queen City, the strong fellow opened a saloon, and he quickly gained a reputation among local patrons as being a man of stupendous strength. In his saloon, Holtgrewe had been seen single-handedly carrying heavy furniture and lounges with such ease that witnesses couldn’t believe their eyes. Never before had they seen somebody demonstrate such natural strength.

Holtgrewe knew little about weight lifting and strength exhibitions until a public spat between Eugen Sandow and Irving Montgomery drew the big fellow’s attention. Later, after meeting Sandow, Holtgrewe set up a training room in the back of his saloon, and he began to practice many of the same movements that the handsome strongman was famous for performing. Within two years of formal strength training, Holtgrewe became the champion of Ohio for heavy lifting, and Sandow himself gave the German immigrant a gold medal for his feats of strength.

At first, Sandow had urged the mighty Cincinnatian to defend his awarded gold metal against all challengers, but as time progressed the muscular vaudeville performer had grown to fear that the saloon keeper would publically challenge and embarrass him. In fact, after realizing that Holtgrewe had surpassed him in his own lifts, Sandow arranged for police officers to bar Henry from his strength shows whenever he visited Cincinnati.

Sandow was not the only famous strongman who was intimidated by Holtgrewe. Another fear-struck performer was Sandow’s rival, “Sampson”. When in Cincinnati to perform a strength exhibition, Sampson arranged ahead of time to keep the Cincinnati saloon keeper away from the show. However, fearing that Holtgrewe might crash his exhibition, Sampson and the manager of the house devised a plan to ensure, so they thought, that the big Cincinnatian would be made a fool of. One afternoon, after Sampson completed his act, he had his heaviest show barbell nailed down to the stage floor. Soon afterwards, Holtgrewe showed up with a small crowd of supporters, and the big fellow stormed his way to the stage. Holtgrewe wasted little time going right to Apollo’s heavy barbell, and after taking a grip upon it, he gave it a sudden pull. The secured weight didn’t budge, so the mighty man tugged at it again. Still nothing happened, and a few scoffers in the audience broke out in laughter.

Prior to a third attempt, Holtgrewe saw that the barbell was nailed down, and this infuriated him. Suddenly, the sound of splitting wood roared across the auditorium, and Holtgrewe stood in triumph before the crowd holding the big bell overhead with a two-feet-by-three-feet section of the stage accompanying it. The promoters of the show were terrified, and they quickly drew the curtains to quiet the stunned crowd.

As Holtgrewe gained a reputation in Cincinnati for being “the most powerful man in the world,” promoters of strength shows grew more paranoid that the local favorite would unseat their stars. One promoter even went so far as to hire a crew of six boxers from out of town to take down the strongman. Waiting until Holtgrewe was alone in his saloon, the six pugilists launched at the muscle man in a surprise attack. One guy aimed a revolver at the monstrous man; another hit him on his head. But, seconds later, Holtgrewe was the only guy of the seven still standing. The fighting sextet had failed miserably in their assignment, and each of them ended up on the ground curled up in pain. Finally, a patrol wagon showed up at the scene, and the leading officer was awestruck when he saw the six defeated men on the pavement moaning in agony. The officer asked the strongman if he wanted to press charges against his attackers, but Holtgrewe figured the thrashing he gave his adversaries was more than sufficient punishment, and no charges were filed.

Although Holtgrewe possessed legendary strength, outside of Cincinnati he was little known. The German immigrant was a relatively quiet fellow, and he had no desire to be famous or wealthy. As such, Holtgrewe shied away from the press, and he rarely sought publicity. At five feet nine inches in height and nearly 300 pounds, Holtgrewe rivaled the strongest men of his day, including Louis Cyr and Horace Barre. Many Cincinnatians, in fact, regarded Holtgrewe as the strongest man who ever lived. Shortly after his death on January 1, 1917, the following was written about the Ohio strongman in a sports magazine:

There died in Cincinnati, not long ago, a quiet, modest German, little known to fame outside the precincts of the Ohio city, and yet well qualified for winning vast renown and mammoth fortune had he but felt the promptings of ambition. Henry Holtgrewe, Cincinnati saloon-keeper and plain, ordinary citizen, was perhaps the strongest man that ever lived – unquestionably the mightiest athlete that the world has known in modern times. None of the professional ‘strong men’ of Europe or America could compare with Henry Holtgrewe: it is doubtful if the legendary giants of olden times were half-way his equal — and yet he lived with little reputation and died comparatively poor.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Passing of a Great Man

May 16, 2013

Ralph Cameron (1926 – 2013) lived life to its fullest, and he will be missed. Photograph circa 1948.

Today I am mourning the passing of Ralph Cameron; he was a most wonderful human being and a very special friend.

I first met Ralph when I was 12 years old. I still remember the day vividly. I had gone to a friend’s house for the first time, and there I was greeted by his father as I entered their breezeway. My friend’s father told me that his name was Ralph, and he was painting a wall in the room when he introduced himself. I couldn’t help but notice that he was a tall and muscular man, and his arms were really huge.

As Ralph painted away, his biceps looked like they were carved from granite, and I stood there in front of him in total awe. “What’s the matter? Haven’t you ever seen a pair of 17-inch arms before,” the big man joked.

A few minutes later I was in the Cameron’s basement, and my friend showed me his father’s gym. It was stocked with York barbells, globe dumbbells, several hand-made benches, a lat machine, squat stands, a dipping station made from pipe, and an assortment of other training gadgets. I had never seen anything like it before, and almost instantly I became hooked on bodybuilding.

Just days before being drafted into the U.S. Army, Ralph placed third in the 1949 Mr. Louisville contest. Thirty two years later he proudly watched me win the Teenage Mr. Kentuckiana (Kentucky and Southern Indiana) physique contest at Bellarmine College in Louisville. I was most fortunate that he believed in me. His encouragement made all the difference.

Perhaps not fully realizing how fortunate I was to have Ralph as a friend, following my high school graduation I did not see the weightlifter for over 28 years. When I decided to contact him in 2009, I wasn’t sure if he would remember me. But, my concerns were totally unwarranted; Ralph greeted me with open arms when I appeared at his doorstep.

After my reemergence, I saw Ralph many times, and we often talked about old-time bodybuilding. He also shared with me many stories from his youth, and they continue to bring a smile to my face.

Well into his 80s, Ralph possessed a phenomenal memory, and he could recite long poems that he hadn’t seen since his school days. He also was a highly intelligent person, and his interests ranged from stamp collecting to listening to Swing and other forms of Jazz. Ralph also was an avid reader, and he once bragged that he read every page of the Encyclopedia of Jazz.

Ralph loved people, and I have never known a more genuine and caring person. He thought nothing of loaning me his personal belongings, and his enthusiasm for life was very contagious. Ralph taught me, above all else, that happy people transfer their happiness to other people.

As things turned out, I saw Ralph for the last time about five months ago. I had gone to his house to help him fix his turntable before his winter stay down south. I ended up taking his turntable home with me, and I told my oldest friend that I would bring it back to him ready to play upon his return to the Louisville area. But fate had things turn out differently. On May 15, I received a most devastating email from Ralph’s grandson. He told me that his grandfather had passed away earlier that day. I’m greatly saddened by the news, but I find comfort knowing that Ralph lived life to its fullest and made this world a better place. He truly was a remarkable person. I am so lucky to have known him. May Ralph forever rest in peace.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Truth About Body-Building – Part 1

October 9, 2012

For decades, sellers of muscle books and courses have promised to turn weaklings into supermen through catchy advertisements. This one, from the early 1920s, implies that the buyer of the referenced apparatus and course can become up to TEN TIMES as strong as the average man! Unfortunately, equally absurd and misleading ads are still prevalent today. Photograph in public domain.

Since the inception of Muscles of Iron a few years ago, my goal has been to craft the website into a prime resource for the enlightenment of people interested in building strength, muscle, and might. From the beginning, my interest has been to provide a body-building publication for individuals of high energy and intellect. I seek to attract independent thinkers, creative minds, and strength tinkerers who are looking for something other than the garbage that is promoted by the vast majority of commercial enterprises. Sadly, members of this elite group are in the minority; most people would rather spend endless hours surfing Facebook or YouTube than expand their physical and mental horizons. This is one key reason why so many Americans today are intellectually bankrupt and living a life with little joy and self-fulfillment.

The continual attainment of intellectual growth is an absolute requirement for the achievement and maintenance of happiness and personal satisfaction. People who live stagnant and monotonous lives rarely find the high degree of enjoyment that seekers of knowledge and new ideas do. This is why many bodybuilders after acquiring large muscles still suffer from low self-esteem and depression. After months of physical devotion, they can do little more than strike a concealing pose or lift a chunk of metal off of the ground. Not exactly a situation that brings a sense of accomplishment to the forefront.

It is a sad fact that the strength world is plagued by money seekers who promote physical culture in the worst possible way. Their goal is not to promote a proper treatment of body-building, but to thicken their wallets as fast as possible and at your expense. We are fed outlandish claims, empty promises, and even egregious lies. And, the last thing these unscrupulous folks want is for us to think for ourselves or to question things.

So prevalent is the money making side of body-building, each day literally thousands of strength devotees are sucked in by an onslaught of advertisements cleverly designed to lower intellectual defenses and to get “victims” to surrender their hard-earned money. You see such promotions across the web, in muscle magazines, on television — practically everywhere. The plethora of such promotions is darn right disgusting, and it degrades the world of physical culture in a most insidious way.

It’s amazing to me how many people believe that an advertisement that features a big-time lifter or physique star must be legitimate. One famous bodybuilder once convinced thousands of gullible individuals that, by purchasing and following his courses, they could gain 100 pounds of muscle. Not only was his claim an insult to the thinking man or woman, many “victims” of his sales pitch surely felt the sting of letdown. I wonder how many of these folks became discouraged and gave up training as a result.

Via Muscles of Iron, I will continue to promote body-building the way it should and ought to be. The strength world needs a model that is based on truth, realism, and development of both the mind and body, and promoting such a model is my cause. Hopefully, it is your cause too. If so, you are among a small community of enlightened individuals that understands how wonderful physical training can be when applied with independent, balanced, and powerful thinking.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Big Get-together with Two State Champs

October 4, 2012

Two great weightlifting champions: Allan Nickell (left) and Jim Carr (right). Photograph by Robert Drucker.

One of my favorite pastimes is to discuss Olympic weightlifting with people who really understand and appreciate the sport. Inspiring stories almost always emerge from such discussions, and I never fail to learn a few new things about effective training.

Talking face to face with an accomplished strength athlete is the best way I know of to gain training knowledge. Reading books and magazine articles can certainly be helpful, but nothing compares with having an actual conversation with a strength master who is willing share information. Such an interaction allows you to observe first hand the champ’s mannerisms, thinking pattern, vocal tones, and body language, each of which can reveal much more than can mere words. And, of course, participating in a “real” conversation gives you an opportunity to ask questions, guide the direction of topics, and to verify your understanding of discussed concepts.

Yesterday, I got a good reminder of just how valuable a good old-fashioned conversation with a strength master (or two, in this case) can be. I met up with Allan Nickell and Jim Carr in Madison, Indiana for lunch, and we had a long and terrific discussion about the iron game.

During the 1950s, Allan was one of the most accomplished weightlifters in Kentucky, and he set numerous state records, some which held for many years. He was also a training partner of Ron “Speck” Lacy, a former Mr. America and Mr. Universe. Jim was a protege of Allan, and during the 1960s he won three state championships and three Ohio Valley Championships, and he set 16 state records (Indiana and Kentucky).

I learned a great deal about Olympic weightlifting from Allan and Jim yesterday, and our conversation really got me thinking about strength building from a new perspective. I also heard some mind-blowing lifting stories from both champs, and I’ll be sure to include them in an upcoming book I’m writing about oldtime strength heroes.

Thanks Allan and Jim for sharing your wisdom with me yesterday, and I look forward to our next meeting in Madison.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Mike Mentzer and Classical Music

September 23, 2012

My record “library” is stocked with hundreds of masterpiece recordings of classical music, opera, jazz, rock, bluegrass, and Broadway musicals. While growing up, both my father and Mike Mentzer had a strong influence on my musical interests. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

My exposure to classical music began shortly after I was born. My dad owned an elaborate collection of classical recordings, and I grew up hearing the works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Wagner, Haydn, Stravinsky, Dvořák, Greig, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Ravel, Mauler, Strauss, Britten, and numerous other famous composers of orchestral music.

Despite my dad’s influence, until I was about 17 years old I disliked classical music, and I despised opera. I can remember telling my friends that I would never like the kind of “crappy” music that my dad listened to. Heck, I was into Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd, and Boston. Those bands at the time were the ultimate music makers for me; Mozart and Beethoven couldn’t compare with them – so I thought.

When HEAVY DUTY™ hit the scene in the late 1970s, I immediately became a big fan of Mike Mentzer. I read every course, every book, and every article of his that I could get my hands on. Interestingly, though, it wasn’t Mentzer’s training philosophy that hadn’t the biggest influence on me; rather, it was his interest in classical music and opera.

Mentzer was particularly fond of Richard Wagner, and he often trained to the music of the master composer. Wagner became famous after composing some of the greatest operas in history, including Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, and The Ring Cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung).

Last week, after a hard day’s night at work, I arrived home and my wife surprised me with this Dual 1019 turntable. She said, “Here, this ought to make you feel better.” And, it certainly did. It took four hours of intense surgery to get the old machine to work to my satisfaction; but, now it sounds fantastic. Isn’t it a beauty! By the way, the first record (shown in the photo) I played on this marvelous turntable was Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; this was one of Mike Mentzer’s favorite operas. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

Since Mike Mentzer was my hero during my teenage years, one day during my senior year in high school I decided that, I too, should listen to classical music. I asked my dad if he could suggest an introductory classical piece for me to borrow and play on my Pioneer PL-400 turntable. He went to his massive collection of records, and then he pulled out a recording of Antonín Dvořák’s The Slavonic Dances and handed it to me for a listen. I loved it, and that piece was my first real introduction to the classics.

When I was a freshman student at the University of Kentucky in 1981, I discovered that their music library was crammed with records of all kinds, including a vast collection of classical and operatic recordings. The library also had an assortment of record players and headsets for listening to selected pieces. I can remember first pulling from the huge shelves of records a copy of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute). The music captured on that record was played by the Berliner Phiharmoniker and conducted by Karl Böhm. Operatic singers included Evelyn Lear, Roberta Peters, Lisa Otto, Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Franz Crass, each of whom was a huge star at the time the recording was made. I still remember these names because I must have listened to this particular Mozart album 100 times while I was a student at Kentucky, and each time I read about the performers behind the recording in the commentary notes on the back of the record cover.

Inspired by Mentzer’s love of orchestral and operatic music, today I have a huge personal collection of classical records – perhaps, one of the largest in Louisville. John Grimek, John Davis, and many other oldtime great lifters also owned extensive collections of classical recordings. So, I guess I’m in good company.

In conclusion, I must admit that I was wrong some years ago when I stated that I would never listen to that “crappy” music my dad played. It seems that Mike Mentzer helped me to open my ears, and now I’m a true lover of the classics.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Adversity is No Match for Determination

September 9, 2012

Despite losing a leg in a childhood accident, Joe Nordquest became one of the strongest men who ever lived.

In the February, 1947 issue of Muscle Power there is a wonderful short article about Joe Nordquest entitled, With Only One Leg — He Became One of America’s Greatest Lifters. This piece was penned by Dan Lurie, and it illustrates well the power of the human mind when it is controlled by a relentless determination to succeed.

While he was a boy growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, Joe Nordquest lost a leg in an accident. But, as Dan Lurie explained in his article, the loss of a leg did not stop this determined boy from becoming a strongman. You see, Nordquest’s handicap was more than compensated for by his iron will to bring his dream to fruition. This man so desired to become a record holder in strength, not even the loss of a leg could stop him. Success came his way because he worked with what he had to the fullest, and he refused to surrender to his limitations.

If anybody ever had a good excuse to forget about building strength and might, it was Nordquest. But, not in his mind. To his way of thinking, the Ohioan saw no reason why he could not realize his goal of becoming big and strong, and he acted accordingly. In other words, mediocrity and a meager existence were not part of Nordquest’s plans – even though he had only one leg to stand on. And, instead of feeling sorry for himself, this determined man focused his attention on hard and productive training. The result was that he became one of the strongest men who ever lived.

Case in point: for many years the record in the a two-arm “pull-over and push” was 361 pounds and held by George Hackenschmidt. But, Nordquest saw no reason why he couldn’t break this record – so he did by pressing 363 1/2 pounds. And, even Arthur Saxon’s record 386-pound shoulder press (precursor to the bench press) did not intimidate Nordquest. The one-legged strongman broke this record too by pressing 388 pounds. Additionally, Nordquest became a record holder in the one-arm bent press.

The strength accomplishments that Nordquest made despite his “handicap” should serve as an example to all of us that adversity is no match for a determined mind. A sudden loss or a temporary defeat may hand you a terrible blow; but, if you regroup and focus on making the most of what you can control, your future can shine bright.

To conclude this post, I share with you below a touching email I received this afternoon from Eddie, a reader of MOI. What Eddie wrote I hope will provide encouragement to any spirit who may currently be paralyzed by trauma or adversity. Thanks Eddie for your story, and I find your courage very uplifting.

Email from Eddie:

“Mr. Drucker:
I want you to know I have [been] reading the articles on your website and they have helped me stay on track with both my weightlifting and car sales career. I am coming back from several dark years where I was unemployed, lost my beautiful mother to cancer, and wondered if I could ever mount a comeback. Through the writings of Napolean Hill and Brian Tracy I began writing down my goals, writing down plans to achieve those goals and taking action. I am once again working, earning good money and training with weights. Your website really ‘fits in’ with what I am doing. I wish you the best.”

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

What is the Best Muscle-Building Book?

July 14, 2012

My office shelves are crammed with all sorts of muscle-building books, magazines, and courses. I like to read about strength, and doing so never fails to bring added motivation and know-how to my training. This is why I treasure every book in my collection. Photograph by Robert Drucker.

For building strength, muscle, and health, I am often asked, “What is the best book.” Well, my answer is always the same: there is no single book that stands above all others. All I can say is that every strength book in my large collection has contributed to my knowledge of physical culture, and each has helped me to come up with new ideas to better my training.

Another truth about strength books is that not a single one of them can possibly tell you how you should train unless, perhaps, you are the author. This is because you are the only person who can determine what type of training most benefits your unique situation. However, by studying the works of strength “authorities,” you will broaden your perspective of physical training and gain exposure to a wider variety of muscle-building ideas. These two benefits, in turn, can help you determine — through your own experiments and thought processes — how to adjust your own training program to achieve optimal results.

A strength book should be judged more so by how it stimulates your thinking than by whether or not you agree with the author’s basic assertions. I say this because some of the body-building books that I have benefited the most from, I believe, contain flaws in logic or approach. This may sound like a contradiction; but, it is not. These books, despite their inherent flaws, did much to trigger the idea generator inside of my head, and the net result of reading them was an increase of muscular size and strength. It took my own thinking to bring about these positive gains, but the catalyst behind my brain activity came from reading these “flawed” books.

Happy reading, and keep in mind that if a training book helps you generate even one good idea, the true worth of the book may be many times over the purchase cost.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Stanislaus Zbyszko

June 17, 2012

In 1909, Stanislaus Zbyszko moved to America and began what would become a stellar wrestling career. He won his first World Heavyweight title by defeating Ed “Strangler” Lewis on May 6, 1921. During a rematch on March 3, 1922, Lewis recaptured his title by defeating Zbyszko. Lewis would then lose his recaptured title to Wayne Munn in a bout that took place in Kansas City, Missouri on January 8, 1925. Then, on April 15, 1925, Zbyszko became a World champ for a second time by out-dueling Wayne Munn. Public domain photograph.

Billed as one of the greatest authentic wrestlers of all time, Stanislaus Zbyskzo had a brilliant career in the ring during the first three decades of the twentieth century. He first earned the World Heavyweight Championship in 1921 by defeating Ed “Strangler” Lewis, and four years later he regained the world professional wrestling title by pinning Wayne Munn. Retirement from the ring would then follow in 1928 after the strongman met Ghulam Muhammad, The Great Gama. Their match, which took place in India, was one of the most anticipated in wrestling history, drawing a reported 60,000 fans. It was also one of the shortest in history; The Great Gama won the bout in just 30 seconds! However, Eighteen years beforehand, when both men were in their physical prime, the two mighty fighters had battled for three hours in the finals of the John Bull World Championships in London before their match ended in a draw.

Although he was born in Poland in 1881, Zbyszko grew up in Vienna, Austria. His birth name was Stanislaw Cyganiewicz, but after demonstrating bravery and courage in his youth his friends started calling him “Zbyszko”, the name of a fearless fictional knight featured in “Krzyżacy”, a novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz. This nickname stuck, and, as his wrestling career began to blossom, Cyganiewicz changed his name to Stanislaus Zbyszko after being urged to do so by a promoter of the sport.

Zbyszko was once one of the most muscular and strongest men in the world. During the pinnacle of his fighting career, the mighty wrestler was a “hard” 260 pounds at a height of five feet, eight inches, and his reported measurements were as follows: chest, 55 inches; waist 42 inches; arm 22 inches; thigh 31 inches; and calf 18 1/2 inches. Judging by his large numbers, there is little doubt that the huge wrestler could have been another Doug Hepburn had he specialized in weightlifting, and I wonder what “record” lifts he would have made had he done so.

I found this photo of Zbyszko in an old Ohio newspaper, circa 1910. As can be seen, he had an incredible build and quite an intimidating appearance. Public domain photograph.

Although packed with mountains of muscle, Zbyszko was no musclehead. In fact, so great were his intellectual achievements, the strongman was once referred to in The Polish Biographical Dictionary as “one of the most cultured sportsmen who ever lived.” Zbyszko was fluent in 11 languages, a graduate of the University of Vienna, and a lawyer by profession. He also was a skilled musician, philosopher, and poet. In addition, the former champ was granted a patent in 1964 for his invention of the tilt-top table, a unique exercise apparatus.

A sports writer once described Zbyszko as “all energy and ambition.” The strongman devoted much time to athletic training, and during his competitive years he typically ran 10 to 15 miles each day, in addition to his wrestling practice! You may want to reflect upon this the next time you feel like you don’t have time for a 20 or 30-minute exercise session.

In 1967, at the age of 88, Stanislaus Zbyszko died in St. Joseph, Missouri of a heart attack. And, although it has been 45 years since his passing, the Polish strongman remains a legend of the wrestling game. He indeed had been an “eighth wonder of the world,” as was claimed by his many fans during his victory years.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Some People Just Don’t Get It

February 26, 2012

To those who get it, building strength equipment is a fun and rewarding activity. For best results, a project should begin with a conceptual drawing. Building details can then be added and evaluated. Here, a proposed “lat machine” is shown – still in the infant stages of design. Eventually, this machine will be built as part of Operation Home Gym Overhaul, a series coming to MOI this spring.

Recently, I received an email from a fellow who asked me, “Why would anybody want to build his own strength equipment?” And after asking this leading question, he proceeded to tell me a zillion reasons why hand-built training gear couldn’t possibly be as good or as safe as the store-bought stuff. But, his main complaint was that making something from scratch requires time and effort. And, besides, he pointed out, “Who has the tools needed to build something?”

The saddest part is that this negative email did not stand unique in my inbox. I regularly receive feedback from people who seem to go out of their way to tell me what an idiot I am for recommending that something be built rather than bought. I am informed that the type of hand-made structures that I promote are “time wasters”, “dangerous”, “stupid looking”, “inferior”, “weird”, “nothing so great”, “nothing to brag about”, “garbage”, “impractical”, “unstable”, “a piece of junk”, and — my favorite — “okay for amateurs.” I also receive plenty of criticism colored with some rather choice words, but I’ll spare you from the boring details.

Speaking of criticism, let’s divert for a second to talk about this so often hated judgment of merit. I’ll then get back to the main purpose of this post. It is not bad to be criticized; in fact, criticism should be desired. Why? Because, criticism and success go hand and hand. Success requires fresh ideas and unorthodox solutions to “unsolvable” problems, both factors which are guaranteed to draw criticism and tons of negative remarks from traditionalists and jealous distractors. This is why you should always check your criticism barometer. If it is reading high, this is a good indication that you are doing things right. But, if it is reading low, you may want to question if you are living up to your true potential as a creative force.

So why build anything, strength equipment or otherwise? This is a good question; but, if you don’t already know the answer chances are that you just don’t get it and never will. Nevertheless, I provide 10 good reasons to build your own strength equipment below just in case you are one of those rare individuals who have a mind open enough to consider something outside of the norm. Here they are:

10 Good Reasons to Build Something

  1. It is fun;
  2. It stimulates and preserves your intellectual capacity;
  3. It provides you with new knowledge and skills;
  4. You end up with something that you can be proud of;
  5. It allows you to express and develop your creative and artistic abilities;
  6. It is challenging and mentally rewarding;
  7. It captures your unique personality into the final product;
  8. It gives you something unique, something which only you possess;
  9. Only hand-crafted work can be tailored to meet your unique and specific needs;
  10. It adds variety and new spice to your life.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Mike Mentzer and What He Stood For

February 14, 2012

During his competitive years, Mike Mentzer was greatly influenced by the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (shown here), a 19th-century German philosopher. Mentzer later become a devotee of Ayn Rand and her brand of Objectivism. Public domain photograph.

Upon his untimely death in 2001, the world lost one of the most knowledgeable, logical, and controversial proponents of muscle building ever to walk the planet. Of course, I am talking about Mike Mentzer, a man whose convictions and teachings revolutionized how we think about bodybuilding and productive strength training.

Mentzer emphasized that bodybuilding is most meaningful only when it is understood and practiced within a broad philosophical and scientific context. He believed that only by using an “intellectual method,” one derived from metaphysics (a fundamental branch of philosophy that deals with the establishment of reality and man’s nature) and from epistemology (a fundamental branch of philosophy that deals with the structure of knowledge and how it is acquired and verified), could a student of bodybuilding make optimum progress, build self confidence, and acquire happiness.

Beginning in his teens, Mentzer sought to find a philosophy that would help him to gain an “integrated view of existence,” guide him to successful action, and bring forth happiness. He studied the works of many famous philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche. But, it wasn’t until he discovered the writings of Ayn Rand, a novelist and leading proponent of Objectivism, did he find the manual of life he was seeking.

In 1996, Mentzer wrote and published Heavy Duty II: Strength and Body, one of the most important, enlightening, and provocative body-building books ever written. This masterpiece was a radical departure from the traditional strength book and, in the author’s words, “it includes all of the relevant philosophical principles required to achieve an understanding of any science [including bodybuilding], at least in terms of broad fundamentals.”

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Thinking for Muscle-Building Success Part 2

January 30, 2012

George Georgantas from Greece became the “Throwing of the Stone” Champion on April 27, 1906 at the Olympic Games in Athens. He threw the stone a whopping 19.94 meters (65 ft, 4.2 inches) with his enormous strength. The key to Georgantas’ success was an unyielding inner force which drove him to train relentlessly, with full intensity, and with total passion. The Greek strongman loved what he did, and he never swayed on his commitment to become a master thrower. Public domain photograph.

In my recent post, The Greatest Force of Success, we saw that possessing a burning drive is critical for attaining any worthwhile goal. Simply put, success rarely comes to anybody without relentless passion, a definiteness of purpose, and an unyielding obsession to attain what is desired.

In the context that I use the word, success is defined as “the progressive realization of a goal that brings forth personal satisfaction.” I like this definition, for it reveals that success is attained through a progressive process, not merely by a final outcome. And, this definition also underscores that success can only be measured relative to how a person feels inside, not by external means. Thus, the acquisition of wealth, a big house, or a high position in society does not necessarily indicate success. What matters is that you progressively achieve that which you seek and that which brings you happiness. Thus, if you aim to become a first-rate school teacher and you do so, you are successful. Likewise, if you aim to become a terrific parent and you do so, you are a success. But if you become a doctor for the wrong reasons, you will not achieve success no matter how much money you may earn.

A muscle-building ambition is not exempt from my definition of success. If you build your muscles for the wrong reasons, you will inevitably find nothing but failure in your quest, even if you become the greatest bodybuilder of all time. But, if physical training boosts your inner self, gives you more spark, and gives you greater happiness and peace of mind, regular visits to the gym will bring you continued success.

Drive and success go hand in hand; it is virtually impossible to have one without the other. And, to succeed in the gym, you must really want with all your heart to acquire bigger and stronger muscles. If you have any doubt about the worthiness of such an ambition you will fail. So strong must be your drive to build a stronger physique, there can be no question about the criticalness of achieving your goal. And armed with an unwavering commitment to train with full intensity and to indulge in a lifestyle conducive to building a more powerful body, you will inevitably find success as a strength athlete.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Truly Good Reason for Missing a Workout

January 29, 2012

A very special card my daughter made for me.

This is a post I wrote a few days ago, and it is my answer to all the diehards out there who state one should “never miss a workout.” Dedication to your training is critical if you want to reach the zenith of your physical potential. However, there are times when training should take a back seat to what is really important in life, and what I present here is one such example. And, as it turned out, missing a day of training did me no harm whatsoever. I made up for my missed workout the following day in a most spectacular fashion.

Original Post

Another very special card my daughter made for me.

Today was ready to do battle in the gym with full force. I was never more ready for a personal-best performance, and I couldn’t wait to get home after work so I could toss my heavy iron plates around like toys. The stage was set for my all-time best workout, and nothing, I thought, could possibly stop it from happening.

As my Honda rolled into our driveway, Shadow, the neighborhood’s strongest dog, was there waiting for me. After first checking to see if I had any food for her, she gave me a warm greeting with lots of wet licks to my face, as she usually does. Then, after this greeting ritual, I made it clear to her that some big things were about to happen in the garage and that she better be ready for the action. I also gave her a stern warning not to cause any more trouble. During my last workout, Shadow just couldn’t resist jumping right on top of me while I was doing fingertip pushups, and it was 100 pounds of added resistance and flattened fingers in a flash. This time, around, I was prepared to give her a temporary eviction notice from the garage if she pulled such a stunt again. And, I think she got the message.

The Story of Pinky was written last year when my daughter was six years old, and it got high praise from Jim Carr, a former Indiana State Weightlifting Champion. My daughter wrote this story so I would understand why “Pinky is much stronger than Paul Anderson and Doug Hepburn.”

After my little “talk” with Shadow, I went into our house to greet my wife and kids, grab a Metallica CD, and change my clothes. The plan from there was then to return to the garage and shatter all personal records in the barbell press and follow up with record performances in an array of bodyweight exercises. And, I couldn’t have been more ready to carry out the plan of action, at least so I thought.

When I walked into our house, my seven-year-old daughter ran up to me and excitedly said, “Daddy can you come with us to the horse place? ” I told her that I would be glad to take her to the “horse place” as soon as I was done training. “You don’t understand Daddy,” she moaned. “We have to go now. They are having open house in just a few minutes at the horse place, and I want to take riding lessons. This can’t wait. Come on. ”

This sample page shows just how strong “Pinky” is.

So here I was, faced with a choice. Do I go ahead with my training as planned and follow the “never miss a workout” philosophy, or do I share an important moment with my daughter and wife. One look at my daughter’s beautiful and excited face immediately told me the answer, and my “record-breaking” workout was postponed for an INFINITELY more important cause. Parents will undoubtedly understand what I am talking about, and maybe some of you who do not have children will also understand.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Thinking for Muscle-Building Success Part 1

January 28, 2012

Louis Cyr is regarded as one the strongest men who ever lived. But, merely copying how he trained is not likely to bring forth the muscular gains you are capable of. Only if you become an independent thinker can you reach your full potential as a strength athlete. This is why you will find no two champions who train exactly alike. Public domain photograph.

I once observed a famous bodybuilder become disturbed during a gym workout after a gentleman, who probably weighed no more than 150 pounds, criticized how the champion performed bench presses. Rather than politely listen to what the stranger had to say and possibly learn something, the established physique contender became irate and lashed out, “You have some nerve to question me. My chest is 55 inches; how big is yours? Who the hell are you to question my training methods?”

Although I felt rather bad for the poor soul after he got a tongue lashing from the big muscle man, I admired him for being an independent thinker and for being bold enough to question the champion. All too often a strength enthusiast just accepts things on blind faith simply because some “expert” tells him what must be true or best. And, numerous members of physical culture world fall into this trap. An “authority” of strength writes a book, and his or her disciples immediately accept what the author states as gospel with no questioning or thought analysis whatsoever. This is a sad fact and, to be fair, this problem is not limited to physical culture; it takes place in every field of endeavor.

No one person, whether a strength “authority” or not, knows everything there is to know about effective physical training. And, regardless of what some “expert” may claim or believe, he does not have the final word on effective physical training. This is true whether a person has twenty-inch arms or ten-inch arms. Yet, there are numerous “gurus” out there that will try to convince you that they know best and that their system of training is the only one fit for “serious” strength athletes. This portrayal is both a cut down to your intelligence and an insult to your character.

Truth be told, you have the right and the ability to decide for yourself what training method works best for you. However, this is not to say that you should function in a vacuum. It is almost always helpful to learn from other established thinkers — so long as you analyze what they teach critically and supplement the knowledge you acquire from them with your own thoughts and experiences. Albert Einstein once stated, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is a good quote to keep in mind if you want to advance your knowledge of effective strength training, or of anything else.

To close Part 1 of this new post series, I present below a sampling of bad predictions from leading “experts.” These predictions are laughable in retrospect, but keep in mind that at the time they were made only a handful of people questioned them. And, because of those few people who did so, human progress took a leap forward.

Bad Predictions

Note: I firmly agree with Jim Murray that weight training does wonders for building strength, fitness, and conditioning, but I don’t agree that there is any one “most effective” way.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Harvey Maxime Bar

January 23, 2012

The original Harvey Maxime Bar proved to be too expensive for practical use. This drawing shows a modified and more affordable “pipe-based” version of the apparatus. Like the original version, it allows the user to “lock” the lifting bar at a desired height before use. Drawing and conceptual design by Robert Drucker.

During the late 1940s, Harvey Roosevelt developed a unique apparatus that would allow a lifter to perform a variety of heavy barbell exercises in complete safety and without need for a spotter. This device, which became known as the Harvey Maxime Bar, was a precursor to the power rack. And with its advent, many new doors to gaining strength and might were opened.

A few years after its introduction, Charles A. Smith, arguably the most prolific strength writer in the history of physical culture, gave much praise to the Harvey Maxime Bar. In one of his MANY outstanding articles, Smith wrote the following about Roosevelt’s apparatus:

“Few people realized the enormous potentials it contained … they are simply immense and I personally regard the Harvey Maxime Bar as one of the greatest advances ever made in the Science of Weight Training. The terrific scope of this apparatus will one day be marked as historic. It is a great pity that the originator never was given the acclaim that was justly and rightfully his, and Weider Publications is PROUD to do so via the medium of this article.”

The Harvey Maxime Bar, as developed by Roosevelt Harvey, consisted of two solid support bars, each which stood upright and was welded to a steel base plate at the floor end. On each of the two bases, weight plates could be fitted at each end to provide a desired resistance. A cross bar, which functioned as a “lifting” bar, could be moved along the two vertical support bars. And, once the cross bar was brought to a desired height, it could be locked in place. The lifter would then use the cross bar like a barbell, lifting the entire apparatus, along with its weight load, off of the ground. After completion of an exercise, the apparatus was then lowered back to the floor in complete safety.

There are many good ways to build and use a Harvey Maxime apparatus. This illustration depicts a wooden unit specifically designed for performing heavy standing presses. Drawing and design by Robert Drucker.

The main objection to the original Harvey Maxime Bar was its cost of construction. As such, Charles Smith presented a modified design of Harvey’s apparatus, one which could be constructed on a budget by using chains, shackles, collars, and a regular barbell. In 13-Secret Exercises of Physique Champions, author Dennis B. Weis details the construction of the “Chain Modified” Harvey-Maxime Bar apparatus, and he also provides much history about the device. Dennis’ e-Report is both interesting and informative, and it is available for free as a PDF file on the internet. Just do a Google search and you should have no problem finding it.

As an alternative to the “Chain Modified” Harvey Maxime Bar, a pipe-based construction can be considered as a feasible and affordable option. One idea based on this approach is illustrated by the conceptual drawing shown above. In this presented design, four vertical supports are made from schedule 40 3/4-inch nominal pipe (1.05 inch actual outer diameter); the cross-bar is made from schedule 40 1-inch nominal pipe (1.315 inch actual outer diameter) or from a 3/4-inch solid steel bar; the four weight-holding uprights are made from 3/4-inch nominal schedule 40 pipe; and each of the two bases is made from four-by-four lumber (actual size 3.5 inches by 3.5 inches). Two grade eight 5/16-inch-diameter bolts are used to secure the cross bar to the four support pipes, and each of the four weight-holding uprights is held in place with a 5/16-inch-diameter bolt passed through its base. Holes in each of the four vertical supports are spaced two inches apart.

Down the road, we’ll look at how the Harvey Maxime Bar can be used to build enormous strength and power. And when we do, it will be crystal clear why Charles A. Smith, referring to this remarkable apparatus, stated that, “No gymnasium should be without it.”

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Build a Mighty Grip with the Finger Tip Pushup

January 19, 2012

One of the most powerful demonstrations of finger strength I have ever seen: Robert L. Jones of Pine Bluff, Arkansas doing a truly mind-blowing stunt, circa 1927. Public Domain Photograph.

I have found the finger-tip pushup to be second to none as a hand, wrist, and forearm builder. Since introducing this exercise into my training routine, my forearms are noticeably more muscular, and my grip strength has magnified immensely. I just can’t explain in words the power this exercise builds; the finger-tip pushup is an exercise you must try for yourself to fully appreciate and understand its power.

During my workout tonight, I performed the finger-tip pushup with my feet elevated approximately 36 inches (just shy of a meter) above the horizontal plane. Elevating my feet in this fashion directed a greater proportion of my body weight on my fingers and arms, and the force upon them was utterly TREMENDOUS. It took white-hot concentration to keep my fingers from buckling under the load, and if I hadn’t kept my forearms fully contracted at ALL times as I performed the movement, I think my fingers would have snapped!

It is a goal of mine to keep increasing the elevation of my legs until I can do full hand-stand pushups on my finger tips. I am sure that this goal is beyond my strength level at the current time, but I get inspiration from Robert L. Jones, an oldtime hand-balancing master. Check out the photo of him above performing a truly amazing strength stunt. I doubt that more than one person out of a million can duplicate this difficult move. What incredible finger and arm strength Robert Jones had.

By the way, if you are the person out of a million who can perform a strength stunt similar to the one demonstrated by Robert Jones above, send me a photo of yourself doing it, and I’ll be glad to post it right here on MOI and give you the recognition you deserve.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Muscle-Building Dream

January 18, 2012

This is the apparatus that was “featured” in my muscle-building dream last night. The four upright two-by-fours are lap jointed with the side base boards for extra strength. In addition, the calf board is bolted to the unit at a desired position, and it can be removed when not needed. Drawing and copyright by Robert Drucker.

Although I regularly have vivid and detailed dreams, I don’t ordinarily dream about about muscle building. But, last night things were a bit different than usual. A few hours after drifting off into a deep sleep, I found myself in an unknown gym training my calves hard and heavy with a rather interesting power-building apparatus. This apparatus allowed for placement of a barbell at any desired position like a power rack, but the barbell was sandwiched between two pairs of two-by-fours. In addition, a small-diameter pipe (quarter inch nominal) was secured to the barbell-end of each two-by-four with metal clips. The muscle-building apparatus was also wood screwed securely to a thick plywood base. This design utilizes the weight of the lifter to keep the apparatus from moving as the barbell is pushed upwards.

The two-by-four pipes, which were lightly oiled on the outside to minimize friction, served to “guide” the barbell by allowing up and down movement only. This arrangement proved invaluable for calf training, and I did three different exercises for this muscle group. First, I performed calf raises on a mounted calf board while holding the barbell with my hands. This exercise not only gave my calves a tremendous beating, it torched my forearms and grip to the limit. It even had my back muscles pleading for mercy.

Second for my lower legs, I performed traditional calf raises with the guided barbell resting across my shoulders. I found this movement to be a VERY effective muscle builder because the force of the barbell was 100% direct on the calves, and the resistance was 100% steady. Most commercial calf machines, in contrast, do not provide a direct and steady force because the angle of pull varies throughout the range of motion.

My third movement for the lower legs was the seated calf raise. I did this movement by adjusting the barbell height, sitting on a bench, placing a padded board across my knees, getting my knees and the padded board underneath the barbell, lifting up the barbell from the bolted support boards by raising my toes on an attached calf board, and then removing the barbell support boards so that a full range of motion could be achieved. And, at the termination of a set, I would push up the barbell with my toes just a bit and replace the support boards before lowering and securing the barbell. This procedure worked great, and the seated calf raise done on this special apparatus gave further growth encouragement to my aching calves. So much for the idea that a bodybuilder needs both a seated calf machine and a standing calf machine; the “dream” machine can do it all!

With my calves on fire during my unconscious adventure, I awakened after my second set of seated calf raises. And upon awakening, I rushed to draw what the “dream” machine looked like before it vanished from my memory.

Now, looking at my drawing a day later, I can see plenty of room for improvement, and many details must be added before I can say that the design is complete. Nonetheless, the “dream” machine seems like it would be a great piece of equipment to have in a home gym. It would be relatively inexpensive to build, and it would offer a lot of bang for the buck. In addition to calf raises of all sorts, this nifty unit could be used to perform leg presses, press lockouts, pullups and chin-ups, hanging leg raises, quarter squats, and many other muscle-building exercises.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The True Power of Bodybuilding

January 17, 2012

Studying and listening to great works by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and other famous musical composers brought forth a better understanding of body-building. Public domain image.

There is nothing wrong with wanting bigger muscles. But, if the acquisition of more muscle mass is all that you seek from a bodybuilding program, you will likely find nothing but disappointment from your training.

The reason for this is that muscles in and of themselves do not enhance a person’s psyche and intellect. Nor does the sole build-up of muscle tissue charge the human spirit with fulfillment and a sense of mastery. In short, going from A to B provides a person with little if the journey along the way fails to stimulate the mind, establish discipline, and provide a rewarding endeavor in and of itself.

It is only within the context of intellectual achievement that the true power of bodybuilding can be realized and understood. And, those who view strength training as nothing more than physical promotion cannot see nor realize the vastness of efficacy that a more complete approach to muscle building can provide.

However, strength athletes who approach bodybuilding as a life journey filled with opportunities to learn, to set and conquer goals, to problem solve, and to enjoy the process will obtain much more than just bigger muscles. They will procure many new skills and a heightened self-esteem, acquisitions which will last long after their acquired big muscles inevitably fade away with older age.

Perhaps you have noticed that on Muscles of Iron we do not solely publish “muscle-building” articles. And, it may appear that some of the articles and posts have nothing to do with strength training. However, if you are willing to take a deeper look, you will likely see that nearly all of the writings on this site serve to promote bodybuilding at a level of greater reverence than a mere emphasis on physical training could possibly achieve. That is, we aim to bring the world of physical culture something much more meaningful than just another repeat of how some star athlete built his huge arms or his massive chest.

I am a firm believer that to benefit the most from a bodybuilding program – in all contexts, not just in terms of muscle growth – the student of strength must expose him or herself to a variety of ideas, both within the world of physical culture and outside of it. Exposure to new ideas brings forth a higher understanding of phenomenon, a greater sense of pleasure, a heightened sense of awareness, and a more exciting life. In fact, to get the most from anything, you must first understand it. And, often times when we don’t like or benefit from something, it is because we don’t understand it.

Some years ago, I hated opera and I thought that rock ‘n roll was the only form of music that mattered. But, one day I had a lengthy discussion with a musician whom I highly respect, and he told me that I would probably enjoy listening to a chosen opera if only I would take the time to learn something about it through books, librettos, and other means. I vividly remember him telling me, “No appreciation of an opera can be complete if the story is unclear to the listener.”

My “teacher” also taught me that the more I learned about an opera in relationship to other forms of culture (including the life and times of the composer), the more benefit and fulfillment I would derive from listening to it. And, he was absolutely right. With just a little bit of self-study, I soon acquired a taste for opera and for other forms of music outside of the rock ‘n roll genre. In fact, as I am writing this post, playing on my turntable is The Barber of Seville, a terrific opera which was composed by Gioacchino Antonio Rossini.

Now, I hope that I did not bore you with my diversion to music. My point is that bodybuilding is much like an opera: You must understand it before you can derive the most pleasure and benefit from it. And, like an opera, the more you integrate bodybuilding with its culture and history, the more meaning and fulfillment it will bring to your life. Thus, the true power of bodybuilding can be unleashed only when something much greater in magnitude is sought than just larger muscles.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Truth About Big Muscles and Health

January 11, 2012

WARNING – A muscular and fit body does not ensure good health. Public domain photograph.

A common misconception among strength athletes is that a high level of fitness and big muscles bring forth sound health. But, the reality is lifestyle plays a greater role than does exercise in regulating the vital functions of the human body. Furthermore, although a modest amount of physical activity can aid health, studies show that after a certain point doing more exercise increases fitness but does not significantly promote additional health gains. Thus, health and fitness are not the same, nor do they necessarily follow each other.

In simple terms, fitness is a measure of your body’s ability to engage in, endure, and recover from an activity, such as jogging, weight training, or a yoga session. This said, a person can possess a great deal of fitness with regard to one activity, but not with regards to another. A bodybuilder, for example, may be supremely fit in the weight room, but gasp for breath during a first-time boxing match.

Although the level of fitness a person possesses is relative to a specific activity, there does exist a general component of physical ability. Running specialists, for example, are generally conditioned to perform well in a variety of aerobic activities, not just in their primary sport. Likewise, weightlifters are usually well conditioned for performing a variety of strength activities, both inside and outside of the gym. And folks, who regularly endure in both stamina-based and strength-based activities, typically possess a “wide-spectrum” of fitness.

Because fitness is related to physical capability, it is easy to understand why many people believe that a “fit” person must also be healthy. But consider that many a “fit” athlete over the years have died far before their time due to poor health. Jim Fixx, the famous athlete who popularized the sport of running, was one such person. Although he ran 10 miles each day as part of his training regime, he died at age 52 of a heart attack brought on by blockage in his coronary arteries. John Kelly, Junior was another such person. Despite being a champion oarsman and an Olympic medal winner, at age 58 he too died of a heart attack brought on by coronary disease. Reggie Lewis, a former star with the Boston Celtics basketball team, was yet another “fit” person who met an early death. He died of sudden cardiac arrest at age 27, during the prime of his career.

Now, my purpose here is not to portray that exercise is useless or does not promote health. I am a firm believer in daily exercise, and when done rationally a good workout does much to stimulate both the mind and body. However, no amount of exercise can overcome bad living habits. Health is by far most influenced by what we consume, by our state of mind, by how much rest and relaxation we get, and by other factors which have a direct effect upon the organs of the body. And, poor eating habits coupled with a high-stress lifestyle is a recipe for disaster, no matter how much you exercise or how great of an athlete you may be.

Unfortunately, many strength athletes believe that they are immune to heart disease and other ills of health because they look good on the outside. Nonetheless, no matter how terrific a person may look on the outside, their health depends primarily upon what is going on inside of their body.

I know a bodybuilder who once looked like a perfect specimen – good looks, tanned, rippling abs – you get the picture. In his prime, he appeared to be in perfect health, but his looks were deceiving. Shortly after this handsome guy underwent a medical checkup as a condition of employment, he was told by his physician that he was on collision course with death. His medical evaluation had revealed that he suffered from high blood pressure, and lab results indicated that his LDL blood cholesterol level was dangerously high. To make matters worse, upon further testing doctors discovered that this young man had partial blockage in a major artery of his heart. The physique specialist was utterly stunned with the finding. “I thought I was healthy as a horse,” he later told me.

Fortunately, my bodybuilding acquaintance received medical treatment for his ailments, and he has since improved his health through dietary and other lifestyle changes. But, he could have met an early death had he continued to believe that he was invulnerable to the evils of well-being by virtue of his well-developed muscles. So, let this serve as a warning. And remember, for good health what really counts is how you live, not how you train.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

The Secret Passage to Body-Building Success

January 10, 2012

Ralph Rose of San Francisco was a world’s shotput record holder back in 1908. However, his training “success” was not solely due to his many victories on the field. Public domain photograph.

When I was a senior in college, I took a drafting class as a requirement for my field of study. Today, over two decades later, I remember little about the drafting lessons that my professor had desperately tried to pound into my head. But, I do remember an important life lesson that I picked up from him during one particularly special lecture.

One of the students in my drafting class had mentioned to the professor that she worked after school hours, and she proceeded to request that an upcoming test be postponed for a few days so that she would have adequate time to prepare for it. Upon hearing the student’s request, the professor asked her, “What kind of work do you do?” The girl hesitated to answer. Then, after lowering her head as if to save herself from disgrace, she softly mumbled in a condescending tone, “I’m just a waitress.”

I caught nothing wrong with the girl’s answer, but my wise professor most certainly did. He looked sternly at the student, and he told her, “Young lady, you are not just a waitress; you are a waitress.”

The professor then paused briefly, looked across directly at his students as if he had something really important to say (which he did), and then in continuation of his life lesson he remarked, “It’s not what kind of job you have that’s important; it’s how well you perform the job you have that counts.”.

Years later, I still reflect upon this important “life lesson” that was brought forth by my drafting professor. And, from it, I have derived an important corollary – one directed at the world of strength. Here it is:

It doesn’t matter if you are the strongest, the biggest, the most victorious, or the most popular strength athlete around. And, it doesn’t matter what school of strength you belong to. What matters is that you enjoy your training and that you work the best you can to realize your full potential, whatever that potential may be. Only by understanding this truth will you arrive at the secret passage, the one that leads to a meaningful, rewarding, and successful body-building career.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

What Would Mike Mentzer Advise?

January 8, 2012

Through his writings, Napoleon Hill taught me to ask myself what my mentors would advise to solve a problem or to make something better. Public domain photograph.

A few weeks ago or so, I wrote a post about the one-leg toe raise. In this post I stressed the importance of performing this exercise strictly, with a full range of motion, and with a brief pause and both the top and the bottom position.

Typically, I perform each set of the one-leg toe raise until I can no longer move upward with my toes without assistance. Then I switch to my other leg and carry on. However, this morning I did something a bit different – something that dramatically increased the intensity and the brutality of my calf training. It all came about when I was thinking about what Mike Mentzer would tell me if he were still alive and coaching me while I performed the one-leg toe raise. And this is what happened:

When I could no longer perform another repetition of the one-leg toe raise with my left leg, I “heard” Mentzer tell me to continue the exercise by using both feet on the upward portion of the movement and then SLOWLY lower myself using my left leg only. Then, after a full stretch at the bottom position was achieved and held for a two-second count, Mentzer “instructed” me to again use my right leg just enough so that I could raise back up to the top position. Then, I was “ordered” to very slowly lower myself again and repeat the sequence until my left calf reached 100% total failure. In all, I performed six extra reps under Mentzer’s “directives,” and by the time I was done with the first set my left calf was on “fire.”

With the left leg completely torched, I immediately moved on to my right calf and gave it the same “Mentzer” treatment. I then took a brief rest and went back to the left leg and repeated the approach. In all, I did three sets of toe raises with each leg – each to total failure, and that was plenty to stimulate new growth.

The “assisted” approach I mention here should work well with any one-arm or one-leg movement. For example, I can envision this method being used to increase the intensity and effectiveness of the dumbbell press, the one-arm row, the one-leg squat, one-arm pushups, and so forth. A warning though – the “assist” method described above DRAMATICALLY increases the exercise intensity, and use of it should be restricted to ensure that over-training does not occur.

By the way, it can often be a productive mental exercise to ask yourself what your mentor or an established personality would do to solve a problem you are facing. Napoleon Hill, the author of Think and Grow Rich, used this powerful technique quite a bit to stimulate his thinking. He would hold imaginary meetings with Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, John D. Rockefeller, and other influential people of his day to “help” him come up with a solution to a problem which he could not seem to lick by himself. Hill claimed that this approach did wonders for him. And, thinking about what Mike Mentzer would advise me to do to improve the toe-raise exercise certainly did wonders for my training.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Lillian Bearle Remembered

January 7, 2012

Lillian Bearle, “the most perfect woman in the world,” as she posed for a series of articles on physical culture, circa 1912. Public domain photograph.

During the early 20th century, Professor Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard went on a quest to find “the most perfect woman in the world” for a series of magazine articles on physical culture. After taking measurements of thousands of women, he selected a swimmer by the name of Lillian Bearle as his top choice. Lillian was 23 years old at the time she was chosen by the professor, and she was from Boston, Massachusetts where she was born.

Lillian, whose stage name was La Diva, attributed her marvelous build to swimming. During an interview she once stated, “I took up swimming for my health. And, let me tell you swimming is the best exercise in the world to develop the body. If a woman wants to reduce or build up, let her learn to swim and work hard at it. Nature will do the rest.”

Lillian was one of nine sisters, all of whom took up swimming in the Atlantic ocean near the family home. Lillian once stated that the sisters had a tradition of swimming each morning in the Atlantic every since the oldest took to the water and propelled herself “dog fashion.”

Although all of the Bearle sisters became accomplished swimmers, Lillian was the best among them. As a competitor, she won numerous metals and cups, and she once swam a mile in 35 minutes during a race. She also had been acknowledged by John F. Conroy, a former swimming teacher and Carnegie medal winner, to be a quick study in the water. Conroy discovered this when he was teaching Lillian how to dive. She picked up the skill so quickly and with such consummate skill that the two of them were given a vaudeville offer. This offer marked the beginning of what would become a successful stage career for the talented young lady.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

A Lesson in Strength

December 31, 2011

Performing lots of old-fashioned hard work can help build strength and stamina greater than can be attained by exercise alone. Public domain image.

There is something about productive manual labor that brings out strength and stamina to a degree very difficult to duplicate with exercise alone. I have observed this phenomenon many times over my training career, at times even to the destruction of my ego.

My first lesson about “real” strength came on October 2, 1977, when I was fourteen years old.  It was the day after a tornado had swept through the neighborhood, one during which my family and I watched from a basement window two very large trees in our back yard get “sucked” out of the ground and thrown like toys.   And, we were lucky; our next door neighbor lost nine large trees!

The morning after the tornado, my dad and I went outside to assess the damage and begin the much dreaded cleanup job.  Luckily, there was no damage to the house, but the entire yard was littered with hundreds of branches and sticks and, of course, the two big trees that had been toppled. Looking at the big mess, my dad directed his attention at me and said, “Bob, if you do a good job cleaning up the yard, I’ll take you to see Pumping Iron.” This was quite an offer, especially considering that my dad hated bodybuilding and everything that it represented. The thought of him going to see a new bodybuilding documentary with me, one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, Robby Robinson, Franco Columbu, Ken Waller, and other big physique winners, seemed nothing short of bizarre.  But, my dad’s offer sure was a huge incentive to get to work – and fast!

So there I was, out in the back yard picking up one stick after another, cutting small branches with a handsaw, and raking up debris of all kinds.  And, to be fair, my dad was also out there working hard to get things back in order.

After about four hours of toil, our entire yard was clean, save the two big trees which had fallen.  My dad and I could only look at the two wooden monsters and wonder how on earth we were going to get rid of them.  Then, a near miracle took place; a strong-looking man showed up in our yard with a big chain saw and a wheelbarrow.

The approaching man introduced himself as the brother of one of our next door neighbors, and he offered to help us “cut up” and remove the two fallen trees.  And, when asked how much payment he expected for his services, the muscular man replied, “A thank you will be payment enough.”

Soon after extending his generosity, our neighbor’s brother started his chain saw and cut each of the fallen trees into a large collection of fire wood.  He and I then began picking up the logs and throwing them into a wheelbarrow, one by one.

When the wheel barrow was filled with the first load of logs, I offered to roll it across the yard and to his truck, which was parked in our driveway.  Being a “weightlifter”, I figured that moving the loaded barrow would be no problem for me.  But, when I attempted to move the bulky apparatus by its handles, it wouldn’t budge an inch.

After watching me strain and give up, the generous man snickered a bit and said, “Here, let me get that.  But, before I move it to the truck let’s put a few more logs on it.  I think it can hold at least two more.”  He then threw THREE more logs on top of the load, lifted the barrow by its handles, and proceeded to push it through the thick grass and to his truck with apparent ease!  I could only gasp in disbelief, and even my dad was impressed.   “He is the strongest man I have ever seen,” my father declared.

Wanting to know his “secrets” of strength, after the cleanup job was complete I asked the generous stranger, “How did you get so strong.  Do you lift weights?”  He replied, “Through hard and productive physical work, son.  That is how I earned my strength.  There is no substitute.”

Thirty four years later I still think about the man who paid my father and me a visit during a time of need.  Not only did he generously help us clean up after the tornado of ’77, he taught me a very valuable lesson.  The lesson I learned was this:  It takes more than lifting a barbell to build super strength, enduring stamina, and overall body power; doing plenty of “old-fashioned” hard work in the “real” world is also necessary.

Happy New Year and, yes – my dad did take me to see Pumping Iron.  He was miserably bored throughout the movie, but I loved it.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Caroline Bauman Remembered

December 21, 2011

During her illustrious life, Caroline Bauman transformed her body through resistance training, became one of the strongest women in the world, and established a very successful career as a physical trainer. Her efforts helped hundreds of women improve their figures and their self esteem. Public domain photograph.

Sometime around 1910 a rather plump little girl and her parents moved from a small city in Austria to Chicago, the second largest city in the United States at the time. The little girl’s name was Caroline Bauman, and for years she struggled to control her weight.

By the time Caroline had graduated from high school, she had become quite despondent due to her weight problem, and she feared that her physical condition would limit her career options. She even pictured herself limited to “working as a fat girl in a museum.”

As a last effort to lose weight and gain fitness, at the age of 18 Caroline sought help from Attila, a veteran gymnast and the trainer of many top athletes and strongmen, including Eugen Sandow.

Attila lived and worked in Chicago, and Caroline would visit him frequently for training guidance. Under Attila’s instruction, the girl from Austria made remarkable progress. Soon she was no longer plump, and her muscles gained tone and shape.

After a year of training under Attila, the great strength coach declared that Caroline was the most wonderful of the thousands of pupils whom he trained during his fifty years’ work among athletes. Caroline’s weight had dropped to 135 pounds, and she had increased her strength remarkably. In fact, Caroline had become so strong she was able to lift a huge dumbbell that had previously been reserved for Sandow!

Caroline’s success in transforming her body encouraged her to help other women improve their physical proportions. Driven by this encouragement, she became a physical instructor and started her own training business.

As a physical instructor, Caroline demonstrated considerable skill and devotion. Throughout her career as a trainer, she helped hundreds of pupils gain fitness, vitality, and a high level of self confidence. Some of her students were as young as 10 years old; others were past 80 years old.

Caroline believed that the attainment of strength is key for women to gain beauty. She once exclaimed, “Women should be giants of strength if they wish to be not only man’s equal, but Helens in beauty and charm. In reality, strength is the foundation and permanent sustainer of beauty.”

The physical instructor also believed that added strength was a valuable asset for women who engage in strenuous activities. In her own words, “Dancers, singers, clubwomen and suffragists are among my pupils, for women are beginning to realize that if they want to live the strenuous life they must have the physical strength to stand the great strain that is put upon their vitality.”

As her training career progressed, Caroline Bauman gained a reputation for being one of the strongest women in the world. However, she rarely performed on stage, despite receiving many offers from promoters and managers to participate in strength shows. Her main focus was teaching her students how to better themselves, not lifting before a crowd. Nonetheless, Caroline was often seen playing with 120-pound cannon balls and lifting 130-pound dumbbells in her gymnasium.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Eerie Coincidence or Divine Interaction?

December 17, 2011

Hank Darnell was a remarkable man, and his story is one of the most breathtaking and noble that I have come across. Photograph courtesy of Ralph Cameron.

A few years ago I wrote an article for the Dinosaur Files about Ralph Cameron, a former bodybuilder who had placed third in the 1949 Mr. Louisville contest just a few days before he was drafted into the US Army. During my interviews with Mr. Cameron in preparation for this article, on numerous occasions he referred to a fellow named Hank Darnell. Hank owned and operated the Darnell Physical Culture Studio in Louisville, Kentucky, a training facility that was located at 19th Street and Broadway during the late 1940s. Many of the Louisville’s best built men had trained there, including Ralph Cameron.

Not far from his studio, Hank owned a used car lot at 901 West Broadway Street. His motto was, “Trade Well with Darnell.” But, this motto was not just a sales pitch, as one might suspect. Hank was a man who possessed an unusually high standard of ethics, and he always tried to make sure that his customers got a fair and honest deal. This is one reason why he was so highly respected by the people who knew him.

Hank Darnell passed away on November 16, 1996 at the age of 79. I was very saddened to learn this when I was working to track him down for an interview last year. Fortunately, however, last summer I learned that Hank had a son and that he was a lawyer in Louisville. I contacted Hank’s son through his office and arranged to meet with him and his wife for an interview. The interview took place last May, and it lasted nearly five hours. Out of this interview came well over 20 pages of hand written notes and some of the most incredible stories I have ever heard. In due time, these stories, among many others, will be published in a book that I must write. And, this leads to the topic of this post.

Ralph Cameron learned how to build his muscles from his mentor Hank Darnell. Photograph courtesy of Ralph Cameron.

Yesterday morning I went to visit my doctor before heading to work. Going to the doctor’s office altered my usual driving path, and upon leaving I wasn’t sure which road I should take to minimize my driving time to my place of employment. After a bit of quick thinking, I came up with a plan to get onto the Watterson Expressway and head West. I figured this path would provide the shortest and easiest route to get to work. My plan failed, however, when I inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up lost and guessing my way back to familiar areas. After a bit of guess work, I managed to get onto 9th Street just a few miles away from where I worked. I was back in familiar territory and feeling comfortable once again.

As I drove up 9th Street, I was forced to stop at a red light right smack at the corner of Broadway Street. In front of me on Broadway Street just to my right was the historic L&N Office Building, once the headquarters of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and one of the largest commercial buildings of Beaux Arts style still standing.

Across the street from the mammoth L&N office building appeared a little white building with a small parking lot. It was dwarfed by its neighboring structure and barely noticeable. Wondering what the small building was, my eyes gazed across a sign in front of it. It read, Occupational Physician Services, 901 West Broadway Street. I was stunned. Here I sat at a red light looking at the same building where customers once traded well with Darnell. Only now it is a medical facility.

When the traffic light turned green, I proceeded onward towards work. And during my last few miles of driving, all I could think about was how I was going to get into the building I had just seen at 901 West Broadway Street. I thought to myself, “I must see for myself the very offices that were once occupied by Hank Darnell and his sales staff.”

Shortly after delving into deep thought about the little white building I had just seen on Broadway Street, I arrived at work and went into my office. I shut my door, and then I sat down at my desk and got ready to read through my emails. However, before I could get my computer booted up, my telephone rang. I could see from the LED display on the phone that it was my boss calling.

I picked up the phone and uttered, “Hi, this is Rob.” On the other end of the line, my boss replied, “Rob, you need to go to Occupational Physicians Services located at 901 West Broadway. Please get there within 15 minutes. You’ve been randomly selected for a company drug test.”

Fifteen minutes later I was back at 901 West Broadway Street, this time inside the little white building that had once been occupied by Hank Darnell and his sales force. I wondered if the current staff at Occupational Physicians Services had any clue of the building’s history and of the many incredible events that had taken place inside this dwelling during Darnell’s reign. Probably not. I also wondered if my orders for a drug test at 901 West Broadway Street, the first that I received in over 20 years of employment, was just an eerie coincidence or the result of divine interaction. I’m not sure, but my instinct tells me that I better quit procrastinating and get back to working on my book rather quickly.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Cigar Boxes and Physical Culture

December 14, 2011

This is the wooden cigar box given to me by Cousin Leslie. It is a Padilla 1932 Sig Doble Liga Churchill model. I rather like it! Photograph courtesy of MOI staff.

I received the following email from my cousin Leslie yesterday. I am reprinting it here with his permission:

Hi Bob.

I sent you a wood cigar box in the mail yesterday. It’s in a bigger cardboard box that I shipped it in. Inside the cigar box there is hidden in the packing a case utility knife.

Here is a nice shot of the box with it open. Photograph courtesy of MOI staff.

The knife is small but practical and make from surgical steel. It’s a working knife not a collectors item. Very functional.

The cigar box is a classic. Every guy needs a wood cigar box. I use mine like a jewelry box. I covered the bottom with some green felt cloth and throw my jewelry in. Works great. Some guys throw stamps or pictures, whatever.

Hope you’re feeling better. Saw your mum Saturday.

Take care Bob,

Cousin Les

The magnificent Eugen Sandow produced and promoted cigars. Shown here is the image displayed on the original Sandow cigar-box label. Public Domain Photograph.

Well today, one day after receiving the email reprinted above, I received the wooden cigar box and the knife Cousin Leslie sent me. The cigar box led me to think about Eugen Sandow and Dr. Dudley A. Sargent, both of whom were body-building pioneers. I know that this is an odd connection, but please let me explain.

Eugen Sandow invented the commercial business of bodybuilding, and he was once one of the strongest and best developed men in the world (circa 1900). Despite his success, however, Sandow erroneously believed that smoking cigarettes could help a person burn off fat. For this reason he promoted smoking as a means of staying fit. The strongman even produced and sold his own brand of cigars under the brand name, Sandow Cigars. Remember, back in Sandow’s day, the link between smoking and disease had not yet been irrefutably established by the medical community.

Dr. Dudley A. Sargent was one of the greatest innovators and teachers in the history of physical education. He invented many kinds of exercise equipment still in use today, and he advanced fitness and body-building through his scientific research. The professor also established many performance evaluation tests, including the Sargent Jump Test, more popularly known as the vertical jump test. Dr. Sargent was the Director of the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard from 1879 to 1919. Under his direction, this gymnasium became arguably the most advanced in the world. Public Domain Photograph.

Dr. Dudley A. Sargent was a professor at Harvard University, and he was appointed Director of the Hemenway Gymnasium in 1879. The professor devoted more than a half of century to the study and promotion of physical training, and he promoted the belief that modern conveniences and technology was turning our citizens into weaklings. He also promoted the belief that military training in the USA had become too soft to build powerful men and women, those capable of enduring battle. In addition, he was one of the first authorities to assert that women have the same capability as do men to become physically fit and capable of notable military service.

Dr. Sargent promoted that heavy and intense training with weights and pulley devices was key to building a powerful physique. His ideas, along with his invention of various kinds of exercise equipment (many which are still in use today), helped turn the the Hemenway Gymnasium into the most advanced exercise facility in the nation.

The success of the Hemenway Gymnasium brought Dr. Sargent much fame, and he became known as the leading authority in the muscle-building world. As the professor’s fame reached a zenith, he was “honored” when a manufacturing company introduced the “Professor D.A. Sargent” line of cigars. The doctor’s name and face appeared on the cigar box label, something I find ironic because Sargent was one among the first health authorities to warn the public about the dangers of cigarette smoking. His warnings were based on his observation that heart disease was much common among students who smoked regularly than among students who did not light up.

As a final note, I would also like to point out that over the years many a cigar box have been used in weightlifting competition as a chalk holder. As an example of this, take a look at the cover of The Legacy of Iron – The 1,000 Pound Total by Brooks Kubik. Depicted on the book’s cover is a photograph of Steve Stanko lifting in competition, circa 1941. At the lower left corner of this photo you will see, with a bit of eye strain, a small box. It is actually a cigar box, and it was used to hold the chalk that the weightlifters used during this competition.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Don’t Be a Muscle Head

December 8, 2011

Hardcore muscle fanatics often have a picture like this one running around in their heads. However, such a mental image portrays nothing but a fantasy; in reality, few people admire somebody who is a muscle head. Public domain photograph.

Not too long ago, I was taken aback with a deep sympathy when I heard a young bodybuilder exclaim, “Nothing is more important to me than building big muscles.” Unfortunately, this poor fellow is held hostage by the same delusion that scores of lifters suffer from – the false belief that the mere acquisition of bigger and stronger muscles will bring about happiness and self fulfillment.

Over the years, I have sadly watched many a bodybuilder throw his or her life down the drain as a result their excessive dedication to achieving perfection of the physical body. Extreme devotion to training has wrecked marriages, severed bonds with friends, ruined careers, and hindered intellectual and personal development.

Muscle heads rarely achieve long-term personal fulfillment. Their extreme devotion to getting bigger and stronger militates against fulfillment in the aspects of life that count most – love, family, friendship, good health, a sense of security, and intellectual stimulation.

Extreme muscle seekers often believe that bigger and stronger muscles will provide them with an additional layer of security. In a small way there is some truth to this belief. After all, a strong person is typically better able to defend him or herself against a physical assault than is a weak person. And, looking strong and athletic can make an attacker think twice before stirring up a challenge. Furthermore, having a high degree of strength will generally give a fellow an advantage when heavy objects must be handled. However, people who build muscles primarily because they want to impress others will not develop the real type of confidence, thought structure, and disposition required to achieve a high level of inner security, peace of mind, and personal fulfillment. I can tell you this not only from personal experience, but from years of observations of literally hundreds of strength seekers.

Please do not get the impression that I am against building bigger and stronger muscles. This is not the case. I am devoted to physical culture and this is why I run this website. However, I firmly believe that gaining strength and developing muscles should always be accompanied with intellectual growth and with a realization of what really is important in life. If you neglect the most important things that the world has to offer you just to gain a few pounds of muscle, then you are heading for ruins. The same is true if your sole aim in life is simply to acquire money. You may build a fortune, but such a fortune alone won’t bring you happiness and personal fulfillment.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

Famous Fight in New Orleans, 1891

December 6, 2011

Jack “Nonpariel” Dempsey, born John Edward Kelly, was the reining world middle-weight boxing champion before he was defeated by Bob Fitzsimmons. During the 1880s, Dempsey was a well known fighter in America; only John L. Sullivan, the great heavyweight champion, was more popular. Public domain illustration.

On January 15, 1891 Bob Fitzsimmons of New Zealand came face to face for the first time with the middleweight champion of the world, Jack “Nonpariell” Dempsey of the United States (not to be confused with William Harrison “Jack” Dempsey, the popular world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926.) The event, which was held in a vast amphitheater in New Orleans, was one of the most anticipated matches in the history of boxing, and scores of people from many towns across the country came to witness it.

The two mighty boxing men did not enter the ring until nine o’clock in the evening, but by five o’clock a horde of wild boxing fans clashed with a large force of police in a grand rush to enter the amphitheater. The police held their ground, withstanding the rowdy crowd until at last it was time to open the doors. And, not long after the first fan was allowed to enter the big arena, not a single empty seat could be found.

Bob Fitzsimmons was a tall, muscular, and explosive puncher who often walked away from his boxing matches with barely a scratch. He became the middleweight boxing champion of the world in 1891 after knocking out Jack “Nonpariell” Dempsey. After six years as a middleweight champion, Fitzsimmons would go on to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (1897-1899) and the light-heavyweight boxing champion (1903-1905). David Willoughby, the author of Super Athletes, credited Fitzsimmons as having “… perhaps the hardest punch ever possessed by a boxer of his size.” Public domain illustration.

Through several rounds of action, Dempsey and Fitzsimmons slugged at each other, each impacting a series of blows to his opponent. But it was the challenger who delivered the most vicious assaults. During the 11th round, Fitzsimmons landed two big lefts on Dempsey’s tired and battered body, causing the reining champion to fall against the ropes. The American tried his best to regain his composure, but Fitzsimmons knocked the wind out of him again with a powerful right followed by a punishing left.

More severe punishment came Dempsey’s way during the twelfth round. Fitzsimmons delivered one body blow after another to the worn out champion. Dempsey tried his best to retaliate by throwing a few hard punches of his own. But, just when the boxer from the USA was gaining a bit of ground, he was hit solid in the jaw by the tall and muscular challenger from New Zealand. The delivered blow was so forceful, it knocked Dempsey flat on his back.

Dempsey staggered into the 13th and final round of the fight, barely able to stand on his feet. Soon after the final round was underway, Fitzsimmons pleaded with his weakened and battered opponent to quit before he became seriously hurt. Not one to give up, Dempsey refused to surrender. His determination was to no avail, however. When Fitzsimmons barely touched his opponent with a slight push, “Nonpariel” fell to the ground like a dog in agony. A few moments later, time was called after Dempsey was unable to respond. Fitzsimmons was subsequently declared the new middleweight boxing champion of the world as an enthralled audience cheered wildly with approval. They were thrilled to have witnessed one of the most anticipated boxing matches in history and to have seen the emergence of one of the most spectacular boxing champions of all time.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

As Strong as Sandow

November 26, 2011

Sebastian Miller was a stupendous wrestler and strongman. He often crushed his opponents like tin cans, and he could “man handle” a full barrel of beer with ease. Public domain photograph.

“HE IS AS STRONG AS SANDOW” read a headline in the Los Angeles Herald, dated February 8, 1894. The reference was to Sebastian Miller, a strongman wrestler and heavyweight lifter.

Miller was born in January, 1862, and he demonstrated exceptional strength even as a young lad. In fact, it was reported that at 12 years of age he could “. . . lift and carry as much as any grown man.”

Still a teenager, Miller took a job in a brewery, and his new associates could only watch in awe while the big boy tossed 500-pound barrels of beer as if they were toys. And, while working at the brewery, Miller would first realize just how great his strength was. This encouraged him to perform public strength-feat exhibitions in small towns across Switzerland. The strongman would later visit Paris, and during 1887 he made his way to America. Interestingly, William Muldoon, who was then the top dog of wrestling and weightlifting in the States, had urged Miller to visit America and become a member of his strongmen exhibition team.

In 1889, roughly three years after starting his employment with Muldoon, the upcoming strongman defeated his boss in a well-publicized Greco-Roman wrestling match. Previously, Miller had defeated August Schmide in New York to earn his first victory in America.

Miller would go on to defeat other big names in wrestling, including Ernest Rober, a top champion. Miller’s victory over Rober occurred at Tarepa Hall in New York, and the match was “won in a short time.” For his victory, Miller collected $500, a huge sum at the time.

A group of professors at the Pennsylvania hospital were so impressed by Miller’s strength and athletic skills, during 1889 they issued him a gold metal and badge and declared him to be “the strongest living man.”

According to Miller, Eugen Sandow had refused to meet him twice after being challenged to engage in a strongman contest. Sandow declined to face Sebastian Miller (allegedly) despite the big man’s offer to pay anybody who could out lift him a whopping $10,000!

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker

No Olympic Barbell Set – No Problem!

June 28, 2011

Since my recent post titled Snatches, Squats, and New Progress, I have been asked by a number of MOI readers if it is possible to practice the snatch and the clean-and-jerk with just a standard barbell set. The answer is ABSOLUTELY!

A standard barbell is elevated to regulation height by resting it on scrap wood

Scrap wood is used to elevate a standard barbell to regulation or desired height. Although not shown here, a couple sheets of plywood should be used to protect the floor. Photograph taken by Robert Drucker.

It is true that a high-quality Olympic barbell offers many advantages over the standard barbell, especially for practice of the quick lifts. Some of these advantages include:

  1. Only the Olympic-style barbell has revolving sleeves, and this facilitates movement of the bar when it pulled;
  2. When fitted with 45-pound Olympic plates, an Olympic barbell will rest at regulation height when directly resting on the floor. Standard plates are generally smaller and, when used, some provision must be implemented to raise the barbell to regulation or desired height;
  3. A quality Olympic bar is typically stronger and less prone to permanent distortion (bend) than a standard bar;
  4. Quality “bumper” plates are available for Olympic bars, and such an outfit can be dropped with minimal impact forces transmitted to the floor;
  5. The grip-section diameter of the Olympic barbell is slightly larger than the diameter of the standard barbell. The larger size of the Olympic bar makes it easier to grip and hold onto;
  6. The Olympic barbell is typically 2.2 m (7.22 feet) in length, while the length of a standard bar is usually five or six feet, although seven-feet-long standard bars are available. A longer bar allows a lifter to use a wider grip, often a necessity for effective snatching.

However, despite the advantages of the Olympic barbell, purchase of a quality Olympic set can be relatively expensive. And, if you are not ready or unable to invest in an Olympic set, some creative provisions will need to be made to commence an effective Olympic-lifting program – but they can be made with great success.

Several weeks ago, I embarked on a major study of Olympic-style weightlifting. After reading several books on the subject, I decided to give this form of training a try – and, I’m sure glad I did! However, I do not own an Olympic barbell set, and I don’t want to purchase one until I’m ready to do so. So, here is what I did: I found a relatively inexpensive 7-foot standard barbell so that a good snatch grip could be achieved. Purchase of a long 7/8-inch diameter round steel bar from a scrap yard would also have worked nicely. Next, I found a couple of scrap wood structures and I used these to elevate the barbell to standard height (about 8.5 inches from the floor to the center of the barbell). Next, I collected a couple pieces of plywood to protect the floor in case the barbell is dropped too hard. That was it. This simple setup is now in use, and I am very successfully learning the art of Olympic lifting and making great progress with nothing more than a standard barbell set.

By the way, more than a few strength champions got their start in Olympic lifting with nothing more than a standard barbell set. One such person was former world weightlifting champion, John Davis. So, it certainly is possible to practice the snatch and the clean-and-jerk with just an ordinary weight set. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise.

Yours in strength and health,
Rob Drucker