The Truth About Physical Culture
By Robert Drucker
Any exercise that you enjoy doing and benefit from is good and right for you. Better Health, greater fitness, and stronger muscles can be attained in many ways, and no one school of physical culture can be said to be “best.”
Indian club swinging can be added to any strength-building program to develop shoulder mobility and gain muscular balance. This form of training has been used for hundreds of years to strengthen the body and gain cardiovascular efficiency.
Sadly, many advocates of strength, health, and fitness publicly shun schools of training that they do not practice and, typically, know little or nothing about. From my observations, I can tell you that most of these single-minded promoters either have a product to sell you and/or they have only a narrow viewpoint and understanding of physical culture. In either case, their teachings and advertisements often bring forth false ideas and confusion to the strength community.
In the old days, students of physical culture commonly practiced many forms of health and muscle-building exercises. They engaged in weight training, acrobatics, gymnastics, Indian-club swinging, wrestling, hand balancing, kettlebell lifting, cable stretching, odd-object lifting (such as anvils), rope climbing, deep breathing exercises, and body-weight movements of various types. Furthermore, they left no muscle untouched. Focus wasn't just on the showy muscle groups, such as the pecs, biceps, and lats; the oldtimers also worked their neck, strengthened their grip, expanded their heart and lung power, and built thick and powerful legs.
The multivariate training approach used back in the day built strong, balanced, and athletic physiques. During the 1920s and 1930s, exercise gyms where filled with men who could at any time do 100 consecutive pushups, chin a bar 20 or more times, climb a 30-foot hanging rope, perform a dozen hand-stand pushups, jump into a perfect hand balance, clean and press a barbell loaded to body weight, or execute a perfect back flip. These men were all-around athletes who understood that ALL schools of strength building have merit and a definite purpose. They didn't divide into separate groups - weightlifters in one corner and bodyweight exercisers in another. They didn't engage in silly arguments about which form of exercise is “best” or “worst”. And, they certainly didn't close their minds to any method of training which could help them become stronger and more fit.
Arthur Saxon, like many other oldtime strongmen, practiced a variety of lifts to build enormous overall strength.
Fast forward to the present and the picture isn't so pretty. Gone is the unity that once pervaded the world of physical culture. Gone is the diversification of training that once produced well-rounded and athletic physiques. And, gone are the great acrobatic talents that many a body-builder once possessed. Unity has been replaced by separate schools of thought, each which snubs the others; diversification has given way to ignorance and misinformation; and, acrobatics has been brushed aside as nothing more than a pastime curiosity by all but a special few.
In modern times, money making has consistently been associated with the promotion of physical fitness and muscle building. This was true one hundred years ago and it is true today.
Now, I have nothing against people making money by selling a good and honest product. If money wasn't to be made, we would lose many of the best promoters of physical culture because they, like anybody else, must make a living. However, and I'm going to say this without pointing out names, there are a number of “promoters” out there that clearly have money making as their top, perhaps only, priority. And, quite a few of these money seekers are unscrupulously spreading exaggerated, unfounded, and/or misleading claims about physical culture for the sole purpose of beefing up their bank account. You know what I'm talking about. One “guru” tells the world about the horrors of weight training and offers an expensive bodyweight training book for sale; another “guru” explains why bodybuilding builds “useless” muscles and offers a course for gaining “real” strength; and the know-it-all “expert” tells you why everybody else in the world is “wrong” just before slipping in an order form for his latest high-priced training video.
Stretching a rubber or spring cable set can tax muscles in unique ways and add depth to any physique. The light weight and compactness of a cable set also make spring stretching ideal for the traveling strength athlete.
The truth is, there is no one best way to train. And, there is no one style or method of training that can significantly promote every aspect of fitness and health. Each individual style and form of training brings forth a unique and specific adaptation response based on the specific characteristics and requirements of the exercises performed. This is why it is ludicrous to claim that any method of training produces “useless” or “unreal” muscles. Muscles develop for the sole purpose of preparing the body to better cope with the specific physical stresses that it encounters. For this reason, the muscles of the bodybuilder develop differently than those of the weightlifter or other type of specialist. The “pure” bodybuilder becomes very proficient at performing a variety of barbell exercises with moderate weights for a relatively high number of repetitions. The “pure” weightlifter, in contrast, develops tremendous power to explosively lift a very heavy barbell off of the ground and into the overhead position in a single all-out effort. And, the “body-weight” devotee develops specific skills and abilities which give him or her a unique ability to maneuver his or her own body. Ditto for the gymnast, acrobat, or other strength specialist.
The oldtimers worked all muscles of the body from toes to head, not just the showy ones like is often done today.
Thus, we can see that one kind of muscular development cannot be said to be better or superior to another - only different. Yet, many marketers will try their best to convince you otherwise. One technique these con artists use is to illogically compare one group of strength athletes to another. For example, if a marketer wants to promote his “body-weight” book, he might ask, “How many weightlifters or bodybuilders do you know who can do 100 one-legged rope squats?” Or, a marketer of a weight training book may ask, “How many body-weight guys do you know who can squat over 500 pounds.”
Another trick of the con artist is to mention how some strongman (usually deceased and unable to defend himself) practiced exercise X (which is true), but fail to mention that he primarily built his great strength through exercises Y and Z. Still another technique used by the con marketer involves telling you that his method of training is totally safe, and warning you that some other branch of physical culture (one he doesn't market, of course) is inherently dangerous and useless. Isolated horror stories are usually presented to give “proof” of the claim.
There is no end to the false claims and misleading implications made by unscrupulous marketeers of fitness and muscle-building products. But, if a marketer ever claims or implies that the style of training he or she is promoting and/or selling is “superior” to all other means of building muscle and fitness, you can believe that such claims are pure hogwash! How is “superior” defined? By what means is “superior” determined? What is the basis for such claims or implications? These are good questions, but don't expect them to be answered by a marketer who is just after your money.
Hand balancing builds unique body strength and coordination skills. This is another form of exercise that was often used by the oldtimers to build powerful muscles.
Marketing is by no means the only factor that influences physical culture and the promotion of a particular school of training. Sometimes, ego is the main driving force. The power struggle that took place between Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider some years ago is a good example of this. Hoffman promoted the York System of training, and Weider promoted his own body-building system. For years Weider and Hoffman and their followers futilely argued over which of the two systems was best. I'll now put this argument to rest - neither system is “best”. Both are genuine and offer many great training ideas. Case closed.
Wrestling builds coordinated power and strength in many ways that cannot be duplicated with other forms of exercise.
Another ego fight occurred between Mike Mentzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger during the late 1970s. Mike publicly denounced Arnold's training methods and claimed that his “Heavy Duty” approach was superior. Arnold fired back at Mike, and before long a full-blown dispute rippled across the bodybuilding community. What surprised me is that nearly gym member took sides. You had the Mentzer devotees on the left and the Schwarzenegger diehards on the right. The belief each person seemed to hold was that either Mike was right or Arnold was right, but not both of them.
I took a different approach. I studied the training methods advocated by both Mentzer and by Schwarzenegger. And, through trial and error, I learned and put into practice a number of valuable training techniques, strategies, and philosophies that I learned from both bodybuilders. And, I can unequivocally say that both viewpoints offered by Mike and Arnold helped me to make better progress in the gym. This is the answer I give whenever I am asked whether Mike or Arnold was right.
I got my start in physical culture by lifting a pipe with bricks tied to it. I later acquired a set of weights and became a dedicated bodybuilder. Bodybuilding was my main theme for over 25 years. But, during 2006 at the age of 43, I started experimenting with bodyweight training. Bodyweight training opened my eyes and made me realize that a complete physique cannot be built by weight training alone. I found advanced forms of pushups, handstands, chins, one-legged squats, and bridging exercises to be extremely demanding, and they built my body in ways that the weights did not. This is not to say that bodyweight training is more effective than weight training, or vice versa. Both forms of training complement one another, and each one offers the strength athlete a unique way to build muscle and fitness.
The practice of strength sports such as discuss throwing is another excellent way to build strength, coordination, and overall body power.
In recent months, I have been experimenting with Olympic-style weightlifting. This style of training is new to me, and I am still learning how to snatch and perform clean and jerks for best effect. But, I am happy to say that adding weightlifting movements into my workout repertoire has profoundly boosted my training progress. Since adding the two quick lifts into my routine, my legs have grown; my back has thickened; and, my shoulders and arms have become noticeably more meaty. Practice of the two Olympic lifts has also greatly increased my flexibility and boosted my ability to explosively call upon my strength. And, like my experience with bodyweight training, I have found that the practice of the Olympic lifts builds the body in ways that ordinary bodybuilding does not. But, again, I must emphasize that no one school of training is better than another; I am merely pointing out that each branch develops the body differently and that a variety of exercises must be practiced over time to establish complete development and fitness.
While adding variety to a training program can help the strength athlete develop a more balanced physique, there is a practical limit to how many exercises can productively be practiced in any one time. Many trainees make the mistake of selecting too many exercises for a given workout and end up overtrained. And, another mistake I see strength athletes commonly make is not sticking to a particular training method or routine long enough to milk any worthwhile gains from it. They are forever seeking something better and sticking to nothing. If you think about the specific nature of the adaptation process you will understand why this approach does not work.
Kettlebell training can add variation to any body-building routine and increase muscular coordination, strength, and endurance. And, few forms of exercise can match kettlebell training with regards to strengthening the core muscles.
My preference, and one I have found to be very effective, is to focus on one kind of training at a time and to supplement my training with a few additional exercises of a different nature. For example, my current training program is built around the barbell snatch, the barbell clean and jerk, the barbell squat, the barbell press, and the one-arm dumbbell press. These are the “core” exercises that I currently practice, and together they receive about 80% of my muscle-building focus. But, after these core exercises are completed in my workout, I'll practice a few bodyweight or traditional bodybuilding exercises to round things off and work my body in a different way.
Of course, there are many other ways that a strength athlete can effectively train to bring forth more balanced development. Barbell training or spring-cable stretches can be added to a specialized bodyweight training program; plyometric drills or heavy Indian-club swinging can be added to a kettlebell routine; select gymnastic movements or awkward-object lifting can be added to a focused bodybuilding regimen; or a “mixed” program can be utilized in which a few key exercises from various schools of physical culture are practiced in combination.
Bodyweight training builds tremendous muscles and fitness, and such training can be practiced practically anywhere.
In conclusion, despite what you may read or hear to the contrary, there is no “best” school of muscle building. All too often a strength athlete shuns or avoids a particular school of training because his or her mind is closed to what it can offer. Bruce Lee once said, “Use only that which works and take it from any place you find it.” That is very good advice to live by. I certainly follow Bruce's advice, and I have found many things that work by looking for what is good and useful in all forms of training. Now you know the truth about physical culture.
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