The Miracle of the BAR BELLS (Jul, 1952)
The Miracle of the BAR BELLS
Within the past few years more than three million muscle-mad males have taken the weightlifting way toward keeping fit.
By Morris Hall
AN astonishing wave of elbow-bending is sweeping the country these days. And the surprising fact is that those who indulge regularly become trim physical specimens!
That’s because the bars involved are bar bells and the things being hoisted so frequently are considerably heavier and less moist than Martinis. In gyms, bedrooms, attics and garages all over the country more than 3,000,000 males from 16 to past 60 are going happily haywire over weightlifting.
Less than 25 years ago there were no more than a handful of bar bell gyms in the entire country; now there are a vast number regularly attended by stage and screen luminaries, public officials, businessmen, writers, editors and people in every walk of life. Not too long ago, a weightlifter was considered a harmless sort of crackpot; today, the gags fall flat as the number of enthusiasts grows. On the West Coast, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott are avid devotees. In the East, slugger Ralph Kiner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher Bob Feller of the Cleveland Indians and golfer Frank Stranahan are just a few of the top-notchers who keep fit with the bells.
Reason for the dramatic rise in interest is simple: weightlifting is the quickest method yet found to develop a set of bulging, rippling muscles. It also has the remarkable faculty of adding pounds rapidly to a beanpole frame and taking them off a meaty one. Small wonder that the push-pull-and-heavers are in action all over the place.
Real-life before-and-after stories are legion. Paul Winchell, stage and television star whose antics with fresh Jerry Mahoney have vaulted him into the top brackets, is just one. As a boy, Paul was stricken with polio and began taking mild weightlifting exercises as a method of rehabilitation. Today, he can enter a contest for Most Perfectly Developed Man and hit the finals with no trouble, a far cry from the skinny kid he once was.
Moreover, his amazing arm and shoulder muscles make it possible for him to manipulate Jerry from the most fantastic positions, the envy of other ventriloquists.
Take Johnny Terlazzo, the well-muscled major domo of the Berkeley Health Club in New York City and win- ner of a number of national championships. In 1932, Johnny weighed a scant 123 pounds, had 11-1/2-inch biceps, a 37-inch chest and 17-inch thighs. Four months after he started with the bar bells, he had added more than an inch to biceps and thighs, two inches to his chest and gained seven pounds. Within two and a half years, he had won the junior national title in the 148-pound class. Johnny progressed fine— then came the war and disaster. In 1943, Johnny’s left leg was shattered by a German shell in North Africa. Out of 16 months spent in hospitals, ten were flat on his back.
Nearly all of his left calf was shot away and the thigh was torn. But Johnny began exercising and lifting again and slowly he came back. Today, he weighs a finely distributed 170, has 16-1/2-inch biceps, 25-inch thighs and a 45-inch chest.
Into Johnny’s gym walk businessmen, lawyers, doctors, salesmen. And dramatic results come speedily. One man gained 50 pounds in a year; five others lost the same amount, each in six months. Many others have gained up to 30 pounds in four months. Incidentally, Johnny’s brother, Tony, has 12 national championships.
There are other dramatic progress reports. R.W. Neeley of Greenwich, Conn., was a leukemia victim and says he has “lived a life consisting of a battle against blindness, deafness and invalidism.” He made with the bar bells—and became six-time champion of Maine in the 165-pound class, two-time winner of the 181-pound title and heavyweight champ in 1942.
Fred Bourque of Shediac, N. B., Canada, was laid up four years as a child with rheumatic fever; he worked his way up to 174 pounds and a nicely muscled chassis. Jack MacLachlan, of Fern-dale, Mich., another polio victim, is only 20 yet looks like a youthful Hercules. Dick Costello of Lima, Ohio, dropped to 187 pounds from 220 in less than three months.
Even the Army has gone in for the exercise. Not long ago, a dramatic experiment was tried at the Gardner General Hospital in Chicago. A GI whose leg muscles were torn by a shell was strapped to a specially built cot and a ten-pound weight was attached to his foot. He was told to lift his foot for a half hour. Then, slowly, more weight was added, until at the end of the month, he was lifting 80 pounds. In just that time, his emaciated muscles had grown and firmed beautifully.
That began it. Army medics immediately installed a variety of weightlifting apparatus in the hospital gym and wounded vets went to work. Sensational progress resulted. One youth, who had been flat on his back for more than a year with an upper-leg fracture, was walking in a matter of weeks. Men with shattered arms added inches to their biceps. Morale literally whooshed sky high. The Chicago experiment was soon copied by other Army hospitals all over the nation.
Ever hear of Muscletown, Pa.? The geographical name is York and it’s in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country. But Muscletown suits it better because it’s the headquarters of the York Barbell Company, a fantastic business enterprise which is a major cause of the popularity weightlifting is now enjoying. When you walk through the streets of Muscletown, it’s a good idea not to shove a stranger—he’s probably a former Mr. America or a lifting champ. Walk through the firm’s plant and not only will you see bells of every description but a collection of the finest muscles you ever saw in any office or factory.
Reason is that Robert Hoffman, top man of the York company, has surrounded himself with some of the strongest men in the world. Many of his aides are title-holding champs. Hoffman himself, now past 50. has a set of muscles that a man half his age would envy.
Up to 1923, Hoffman lifted nothing heavier than a telephone book. After World War I, he migrated to York and went into the oil-furnace business. Then he discovered bar bells. He was so pleased at the physical progress he made in a short time that he bought out the small concern that manufactured them and the rest is weightlifting history. He has sold hundreds of thousands of bar bell com- binations and many thousands of courses in development. His firm grosses well over the $1,000,000 mark each year. In 1929. Hoffman organized the first of his weightlifting teams and they have held national titles since 1932, world titles since 1937.
Hoffman has no patience with the belittlers of exercise and even takes on doctors who question its value. When one physician wrote in a newspaper that there was no conclusive proof that people who exercised were healthier than those who did not, Bob got furious. “There should be a law against the publishing of information that can mean only pain and distress to other people,” he raged. “The doctor’s argument is as wrong as to say that there is no definite proof that the moon is not made of green cheese because there has been no first-hand inspection of the moon as yet.
“Through right living and progressive exercise with apparatus you can improve your health, build your energy, endurance, resistance to disease, recuperative powers. Exercise speeds up circulation, strengthens the heart, keeps the arteries flexible.”
Furthermore, Hoffman believes exercise can save lives in other ways. It builds coordination, balance and control of the muscles, thus teaches the body to do the correct thing instantaneously in time of danger.
But what, exactly, is weightlifting? It is a soberly scientific exercise, using the principle that muscles can be developed on the human body by continuous resistance. Actually, boiled down, it is simply calisthenics with weight resistance. As such, it stems back to early days—Roman athletes, in fact, wore heavily weighted shoes as a means of enlarging and strengthening their leg muscles.
Its popularity as a sport started in Europe, spread to North Africa and Japan and was imported into the U.S. by immigrants about a century ago.
Probably the greatest of all professional lifters, although not by the standards of today, was one Louis Cyr, a hulking, 280-pound French Canadian who once stood on a platform in Quebec and actually lifted 3,641 pounds from the ground. A sensational stunt pulled by Cyr was to stoop beneath a platform and have 20 persons of average weight mount it one by one. Then, with all present and accounted for, Cyr would slowly straighten his back—lifting platform and people.
The long-distance lifting record is probably held by Henry Pennock who was reported to have lifted a ten-pound dumbbell a grand total of 8,431 times in four hours and 34 minutes.
But these spectacular exhibitions are far removed from scientific weightlifting. This is done with the aid of a bar bell, which is nothing more than a kind of dumbbell, designed so that iron plates of varying weights may be attached to a bar in different combinations to get any desired total weight. The prices vary greatly—from $10 for a simple set to champion equipment for $110. You can go about weightlifting in one of two ways—at home using printed instructions or at a local bar bell gym under personal supervision.
There are standard, specific lifts used in official competitions and by amateurs. These are the ones which Olympic contestants compete in: First, the Two Hands Military Press. The bar is laid horizontally in front of the lifter’s feet, gripped with both hands and brought with one distinct motion to the shoulders. The bar is rested on the chest for two seconds, then lifted vertically until the arms are completely extended without any jerking or sudden starting. It must remain there another two seconds before being brought down.
Second, the Two Hands Snatch. The bar, from its horizontal position, is pulled with one continuous motion from the ground to arms length and raised vertically above the head. It must pass along the body in a non-stop motion and be held motionless for two seconds with the legs and arms stiff and the feet in the same line not more than 16 inches apart.
Third, the Two Hands Clean and Jerk. The bar is brought with a single, distinct motion from the ground to the shoulders while either lunging or springing on bent legs. It must not touch the chest before reaching its final position at the shoulders. The feet are then brought back to the original position on the same line, then the legs are bent and both arms and legs stiffened suddenly with a jerk, so as to lift the bar above the head. It is then held for two seconds.
Olympic competitions are divided into seven classes: 123 pounds, 132, 148, 165, 181, 198 and heavyweight. An average 132-pounder can press about 175 pounds of weight, snatch 160 and clean and jerk 225. The records in this class are: press, 231; snatch, 231; and clean and jerk, 297.
In the heavyweight division, a pretty good non-champ can press 200, snatch 225, and clean and jerk 300. The records are: press, 341; snatch, 335; and clean and jerk, 402—all held by 31-year-old gentle, soft-spoken John Davis of Brooklyn, N.Y.
And this brings us to the amazing Mr. Davis, champ of them all for the past 11 years, setter of four Olympic and four national records and indisputably recognized as the strongest man in the world.
Davis was 16 years old, a normal, healthy, stocky kid, when he began practising with the weights. It wasn’t long before he began outdistancing them all. Despite his amazing prowess, he never flaunts his strength in freak exhibitions. He doesn’t even look like a modern Goliath but like an average husky young fellow. His hand-clasp is not bone-crushing and he never starts lifting the rear ends of trucks. .
To keep in condition Davis works out with the weights for about two hours, four times a week. He weighs 230 pounds, stands five feet nine, has 17-inch biceps, 28-inch thighs and a 48-inch chest. He holds the world’s record for total poundage hoisted in the three lifts— 1,062 pounds, set two years ago. His ambition is to hit 1,100 and when he does, it will be the weightlifter’s equivalent of the fabled four-minute mile.
Can anyone become as strong as he? This is how John Davis answers that: “If you are a normally healthy individual, continuous practise with weights can give you a physique and strength beyond anything you thought possible.” Good enough?
Just one more point remains unanswered. Everyone’s heard the old question—if you start lifting a calf every day from the day of his birth, would you still be able to lift him when he’s a full-grown, massive bull? The tale goes that the powerful Greek, Milo of Crotona, did just that with an ox. How about it?
Well, John Terlazzo has an answer to that poser: “One man in a million may be able to do it. But the vast majority of the rest of us have a saturation point beyond which we cannot lift anything. The day would eventually come when you wouldn’t be able to budge that bull.”
But even though most of us wouldn’t be able to perform the near-miracle of lifting a bull, thousands of Americans everyday are building up their bodies with the aid of weightlifting—the miracle of the bar bells.