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Monday, January 31, 2011

A Whiff Of Iron Game History: The Game of Weights And Its Origins by G. Le Roy

An interesting tidbit I found in the Iron Game History Online Journal, Volume 5, No. 2, this text tells us of the early days of public strongman performances:

The Game Of Weights And Its Origins: Performing in Public Squaresfrom Le Roy, G: Strength Athletics and Swedish Gymnastics

The first man who had the idea of performing weightlifting feats in public was named Jean Broyasse, and he was born in Lyon in 1798. Jean Broyasse did not then work (at least at the start) with weights that were as perfected as those whose shapes have become classic today.

His materials were obtained from a German named Stücker who since the age of twenty had (for reasons which we do not know and which, moreover, do not interest us) lived in France. Let us note in passing, that it was claimed that after his sudden and unexplained death that he had obtained the greater part of his income from espionage. Stücker enjoyed physical exercise very much and loved feats of strength. He met Jean Broyasse in a Lyon tavern. At this time Broyasse was a newly poor man,or more precisely, he was in the process of becoming a pauper. He was not a brigand—he could even be called an intellectual since he was studying law.

Nature had endowed him with great muscularity. When Stücker returned to Germany, he left to his friend Broyasse his weights composed of roughly cast masses of iron which were riveted with chains and handles to assure a good grip. The remainder of the bars was just as roughly put together. Jean Broyasse could not resist his bohemian nature, so he abandoned his studies there and put his athletic abilities to a professional use. First, he joined a traveling circus, but later he became enamored of absolute freedom, and he decided to work on his own by performing in public squares. He did not make a fortune, but he lived the way he wanted to.

Broyasse was still performing when there appeared in Paris a certain Wolff who modestly called himself “the Rock of Luxemburg.” Naturally, he was not the Rock of anything; he was an extremely mediocre strongman. However, he had a very practical sense when it came to the husbanding of his physical strength: he did not like to get tired. He also worked with phony weights (it was he who imported this sort of thing to France). All of his weights were fakes; not a single piece of his equipment was genuine, not even the cannon which he carried on his shoulder and with which he walked around the crowd, with his moneybag in his hand. In addition, the public, which was not as informed as it is today, granted him its credulity . . . and its money. Wolff looked like he could lift mountains, but in reality he could not lift much at all; he performed his feats with such ease that everyone was amazed.

As one might imagine, almost at once Wolff had his imitators, and thus a number of specialists in street performances began to develop, their work becoming more and more suspicious. Quite some time ago the first foundry for faked weights and barbells was opened in Paris. Strongmen had adopted a sort of vague drapery as a
costume, something like a short tunic which made vague references to antiquity.

It was around 1814 that Laroche appeared. To the act of weightlifting he added that of the human burden. His act consisted of getting under a cart filled with fifteen men, then buttressing himself with his knees and his hands, lifting the load as high as his waist. An assistant had the duty of turning the wheels to prove beyond doubt that the cart had left the ground. This was a rather happy time for Laroche. In his later days he abandoned strength feats for prestidigitation, and he sported frightening costumes of a demented design, with crimson velvets made more garish by gold embroidery. And to those who stood dumbfounded in front of this flamboyant apparition, Laroche, who was quite satisfied with himself, announced to his spectators, “Formerly, I amazed them with what was underneath; today, I amaze them with what is overhead.” The “human burden” feat was taken up again several years later by someone named Paris.

Felice Giordanino, who was a contemporary of Laroche, established a career in Paris under the name ofFelice Napoli. He hailed from Naples. He started out by lifting weights which, incidentally, he was particularly good at, especially “juggling.” But since he gradually grew stronger and stronger, he added several sensational feats to his first exercises, for example, the one that involved breaking stones on his chest. He earned a great success with this. The turn consisted of the following: Napoli lay down on his back, and a stone measuring about 50 centimeters wide and 10 centimeters thick was placed on his chest. A man broke the stone in two with a blow from a mallet.

His “bar trick” was also wildly successful. It involved taking an iron bar of one centimeter in diameter and bending it in the middle by striking it on his forearm. After two or three blows, the bar curved in at the middle. Several contemporaries of Napoli attempted the same feat with no other result but that they were seriously bruised. In the end the hoax was revealed: the two extremities of the bar were iron, but the middle part was lead and completely hollow!

Samson’s March,” also devised by Napoli, saw its appearance on the weightlifting scene. To perform this feat Felice was decorated with 20-kilogram weights; he had them all around his waist, on his shoulders, a string of them across his chest, below his knees, at the base of his thighs, and his shoes had lead soles. Then, thus accoutered and after being loaded with solid iron bars across the back of the neck, he walked about the distinguished audience.

With Gérard of Lyon, who dates from the same time, we emerge into what we can call “classic weightlifting performances.” Gérard was neither an eccentric nor a “character”; he was an extremely strong man who did very correct lifts. It was he who became enraged during a performance in a circus, and grabbed his manager who was costumed as a gendarme, ready to play his role in the pantomime. After picking up the man and carrying him at arms’ length to police headquarters, he found a magistrate who was astounded by this hilarious scene. Gérard asked if he could rule that this minor Barnum might pay his employees the emoluments that were greatly in arrears. The director settled with Gérard, even reimbursing him, and then invited him to disappear from the troupe on the double quick.

Then there is Vigneron, the Cannon Man. With him, weightlifting performances were graced with a sensational feat. He had a cannon weighing around 180 kilos in which was a strong charge of powder. He placed the cannon on his right shoulder, then touched the light to the fuse. The difficulty consisted (aside from the strength needed to lift and support such a weight) in bending the body forward at the correct moment in order to compensate in advance for the recoil of the piece.

Vigneron, who had performed this feat more than 800 times was its victim in Boulogne-sur-Mer under very tragic circumstances. He had lifted his cannon onto his shoulder, and as usual waited for the moment when the flame would light the fuse. The cannon did not fire. Growing impatient, Vigneron began to put the cannon on the ground, and balanced it on his shoulder with the barrel facing toward his chest. At the instant when the breech touched the ground, the shot fired, and the strongman was killed instantly. As a cannon man, Vigneron had numerous imitators. The most famous was Mr. Vuillod, an amateur, who today is a senator from the Department of l’Est.

Alfred Ferrand and Vincent “the Iron Man” were two amazing strongmen. They always performed together, and one man’s story is intimately linked to the other’s. The queerness of their character was the cause of some hilarious adventures such as the one that happened to them in Monaco where luck was not favorable to them—something they could not admit without starting a revolution. Accordingly, they revolted willingly enough against the established prince who did not agree with their personal ideas. They had a high opinion of their athletic prowess, and truly their strength justified their pretensions.

Vincent and Ferrand attempted to recover their expenses by taking a trip to London (without guaranteed reward) in order to challenge a German strongman who proclaimed himself the finest in the world. Vincent had great difficulty in concluding a match with this rival whom he convinced himself he was certain of dominating, but finally, it came to pass. Not only did Ferrand and Vincent easily perform all the feats of the German, but they even performed others which their rival was incapable of doing when his turn came. The fame of the two Frenchmen became prodigious in London, and the entire population of the English capital flocked to applaud them at the Aquarium.

Robert “the Man Seller” was a mediocrity compared to nearly anyone else. There are several cock-and-bull stories attached to his name that he obligingly allowed to be put abroad and which added nothing to his reputation (which was overrated even during his own time). Consequently, his time on the public squares was of short duration.

A group performing on the Place Louvois one day produced a plowman from the Nivernais named Jean-Pierre de Montastruc. He was a freak of nature: hunchbacked, deformed, with huge arms and incredible ham-like hands; but despite everything, he was very strong (clumsier than he was strong, however). Feats have been attributed to him whose authenticity seems to be equivocal. Consider the following: he still worked the soil when one day he encountered a cart driver on the road whose wagon was loaded with wheat and was stuck in a rut. Jean-Pierre, it is said, got under the vehicle, lifted it on his back, pulled it from the rut and placed it back thus in the middle of the road. This often-told legend, presented for the consideration of a credulous public, does not inspire confidence. Here is another: He was plowing. A passerby approached and asked directions, and Jean-Pierre picked up his plow with two hands, and bending his arms in order to point out the path which stretched out before him, put the errant traveler back on the right track. Once more, this one is extreme fantasy.

Although he was very strong, he was above all a phenomenon who attracted attention by his deformity. When he was seated in the middle of a train seat and he extended his two arms laterally, the tips of his fingers touched the walls of the car.

Another product of the province was the miller of Darnétal who came to Paris to “do weights” but who never made a very lasting impression and is remembered only vaguely. It was he, who in Darnétal where he worked, lifted to arms’ length and transported a ladder a few meters farther on which a man had climbed carrying a 100-kilo sack of flour.

Louis the Mechanic was endowed with huge hands and specialized in lifting block weights by the rim. When he extended his fingers, his thumb touched the base of a liter bottle and his little linger touched the tip of the neck. He also had a special barbell that was terrifying because of its uncommon dimensions, but this selfsame weight which looked as if it weighed twice that of others, in reality weighed less than half.

Weightlifting met its Beau Brummel in the person of Henri Joigneret who (along with Alphonse Grasse) was a perfect model of correctness and elegance in the presentation of feats. Joigneret and Grasse were all the rage in Paris. The former was one of the founders of the earliest weight training gymnasiums in Paris. After having established himself in the Rue Mazagran, he moved to the Avenue des Tilleuls and a little afterwards passed the torch to the famous Paul Pons.

As for Alphonse Grasse, he was incomparable from the point of view of the elegance of the feats. He had a very personal “style” and “manner.” Obviously, there are stronger men than he, but probably no better when it came to the way he lifted.

Jules and Justin Barrois were from Joigneret’s school. No trickery here, just good work: no “spectacular feats,” nothing but arm extensions, snatches, jerks, and a bit of acrobatics because the public demanded it.

Two men whose names should be mentioned are François Vilher and Dubois, even though they did not lift professionally except for a very brief appearance. Ah! How those two seriously discredited performing in the public squares! When their colleagues saw them leave, it was with great relief. They later moved on to wrestling. It was claimed that they were the inventors of “chicanery,” but it was inept fakery: deception on the lowest scale, approaching the clumsiest duping of the public ever known. At any rate, it would appear that it was they whom we must thank for “counter-chicanery,” that is to say, the presence of a paid accomplice in the anonymous crowd listening with mouths agape to the barker’s patter. He was the “shill” who played the unexpected amateur who challenges the professionals.

Like others in the history of old-time strongmen, Faouët, the “Beast of the Jungles” and the “Muscular Apollo,” was primarily a wrestler, whose names are mentioned here but not remembered.

Professionals were not and never had been a uniquely French specialty, as we have seen from the start with Wolff, the Rock of Luxemburg. Around the time which interests us, foreigners produced several people who lifted weights better than most; they were without well-established principles since no rules existed which imposed a single and unified manner of performing the movements. In a general way, the diversity of the French and foreign schools have been maintained up to the present. It has only been about fifteen years since the codification of weightlifting has been definitively standardized. But now we digress from our subject.

Foreigners had their professionals as well for whom weightlifting was merely a prelude to bizarre feats well designed to strike the public’s fancy. The sporting character of their exhibitions was certainly the least thing that concerned them; the theatrical side of the question interested them much more since their first desire just as well was to make sure of box office receipts.

Germany and Austria have produced quantities of professionals and particularly that sort of specialist known as “‘chain breakers.” As for legitimate weightlifting, one can count among the obscure unknowns more interesting subjects than among the famous circus performers. Among those whose names have come to us and who are considered interesting men are Hans Beck and Carl Abs.

Hans Beck of Achdorf in Bavaria was a butcher-boy when he abandoned his profession to become a strongman. The muscles which he possessed were of a very real quality. He trained in a Munich club and came to be very strong. His specialty was the globe barbell which he lifted in three movements; unfortunately, the first movement was assisted by a resting point on his abdomen which is not allowed in France where the shouldering must be done in one move. Along with Stangelmeier, Beck founded one of
the most famous clubs in Bavaria.

Carl Abs of Mecklenburg approached Joigneret a bit when it came to the elegance of his lifting. Otto Kohler was of German extraction, and he performed for a long time under the direction of his father, Frederic Kohler, who coached a weight training club in Mount-Clemmons. He was quite strong, but he always professed a certain penchant for wrestling and met several times with William Buldon [sic. this should read Muldoon] and Louis the Strangler.

Austria has produced a man whom the entire athletic world agrees in recognizing as a strongman of the highest quality: Wilhelm Turck, who was born in Vienna in 1859. Unfortunately, Wilhelm Turck has not escaped criticism from us. His lifting is not done in the purest style—not by a long shot. It is not that his weights are phony (far from it), but his lifting performance was so lax, so innocent of any methodology that he drew several justified cautions. Wilhelm Turck’s principles can be summed up thus: lift the weight any way you can just so long as you lift it. Using this process, he was able to shoulder extraordinary poundages without worrying about the contortions with which he was obliged to put himself through to attain those results. It is a way of doing things that the French school does not wish to accept, and in this it is absolutely correct.

Modern Russia has furnished some interesting subjects. Doctor Krajewski, who was president of the St. Petersburg Athletic Club and director of physical exercise at this club, is very busy there. One can cite among the long list of best men in this elite circle Yousoff, de Ianslew, William Moor Znamenski of St. Petersburg; Schmelling, who is especially good at wrestling, and more recently Elliseieff, who came to Paris several years ago.

England has not exactly been poor in weightlifting specialists. Montgomery of London is one of the finest names to cite. He is more elegant in his lifting than he is really strong; he was, however, still a vaudeville strongman. Sanderson the Swede lifted without Clan but was endowed with an amazing natural strength.

The Japanese physique does not (to say the least) lend itself to weightlifting. That is why Japan has primarily produced acrobats, wrestlers, and jiujitsu fighters in the realm of professional performers. The only man performing feats of physical strength and who has left a name in this specialized area is a certain Matsada Sora Kichi, who first saw the light of day in 1847 in a little village near Yeddo.

Like all the men of his race, Sora Kichi was very small, but he was astoundingly muscular. He specialized in lifting beer barrels, and he was able to do feats with these massive casks that stronger men than he have never been able to do. He has never been seen in France; he works regularly in the music halls of the United States.

Sora Kichi—this name was certainly borrowed— was of high pedigree. He was an errant nobleman of Japanese society. By the time he was twenty years of age, he had gotten into many scrapes, and his family, despairing of his ever making something of himself, broke off relations with him. One would never imagine that this person would be capable of the athletic feats which he accomplishes.

Sora Kichi was forced to leave Japan after an incident which nearly cost him his life. He had requested an audience with the Mikado, but this went unanswered. He sought an explanation for the man’s silence and not finding a plausible one in his reasoning faculties, he resolved to get to the bottom of things. He positioned himself on the Mikado’s route, and when the ruler arrived in a carriage traveling at a slight trot, Sora Kichi broke through the crowd, evaded the bodyguard’s notice, seized the landau by the rear springs, and stopped it in just a few meters before the police were even able to intervene. [Editor D. Chapman’s note: Clearly impossible, of course.] Surrounded by guards, he engaged in a Homeric struggle in the course of which he seriously wounded two or three of them. He was like a Barnum in New York.

Modern strongmen have redeemed the errors of the unscrupulous lifters of the past: men like Joseph Bonnes of Narbonne, Louis Uni (“Apollon”) of Marsiliargues, Robert of Paris, Jean-François the Breton, Victorius, Noël Rouverrolis (“The Gaul”), Émile Deriaz, Robert, Vasseur, Maspoli, and Lancoud. The best lifter, the man who seems to us “the most all-around” in the first world championship organized several years ago was, without a doubt, Bonnes, who was given the title of world champion.

Fatman's Note: There you have it - true strong men, fakes (even specialized shops for producing false weights), elaborate performances, strange costumes, rivalry, bickering, criticizing of different lifting styles, even a bizarre death in the strongman circuit long before steroids... not much seems to have changed in the Iron Game over the centuries after all. Yet under the myriad different emotions and legends still lies the deep-rooted fascination with men of strength and their feats. Raise a mug of beer or whatever your poison happens to be and toast these giants of old. Then go lift something heavy.

New 5/3/1 Program - Week 4, Day 1

31 January 2011

Bench press:

Warmup 1 set
200 lbs x 5
230 lbs x 5
260 lbs x 10 reps (felt light)

Moved on to the power rack and did some bench press lockouts up to 365 lbs. (partial movement where I just move the bar a couple of inches from lockout), then did three sets of bottom-position bench presses. These are done by placing the bar on safety pins at chest level, then pressing from this position. Brooks Kubik swears by those in his book Dinosaur Training. I found 225 lbs. to be quite a challenge, did two doubles and a triple to really blast the chest and shoulders.

Pullups 6 sets x 5 reps, 1 set x 3 reps

Bent-over rows 135 lbs. x 5, 185 lbs. x 5, 235 lbs. x 5, 255 lbs. x 5, x 3 reps

Dips 5 sets x 10

EZ bar bicep curls 4 sets

Tricep pushdowns 3 sets

Dumbbell hammer curls 4 sets

Seated tricep press machine 3 sets

Preacher curl machine 3 sets

Abdominal work on inclined board 3 sets

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Extra Day - Cables and Kettlebells

29 January 2011

Cable pulls - rep totals are given (done as singles, doubles and triples):

Front chest pull YRY x 4, YYY x 6

Overhead downward pull YRY x 3, YYY x 8, YGY x 2

Back press YYY x 5, YGY x 5, GYG x 5

Bicep curl YY x 10

Straight-arm pulldown YY x 10

Kettlebell session:

Double KB swing @ 18 lbs. each x 20 reps
One-handed KB swing @ 36 lbs. x 20 reps (10 left, 10 right) x 2 sets
OA KB swing @ 45 lbs. x 20 reps (10 left, 10 right) x 2 sets
OA KB swing @ 53 lbs. x 20 reps (10 L, 10 R) x 2 sets
Double KB swing @ 18 lbs. each x 20 reps

One-arm KB clean: 53 lbs. x 5 reps, 62 lbs. x 5 reps, 70 lbs. x 3 reps, 78 lbs. x 3 reps (per arm)

KB breathing shrug - from a pair of 18 lbs. to a pair of 70 lbs., 10 reps at each weight, total 40 reps

Friday, January 28, 2011

New 5/3/1 Program - Week 3, Day 4

28 January 2011


Warmup 2 sets
285 lbs x 5
325 lbs x 3
365 lbs x 8 reps

Tried a few heavier pulls, 415 lbs. went up for a tough 2 and 445 lbs. was a no-go.

One-arm DB rows 100 lbs. x 22 reps per arm, rest-pause style

Back raises w/ 20 lb. weight 3 sets x 10

Prone leg curl 3 sets

Hanging leg raises 3 sets x 10

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New 5/3/1 Program - Week 3, Day 3

27 January 2011

Had a ton of energy today and possibly overdid things - I still have to deadlift tomorrow. Experimented a bit with partial presses, overhead and from the bench. They feel sort of awkward but once I get the positioning under the bar right I'm positive my strength will improve - I once worked up to 205+ kilos on the bench press lockout when I was waaaaay weaker in the bench press than I am today.

Clean & Overhead Press:

Warmup 1 set
145 lbs x 5
165 lbs x 3
185 lbs x 11 reps (good)

Partial overhead presses - 6" from lockout: worked up to 235 lbs. x 1 which is only 10 lbs. over my best overhead press. It took me a while to find the right position under the bar and I'll keep doing these until I can get at least 300 lbs. - the range of motion is pretty tiny.

Then a quick warmup for bench press partials - 135 x 5, 235 x 3, 255 x 2

Partial bench presses - 4-5" from lockout: hit 295 lbs x 3 pretty easily, but failed at 345 lbs., which is less than my top full-range bench press. Triceps were pretty much dead at this point - I will re-visit this movement on Monday after my regular bench presses. Might try some bottom-position presses as well.

Pullups 7 sets x 5 reps

Dips 5 sets x 10 reps

Seated incline bench DB curls 4 sets

Tricep pushdowns 4 sets

Preacher curl machine 3 sets

One-arm kettlebell presses: 45 lbs. x 5 EA, 55 lbs. x 5 EA, 62 lbs. x 5 EA, 72 lbs. x 3 R, 2 L arm.

Situps on incline abdominal board 4 sets

Saturday, January 22, 2011

An Interesting Study On Vegetarian vs. Non-Vegetarian Diets

This little gem caught my attention today:

Vegetarianism is healthy, but not because of lack of animal protein

(Article summarizes a study found here)

In brief, the four healthiest nations in Europe consume (on average) copious amounts of animal products. Vegetarian diets have a proven effect on the reduction of risk of heart disease and stroke, most likely due to a much lower cholesterol intake, but vegetarians are just as likely to die of cancer as non-vegetarians - they even run a slightly higher risk of stomach cancer, which was a huge surprise for me - and experience a higher death rate from "other causes".

Although the author takes the "saturated fat is bad for you" view that has become the target of rabid attacks from some "experts" and experts on nutrition, his explanation seems very reasonable. Note that among the four nationalities E. Ginter lists as the healthiest three consume a lot of fish products - Icelandic, Swedes and Norwegians - while the Swiss are predominantly meat-and-cheese eaters.

Of course, the four nations listed in the study also happen to live in countries ranked as the most prosperous in the world in terms of citizens' well-being (Norway actually tops the list, which I would have to agree with from personal experience), which alone might have an effect on overall health regardless of diet.

Overall, he article provides one of the most balanced, honest approaches to the topic I have ever come across, without pro-vegetarian rants about how meat-eaters and milk-drinkers are all predestined to die prematurely, or any of the "paleo diet" anti-grain bullshit that is a popular pseudo-scientific point of debate these days. Rated very cool in my book.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New 2011!

Just got back from my travels and will be looking for a gym soon. Didn't do too much in the meantime, but didn't stop training either. My program was far from regular but generally it went something like this:

Day 1 - Cable training, pull
Day 2 - Cable training, push
Day 3 - Several pushup, squat and abdominal variations for a lot of sets

Managed to keep the bodyweight down despite heavy eating and drinking (or at least managed not to gain too much), muscle tone is still okay. Will probably hit the gym tomorrow to see how the strength levels are holding up. I'm planning to restart the 5/3/1 program as soon as possible, using the numbers I managed to hit in the last two weeks of training as my maxes. Will see how that goes.