– Old School Weight Training Strength Strongman Power Vintage Bodybuilding: A Favorite Training Routine…..From Seventy Years Ago

A sad fact of life is that very few lifters have a sense of history.  What I mean by this is that many people who train have little or no knowledge of those who have made their name in the Iron Game.  If it didn’t happen within the last ten years, then it didn’t take place at all.  It’s human nature to forget the past, and the world of physical culture is no exception.  

     I always felt that anyone who aspires to be a trainer or strength coach should have a thorough knowledge of the history of weightlifting, and the people who made that history.  It should be a requirement that names like John Grimek, Bob Hoffman, Andy Jackson, and John Davis- to name just a few- be the subject of extensive study.  Now, I seriously doubt if any exercise physiology or science course will follow through on these recommendations, but what’s wrong with asking a personal trainer if he/she knows who Norbert Schemansky is? Or Professor Attila?  If a self-proclaimed “expert” doesn’t recognize names like Tommy Kono or Paul Anderson, then do you really want to put your faith ( and money) into someone who is blissfully ignorant about the glorious history of weights and strength?

     Another name to add to those already mentioned is Sigmund Klein.  I would hope that anyone who is reading this would be familiar with one of the pioneers of the Iron Game.  His Physical Culture Studio was one of the most famous gyms in the country, and he stayed in business until he was in his seventies.  What I will discuss today is a routine he wrote for the November 1953 issue of Strength and Health magazine.  

     This is not simply a cookie-cutter article on how to get bigger or stronger.  The routine he wrote about nearly 70 years ago was actually one he had first used twenty years prior to that.  In other words, the routine I will describe is nearly 90 years old.  It is not designed to increase your Squat, Bench Press, or Deadlift.  It will not pump your arms, and it is not designed to help you play football, or increase the distance on your best discus toss.  But it will give you a full-body workout, and will not take a lot of time.  You will be doing, for the most part, basic exercises designed to hit the large muscle groups.  Interestingly, Sig uses a term that I have never seen used before.  Perhaps it was common back in the 1950s, but I have never seen the word “muscle culturist” before I read this article.  I guess it is similar to physical culturist, which itself is a forgotten term in today’s world of weights.  I like the term “strength athlete,” when it comes to describing those whose goal is greater strength.  It is a way of differentiating between those who lift with a purpose, and those who pump and tone.  Maybe we can start a new term like “Strength Culturist?”  

     Here is a list of exercises that comprise the workout.  It may seem like a lot of movements, and it is, but you are only doing one set of each movement.  The routine took Sig and his partner just over an hour to complete, this included an short interval to talk to Warren Lincoln Travis, who had stopped by Sig’s gym to visit ( Warren Travis is another name to conjure for those who appreciate Iron History).  So, here is one of Sig Klein’s favorite routines:

  1. Two Arm Curl

  2.  Lateral Raise

  3.  Side Bends

  4.  Alternate Forward Raise

  5.  Side Bends

  6.  Military Press

  7.  Deep Knee Bend

  8.  Alternate Forward Raise

  9.  Tricep Pushaway, leaning forward

  1. Chinning the bar

  2. . Wrist Roller

  3. . Leg Curl

  4. . Press-up to handstand

  5. . Criss-cross with DBs standing

  6. . Criss-cross with DBs lying

  7. . Alternate DB Pullovers

  8. . Leg Raise

  9. . Parallel Bar Dips

  10. . DB Curls

  11. . Leg Press

  12. . Neck Exercise

  13. . Squats on Roman Chair

  14. . Tiger Bends

Most of the exercises are self-explanatory and are still in use in most gyms.  The “criss-cross” movement is one that I don’t normally do, but is relatively simple to perform.  For the “Press-up to a handstand,” I would substitute something similar for the upper body ( unless of course you are proficient in acrobatics).  Also, since I don’t have a Roman chair and don’t know how to do squats on them, I simply substituted weighted step-ups.  As for Tiger Bends, instead of trying to learn the movement, I simply did a set of Hindu push-ups.

     I am speaking in the first person because I have actually tried this routine a couple of times since the beginning of the year. The first day I used it, I was in the mood to lift, but my back and hips were still sore from my previous deadlift workout.  Instead of just simply flagging the workout, I decided to do something.  

       The hardest part is moving from one exercise to another and having the various barbells and dumbbells in place without having to move things around.  Even so, there is little time wasted since you perform each movement one after the other.  The rep range that I used was 15 reps per movement, which is the same number of reps that Sig and his partner used back in the day.  Incidentally, it took me about an hour to complete the workout from start to finish, and I didn’t even have Warren Lincoln Travis stop by to interrupt my session!

     It’s also worth noting that exercise number 20, Leg Press, represented something entirely different back in Sig’s day.  There were no leg press machines, so the way most persons performed the movement was to balance a barbell on their feet while lying supine on the floor.  If you feel like going “old school” and balancing a loaded bar on your feet, then go for it.  But I highly recommend that you utilize one of the modern leg press machines that are available today.  As Billy Joel once proclaimed, “ The good old days weren’t always good.”  This definitely applies to the performance of the leg press.

     I’d like to repeat that this is not a routine to use if you are preparing for a powerlifting contest or strongman meet.  But if you would like to have a change of pace while at the same time getting in some quality work for the entire body, it might be worth your time to try to emulate the training of Sig Klein.



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