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Welcome to the Quest for Victory Timeline

Sponsored by the National Strength and Conditioning Association


This online exhibition of the history of strength training for sport was created by the staff of the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas at Austin.   It was made possible through the generosity of the National Strength and Conditioning Association who provided the major funding for this project.  At the end of each entry you will find three blue asterisks that link you to academic references and primary sources  that will help you learn more about this fascinating endeavor.    For many entries there are also PDF documents and links to video and other web resources embedded in the timeline.   Be sure to click on all the links and explore the material we've provided.

Our goal in this first edition of The Quest for Victory is to focus on the key events and crucial figures in the development of strength and conditioning training in America.  As this project continues in future years we hope to add additional on-line exhibitions related to the evolution of strength training science, on women and strength training, and on the evolution of the personal training industry.   

To navigate through the timeline, just click and drag the timeline with your mouse.  You can also advance the timeline by clicking on the layout boxes below the content areas or by using the slider box at the top of the page.

Please send comments and corrections to info@starkcenter.org.


Click here to view an abbreviated bibliography of references for this project. (Adobe Reader Required)

Ancient Greece

Although many ancient cultures practiced rock lifting and other primitive forms of weight lifting, credit has traditionally been given to the Greeks for introducing the concept of progressive resistance training to the world of sports. Although the evidence is relatively scarce it appears that the ancient Greeks lifted weights to test their strength and used a variety of implements to improve themselves for sport competitions.

Ancient olympics

Seventh Century B.C.: Olympic Games Begin

The first Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C. at Mount Olympia. They consisted of a single race of 200 meters. As the games evolved footraces were also held at distances of 400 meters and 8000 meters. In 708 B.C., the pentathlon and wrestling were added to the Olympic lineup. Don Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World
(Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), pp. 120.

Sixth Century B.C.

On the island of Thera a large volcanic rock weighing 966 pounds (480 kilos) is inscribed in with the following words: "Eumastas, son of Kritobulos, lifted me from the ground." The inscription is written in a spiral. No records exist as to how high or in what method this lift was made. Some scholars regard this as a satirical reference, and we know from modern "Strongman" contests that no one could lift such a stone from the ground using only his hands; some sort of harness or platform would have been needed.Don Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 120.

H.A. Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), 142-4.

Nigel B. Crowther, "Weightlifting in Antiquity: Achievement and Training," Greece & Rome, Second Series 24 (October, 1977): 112-223.

Throwing Stones of Ancient Greece

Bybon's StoneBybon's Stone is on display at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia in Greece.

Throwing Stones of Ancient Greece

Near Olympia, a roughly rectangular block of red sandstone (27" x 15" x 13") weighing 315.25 pounds (143 kilos) is inscribed in a spiral to read "Bybon threw me over his head with one hand."

In the valley of Kladeus, about two miles from Olympia, a rectangular stone about 8" thick, 13" wide and 16" long is inscribed with these words: "I am the throwing stone of Xenareus." The stone is estimated to weigh about 100 pounds.

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Fifth Century B.C. (500-400 B.C.): Strength Training for Sport Emerges

The inclusion of pentathlon, wrestling, boxing and pankration to the Olympics (and the three other major sporting festivals held regularly in Ancient Greece: the Pythian, Nemean and Isthmian Games) meant that strength became an increasingly important aspect of athletic fitness during the Fifth Century B.C.

Wrestlers Roman-era statue called "The Wrestlers" at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Importance of Strength in Early Olympics

While the diskos (discus) and javelin were thrown for distance and were often heavier than our modern implements, the early forerunners of the dumbbell—called by the Greeks alteres or halteres are the first man made implements used for purposive exercise by the Greeks. In the beginning, halteres were mainly used to help add distance in jumping contests. In fact, the oldest jumping weight ever found is known is the Halter of Epainetos, and bears the inscription: "Epainetos by means of this won the jump." Made of lead, it was discovered at Eleusis, near Athens, and is believed to be from either the late seventh or early sixth century B.C. It weighs four pounds two ounces. Paul Tasch, "Conservation of Momentum in Antiquity. A Note on the Prehistory of the Principle of Jet-Propulsion," Isis 43 (September, 1952): 251-2.

Additonal Resources

"From Milo to Milo: A History of Barbells, Dumbells, and Indian Clubs," by Jan Todd, Iron Game History 3(6) (April 1995) (Adobe Reader Required).

The Boxer

Plaster copy of the ancient Greek statue known as the "Boxer of Quirinal" on display at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center.

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Approximately 550 B.C.: Milo of Crotona is Born

Milo of Crotona was reportedly the first man to use resistance training to prepare himself for athletic competition.

Milo of Crotona

Nearly every book that mentions the history of strength training cites Milo, a six-time champion in wrestling in the ancient Olympic Games, as "the father of progressive resistance exercise." The claim is then made that Milo lifted a calf (generally referred to as a bull calf) every day and that as the calf grew larger Milo grew stronger. While Milo was prodigiously strong and had a wrestling career that spanned 24 years (536-512 B.C.) and included victories in 31 Panhellenic contests, there is relatively scant evidence to support this claim. Writing several hundred years after Milo's own Sixth Century B.C., the Roman essayist Quintilian provides the only tale describing Milo using an animal for training purposes. ["Milo, quem vitulum assueverat ferre, taurum ferebat." (1.9.5)] The genesis of the legend appears to come from an exhibition Milo supposedly gave at Olympia when he reportedly walked a distance in the main arena carrying across his shoulders a four-year-old bull. Since the author Athenaeus then reports that Milo killed the bull and ate it in a single day there is room for skepticism about this story. However, like many other athletes of the ancient period, there is no reason to think that Milo didn't train with rocks and other kinds of weights as was common in the ancient period. Jan Todd, "From Milo to Milo: A History of Barbells, Dumbbells, and Indian Clubs,"Iron Game History 3(6) (April 1995): 4-13.

Nigel B. Crowther, "Weightlifting in Antiquity: Achievement and Training," Greece & Rome, Second Series 24 (October, 1977): 111-20.

Rachel Sargent Robinson, Sources for the History of Greek Athletics in English Translation, (By the author, 1955), 195.

Donald G. Kyle, Sport and Spectacle in the Ancient World (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 200-1.


Milo reportedly died when, as an older man, he was walking in the woods and spied a stump that woodcutters had been trying to split. A wedge had been left in the stump and so Milo decided to see if he could pull the stump apart with his bare hands. As he pulled, the stump opened enough for the wedge to fall out but then the tree snapped shut, trapping his hand. Unable to release himself, he was helpless when wild animals discovered him and then devoured him. The painting by Charles Meynier (1768-1832) entitled "Milo of Croton, Attempting to Test His Strength, Is Caught and Devoured by a Lion," is provided courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, in Montreal, Canada.

Additional Resources

Jan Todd, "From Milo to Milo: A History of Barbells, Dumbbells, and Indian Clubs," Iron Game History 3(6) (April 1995): 4-13.(Adobe Reader Required)

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Approximately 100 B.C.: Early Implements for Resistance Training

By the time Greece was under Roman rule halteres were as likely to be used for physical training, as they were as an aid to jumping. In addition to halteres, the philosopher Epictetus described training with a "leather roof, a mortar and a pestle."

Read more about Club Training

More on Early Strength Training Implements

In the early Roman era, Classicist H.A. Harris suggests that the pestle and mortar reference may refer to larger than normal implements bearing the same name as our modern ones but that these used for weight training exercises. Epictetus describes the use of the pestle, which normally was a cylindrical carved rock with one end larger than the other, in a passage that discusses the fact that some exercises, although painful are also beneficial. "The trainer is acting rightly," he writes, "when he says 'Lift that pestle with both hands'; and the heavier the pestle is, the more good it does me." As for the mortar, traditionally a bowl with handles in which grains or spices are ground by the use of the pestle, Harris suggests that this may be a slang name for circular weight—perhaps one with handles—that could be lifted overhead.

However, another possible explanation exists for this passage. India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and many other early cultures have wrestling traditions that predate the written records in those countries. (In India the sport is believed to have existed at least as early as the Fifth Century B.C.) Throughout this region—much of which became part of the Roman Empire--resistance training played a major role in the preparation of wrestlers in all these cultures. Common to all of them was the use of heavy clubs, which in India were called gadas and closely resemble a pestle in shape. The Indians also used mugdals, clubs with rocks attached to one end that are believed to be the precursor of modern Indian clubs, and they used a variety of stone weights—called nals--which were hollowed out like bowls and then had a handle inserted in the middle for lifting. Although we cannot know for certain, gadas and nals do resemble the "mortar and pestle" mentioned by Epictetus. Indians also trained with another implement—a heavy circular stone ring called a gar nal that at times weighed as much as 100 pounds. These rings were worn around the neck when doing deep knee bends or squats. Some men even wore them when running. In the early twentieth century, Gama Bakesh, the wrestler who became known as The Great Gama, reportedly ran a mile every day with a 120-pound ring around his neck in his training. N.E. Gardiner, Athletics of the Ancient World (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 6.

H.A. Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), 148-149

Joseph Alter, "Gama the World Champion, Wrestling and Physical Culture in Colonial India," Iron Game History 4 (October, 1995): 3-4.

Additional Resources

Gama the World Champion (Iron Game History, Vol 4 Num. 2) (Adobe Reader Required)


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Approximately 100 A.D.

The Roman satirist Juvenal suggests in a passage that some Roman women may have trained with weights: "It is at night that she goes to the baths, at night that she gives orders for her oil-flasks and other impedimenta to be taken there; she loves to sweat among the noise and bustle. When her arms fall to her sides, worn out by the heavy weights, the skillful masseur presses his fingers into her body." Juvenal even disapprovingly suggests, in another part of The Satires, that some women trained to become gladiators and battled wild boar in the arena. Juvenal, The Satires, Rolfe Humphries, trans. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), 6: 268-82.


129-200 A.D.: Galen

The Roman physician Galen (129-200 A.D.) is often considered the first sports medicine specialist because of his work with the gladiators of Pergamum and his authorship of several treatises on the therapeutic benefits of exercise.

129-200 A.D.: Galen


Galen, who practiced medicine the city of Pergamum in what is now modern Turkey, wrote two major treatises on exercise during his lifetime: De Sanitate Tuenda, and Regimen. These books introduced ideas on exercise and healthy living that remained influential into the nineteenth century.

Galen suggests that we must distinguish between regimen or the things we do for daily health and those we do for "exercise", a word he uses to describe specific movements and modes of training to change the physiological condition into the state of superior strength and fitness needed for athletics. More than anyone else up to that time Galen approached the study of exercise from a scientific perspective. He argued that physicians could help to determine proper exercise prescriptions by watching respiration and that the criterion of vigorousness is change of respiration; those movements which do not alter the respiration he argued should not be called exercise. Galen understood that strength was the key to athletic function, writing: Strength has the same relationship to function as good condition has to health.

Galen discusses halteres for a variety of jumping exercises - broad jumps, high jumps, and jumping from low to high places. However, he then goes further and describes exercises using weighted implements upon the shoulders, head and feet. These body weights were called plummets and were used in exercises to systematically strengthen the body. Galen also recommended training with wooden implements, and wrote that gout patients should use a piece of wood "with a piece of lead enclosed" until they were strong enough to use heavier implements. Jack Berryman, "Ancient and Early Influences," in Exercise Physiology: People and Ideas, Charles Tipton, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2003), 1-38.

Jack Berryman, "The Tradition of the Six Things Non-Natural: Exercise and Medicine from Hippocrates through Ante-Bellum America," Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 17 (1989): 518-19.

R. M. Green, A Translation of Galen's Hygiene (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1951), 53-4.

J.W.F. Blundell, The Muscles and Their Story from the Earliest Times; Including the Whole Text of Mercurialis, and the Opinions of Other Writers, Ancient and Modern, on Mental and Bodily Development (London, Chapman and Hall, 1864), 165-71.

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Etching from De Arte Gynastica Aput Ancientes

170-244 A.D.: Flavius Philostratus Argues to Make Training a Science

Flavius Philostratus (circa 170-244 A.D.) writes Gymnasticus, an attack on the lack of care and attention many trainers took in preparing athletes for competitions.

Flavius Philostratus Argues to Make Training a Science

Philostratus argues that training could become a true science if trainers would take better care of their gymnasiums and learn to regard each athlete individually. He suggests a pretesting or assessment to determine an athlete's state of fitness and argued that trainers should then individualize their exercise and nutrition program based on the athetes' condition. Philostratus also introduced an early form of periodization suggesting the use of a four day cycle of exercises at varying intensities which he called a tetrad. This approach, he believed, would produce faster improvement and allow athletes to reach higher levels of physical performance than other methods then in use.

Philostratus also introduces the idea of sport specificity suggesting that there are three kinds of sporting events—heavy, light and mixed. Men who practiced wrestling, boxing and pankration, he argued, needed greater physical strength than men in light sports such as distance running whose training should primarily mimic their sport. Heavy athletes, Philostratus claimed should be "exercised by carrying heavy burdens," while other athletes should be "competing in speed with horses and hares." He also suggests that heavy athletes should be "bending and straightening thick iron plates, having themselves yoked with powerful oxen, and finally, train to be able to subdue bulls or even lions."

In Philostratus' era, there were several different types of halteres used in sport and training. The kind used for jumping were made so that one end was heavier than the other and the handle was generally slightly curved. Others however were much more cylindrical or oblong in nature and looked somewhat like a modern hourglass. Philostratus alludes to these differences when he writes:

"The halter is an invention of the pentathletes, but was invented for the jump, from which it receives its name; for the rules of the game consider the jump a difficult type of contest and inspire the jumper with the music of the flute and give him wings with the jumping weight; . . . the oblong jumping weights, however, exercise the arms and shoulders, the roundish ones also the fingers. Light and heavy athletes ought to employ them along with all exercises."

According to medical historian Jack Berryman, Philostratus provides us with one of the clearest statements of the benefits of resistance training for athletes from the ancient period.Jack Berryman, "Ancient and Early Influences," in Exercise Physiology: People and Ideas, Charles Tipton, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2003), 8.

Jason König; "Training Athletes and Explaining the Past in Philostratus' Gymnasticus," Philostratus  J Elsner ed, (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Thomas Woody, “Philostratus: Concerning Gymnastics,” Research Quarterly, 7(1936): 3-26.

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St. Jerome

Approximately 400 A.D.: St. Jerome Describes Stone Lifting

St. Jerome, one of the early founders of the Catholic Church describes the stone lifting practices of Judea.

Stone Lifting

The translation reads: "In the cities of Palestine there is an ancient custom, kept up to this day throughout the world of Judea, that in the villages, towns and strongholds, round stones are set out with which young men must take exercise. They lift them according to their individual powers, some up to their knees, others to their middle, others as high as their shoulders or head. A few raise the weights above the head, straightening their arms, thus showing off their great strength." Jerome also described a similar exercise practiced by the Athenians with metal balls instead of boulders. H.A. Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), 150.

Nigel B. Crowther, "Weightlifting in Antiquity: Achievement and Training," Greece and Rome 24 (October 1977): 115.

Samuel S. Kotteck, "Physical Exercise and Training in Ancient Jewish Lore," Iron Game History 4 (September 1996): 18-20.

Additional Resources

"Physical Exercise and Training in Ancient Jewish Lore," (Iron Game History, Volume 4: Number 4) (Adobe Reader Required)

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Approximately 500-1450 A.D.: The Middle Ages

After the Roman Empire fell in 476 A.D., there are few references to strength training for sport for the next 1000 years. In large part this is because organized sporting contests like the Olympics could no longer be held as Europe was reduced to a patchwork of warring principalities. Almost no records exist suggesting that physical training continued to play an important role in people's lives in Western Europe during this millennium except when it was used to help prepare men for combat. However, even that evidence is scant on the European continent. What is known is that soldiers sometimes trained with heavier swords than they would use in battle, an early example of what modern strength coaches would call the "Overload Principle," and as armor became increasingly heavy and covered more of a knight's body—weights were used to help build enough strength to mount the big war horses and fight with their heavy broadswords and lances. For those interested in this topic, David P. Willoughby in The Super Athletes, includes an excellent discussion of some of the reputed feats of strength performed during the Middle Ages by soldiers and knights. As for sport, while there were tournaments in which knights jousted and fought with swords, and fairs and festivals for the lower classes that often included wrestling matches, there's no surviving evidence that suggests anyone trained systematically during this time in order to be a better athlete for these contests.David P. Willoughby, The Super Athletes, (South Brunswick, NJ: A.S. Barnes, 1970), 34-7.

Greg Malszecki, "The Armoured Body: Knightly Training and Techniques for Combative Sports in the High Middle Ages" in Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe, John McClelland and Brian Merrileee, eds., (Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies: 2010).


St. Jerome

1450-1650: The Renaissance

One consequence of the great Crusades was that some Europeans who travelled to the Middle East discovered libraries containing copies of many of the most important writings on health and fitness from Ancient Greece and Rome. Once rediscovered by the Crusaders, these ancient texts travelled back with them to Europe where they excited much interest in the idea of physical training and served as a catalyst for the inclusion of physical education in some schools. They also created a widespread enthusiasm for the Greek bodily ideal which stimulated an outpouring of new heroic sculpture during the Renaissance. Although there was no revival of the Olympic Games in this era, a number of people made the connection between exercise and sport performance. Terry Todd, "The History of Resistance Exercise and Its Role in United States Education" (PhD. diss., University of Texas, 1966).

1531 & 1544: Renaissance Authors Elyot and Camerarius Suggest Weight Training

Elyot's book was the earliest Renaissance publication to clearly connect resistance training to sport improvement. In it he not only suggested his Renaissance contemporaries follow the advice in Galen's De Sanitate Tuenda, but he went on to write that a good routine for a man would be walking and "labouring with poises [weights] made of lead or other metal called in Latin alteres," and he wrote that they should also practice, "lifting and throwing the heavy stone or bar, playing at tennis, and divers semblable exercises."

In 1544, German educator Joachim Camerarius released Dialogues des Gymnastica, a book that contains instructions for dumbbell exercises as well as ancient wisdom on the best methods to improve health. S.E. Lehmberg, ed., Sir Thomas Elyot, The Boke Named the Governor (London: J.M Dent & Sons, a962), 59-60.

Joachim Camerarius, Dialogues des Gymnasticus, 1544.

De Arte Gymnastica

1569: De Arte Gymnastica Aput Ancientes

Hieronymus Mercurialis' De Arte Gymnastica Aput Ancientes, was first published in Venice, Italy. Primarily a compilation of ancient ideas on medicine and exercise, this heavily illustrated text remained in print for more than a century with subsequent editions appearing in 1573, 1587, 1600, 1614 and 1672.

1569: De Arte Gymnastica Aput Ancientes

De Arte Gymnastica's author was one of the most famous physicians of the Renaissance. Educated at Padua, Mercurialis served as personal physician to Emperor Maximilian II and was knighted by him in 1573 following a successful cure. De Arte Gymnastica introduced to Western thought many of the training principles that continue to influence contemporary approaches to physical training. The book revived an interest in Galen and the training methods of the ancient Greeks; and its numerous illustrations—though primitively drawn by modern standards—suggest a bodily ideal which could only be possible through systematic resistance training. Medical historian L.H. Joseph noted of Gymnastica, "In reality, all the books on gymnastics [physical training] of the next centuries are based on this standard work of Mercurialis."

Mercurialis advocated a variety of exercise methods and exercise devices. He discussed the advantages of walking, throwing the discus, rope climbing, and ball games. For purposive training Mercurialis recommended heavy balls filled with sand—forerunners of modern medicine balls—and halteres or dumbbells. One of the most interesting aspects of Mercurialis' text was the shape of the handweights. No longer curved like the ancient halteres, the dumbbells pictured in Mercurialis' text resemble two conical pyramids stuck together by their heads. Mercurialis also described the use of the "tabula plumb" [plummets], the heavy sheets of rock or lead described by Galen hundreds of years earlier. Hieronymus Mercurialis, De Arte Gymnastica (Amsterdam: 1672). Reprint edition, The Scholars Press, Ilkey England.

John W. F. Blundell, The Muscles and Their Story, from the Earliest Times; Including the Whole Text of Mercurialis, and the Opinions of Other Writers Ancient and Modern, on Mental and Bodily Development (London: Chapman & Hall, 1864).


This illustration from Hieronymus Mercurialis' Sixteenth Century work, De Arte Gymnastica, show dumbbells, and heavy plates being used for training in an ancient gymnasium. Note the heavy musculature of the men.

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1577: John Northbrooke of England Recommends Weight Training

Northbrooke's treatise, aimed at gambling and dancing, recommended as a desirable system of exercise that young men "labor with poises of leade or other metal" and that they practice "...lifting and throwing of the stone, barre or bowl, with hand or foot." The word poise is derived from the Middle English "poyse" meaning weight. John Northbrooke, Treatise Wherein Dicing, Dauncing, Vaine Playes or Enterluds, with Other Idle Pastimes, &c., Commonly Used on the Sabaoth Day, and Reproued by the Authoritie of the Word of God and Auntient Writers (London: 1577), 106-107. Viewed at Archive.org.

This same passage is quoted in Joseph Strutt, The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England (London, Chatto & Windus, 1898), 142.

1580: Michel de Montaigne Describes Weight Training for Sport


1580 French essayist Michel de Montaigne in Essay on Drunkenness described his father as "a man of little stature, very strong, well proportioned, and well knit; of a pleasing countenance," and who was, "very adroit in all noble exercises." According to Montaigne, his father had wooden canes at his home, filled with lead, that he used "to strengthen his arms for throwing the bar or the stone, or in fencing; and shoes with leaden soles to make him lighter for running or leaping." Montaigne then goes on to explain that his father retained his explosive strength into a great age. "Of his vaulting he has left little miracles behind him; I have seen him when past three score (60 years) laugh at our exercises, and throw himself in his furred gown into the saddle, make the tour of a table upon his thumbs, and scarce ever mount the stairs into his chamber without taking three or four steps at a time."Michel de Montaigne, “Of Drunkenness,” Essays, No. 8 (Paris: 1580). Viewed at: Google books

1711: Joseph Addison Describes his Dumbbell Exercises

Joseph Addison, the British poet and essayist [1672-1719] wrote in his magazine, The Spectator, that he learned of dumbbell exercises from "a Latin treatise . . . written with great erudition," a statement suggesting his indebtedness to the Mercurialis' work on Gymnastica.

Read about Addison's influence on dumbbell training

1711: Joseph Addison

On 12 July 1711, in The Spectator Addison wrote, "When I was some years younger than I am at present, I used to employ myself in a more laborious diversion . . . it is there called . . . the fighting with a man's own shadow; and consists in the brandishing of two short sticks, grasped in each hand, and loaded with plugs of lead at either end. This opens the chest, exercises the limbs and gives a man all the pleasure of boxing, without the blows." Although Addison's description of these hand-held implements coincides with our modern understanding of what is meant by the term "dumbbell," he does not use the word to refer to these wood and iron implements.

Instead, in the same issue of The Spectator, Addison described what sounds like an entirely different type of "dumbbell" training. "For my own part, when I am in town," he wrote, "I exercise myself an hour every morning upon a dumb bell that is placed in a corner of my room, and [it] pleases me the more because it does everything I require of it in most profound silence. My landlady and her daughters are so well acquainted with my hours of exercise that they never come into my room to disturb me whilst I am ringing." Exactly what Addison meant by this quotation is unfortunately no longer clear. Does he refer to the swinging or "ringing" of an implement similar in appearance and function to our modern dumbbell or does he refer to an implement that more closely resembled a hand-held bell or Indian club? Were early "dumbbells" actually what the word implies—bell-shaped forms cast from the molds used to make hand bells but either poured solid or made without a clapper or tongue so that they were "dumb?" Although every sport historian to whom we have posed this question felt that this explanation for the term was the most likely, we have not found any historical discussion, or renderings, of people doing any sort of physical training with bell-shaped implements prior to 1830, and by that time the word "dumbbell" was in common usage. In fact, the only discussion of using bell-shaped implements for purposive training that we have found appeared in an anonymously published 1831 text on women's exercise entitled A Course of Calisthenics for Young Ladies in Schools and Families With Some Remarks on Physical Education. In that book, the author described using small bells to perform a rhythmic calisthenics movement called The Spanish Step in which, "bells are sometimes used, not dumb but tongueless. They are made with a wooden handle and a bell weighing about a pound. They are brought together and hit accurately so as to sound."

Addison's use of "dumb" in the second passage most likely referred to a now archaic use of the word "dumb-bell," which The Oxford English Dictionary defined as "an apparatus, like that for swinging a church-bell, but without the bell itself, and thus making no noise, in the 'ringing' of which bodily exercise was taken." According to David Webster's The Iron Game, an apparatus of this sort was used at one time at Lord Sackville's estate at Knowle, England. "The pulley-like apparatus had four iron arms each with a leaden ball at the end, like an ordinary hand dumb-bell. Although the pulley apparatus was like a church-bell and the hand weights were like hand bells, neither rang or clanged so were termed dumb bells." Continuing, Webster added, "Pulleys were also used by those first learning bell ringing; on these occasions the clapper was tied back to produce dumb-bells." How common these dumbbell machines were is unknown, however the two uses of the term make it difficult to evaluate eighteenth century references to "dumbbells."Chancellor Ferguson's Papers to the Archaeological Institute in 1895, quoted in David P. Webster, The Iron Game (Irvine, Scotland: by the author, 1976), 7.

Jan Todd, "The Strength Builders: A History of Barbells, Dumbbells and Indian Clubs", International Journal of the History of Sport 20 (March, 2003): 70.

Joseph Addison, “Ut sit Mens Sano in Coprore Sano,” The Spectator, No. 115 (12 July 1711).

David P. Webster The Iron Game (Irvine, by the Author: 1978), 7-8.

(Anonymous) A Course of Calisthenics for Young Ladies in Schools and Families With Some Remarks on Physical Education (Hartford: Huntington, 1831).

Additional Resources


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1772: Ben Franklin Describes the Benefits of Dumbbell Training

In a letter to his son dated 19 August 1772, Ben Franklin provides one of the earliest explanations of the physiological benefits of weight training.


1772: Ben Franklin

Franklin wrote in that letter that he favored strenuous exercises which could be done in short periods of time and that the best way to judge an exercise's merit was by the amount of warmth it produced in the body. "There is more exercise in one mile's riding on horseback than in five in a coach; and more in one mile's walking on foot than in five on horseback," he explained. Dumbbell training, he explained, was an excellent way to produce bodily warmth. "By the use of it, I have in forty swings, quickened my pulse from sixty to one hundred beats in a minute, counted by a second watch, and I suppose the warmth generally increases with quickness of pulse." In another letter, written in 1786 when he was eighty years old, Franklin answered a friend's query about his longevity with the statement that "I live temperately, drink no wine, and use daily the exercise of the dumb-bell." Benjamin Franklin to his son, 19 August 1772, quoted in Albert Henry Smyth ed. The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 5 (New York, 1905), 411-12.

Benjamin Franklin to Le Veillard, 22 April 1786, quoted in Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (New York: The Viking Press, 1938), 743.


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1799: James Makittrick Adair Recommends the Lead Exercise

Physician James Makittrick Adair publishes An Essay on Regimen, for the Preservation of Health, Especially of the Indolent, Studious, and Delicate and Invalid that contains a lengthy description of the positive benefits of the "lead exercise," which he recommends for those who are both sick and well."

An Essay on Regimen, for the Preservation of Health, Especially of the Indolent, Studious, and Delicate and Invalid

Adair echoes Franklin's belief that training with "the leads" as he calls them—provided greater physical stimulation than other forms of exercise and in a shorter time. He recommends using leads weighing about a pound for a combination partial squat and front raise in sets of up to 300-400 repetitions at a time. He writes:

"This exercise is performed in the following manner: procure two pieces of lead, from between half a pound to a pound weight each, according to the strength of the arms, either in the form of a bullet, or oblong, like a rolling pin; when used, the person is to stand upright, with his toes a little turned out; raise the leads nearly close to each other, opposite the pit of the stomach, bending the knees at the same time; then thrust the arms down smartly, as far as they will go without stooping, and straighten the knees at the same instant, and thus continue these opposite motions, alternately, and quickly, until the arms feel slightly weary and repeat it three or four times a day, especially before breakfast, dinner and going to bed."[2]

Adair was 73 years old at the time he wrote this passage and went on to claim that the "lead exercise" had not only cured him of gout and imperfect digestion but that it had also developed a "pliancy of my legs, and arms, rarely met with at my time of life," and that he considered it a superior exercise even to walking because of the stimulation it provided the entire body. Although Adair makes no mention of using weights for athletic training in his treatise, his description of the lead exercise inspired many other early exercise advocates, including Sir. John Sinclair also included in this timeline. James M. Adair, An Essay on Regimen, for the Preservation of Health, Especially of the Indolent, Studious, Delicate and Invalid (London: printed by J. & P. Wilson for the author: 1799), 64


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Guts Muths

1802: Gymnastics for Youth is Translated

In Germany, several educational innovators began experimenting with physical education programs that involved early forms of resistance training. In 1802, an English language edition of J. C. F. Guts Muths' Gymnastics for Youth, appeared.

Gymnastics for Youth


Illustration of an outdoor exercise session from the 1802 edition of Gymnastics for Youth.

Designed as a textbook for educators, Gutsmuths book contained an interesting description of an implement similar to the "Weaver-stick," a device twentieth-century lifters have used to test wrist and forearm strength.GutsMuths' implement consisted of a pair of wooden staffs six feet in length and notched at regular intervals. One to two pound weights were then suspended from the notches and moved further out the staff as wrist and shoulder strength increased. GutsMuths' devices were used in the manner of a deltoid raise. "The person lifting is to stand upright, with his breast projecting forward; hold one of the instruments in each hand, with a straight arm; raise them slowly, both together, a little above the horizontal line; and let them down again in same manner. In the repetition of this exercise, the weight is to be moved further and further [away from the body] as long as the strength of the arms will admit." To further increase upper body strength GutsMuths advised holding sandbags either at arms-length in front of the shoulders, with the arms out to the sides in a crucifix position, or with the arms down at the sides.J.C.F. Gutsmuths, Gymnastics of Youth: Or a Practical Guide to Delightful and Amusing Exercises for the Use of Schools (London: 1799 & Philadelphia, William Duane, 1802), 316.

Jan Todd, “The Classical Ideal and the Search for Suitable Exercise,” Iron Game History 2(4) (November 1992): 6-16.

Edward Mussey Hartwell, “The Principal Types of Physical Training Compared,” Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 125(26) (17 December 1891): 665-669. Viewed at: Google Books

Additional Resources

The Origins of German Bodybuilding (Iron Game History, Vol 9 Num. 2) (Adobe Reader Required)

Jan Todd, "The Classical Ideal and the Search for Suitable Exercise," ( Iron Game History 2(4) (November 1992): 6-16. (Adobe Reader Required)

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1806: Sir John Sinclair's Analysis of the Training Methods of Athletes

Sinclair, (1754-1835) a Scottish baronet, Member of Parliament, and avid sportsman, published A Collection of Papers on the Subject of Athletic Exercises in 1806, and The Result of the Inquiries Regarding Athletic Exercises Recently Made by Sir John Sinclair in 1807.

1806: Sir John Sinclair

The ideas contained in these two small volumes were then condensed in Sinclair's magnum opus, a four volume anthology called, The Code of Health and Longevity; Or, A Concise View of the Principles Calculated for The Preservation of Health, and The Attainment of Long Life also published in 1807.

Sinclair saw in the bodies of pugilists, jockeys and wrestlers a strength and vigor he found missing among his peers and so decided to systematically investigate how athletes trained, what they ate, and what other methods of conditioning they employed in preparation for competition. In this era, the "physicking" of athletes was considered as important as sport-specific training so throughout these three works there is detailed information on how boxers, wrestlers, jockeys and pedestrians (runners) were sweated, purged, and denied water in the mistaken belief that the body's tissues should be as "dry" as possible for competition. There is also a wealth of information on conditioning methods, massage, and nutrition for athletes. Much of what Sinclair's experts then recommended is diametrically opposite of what is now considered common wisdom. Water, for example, was rarely recommended.

Sinclair's attempt to understand the state of training in Great Britain was in essence an attempt to assess the value of exercise through scientific inquiry. Though Sinclair was also interested in historical confirmation of his theories, and the Code of Health contains lengthy passages from many ancient and Renaissance writers, one of the great contribution of Sinclair's work is the accurate picture it presents of sporting practices at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Like Adair and others in this era, Sinclair was also an advocate for weight training as a method of working toward improved health. Sinclair refers to them as swing-leads or dumb-bells, writing: "A quantity of lead is sometimes formed into a shape, by which it can be grasped by the hands, for the purpose of being swung about. Articles of that sort are known under the name of swing-leads, or dumb-bells. They are mentioned as a mode of exercise, by an author who wrote in the time of Queen Elizabeth; and a pastime, of nature somewhat similar, in one of the numbers of the Spectator as excellent for opening the chest, exercising the limbs, and giving a man all the pleasure of boxing without the blows. As commonly used, dumb-bells are certainly a partial exercise; but by frequent[ly] altering the posture of the body, and taking the exercise with open windows, it is found highly beneficial." Sinclair refers in this quote to John Northbrooke and Joseph Addison, and directly quotes Dr. Adair, also mentioned in this timeline. Sir John Sinclair, A Collection of Papers on the Subject of Athletic Exercises (London: printed by E. Blackader, 1806).

Sir John Sinclair, Result of the Inquiries Regarding Athletic Exercises Recently Made by Sir John Sinclair (London: 1807).


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1809: Father Ludwig Jahn and the Birth of German Gymastics

GutsMuths' Gymnastics for Youth was an inspiration to several generations of physical educators in Europe and the United States in the early nineteenth century. German educator Fredrich Ludwig Jahn was particularly inspired by Guts Muths ideas and incorporated them with his own understanding of Greek athletic training for a new approach to mass physical education


German Gymnastics

German Gymnastics

Jahn Gym

In 1809, Jahn began holding voluntary outdoor exercise classes near his school in Halle, Germany. His methods caught on quickly and soon throughout Germany Turner (gymnastics) clubs formed where men and boys met together to exercise

The exercise system they preached was called turnen or "gymnastics" although the exercises performed in their classes were a combination of jumping, leaping, rope and ladder climbing, weight training and work on traditional gymnastics apparatus such as parallel bars and an early version of the pommel horse. According to German weight training expert Edgar Mueller, Turnen included "exercises with iron bars," a meter in length and weighing from two to three kilos. Mueller claimed that these iron bars, called Eisenstäbe, were first introduced by GutsMuths and were "used for different two handed lifts, especially for exercises with straight arms (in front, overhead and back)."

As the century wore on, the Turner clubs helped spread the idea of resistance training throughout Germany in the nineteenth century, and in a few isolated pockets the lifting of heavy weights became a major focus of the Turner program. "Carl Schöbig told me," Mueller wrote, "that in Leipzig's oldest Turnverein . . . weightlifting with heavy globe barbells was practiced by the gymnasts (Turners) since 1865." Mueller explained that this claim was based not on Schöbig's personal experience but on what he had been told by older members of the Turnverein used a weightlifting club had formed in Munich by 1878, and the next year a second club formed at Wandsbeck, near Hamburg. By the end of the nineteenth century the lifting of heavy weights as part of the turnen experience was common throughout Germany.Jurgen Giessing and Jan Todd, "The Origins of German Bodybuilding: 1790-1970," Iron Game History 9(2) (December 2005): 8-11.

Edgar Mueller, "History of the Two Hands Jerk," original manuscript, The Ottley Coulter Collection, The H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports, The University of Texas at Austin.

Additional Resources

The Origins of German Bodybuilding: 1790 to 1970 (Iron Game History, Vol 9 Num. 2) (Adobe Reader Required)

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German Gymnastics

1825: German Gymnastics Arrive in America

German gymnastics enthusiast Charles Beck immigrated to America in 1825 and with his fellow immigrant Charles Follen took a position at the Round Hill School in Massachusetts where they introduced German Gymnastics to their male students. In 1828, Beck, published A Treatise on Gymnasticks, Taken Chiefly from the German of F.L. Jahn, a book that included directions for seventeen dumbbell exercises. In fact, Beck writes in his book that, "these hand held appliances are too well known to require a particular description."

In his Treatise on Gymnastics Beck describes how to use the same notched stick with weights, Guts Muths's sand-bag exercises, and two new innovations—an adjustable weight "dynamometron" and a "beam" loaded with weights. Beck described the latter apparatus as a heavy beam, like a balance beam, with an attached ring-handle. The beam was then placed on a stand approximately three feet high, the ring held in one hand, "the arm being stretched, and held, whilst the beam is removed from its point of gravity or loaded with weights." The "dynamometron" described by Beck consisted of a heavily built wooden box, three inches high and approximately fifteen inches square. Inside the box were partitions creating 144 one-inch holes to hold small plugs of lead used to vary the weight. The four squares in the center of the box were removed to admit an eight-inch handle, which was then firmly attached to the bottom of the box. Beck does not explain how to use this implement, other than to say that two dynamometrons should be used simultaneously to keep the body in balance. That these implements were widely used is unlikely. They do appear, however, to be the first resistance appliances specially designed to incorporate the idea of variable weight since the time of the ancient Greek plummets.C. Beck, A Treatise on Gymnasticks, Taken Chiefly from the German of F.L. Jahn (Northampton, MA: Simeon Butler, 1828), 123-4.

Erich Geldbach Marburg – Cappel, “The Beginning of German Gymnastics in America,” Journal of Sports History 3(3) (Fall 1976): 236-272.

Additional Resources

Erich Geldbach Marburg – Cappel, "The Beginning of German Gymnasticsin America, Journal of Sports History, 3(3) (Fall 1976): 236-272 (Adobe Reader Required)

1834: Donald Walker's Manly Exercises etc.

Walker's Clubs

Donald Walker, under the pen name "Craven," published British Manly Exercises: In Which Rowing and Sailing are Now First Discussed in 1834.

Donald Walker

Aimed at Britain's upper classes, Walker's book went through numerous editions and by 1888, when the 11th edition appeared, its title also included Riding, Driving, Racing, Hunting, Shooting "and Other Manly Sports."Walker's Manly Exercises was significant on a number of levels, but particularly because of the direct connection it suggested between physical training and sport participation. Walker was a great advocate of Indian Clubs, which had been introduced to England in the early nineteenth century by returning British military men who had learned of their use in India. In the books he included exercises using both light-weight clubs (under five pounds) and a number of far more rigorous exercises with much heavier clubs. Walker also published a women's training manual in 1837 entitled Exercises for Ladies that advocated light-weight club training, the same year that he published an "appendix" to Manly Exercises titled, Games and Sport: Being an Appendix to Manly Exercises and Exercises for Ladies.Donald Walker, Games and Sports: Being an Appendix to Manly Exercises and Exercises for Ladies. (London: 1837).

Jan Todd, "The Strength Builders: A History of Barbells, Dumbbells, and Indian Clubs," International Journal of the History of Sport 20 (March, 2003): 65-90.

Craven (Donald Walker), British Manly Exercises: In Which Rowing and Sailing are Now First Discussed (London: 1834). The eleventh edition was entitled: Walker's Manly Exercises: Containing Rowing, Sailing, Riding, Driving, Racing, Hunting, Shooting and other Manly Sports (London: George Bell and Sons, 1888).

Donald Walker, Exercises for Ladies Calculated to Improve Beauty and Prevent and Correct Personal Defects  (London: Thomas Hurst, 1835).

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1835: William Wood Opens First Commercial Gym in New York City

William Wood was the first of a number of American gym owners who were not only serious weightlifters but also great all-round athletic competitors. During his long life, Wood competed in at least 58 different sporting competitions—rowing contests, races, and wrestling matches—and reportedly lost only four times. Wood's performance as an athlete helped people understand that strength aided athletic performance and that strength could be enhanced through training. His gymnasium became central to the emerging sport scene in New York City and was populated by wrestlers, boxers, baseball players and many competitive rowers who did dumbbell training and other forms of resistance exercise in their training. When he died, his obituary in the New York Times referred to him as the "Grandfather of Athletics in the United States." Wood's gym became particularly popular in the 1850s and 1860s as a new wave of European immigrants that included many Germans, settled along the Eastern Seaboard. Many of these Europeans were familiar with the idea of weight training because of the Turner movement in Germany and the existence other European gyms in which resistance training was common practice by the 1850s. Following Wood's lead, gyms began appearing in other American cities in the mid-nineteenth century in which men had access to dumbbells, kettlebells, and what were initially called "French dumbbells." (We would now call them them "barbells").“William Wood Dead,” New York Times, 22 September 1900.

“Local News in Brief,” New York Times, 28 January 1869.

Additional Resources

William Wood's obituary from the New York Times on September 22, 1900 (Adobe Reader Required)

Wood's Gym Exhibition from the New York Times (Adobe Reader Required)


1849: Professor Harrison of England Begins Training with Indian Clubs

Professor Harrison of England began training with Indian Clubs, or mugdahs as they were first known by the British troops who introduced them into England.

Harrison, who ran a gym and tavern in London gave an exhibition in August of 1852 in front of Queen Victoria in which he used a pair weighing 37 pounds each and then swung one club weighing 47 pounds with "perfect ease." Harrison subsequently published a small training guide Indian Clubs, Dumb-bells and Sword Exercises in which he advocated the use of dumbbells and Indian Clubs for men trying to compete in pedestrian events (what we would now call track and field) and the increasingly popular sport of rowing."Mr. Harrison's Club Exercises, at the Scottish Fete," The Illustrated London News, 14 August 1852.

Professor Harrison, Indian Clubs, Dumb-bells and Sword Exercises, 2nd ed. (London: Dean and Son, n.d.).


1850: Hippolyte Triat Opens The World's Largest Gym

Read about Hippolyte Triat's gym


Hippolyte Triat: Photo Courtesy of David Chapman

Hippolyte Triat Opens The World's Largest Gym


Triat's gym, located in central Paris, had nearly 10,000 square feet of floor space on the main floor with two two tiers of balconies above for spectators. If you look closely on the right side of the image you can see a rack of barbells that were used for group exercise classes

Triat was born in the small village of Saint-Chaptes, France in 1813. Raised by gypsies, he worked as a travelling acrobat up to the age of fifteen, then went to school for approximately six years before deciding to return to the stage as a professional strongman. By age twenty-two, he stood 5'10 1/2" tall and weighed two hundred pounds, making him a large man by early nineteenth-century standards. In 1837, he opened a gymnasium in Liege, Belgium, where dumbbell training played a significant role in the exercise routine. In 1840, he opened a gym in Brussels that he managed until 1849. He then moved to Paris and constructed an enormous gymnasium unlike any other in the world at the time. It had approximately ninety-five hundred square feet of space on the first floor with two tiers of balconies above for spectators. Many of Paris' most distinguished citizens signed up for classes. Engravings of Triat's gym from 1854 include the first known depiction of what we would now call a barbell. An advertising brochure for the gym describes "Barres A Spheres De 6 Kilos," (bars with spheres of six kilos) as well as "Gros Halteres et Barres A Deux Main," (large dumbbells and bars for two hands). How heavy these larger barbells might have been, and how they were loaded, is unknown, although Triat reportedly had a dumbbell at his gym weighing over two hundred pounds that he used in his own training. As the logo for his new enterprise, Triat adopted the emblem of a globe-ended barbell draped with a medallion and ribbon, a fact which suggests the importance of the barbell concept to his new gymnasium and training system. His motto was, "For the Regeneration of Man."David Chapman, translator & Edmond Desbonnet, "Hippolyte Triat, from Les Rois de la Force (Paris: Librairie Berger-Levrault, 1911)" in Iron Game History (July 1995).

Additional Resources

Hippolyte Triat (Iron Game History, July 1995) (Adobe Reader Required)

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1854: Hubert Ottignon and William Curtis

Charles and Hubert Brothers opened a gym at 159 Crosby Street in New York City filled with a variety of dumbbells and other equipment.

Charles and Hubert Ottignon

The gym was so successful that in 1854 Hubert Ottignon decided to expand to Chicago. Hubert's new Metropolitan Gymnasium offered classes in "gymnastics, weight lifting, fencing, boxing and rowing" and one of the first members was seventeen-year-old William Buckingham Curtis, who would go on to found the New York Athletic Club. Curtis had been a sickly child and desperately wanted to become strong and healthy.

To advertise his gym, Hubert Ottignon periodically put on public exhibitions that showcased the talents of his members—and himself—as a way to keep his gym in the public's mind. In an exhibition in early February of 1856, Ottignon demonstrated his strength and endurance by pulling down on a cable machine against 30 pounds of resistance 5000 times in an hour and five minutes. Twelve days later, on February 25th, 1856, Ottingnon competed in a foot race on a small indoor track. The distance was 1890 feet, or 15 laps of the track. Ottingon won in a time of 1 minute and 47 seconds, beating 12 other men. Four nights later, displaying another side of his athletic prowess, Ottignon gave a weightlifting exhibition to a packed house at North's Amphitheater.

In January of 1860, William Buckingham Curtis and his close friend John C. Babcock assumed the management of Ottignon's gym. Curtis had trained under Ottignon's supervision for six years by that time and like Ottignon was game to participate in any sport except boxing. From 1860 to 1872, Curtis was never beaten in the 100 yard dash and he was timed at roughly 10 seconds on dozens of occasions. He won numerous contests in sprinting, the shot put, hammer throw, and the 56-pound weight throw for height, and was an extremely successful rower.

To promote the gym, Curtis held a "mammoth gymnastics competition" in 1862 and put up $2000 as prize money for a variety of athletic contests that were held during the multi-day extravaganza. As part of that celebration, Curtis invited Dr. George Barker Windship, the famous inventor of the Health Lift, to give a talk, and then to compete in a strong man contest for a $200 prize. Although the contest was open to anyone, only one man decided to challenge Windship, William H. Thompson, who worked with Curtis at the Metropolitan Club. To the surprise of many, Thompson out-lifted Windship that evening, although the main reason for the outcome was that Curtis's lifting apparatus broke and Thompson's did not. Later, Curtis offered Windship $1000 to participate in a rematch, but the Civil War intervened and that contest never came about. Lowell M. Seida, "William Buckingham 'Father Bill' Curtis: Father of American Amateur Athletics," (Westchester, Il: by the author, 2001), 33-9, 42-3.

“Fourth Annual Exhibition at P. Ottignon’s Gymnasium,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 1 January 1858.

“The Muscle-Men at Bryan Hall,” Chicago Tribune, 8 January 1861. 

“The Chicago Athletes at Metropolitan Hall,” Chicago Tribune, 17 January 1859.

“The Foot-Race at the Amphitheatre,” Chicago Daily Tribune, 26 March 1856.


A clipping from the Pioneer and Democrat (Vol. 8 Num. 13, 1860)

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1854: Harvard University Student George Barker Windship Discovers Weightlifting

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1834, George Barker Windship described his introduction to weight training in the prestigious magazine the Atlantic Monthly.

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George Barker Windship

Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1834, George Barker Windship described his introduction to weight training in the prestigious magazine the Atlantic Monthly:

While at Rochester (Summer, 1854), as I was passing through the principal street, I met a crowd assembled about a lifting machine. On making trial of it, I found I could lift four hundred and twenty pounds. I had then been for four years a gymnast and I supposed my practice would have qualified me to make the crowd stare at my achievement. But the result was far from triumphant. I found what many other gymnasts will find, that main strength, by which I mean the strength of the truckman and the porter, cannot be acquired in the ordinary exercises of the gymnasium.

Surprised by his relative lack of strength, Windship resolved to improve his performance and so built a pit in his backyard in which he placed a barrel filled with rocks. The barrel was attached to a handle situated so that it approximated the position a modern lifter would use in a "hand and thigh " lift in which the bar is placed about six or eight inches above the knees, allowing the lifter to bend his knees and thus place most of the resistance on the hips and upper thighs in the manner of a partial deadlift. As his strength grew Windship came to believe that this form of heavy partial lifting—which he called The Health Lift—was the best way to develop strength and greater health. He adopted the motto, "Strength is Health" and he began lecturing about the benefits of lifting in cities throughout the eastern US and Canada. In the April, 1860, edition of The Massachusetts Teacher, he verbalized his remarkably modern beliefs.

I was nearly seventeen years of age before I seriously undertook to improve my physical condition. I was then but five feet in height and a hundred pounds in weight. I was rather strong for my size, but not strong for my years, and my health was not vigorous. I am now twenty- six years, five feet seven inches in height, and one hundred and forty- eight pounds in weight. My strength is more than twice that of an ordinary man, and my health is as excellent as my strength. ...

During these nine years, while endeavoring to promote my physical welfare, I have made the following discoveries: ...The stronger I became, the healthier I became. ..That I could gain faster in strength by forty minutes' gymnastic exercises once in two days, than by twenty minutes of the same daily. ...That a person may become possessed of great physical strength without having inherited it. ...That a delicate boy of seventeen need not despair of becoming in time a remarkably strong and healthy man.

After concluding his medical studies Windship opened what should perhaps be considered the first sports medicine practice in the United States. He had a gymnasium at his office and there he began working on other aspects of lifting and also invented and patented several new pieces of equipment. In 1859 Windship decided to train to see if he could "put up" the greatest weight on record. He procured two sixty-eight pound "shells" and screwed them on a wrought-iron handle, creating an empty dumbbell of 141 pounds, which was "capable of being increased to 180 pounds by the simple process of pouring shot into the cavities of the shells, after having first separated them from the handle." However, he evidently found the shot loading too complicated to be satisfactory, for in 1865 he took out a patent for plate-loading dumbbell that could be adjusted from eight to 101 pounds in half pound increments; it sold for $16.00. It was the first plate-loading implement every patented in America. George Barker Windship, "Autobiographical Sketches of a Strength-Seeker," Atlantic Monthly 9 (January, 1862): 107-10.

George Barker Windship, "Physical Culture," The Masschussetts Teacher 13 (April, l860): 128.

Jan Todd, "Strength is Health": George Barker Windship and the First American Weight Training Boom," Iron Game History (September 1993): pp. 3-14.
George Barker Windship, “Autobiographical Sketches of a Strength-Seeker,“ Atlantic Monthly 9 (January, 1862): 102-15.

George Barker Windship, “Physical Culture,” The Masschussetts Teacher 13 (April, l860): 128.

Jan Todd, “George Barker Windship and the First American Weight Training Boom,” Iron Game History 3(1) (September, 1993).

“George Barker Windship,” The Phrenological Almanac for 1859 (New York: Foweler & Wells, 1859.)

Lewis Janes, Health-Exercise: The Rationale and Practice of the Lifting-Cure or Health Lift (New York: 1871).

Joan Paul, “The Health Reformers: George Barker Windship and Boston’s Strength Seekers,” Journal of Sports History, 10(3) (Winter, 1983): 41-57.

Additional Resources

"Strength is Health": George Barker Windship and the First American Weight Training Boom (Iron Game History, September 1993) (Adobe Reader Required)

Autobiographical Sketches of a Strength-Seeker by George Barker Windship (The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 9, No. 51, January, 1862: 102-115.) (Adobe Reader Required)


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1861: Thomas Wentworth Higginson Publishes "Gymnastics"


Thomas Wentworth Higginson, minister and exercise advocate, penned an article for the influential Atlantic Monthly entitled "Gymnastics."

"Gymnastics" for Atlantic Monthly

The heart of Higginson's article was a tour of a German-style gymnasium—the sort of establishment Higginson believed was needed throughout America. Higginson's text allowed his readers to peek in on the free-hand calisthenics class; toured them past the gymnastics area where he explained the use of ladders, pommel horses, and parallel bars; and then showed them the "row of Indian clubs or sceptres." After explaining their benefits, he took his readers to the "masses of iron, laid regularly in order of size," a rack of dumbbells weighing from four to one hundred pounds. The dumbbell, Higginson wrote enthusiastically, was "a whole athletic apparatus packed up in the smallest space; it is gymnastic pemmican." With one fifty-pound dumbbell, or a pair half that size, Higginson argued, a man could exercise nearly every muscle in his body in half an hour.

Higginson completed his gymnasium tour with a discussion of the Health Lift recently popularized by Dr. George Barker Windship, the Harvard-trained physician and strongman. Higginson had only praise for the principles of heavy lifting and this praise, in such a widely read and prestigious journal, coupled with Windship's growing popularity, helped launch a weight training boom in the 1860s and 1870s which saw a number of men besides Windship become intrigued with the amount of weight they could "put up." Thomas Wentworth Higginson, "Gymnastics," The Atlantic Monthly 7 (March, 1861): 289.

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1866: Sim D. Kehoe Advocates a Heavier Approach to Indian Club Training

Sim D. Kehoe's The Indian Club Exercise was a beautifully illustrated book that provided detailed instructions for club training and helped to cement the connection between sports and resistance training. In his advertising materials Kehoe frequently listed his sport clients, a group that included many of the top boxers, pedestrians and rowers in New England during the 1860s.


The Indian Club Exercise

Kehoe Kehoe Kehoe

These are images of exercises from Kehoe's The Indian Club Exercises

In The Indian Club Exercise, Kehoe differentiates between the short, light-weight "bat"—a one to four pound club used in calisthenics drills such as those popularized by Donald Walker and American exercise proponent Dio Lewis —and what Kehoe called the "long Club, or Indian Club proper." Long clubs might vary in appearance, Kehoe explained, but their length should be between twenty-four and twenty-eight inches and they should weigh at least four pounds. Most beginners, Kehoe suggested, could start with a club of around ten pounds.

Interest in club swinging was so high in this era that competitions and exhibitions were frequently held. On 1 May 1866, for example, J. Edward Russell won a solid gold medal, cast by the Tiffany Company, when a panel of judges found Russell to be the best club swinger at a gymnastics competition at Irving Hall. In another event, Charles Bennett, the "California Hercules," gave an exhibition in which he used twenty-pound clubs "in a variety of movements and held fifty-two pounds in each hand, at arms' length, with ease." A drawing of Bennett used as the frontispiece of Ed James's, How to Acquire Health Strength and Muscle, gives some indication of how such feats might be possible. The heavy, defined musculature of his arms and upper body was highly unusual for the mid-nineteenth century. Sim D. Kehoe, The Indian Club Exercise (New York: American News Company, 1866).

Ed James, How to Acquire Health Strength and Muscle, 12th ed. (New York: by the author, 1878).

Jan Todd, "The Strength Builders: A History of Barbells, Dumbbells and Indian Clubs," The International Journal of the History of Sport 20(1) (March 2003): 65-90.

Additional Resources

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W.B. Curtis

1866: Wiliam Buckingham Curtis Founds The New York Athletic Club

Following the Civil War, William B. Curtis moved to New York where he, his former gym partner John Babcock, and New York friend and fellow weightlifting devotee Henry Buermeyer, opened a gymnasium on the corner of 6th Avenue and 14th Street in their apartment. The three converted the front parlor into a gymnasium with heavy Indian clubs, dumbbells, weighted pulleys, and other apparatus and they installed a boxing ring in one of the bedrooms. As interest grew in training, the three men decided to found an athletic association to sponsor competitions in the New York area and to begin to keep records for different sports. It was called the New York Athletic Club and exists to this day. Although Babcock married in the mid 1870s and became less active, Curtis and Buermeyer continued to compete in track and field, rowing and weightlifting competitions, until well into their forties, and thus continued to be living examples of the benefits of weight training for sports.

In fact, Curtis's reputation as a lifter of heavy weights and great all-round athlete grew substantially in the post-war period. In November of 1868, as part of a public celebration at Ottignon's gym, he lifted 1323 pounds in a partial movement with just his hands alone on the same day that he participated in a 75 yard sprint—which he won, and the shot put contest—which he won. Although he was only 5'9 1/4 inches tall, and weighed normally between 165 and 175 pounds, Curtis surpassed George Barker Windship's record in the harness lift by raising an astonishing 3,239 pounds on December 20, 1868. In later years he was referred to as "Father Bill" Curtis because of the seminal role he played in helping amateur sport become established in America.Lowell M. Seida, "William Buckingham 'Father Bill' Curtis: Father of American Amateur Athletics," (Westchester, Il: by the author, 2001), p. 33-9, 42-3.

“The Life of an Athlete: William B. Curtis, The Father of American Amateur Athletics,” New York Times, 8 July 1900.

Richard G. Wettan and Joe D. Willis, “Willian Buckingham Curtis: The Founding Father of American Amateur Athletics, 1837-1900,” Quest 27 (Winter 1977):  28-37.

Additional Resources

"The Life of an Athlete: William B. Curtis, The Father of American Amateur Athletics," New York Times, 8 July 1900. (Adobe Reader Required)

1870s: A Weight Training for Athletics Explosion

In the 1870s, using resistance training as part of one's preparation for sport became widely accepted on the American sporting landscape. Sport in the post-Civil War era grew exponentially as track and field contests, boxing, wrestling, rowing, college football, and of course baseball, became popular with an increasingly urban public who could now read about the matches and the games' heroes in inexpensive sporting newspapers such as the Spirit of the Times and The Illustrated Police Gazette.

After the influential New York YMCA adopted as its motto: "The improvement of the spiritual, mental, social and physical condition of young men," in 1866, YMCA's across America began including gymnasiums in their new facilities and in most of these gyms, the public could find dumbbells and weight machines. Feeding this upsurge of interest in weight training for sports was the publication of dozens of new training manuals such as dime novel publisher Robert DeWitt's 32-page, DeWitt's Athletic Exercises for Health and Strength that covered dumbbell, French dumbbell (light-weight barbells), and Indian Club training along with sections of walking, running, leaping, and other sports advice.

New York publisher Ed James published a series of sports training guides in this decade and in his 1873 Practical Training for Running, Walking, Rowing Wrestling, Boxing, Jumping and All Kinds of Athletic Feats—he recommended both dumbbells and Indian clubs claiming, "... every man in training, whether amateur or professional, should have one or the other, or both." James' pro-weightlifting stance is much more apparent in the fifth book published in the Ed James Athletic Series—How to Acquire Health Strength and Muscle, published in 1878. The opening illustration of that book shows the "Celebrated Californian Athlete," Charles A. Bennett, performing a dumbbell curl for his massive biceps. Several pages later, James, writes: "In the course of a long career as a sport journalist, we have witnessed sufficient to prove all that is contended for muscle and strength." James devotes an entire chapter of the book—primarily filled with advice for pedestrians, boxers and baseball players—to George Barker Windship's method, and also explains that used properly dumbbells are a great aid to upper body flexibility.Robert M. DeWitt, Athletic Exercises for Health and Strength, (New York: DeWitt, Publisher, n.d.).

J. Randolph Cox, The Dime Novel Source Book (New York: Greenwood Press, 2000).

Ed James, Practical Training for Running, Walking, Rowing Wrestling, Boxing, Jumping and All Kinds of Athletic Feats (New York: Ed James Publishing, 1873), 30.

Ed James, How to Acquire Health Strength and Muscle (New York: Ed James Publishing, 1878), 80.

"History of the YMCA Movement," viewed at ymca.net


Charles Bennett, the California Hercules>

1874: Richard Pennel Lifts 200 Pounds Overhead

Richard Pennell was the physical training instructor at the University of Pennsylvania and an excellent all-round athlete who, like William B. Curtis, competed in track and field and heavy weightlifting contests. Pennell became the first American recognized for lifting 200 pounds over his head with one hand, a feat he performed in 1874, at John Wood's gymnasium in New York. The following year, on a Health Lift machine, Pennell lifted 1250 pounds with only his hands (no harness). Pennell, who competed in sprinting and throwing events at track and field competitions, was also discussed in both of Ed James' books because of his lifting exploits. .Ed James, Practical Training for Running, Walking, Rowing Wrestling, Boxing, Jumping and All Kinds of Athletic Feats (New York: Ed James Publishing, 1873), 70.

Ed James, How to Acquire Health Strength and Muscle (New York: Ed James Publishing, 1878), 62.

David P. Webster, The Iron Game (Irvine: by the author, 1976).

1876: The Death of George Barker Winship and the Emergence of the Anti-Weightlifting Position

Learn about heavy weightlifting's fall from grace after the sudden death of George Barker Windship


The Fall from Grace

The fall from grace for heavy weight training as an activity can be dated to 1876 when Windship unexpectedly died of an aneurism at age 42. Although there is no proof that Windships' lifting had anything to do with his death, members of the newly emerging physical education community and the medical community were quick to blame Windship's muscular body and pursuit of strength for his early demise. Lewis Janes, for example, a Windship competitor who'd written a book on the Health Lift and was involved with David Butler's string of Health Lift studios claimed that "Dr. Windship's method, ... is one more example of the pernicious effects of forcing abnormal muscular development." Another example can be found in the paper Dr. Benjamin Lee read before the Philadelphia Medical Society entitled "The Health Lift: Is it Rational, Scientific, or Safe?" The paper, subsequently published in the influential Medical and Surgical Reporter, clearly blames Windship's death on his heavy lifting and then goes further to claim that lifting in general is not a desired form of exercise.

Windship's biographical entry in Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, published in 1888, similarly argues that Windships experiments with the Health Lift were "carried to far . . . [and] resulted in his death."Jan Todd, "George Barker Windship and the First American Weight Training Boom," Iron Game History 3 (September, 1993): 3-14.

Lewis G. Janes, Health-Exercise: The Rationale and Practice of the Lifting-Cure or Health Lift, 6th rev. ed. (New York: Lewis G. Janes, 1871) 44.

Dr. Benjamin Lee, "The Health Lift: Is it Rational, Scientific, or Safe?" The Medical and Surgical Reporter 38 (April, 1878): 261-5.
"George Barker Windship." Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 6. James Wilson and John Fiske, eds. (New York: D. Appleton Co., 1888), 562.

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Blaikie Book

1879: William Blaikie Publishes How to Get Strong and How to Stay So

Author William Blaikie who at age 17, on a Health Lift machine, raised 1019 pounds, was also a serious rower and at one point set an amateur record for walking from Boston to New York in four and a half days. Alhough Blaikie had trained with heavy weights in his youth, he gradually turned from heavy lifting in favor of the lighter training methods being popularized by physical educator Archibald McLaren of Scotland and Dudley Allen Sargent of Harvard University. Read More

William Blakie, MacLaren, and Sargent

MacLaren and Sargent, who primarily viewed themselves as physical educators concerned with the health of average men—not athletes—recommended lighter training methods aimed at improving posture and body symmetry. Blaikie believed that heavy weight training and rigorous sports such as rowing, caused the body to create too much muscle on certain parts of the frame and not enough on others: "He who starts able to put up a heavy dumbbell over his head, too often devotes himself simply to putting up a heavier one, and then one heavier yet, so taking one arm, already stronger in its extensors, if not in all its muscles, than its mate, and making it still stronger, while the other is neglected, until the contrast between the two, instead of disappearing, grows more marked than ever."

Although Blaikie—using our modern definition—still favored resistance training—he pushed for a lighter approach, believing that weights of one tenth of one's bodyweight were sufficient. He also appears to have introduced to the athletic lexicon a word that will haunt strength training for athletes for the next century—muscle-bound. He used that word for the first time in an 1877 article in Harper's Monthly Magazine when he wrote, regarding rowers, "But the oarsman will more than likely have the slouch forward of the head and neck so common in the laboring man and that muscle-bound look about the upper back, as if it would be impossible for him, as is often the fact, to carry his hands out behind his shoulders until the backs of them are even within a foot of each other." After Blaikie, the terms "muscle-bound" and "musclebound" would become widely used as a pejorative to describe an athlete who had large muscles and lacked flexibility and speed. William Blaikie, "Free Muscular Development," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 56 (May, 1877): 916-8.

Doug Bryant, "William Blaikie and Physical Fitness in Late Nineteenth Century America," Iron Game History 2 (July, 1992): 3-6.

Terry Todd, "Historical Perspective: The Myth of the Muscle-Bound Lifter," National Strength & Conditioning Association Journal 7 (June, 1985): 37-41.

Additional Resources

William Blakie and Physical Fitness in the Late 19th Century By Douglas Bryant (Iron Game History, July 1992) (Adobe Reader Required)

Dudley Allen Sargent: Health Machines and the Energized Male Body By Carolyn de la Peña (Iron Game History, October 2003) (Adobe Reader Required)

Historical Perspective: The Myth of the Musclebound Lifter By Terry Todd, (NSCA Journal, Vol 7 Num. 3 1985) (Adobe Reader Required)

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1893: European Strongman Louis Durlacher Becomes Gentleman Jim Corbett's Strength Coach

The German strongman known as Professor Attila opened a gym in New York City in 1893 with backing from Richard K. Fox of the sporting newspaper called the National Police Gazette. To publicize the gym, Fox arranged for Attila to give strength exhibitions during several major prize fights, and in these exhibitions, Attila's combination of strength and athleticism made a big impression on the public and the boxing community. Read More

Professor Attila

"Professor Attila," painted in 1887, Collection of Terry and Jan Todd, on display at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

Professor Attila and Gentleman Jim Corbett

The German strongman known as Professor Attila opened a gym in New York City in 1893 with backing from Richard K. Fox of the sporting newspaper called the National Police Gazette. To publicize the gym, Fox arranged for Attila to give strength exhibitions during several major prize fights, and in these exhibitions, Attila's combination of strength and athleticism made a big impression on the public and the boxing community. Attila soon had a number of athletes training at his gym and was delighted when Fox brought to him the reigning world heavyweight champion, "Gentleman" Jim Corbett for training advice. Corbett, who was preparing for a title defense against Charles Mitchell of England, asked Attila to help him with his physical conditioning, especially his punching power. Attila wasn't Corbett's only trainer, of course, but he helped guide the champ in matters of physical conditioning that summer and when the New York Times visited Corbett at his training camp in mid-September, they reported to their readers that Corbett was took long walks in the morning followed by "dumbbell work, pulley weights and wrist machine," and of course, punching the bag." After defeating Mitchell easily, Corbett sent Attila a letter telling him: "Well old boy," "it (meaning your system) done me a great deal of good and I must say it is a wonderful method and might have not a little to do with my recent success." Corbett expressed his appreciation even more publicly in March of 1894, when, during a performance of his theatrical revue "Gentleman Jim," he presented Attila with a gold medal to commemorate the important role he'd played as his strength coach for the title defense. Attila's work with Corbett is one of the most clear-cut examples of weight training being used to prepare an athlete in the nineteenth century. Following Corbett's lead, a number of other boxers also began using Attila's system and added light-weight training to their regimen. Kim Beckwith and Jan Todd, “Requiem for a Strongman: Reassessing the Career of Professor Louis Attila,” Iron Game History 7(2&3) (July, 2002): 42-55.

Professor Attila, Professor Attila's Five Pound Dumb-bell Exercise (New York: Richard K. Fox Publishing Company, 1913).

Additional Resources

Requiem for a Strongman: Reassessing the Career of Professor Louis Attila By Kim Beckwith and Jan Todd (Iron Game History, July 2002) (Adobe Reader Required)

flip through the Attila Scrapbook

Attila's Letter

A letter from Jim Corbett to Professor Attila

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1894: The Impact of Sandow

In 1893 the World's Columbian Exhibition was held just outside Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. One of the sensations of the World's Fair was the handsome German strongman Eugen Sandow, whose athleticism and bodily symmetry catapulted him into international stardom.

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Eugen Sandow


Jack Johnson

A French advertisment showing boxer Jack Johnson endorsing Sandow's Spring-Grip dumbbell. This is one of the earliest published examples of a profesional athlete being used to sell training equipment.

Following his run at the World's Fair, Sandow and his manager, Florenz Ziegfeld, toured the United States, demonstrating in theater after theater, Sandow's phenomenal strength, athleticism and physical symmetry. The vision of Sandow—who also lifted barbells, humans, and even a small horse during his act—concluding his performance with an easy backflip, was powerful evidence that weight training and large muscles did not destroy athleticism.

In 1894, Sandow travelled to Boston where he agreed to be examined by Dr. Dudley Allen Sargent of Harvard University, the head of the university's Hemenway Gymnasium and the most respected physical educator in America at the time. While many critics of weightlifting hoped this exhaustive battery of tests would reveal Sandow to be less functionally strong than his outward appearance might suggest, Sandow agreed to participate in the experiment in the hopes of silencing his critics and lending credence to the weightlifting cause. After examining him, and comparing his reactions o the boxer Mike Donovan, Sargent declared, "I have found it to be a rule that strong, large men are slow in their movements, and inclined to be dull and stupid. But when you come to put Sandow to the test you find that for a man of his power he is very quick. His time-reaction as shown by the electrical instruments was truly remarkable, and the fact that the speed of his arm in a forward movement was almost equal to that of Mr. Donovan, who is a man of acknowledged agility and with much less muscle than Sandow, is, I think, extraordinary. . . . "Altogether Sandow is the most wonderful specimen of man I have ever seen. He is strong, active and graceful, combining the characteristics of Apollo, Hercules, and the ideal athlete."

After finishing his American tour in 1896, Sandow returned to England where he became a successful businessman. He authored several important books on training methods, including Strength and How To Obtain It in 1897, and then began, in 1898, Sandow's Physical Culture magazine. He also began selling his own equipment, including a Spring-Grip Dumbbell which he advertised with images of both himself and famous athletes such as world boxing champion, Jack Johnson.Eugen Sandow, Life is Movement (London: The National Health Press, 1919).

David L. Chapman, Sandow the Magnificent: Eugen Sandow and the Beginnings of Bodybuilding (Champagne, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

Terry Todd, “The Day Sargent Examined Sandow,” Strength & Health 33 (June 1965): 64.

David P. Webster, “A Chronology of Significant Events in the Life of Eugen Sandow,” Iron Game History 2(4) (November 1992): 17-8.

Josh Buck, “Sandow: No Folly with Zeigfeld’s First Glorification,” Iron Game History 5 (May, 1998): 29-33.

Terry Todd, “The History of Resistance Exercise and Its Role in United States Education” (PhD. diss., University of Texas, 1966).

David Chapman, “Sandow’s First Triumph,” Iron Game History 3(3) (April 1994): 3-9.

Additional Resources

A Chronology of Significant Events in the Life of Eugen Sandow By David Webster (Iron Game History, November 1992) (Adobe Reader Required)

Sandow: No Folly with Zigfeld's First Glorification By Josh Buck (Iron Game History, May 1998) (Adobe Reader Required)

Sandow posing. Taken from the Library of Congress

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1898: Bernarr MacFadden Founds Physical Culture Magazine

Missouri native Bernarr Macfadden saw Eugen Sandow perform at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 and was inspired to emulate the successful strongman. Although he lacked Sandow's strength and symmetrical development, Macfadden was a gifted promoter; and after travelling for a time to promote the Whitely Exerciser, he began publishing Physical Culture magazine in 1898. Read more

Bernarr MacFadden


Al Treloar was the winner of Macfadden's 1904 physique competition.

Within two years it had 100,000 subscribers. Quick to understand the value of photography and personal success stories to the magazine's growth, Macfadden announced a worldwide contest for the "Best and Most Perfectly Developed Man and Woman." Contestants submitted photos and measurements that Macfadden then used in his magazine. The most likely candidates then competed in 13 regional competitions in the U.S. and England for the privilege of entering the finals. Macfadden's first "Physical Culture Extravaganza" began on December 28, 1903 and was held in Madison Square Garden. Albert Toof Jennings (1873-1960), known professionally as Al Treloar, won the men's division. In 1907 Treloar was hired as the physical director of the Los Angeles Athletic Club, a position he held for the next 42 years. During those years Treloar encouraged hundreds of young men to lift weights to enhance their sports performance.Jan Todd, "Bernarr Macfadden, Reformer of Feminine Form," Iron Game History 1 (4&5) (March, 1991), 3-8.

Mark Adams, Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation Through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet (New York: Harper Collins, 2009).

Robert Ernst, Weakness is a Crime: The Life of Bernarr Macfadden (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1991).

Macfadden held a second physical culture competition in 1905, only this time in addition to posing and showing their physiques, the men and women involved in the contest had to also participate in a series of athletic events. They ran races, lifted weights and visibly demonstrated to the audience at Madison Square Garden that that weight training was not antithetical to sport. Macfadden's other great contribution to the cause of strength training for sport was his inclusion, over the more than 40 years that Physical Culture (remember to keep italics) was regularly published, of dozens of articles linking various forms of resistance training with sport. He also featured images of athletes on his magazine covers hundreds of times.

Additional Resources

Babe Ruth Brought Back by Physical Culture (Physical Culture, August 1926) (Adobe Reader Required)

Exercise Your Swimming Muscles (Physical Culture, July 1926) (Adobe Reader Required)

"Bernarr Macfadden, Reformer of Feminine Form" (Iron Game History, March 1991) (Adobe Reader Required)

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1902: Alan Calvert Founds the Milo Barbell Company

Strength historian David P. Willoughby considered the advent of the Milo Barbell Company to be the "greatest single impetus ever given to weight-lifting in this country." The company, founded by Alan Calvert (1875 to 1942) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was the first mass-manufacturer of barbells in America.

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Alan Calvert and Milo Barbell Company

In the beginning, the Milo Company sold shot-loading barbells with canister-shaped "bells" on each end. To change the weight, a wing-nut was unscrewed and the lid removed. In 1908 Calvert began producing barbells that used a combination of plates and lead shot to vary the weight which he called the Milo Triplex. Calvert's mass production of barbells and variable resistance dumbbells allowed the practice of lifting to spread much more quickly across America than it would have otherwise and made it easy for universities and YMCAs to purchase reliable weight training equipment.

Calvert's other major contribution to the furtherance of strength training for athletics came through his decision to begin America's first "muscle magazine" in 1914. In Strength magazine, Calvert introduced his readers to what were then considered to be the best methods to build an impressive physique and usable strength. For athletes of all sorts, Strength magazine was considered to be the best and most reliable source of training information in the early twentieth century. Kim Beckwith, “Weight-lifting ‘as a sport, as a means of body building, and as a profession’: Alan Calvert's The Truth About Weight-Lifting,” Iron Game History 10(4) (January 2009): 22-33.

Kim Beckwith "Building Strength: Alan Calvert, The Milo Barbell Company and the Modernization of American Weight Training" (PhD. diss., University of Texas, 1966).

Kim Beckwith and Jan Todd, “Strength (Adobe Reader Required), America's First Muscle Magazine: 1914-1935,” Iron Game History 9(1) (August 2005: 11-28. (Adobe Reader Required)

John D. Fair, “Father Figure or Phony? George Jowett, The ACWLA and the Milo Barbell Company: 1924-1927,” Iron Game History 3(5) (December 1994): 13-25.

Additional Resources

Kim Beckwith and Jan Todd, Strength, America's First Muscle Magazine: 1914-1935, Iron Game History Vol 9 Num. 1 (August 2005: 11-28) (Adobe Reader Required)

John D. Fair, "Father Figure or Phony? George Jowett, The ACWLA and the Milo Barbell Company: 1924-1927," Iron Game History Vol 3 Num. 5 (December 1994): 13-25. (Adobe Reader Required)

Milo Dumbbell

This original Milo dumbbell now resides at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center. It is the only known example of Calvert's original design for his dumbbells and barbells.

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Bob Hoffman

1932: Bob Hoffman Begins His Advocacy of Strength Training for Sport

From December of 1932 when York Barbell Company founder Bob Hoffman penned an article modestly titled "How to Improve at Your Chosen Sport" in the first issue of his new magazine, Strength & Health, to the time of his death in 1985, Hoffman led the charge in heralding the claim that rather than being detrimental to sports performance, weight training actually augmented the natural talents of an athlete.

Bob Hoffman

In nearly every issue of Strength & Health that appeared during its 52 year run, Hoffman provided readers information on weight training and sport, often by profiling prominent athletes who'd benefited from using a progressive resistance exercise. Hoffman also authored two of the most important early books in the field of strength and conditioning. In 1959 he wrote Better Athletes through Weight Training and in 1961 brought out Weight Training for Athletes. These two books helped launch the weight training for sport boom of the 1960s.

What's more, whenever possible Hoffman made the case for weight training and sport publicly in numerous speaking engagements and exhibitions of muscular strength and dexterity featuring athletes like John Grimek and John Davis. Although other magazine publishers also followed his lead, there is no argument that, during the middle decades of the twentieth century Hoffman was the pivotal figure in dispelling the "myth of the musclebound athlete." Hoffman's tireless preaching on the benefits of weight training for athletes influenced thousands of individuals such as strength coaching pioneer Alvin Roy and sport scientist Dr. Peter Karpovich, both of whom helped to shift the paradigms of their respective fields toward a more accurate understanding of the benefits of strength training for athletic performance. Bob Hoffman, "How to Improve at Your Chosen Sport," Strength & Health 1 (December 1932), 8.

Bob Hoffman, Better Athletes through Weight Training (York, PA: Strength and Health Publishing; 1959).

Bob Hoffman, Weight Training for Athletes (New York: Ronald Press, 1961).

John D. Fair, Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell (State College: Pennsylvania University Press, 1999).

John D. Fair, "America's Mecca for Muscle Builders" Pennsylvania Heritage 25 (2) (Spring, 1999): 24-31.

Jim Murray, "More Memories of Bob Hoffman," Iron Game History 3(2) (January 1994): 5-7.

Terry Todd, "Remembering Bob Hoffman," Iron Game History 3(1) (September 1993): 18-23.


Additional Resources

More Memories of Bob Hoffman (Iron Game History, January 1994) (Adobe Reader Required)

Remembering Bob Hoffman (Iron Game History, September 1993) (Adobe Reader Required)

"Bob Hoffman Biography" From (ExplorePAhistory.com)

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1932: Strength and Health Begins Profiling Weight-trained Athletes

In the middle decades of the twentieth century, Bob Hoffman's Strength & Health was the most influential muscle magazine in the world.Bob Hoffman, "How to Improve at Your Chosen Sport," Strength & Health 1 (December 1932): 8.

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Strength and Health

In addition to covering Olympic weight lifting and bodybuilding, Hoffman included at least one article in nearly every issue extolling the benefits of weight training for sports. Among the most compelling of these articles were those profiling prominent athletes such as the one on Olympic decathlete Bob Richards, who won a gold medal in 1952 and was also a dedicated weight trainer. This slide show includes a few other early examples.

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1936: Frank Stranahan Brings Weight Training to Golf

Between 1936 and his retirement in the mid 1960s golfer Frank Stranahan won more than 70 amateur and professional golf championships (including the British Amateur Championships in 1948 and 1950) while actively training with weights. Terry Todd, "The PGA Tour's Traveling Gym: How it Began," Iron Game History 3(3) (April, 1994), 14-19.

Terry Todd, “The PGA Tour’s Traveling Gym: How it Began,” Iron Game History 3(3) (April, 1994): 14-19.

Leo Stern, “How Frank Stranahan Trains for Golf,” Strength & Health (April, 1958): 26-27.

“Sport: Small Celebration” Time (4 September 1950), viewed online at time.com.

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Frank Stranahan

Stranahan was featured several times in Bob Hoffman's Strength and Health magazine in the 1940s and 1950s and though his main avocation was golf he also participated in a number of weightlifting contests in the early years of his career. Because of the scarcity of gyms in this era, Stranahan often carried weights in the trunk of his car and, as can be imagined, the press made a great deal of his unusual training method. He was even invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan show where he deadlifted 500 pounds.

Said Stranahan of his involvement with weight training,

"I'll tell it to you straight...my lifting was an enormous advantage to me. Quite frankly, without it, I'd never have been able to hold my head up with the likes of Snead and Hogan. My natural talent for the game wasn't nearly what theirs was, but I was so determined to become a great golfer that I made myself so strong and fit that I could overcome some of my weaknesses. I started lifting when I was in high school to help me with my other sports but I noticed that it really put some distance on my drives. And through the years I kept getting stronger. I was even the longest driver on the Tour for awhile. But I was almost twice as strong as most of the other men and I got that way by doing full body exercises with heavy weights—things that make your whole body strong."

Despite his success, few other golfers in this era followed in Stranahan's footsteps as the sport of golf was one of the last strongholds of the myth of musclebinding. In fact, many golfers didn't enter the modern era of strength training for sport until 1985 when the Diversified Products Company asked to sponsor a travelling gymnasium for the tour. That travelling gym revolutionized the game of golf.

Additional Resources

The PGA Tour's Traveling Gym: How it Began (Iron Game History, April 1994) (Adobe Reader Required)


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1938: John Grimek Begins Working at the York Barbell Company

During John Grimek's (1910-1998) long career as a weightlifter, bodybuilder, writer, and finally as editor of Muscular Development magazine he saw weight-training change from being an activity shunned by athletes and physical educators into an activity universally embraced by these groups. Also—because of Grimek's remarkable combination of muscle mass, athleticism, and flexibility—he was the "poster boy" for the change.

Read more about John Grimek


John Grimek

When John Grimek began working for Bob Hoffman in 1938, Hoffman quickly realized that Grimek was not only the living embodiment of most men's dream of muscularity but, that he was also the perfect person to demonstrate to coaches, physical educators, and the public at large why the notion of musclebinding was so wrongheaded. Photographs of Grimek's amazing flexibility and stories of his athleticism filled the pages of Strength & Health in the 1940s and 1950s and those articles and images helped to convince many skeptical readers that regular weight training would help them, as Hoffman always said, "in their chosen sport."

Another important way in which Grimek helped the cause was by taking part in the many public exhibitions arranged by Bob Hoffman and the York Barbell Club in front of YMCA personnel, physical educators, and other interested groups. Whenever Hoffman was asked to bring some lifters and put on an exhibition, he would accept if at all possible—and he almost always brought John Grimek, the two time Mr. America with him. Grimek would normally demonstrate some Olympic lifting, then do some posing, and would finish by doing a full split and then bending over and touching his elbows to the floor. The vision of Grimek's large, powerful, yet extremely flexible muscles on the people in the audience was always dramatic and more than one individual has argued that Grimek's body was as important as any book to the change among athletes on the matter of strength training. Hoffman, a skillfull promoter, knew that change would only occur when the public had visible evidence that a man could have large muscles and still be flexible and quick in his movements. John Grimek was that evidence. Jan and Terry Todd, "John Grimek," St. James Encyclopedia of Pop Culture Jan 29, 2002 viewed at findarcticles.com.

John D. Fair, Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell (State College: Pennsylvania University Press, 1999).

David L. Chapman, "John Grimek: The Glow that Never Failed," viewed at musclememory.com.

Earle Liederman, "Strong Men I Have Known," Vim (June 1940): 8-9. 24.

Gordon Venables, "John Grimek As I Know Him," Your Physique (April 1952): 20-23, 47-50. 

David Webster, Barbells and Beefcake (Irvine, Scotland: author, 1979).

Terry Todd, "John Grimek: 1910-1998," Iron Game History 5(3) (December 1998): 1-3. View at: http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/IGH/IGH0503/IGH0503a.pdf. (Adobe Reader Required)

Terry and Jan Todd, "John Grimek—The Man: A Special Double Issue of Iron Game History Commemorating the Life of John Grimek," Iron Game History, 5(6) and 6(1) (April 1999), 1-72.

Additional Resources

John Grimek: 1910-1998 (Iron Game History, December 1998). (Adobe Reader Required)

John Grimek- The Man: A Special Double Issue of Iron Game History Commemorating the Life of John Grimek (Iron Game History, April 1999). (Adobe Reader Required)


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1939: The Muscle Beach Gang Helps Shifts the Cultural Perception of Weight Training

Although perhaps overlooked for its contribution to the advancement of weight training for sports during the period, the cultural prominence of Muscle Beach from 1939 to the late 1950s served to shift popular perceptions about the impact of training with weights to accomplish athletic feats. Read more about the shift of weightlifting culture

Muscle Beach Shifts Cultural Perception of Weight Training

When Abbye "Pudgy" Eville and her boyfriend, Les Stockton, began to meet on the beach in Santa Monica in the summer of 1939, they were originally just interested in practicing gymnastics with a small circle of friends. However, as their numbers grew, a platform was built just south of the Santa Monica pier, space was designated for barbell and dumbbell training, and the area became known as Muscle Beach.

By the early 1940s, Muscle Beach was famous internationally and most of the participants were interested in both weight lifting and gymnastics. On weekends, the several dozen young men and women who regularly gathered at Muscle Beach to work out and practice acrobatics would often be surrounded by enormous crowds, as if they were putting on a show. As they built pyramids and threw each other through the air, some of them also stopped by the weight pit doing their training in public so that the crowds saw them participating in both activities.

The physical beauty and amazing dexterity of many of the weight-trained athletes made Muscle Beach popular with photographers and film makers. Hundreds of photos were taken in the two decades when Muscle Beach was at its height that appeared in newspapers across America. Further, the example of athletes such as Jack LaLanne, Pudgy and Les Stockton, Relna Brewer McRae, Harold Zinkin, Steve Reeves, George Eiferman and other less well known athletes went a long way toward convincing those who dropped by the platform and saw them lift and tumble that the use of barbells and dumbbells would not make a person "musclebound." Harold Zinkin and Bonnie Hearn, Remembering Muscle Beach Where Hard Bodies Began (Los Angeles: Angel City Press, 1999).

Jan Todd, "The Legacy of Pudgy Stockton," Iron Game History 2(1) (January 1992): 5-7. PDF at: http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/IGH/IGH0201/IGH0201c.pdf. (Adobe Reader Required)

Additional Resources

The Legacy of Pudgy Stockton (Iron Game History, January 1992) (Adobe Reader Required)


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1940: Dr. Peter Karpovich and the Springfield College Showdown

At Springfield College in 1940, Bob Hoffman and his athletes come face-to-face with Dr. Peter Karpovich, a prominent sport scientist who for years had vehemently defended the hypothesis that weight training made a person musclebound.Read about the remarkable confrontation and the conversion of Dr. Karpovich.

Dr. Karpovich and the Springfield College Showdown

Al roy

Dr. Peter Karpovich

Despite the eventual impact that Dr. Karpovich would have on enlightening scientific conceptions of strength training with his research, his journal articles, and his coauthored text, Weight Training in Athletics, published in 1956, he was initially an outspoken critic of training with weights who taught his students at the influential YMCA-sponsored Springfield College about what he considered to be the physiological danger of weight trained muscles. For example, in a 1940 interview with the student newspaper at Springfield College, Karpovich was quoted as proclaiming that "one of the great tasks that faces Springfield College is to fight these muscle builders," whom he referred to as "quacks" and "faddists." At the time, Karpovich, along with the majority of the physical education/sport science community fervently believed that "lifting weights would cause men to become 'muscle-bound,' slow, inflexible, and clumsy." Nevertheless, Fraysher Ferguson, a student at Springfield and an avid weight lifter, had grown weary of the persistent anti-weightlifting sentiment proselytized by Karpovich and wrote a letter to Bob Hoffman to ask if he would come to Springfield and explain the benefits of weight training at the college's weekly speaker's forum. To Ferguson's astonishment, Hoffman agreed to come and said he planned to bring a team of weightlifters, including John Davis, the reigning world weightlifting champion and the current Mr. America, John Grimek. On the day of the "forum," Grimek and several lifters put on an exhibition of weightlifting and posing for the large crowd, which included Karpovich and many of his students. Following the exhibition, Hoffman offered a brief endorsement of weight training based on some case studies as well as the visual proof provided by the exhibition. He then opened the floor to questions. What happened next altered the course of strength training forever.


John Grimek defying the effects of musclebinding

In Karpovich's own words,

"During the question period, the opportunity arose to test the legend. Very sweetly, I said, addressing Mr. Hoffman 'Will you please ask Mr. Grimek to scratch his back between the shoulder blades?' There was silence. Hoffman looked at Grimek, Grimek looked at Hoffman. Then they and everybody else looked at me. Said Hoffman, 'And why do you want Grimek to scratch his back?'
'Because I have been told that weight lifters are so musclebound that they cannot scratch their backs.'
'Well, John,' said Hoffman addressing Grimek, 'oblige the doctor and scratch your back.'
And Grimek did, first with one hand, then with the other. He scratched from above the shoulder and then from below. David did the same. The audience roared with laughter at my expense."

After the crowd settled down, John Grimek then went into a short routine in which he demonstrated his amazing flexibility, almost touching the floor while standing on a chair and keeping his legs straight and then doing a full leg split. Next, John Davis came back out, picked up a pair of 50 pound dumbbells, and did a standing back flip with one in each hand. After this amazing demonstration, Karpovich approached Hoffman and the lifters to apologize for his question, noting that he had always been taught that lifting weights would render an individual slow and inflexible, but that what he had seen had made him doubt his theory. From that point on, Karpovich set out to scientifically test the "muscle-bound myth." As he would later concede, "Both men had huge muscles and, therefore, should have been muscle-bound. But they were like the bumblebee who flies, although expert aviation engineers have proved mathematically that a bumblebee cannot fly. This anecdote only illustrates how strongly we may cling to our prejudices and pass on unfounded 'information.'" After World War II, when Karpovich returned to Springfield, he began a series of research studies which demonstrated very clearly that weights made a man faster, not slower—and more flexible, not less flexible. Through his willingness to challenge the scientific gospel of the period, Karpovich (thanks to Ferguson, Grimek, Davis, and Hoffman) laid the foundation for a future in which science gradually came to accept and then embrace the importance to athletes of progressive resistance exercise. Dr. Karpovich Scheduled to Speak, Springfield Union (18 February, 1940), cited in Jan Todd and Terry Todd, "The Conversion of Dr. Karpovich," Iron Game History 8(4) (March, 2005): 4

Jim Murray, "Weightlifting's Non-Lifting Patron Saint," Iron Game History 4(5&6) (August, 1997): 3.

Jan Todd and Terry Todd, "The Conversion of Dr. Karpovich," Iron Game History 8(4) (March, 2005): 4.

Jim Murray and Peter V. Karpovich, Weight Training in Athletics (Inglewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1956): 48.

"Bob Hoffman Exhibits his Troupe at Weekly Forum," Springfield Student 31 (10 April 1940): 4.

Additional Resources

The Conversion of Dr. Peter Karpovich (Iron Game History, March 2005) (Adobe Reader Required)

Jim Murray, Weighlifting's Non-Lifting Patron Saint (Iron Game History, August 1997) (Adobe Reader Required)

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1952: Pole Vaulter Bob Richards Trains with Weights for Olympic Gold


In July of 1952, exercise scientist Jim Murray wrote an article for Strength and Health magazine in which he profiled the training schedule of Rev. Bob Richards, the 1952 and 1956 gold medalist in the Olympic Games, and the first athlete to grace a Wheaties cereal box.

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1952: Rev. Bob Richards - Strength and Health article

Murray's profile of Richards was a coup for Bob Hoffman and his crusade to promote the benefits of strength training for improving athletic performance. Richards, who won the AAU's Sullivan Award in 1951, given to the nation' best amateur athlete, was arguably one of the most high profile athletes in America in the 1950s and to have his image on the cover of Hoffman's magazine undoubtedly inspired many other young track and field athletes track athletes throughout the United States. Until this point, profiles of Richards in other media outlets such as the Saturday Evening Post, had failed to mention the importance of Richard's training with weights as a factor in his athletic success. Murray, however, outlined Richards's specific training program and analyzed how the exercises contributed to his success in related track and field events. According to Murray, the Richards workout routine emphasized 1) approximately 30 vaults, 2) five to ten 60-yard wind sprints, 3) rope climbing, 4) 15-20 minutes of weight training, 5) freehand exercises such as handstand pushups, and 6) gymnastic exercises.Jim Murray, "Training Program of Rev. Bob Richards," Strength & Health (July, 1952), 10-11, 36, 39, 41.

Harry T. Paxton, "The Big-Talking, Pole-Vaulting Parson, Saturday Evening Post (January 19, 1952).

Additional Resources

Training Schedule of Rev. Bob Richards (Strength and Health, July 1952) (Adobe Reader Required)


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Al Roy

1955: Al Roy (With Help from Billy Cannon) Becomes Football's First Real Strength Coach


In the mid 1950s, Al Roy laid the foundation for the current practice of implementing a weight training program to build success on the gridiron.

Al Roy and Billy Cannon - the Foundation of Modern Sport Training

Al roy

Alvin Roy, the famed football strength coach who transformed teams at the high school, collegiate, and NFL levels into champions through his weight training programs, would probably not have revolutionized strength training were it not for the pure happenstance of crossing paths with Bob Hoffman and a team of weightlifters in post-war Paris in 1946. A captain in the Army who served in the European Theater right after World War II, Roy was told by the general in charge of helping Paris recover from the war that he had a special assignment for him. That assignment was to assist Bob Hoffman's U.S. weightlifting team in procuring food and accommodations while the team trained in Paris prior to the world championships. What happened is that through his close contact with Hoffman and the athletes, Roy quickly learned that not only were the lifters not muscle-bound, they were capable of feats of strength and flexibility beyond anything he had ever witnessed.

Consequently, upon returning to the United States, Roy visited Hoffman at his York, Pennsylvania, business—the York Barbell Company—and returned to his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana with some weight training equipment and the intent of opening a gym of his own and spreading the message about the health and sporting benefits of weightlifting. Several years later, in 1951, Roy attempted his first major foray into strength coaching when he approached the football coaches at his alma mater, Istrouma High School, and asked if they would be interested in beginning a weight training program for their players. These coaches, however, subscribed to the traditional belief that weightlifting would cause their players to become muscle-bound. Three years later, right after Istrouma High had suffered a devastating loss to their cross-town rival (Baton Rouge High School), Roy saw an opportunity to once again pitch the benefits of weight training to the coaches, who were desperate for a means to avenge the heartbreaking defeat. After regaling the coaches with individual success stories and offering to personally set up and administer the program at no charge to the school, the coaches acquiesced.

As the players began Roy's training program in the spring of 1955, a curious onlooker became intrigued by the progress he witnessed among his peers on the football team.

Billy Cannon

Billy Cannon, at that time a member of the high school's basketball and track and field teams, had been able to avoid the football team's new weight training program since he was busy with other sports. What's more, Cannon was initially afraid that he would lose his great speed, if he started training and he viewed that speed as his ticket to a college scholarship. Even so, his football teammates made such wonderful progress in size and strength that when summer came and Roy offered to continue to supervise the team's training leading up to the fall football season, Cannon decided to join them. This both delighted and frightened Roy because he saw in Cannon an exceptional athlete who could serve as the standard bearer for his program, but who might also fail for one reason or another to play well. In a 1985 interview with Terry Todd, Cannon remembered,

"Late that Spring, after the track season was over, me and about 20 of the boys on the team went over to Al's gym and I began to train. I think I ran a 9.8 that spring and years later, after we got to be good friends, Al told me he was scared to death when I walked in that door. He said he knew I could kill the program because if I came back at the end of the summer and ran a 10.2 or something, that would be it for the weights. But he brought us along at our own pace and he kept telling us that all this was going to do was make us stronger than the guy we'd be facing across the line next fall."

Cannon and his new teammates would not only turn out to be stronger than the boys they were facing during the next season, but they would dominate their opponents en route to an undefeated season which saw them set a state record for the most points scored by a high school team in a season. Individually, Cannon emerged as the highest-rated running back in the nation and was recruited by Paul Dietzel to play college ball for the hometown Louisiana State University (LSU) Tigers. In his senior year, Cannon also won the state title in the 100 yard dash and the shot put.

At LSU, however, in spite of Cannon's great individual success, his teammates had no weight training program, and after a discouraging 5-5 season during Cannon's sophomore year, Roy approached Dietzel as he had the Istrouma High School coaches. Citing the impressiveness of Cannon and Jimmy Taylor, another player who had trained at Roy's gym, which Cannon continued to do, Dietzel agreed to allow Roy to design and implement a training program. The program was patterned after the routines of competitive weightlifters, and the team quickly benefited from it. Despite predictions for a poor year, LSU went undefeated during its season and won the 1958 National Championship, the school's first such honor. Following that storybook season, Coach Dietzel—who was chosen Coach of the Year—gave a number of speeches to football clinics around the country and in those speeches he gave full credit to Al Roy and the heavy weight training the team had done. The great season, Cannon's Heisman Trophy performance, and Dietzel's forthright admission that the LSU secret was weight training played a major role in changing the minds of coaches all over the US on the topic of weights and sports. The legacy of Al Roy continued when he was asked by Sid Gillman to install the National Football League's first organized strength training program with the San Diego Chargers, who promptly won their division the following season.Al Roy, "Weight Training for Football," Strength & Health (August 1947), 21-22

Terry Todd, Al Roy: The First Modern Strength Coach," Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (JOPERD) 79 (8) (October, 2008), 14-16. Terry Todd, "Al Roy: Mythbreaker", Iron Game History 2(1) (January 2002); p. 12-16.

Bill Williams, "Barbells Build Winning Football Team," Strength & Health (May, 1956), 39-40

Ace Higgins, "Billy Cannon: Football's Weightlifting All-American," Strength & Health (November, 1959) 34-35, 57

Mike Nettles, "Billy Cannon: LSU's All American," Sports Illustrated (17 October 1958), 67

Jim Thompson, "The Chargers Take to Weight Training," Strength & Health (February 1960): 34-37.

Additional Media

Al Roy: Mythbreaker (Iron Game History, January 1992) (Adobe Reader Required)

Billy Cannon on the importance of Al Roy in weight training for football

Alvin Roy: Strength and Conditioning Coach by the CSCA

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Percy Cerutty

1950s: Percy Cerutty Uses Weight Training To Train Olympic Runners

Percy Cerutty, an Australian track/running coach known for his unique "Stotan" training principles, came to prominence during the 1950s and 1960s for coaching athletes such as Herb Elliott, John Landy, and Betty Cuthbert to Olympic medals and world records in their respective distance events.

The "Stotan" training system, pioneered by Percy Cerutty and detailed within the six books he wrote between 1959 and 1967, sought to blend training principles from Stoic and Spartan philosophies and thus educate the entire person through running. His training regimens would often integrate running through idyllic landscapes intended to inspire the individual with lessons from poetry and philosophy. Cerutty combined this type of training with an ascetic philosophy outside of the athletic arena that discouraged or forbade traditional vices such as drinking, smoking, and staying out after midnight, as well as less traditional "vices" such as consuming white flour. Central to his training regimens was the use of heavy weight lifting movements several times each week. In fact, in his 1967 book Be Fit! Or Be Damned!, Cerutty claimed that "dead-lifting, that is, heaving heavy articles whatever their nature may be off the earth, must be considered a primary physical function of homo sapiens." Although considered eccentric in his era, Cerutty was truly a visionary coach who recognized the value of rigorous weight training long before most other track coaches. Percy Cerutty, Be Fit! Or Be Damned! (London: Pelham Books, 1967), 123.

Graem Sims, Why Die? The Extraordinary Percy Cerutty (Sydney: Lothian, 2003).

Nick Bourne, "Fast Science: A History of Training Theory and Methods for Elite Runners Through 1975" (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, 2008.)

Percy Cerutty, Athletics: How to Become a Champion (London: Stanly Paul, 1960).

Percy Cerutty. Running with Cerutty (Los Altos, Calif.: Track and Field News, 1959).

Percy Cerutty. Stotans and Stotanism (Unpublished, 1946).

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1956: Murray and Karpovich publish Weight Training for Athletics

One of the most important steps in the introduction of weight training into America's coaching community and university classrooms was the publication in 1956 of Jim Murray and Peter Karpovich's Weight Training for Athletics by the distinguished press Prentice-Hall. At the time of its authorship, Murray was the managing editor of Strength & Health while Karpovich, still teaching at Springfield College, had become one of the most distinguished sport scientists in America. Jim Murray, "Weightlifting's Non-Lifting Patron Saint," Iron Game History 4(5&6) (August, 1997), 3.

Jan Todd and Terry Todd, "The Conversion of Dr. Karpovich," Iron Game History 8(4) (March, 2005), 4.

Jim Murray and Peter V. Karpovich, Weight Training in Athletics (Inglewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1956), 48.

1957: Harold Zinkin Introduces the Universal Gym

Los Angeles-area gym owner and Muscle Beach devotee Harold Zinkin experimented with the design of a multi-station resistance training machine for a number of years before he perfected the Universal Gym and began mass marketing it in 1957.

Read more about Universal Gym Equipment


Universal Gym

Universal Gym

Zinkin's dream was to sell "weight machines" that would make strength training accessible to a much broader range of potential trainers, including school children and athletes. The result, the multi-station Universal Gym, allowed a number of people to work out simultaneously at its different stations, took up a relatively small amount of floor space, and was extremely safe.

Zinkin was no doubt inspired in this quest by Walt Marcyan's similar multi-station weight-stack machine which had never really caught on with schools and universities. With his Universal machine and an ambitious advertising campaign, however, Zinkin quickly captured the institutional market and thousands of units were sold in the 1960s and 1970s to schools, colleges, public gyms, and professional sports teams.

Because of their convenience and relative safety, Universal Gyms helped to establish resistance exercise as an accessible part of a training program for athletes of all levels. Reflecting on his legacy and the impact of the Universal Gym on strength training for athletes, Zinkin once wrote, "If I'm proud of anything, it's that machine and the fact that there probably isn't one professional athlete in the world who hasn't worked out on a Universal at least once."Harold Zinkin, Remembering Muscle Beach (Los Angeles: Angel City Press, 1999).

“Obituaries: Harold Zinkin, 82; Muscle Beach Pioneer Invented Weight Machine,” Los Angeles Times, 24 September 2004, viewed online at: articles.latimes.com.

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1959: Barbells on Campus

In addition to profiling individual athletes who had benefited from weight training, Bob Hoffman's Strength & Health magazine also began running a regular feature known as "Barbells on Campus," which highlighted the efforts and progress of collegiate athletic programs utilizing weight training in the development of their student-athletes long before it became the common practice it is today.The "Barbells on Campus" series played a significant role in spreading the acceptance of strength training for sport throughout the collegiate community.

Right: Sample articles from Strength and Health's "Barbells on Campus". S&H was vital to the acceptance of weight training for athletes in a time where this was not popular. It allowed a wide audience to see the positive effects of training.

Click here for sourcesa comprehensive discussion of the early growth of strength training in the American university context.

Additional Resources

Terry Todd, “The Expansion of Resistance Training in U.S. Higher Education through the Mid-1960s,” Iron Game History (August, 1994): 11-16.

Gordon C. Smith, “Barbells on Campus - Michigan State,” Strength & Health (May, 1959): 36-7.

W. M. “Doc” Ely, and H. W. “Hap” Freeman, “Barbells on Campus - The University of Maryland,” Strength & Health (June, 1959): 44-46.

Dave Baillie, “Barbells on Campus - Springfield College,” Strength & Health (December 1959): 34-35.

Wesley Ruff, “Barbells on Campus - Stanford University,” Strength & Health (March 1960): 25, 59.

George Otott, “Barbells on Campus - Notre Dame,” Strength & Health (April 1960): 36-37.
Sidney H. Glauser. “Barbells on Campus - Temple University,” Strength & Health (May l960):  28.

George W. Ritchey, “Barbells on Campus - Louisiana State University,” Strength & Health (July l960): 36-37.

Roy J. McLean and Karl K. Klein, “Barbells on Campus—The University of Texas,” Strength & Health (January 1960): 33-35, 53-54.

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1960: Walter Marcyan Begins Physical Power Magazine

Former bodybuilder and California gym owner Walter Marcyan began publishing Physical Power magazine in January of 1960. Like many muscle magazines Physical Power was an advertising organ for his Marcy Equipment company, but unlike the other publications in this era, Marcy made strength training for athletics the magazine's primary focus. Although Physical Power ceased publication in 1965, the information and images in it helped fuel the widespread movement toward strength training for sport that began emerging in the 1960s."Obituaries/Passings: Walter Marcyan, 94; bodybuilder sold fitness equipment, owned gyms, September 2, 2007. Viewed at latimes.com

Dick Berger

1962: Richard Berger Publishes Research on Set Systems for Training

In the late 1950s, Dr. Richard Berger becomes one of the first researchers to apply modern testing procedures and statistical analysis toward understanding the effects of varying sets, repetitions, and loads on the development of functional strength for athletic performance. Read More.

Berger Recommends Three Sets of Six Repetitions

In the 1950s, common wisdom—based on work done in physical rehabilitation by Thomas DeLorme— held that trainers should use three sets of ten repetitions in order to increase strength. In 1962, however, after testing this hypothesis Berger published two important articles in Research Quarterly, "The Effect of Varied Weight Training Programs on Strength," and "Optimum Repetitions for Developing Strength," which suggested that lower repetitions, such as three sets of six would be more efficacious for real strength gains. Berger was one of the first researchers to apply modern testing procedures and statistical analysis toward an understanding of the effects of varying sets, repetitions, and loads on the development of functional strength for athletic performance and his findings helped athletes reah greater heights of strength. Terry Todd and Jan Todd, "Pioneers of Strength Research: The Legacy of Dr. Richard A. Berger," Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 15(3) (August, 2001), 275-278.

Richard A. Berger, "The Effect of Varied Weight Training Programs on Strength," Research Quarterly 33 (1962), 168-181.

Richard A. Berger, "Optimum Repetitions for Developing Strength," Research Quarterly 33 (1962), 334-338.

Additional Resources

Pioneers of Strength Research: The Legacy of Dr. Richard A. Berger by Terry Todd and Jan Todd (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2001, 15(3), 275-278) (Adobe Reader Required)

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1963: Joe Weider and All-American Athlete

Although much credit has been given to Bob Hoffman for his advocacy of strength training for athletics, magazine publisher Joe Weider (whose most recent publications are Muscle & Fitness, Flex, Men's Fitness, and Shape) also included dozens of articles about the benefits of strength training for sport in the various magazines he published in his more than sixty years as the leading fitness magazine publisher in the world. Read more about Joe Weider

Joe Weider and All-American Athlete

In August of 1963 Weider changed the name of one of his publications, Mr. America, to All-American Athlete: Mr. America and shifted its focus to the topic of strength training for sport. All-American Athlete had a much larger circulation than Marcyan's Physical Power and because of the excellent photographers Weider employed, his athlete profiles proved inspirational as he chose photos that showed the bodies of athletes to best advantage and placed those photos in layouts that were dynamic and more aesthetically pleasing than those of any other magazine in the field at that time. Weider, along with his brother, Ben, also founded the International Federation of Bodybuilders, created the Mr. Olympia and Ms. Olympia contests, and made many other contributions to the world of weight training. Although All-American Athlete ceased publication in 1968, Weider remained committed to the idea of a sports-training muscle magazine and in January of 1985 launched Sports Fitness which ran for three years and featured such major celebrities as football star Lyle Alzado, baseball player Kirk Gibson, and marathoner Joan Benoit.Joe and Ben Weider with Mike Steere, Brothers of Iron: Building the Weider Empire (Los Angeles, Sport Publishing, 2005).

Jan Todd, Joe Roark and Terry Todd, "A Briefly Annotated Bibliography of English Language Serial Publications in the Field of Physical Culture," Iron Game History 1(4&5) (March 1991): 26-40.

Sports Fitness

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1965: The Birth of Powerlifting

The first official U.S. National Powerlifting Championship was not held until 1965, but this newer form of lifting now has at least ten times more participants in the United States than Weightlifting does, even though the latter is the sport practiced in the Olympic Games. One of the chief reasons for the relatively rapid rise in the popularity of powerlifting is that, unlike weightlifting which requires years of technique work to fully master its lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk) powerlifting is an activity that does not require great flexibility or lengthy technique training. The powerlifts—squat, bench and deadlift—are relatively easy to learn and in most cases create rapid improvements in an individual's strength. Because these lifts are also foundational to bodybuilding, many men gravitated to the sport once official competitions were organized. Powerlifting thus played an important role in the emerging strength coaching profession in the 1970s and 1980s as many of the individuals tapped to become strength coaches in those early years came from a powerlifting background.Jan Todd and Terry Todd, "Legacy of Iron: A History of the Men, Women and Implements that Created the "Iron Game,'" in Lewis Bowling, ed., Resistance Training: The Total Approach [North Carolina Academic Press, 2007], 165-215.

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1969: Boyd Epley Named the First Full-Time Strength Coach

In 1969, the University of Nebraska hired Boyd Epley as the first full-time college football strength coach in the country. Click to hear him tell the amazing story of his unanticipated rise to prominence, and the role that legendary coach Tom Osborne played in the process.Boyd Epley, “The Path to Husker Power and Beyond,” in The Path to Athletic Power: The Model Conditioning Program for Championship Performance (Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics, 2004), 21-35.

Jason Shurley and Jan Todd, “’If Anyone Gets Slower, You’re fired’:  Boyd Epley and the Formation of the Strength Coaching Profession,” Iron Game History 11(3) (September 2010): 3-14.

Nautilus Machine

1973: The Colorado Experiment

Nautilus exercise machines were launched with an extensive ad campaign featuring the results of a Nautilus-sponsored research study. Read More

The Colorado Experiment

Before and After Pictures

Dowd Before and After

Beginning in the late 1880s, when Physical Culture pioneer D.L. Dowd released "Before and After" photos and drawings of himself as a way to call attention to his training system, countless images depicting dramatic physical change in response to exercise have fueled the dreams of muscle-hungry boys and filled the pockets of entrepreneurs—scrupulous as well as unscrupulous--who take advantage of this deep-seated, insatiable hunger.

From that time forward, the popularity of Before and After photographs in self-improvement marketing have waxed but never waned. It seemed that nothing is quite so convincing to a person who wanted to build muscle, lose fat, or become more attractive than photographs of someone who appeared to have almost magically transformed himself or herself into a realized dream. The history of this technique can be traced from pioneers such as Dowd, Eugen Sandow, Bernarr Macfadden, Charles Atlas, Bob Hoffman, and Joe Weider up to more modern entrepreneurs like Arthur Jones, who created an absolute sensation in 1973 with photographs and information concerning what he called, "The Colorado Experiment." In addition to using the results of the "Experiment" to appeal to boys who wanted muscles and self-esteem, Jones intended to use the results to corner the market on strength training for sports, primarily football.

Peary Rader and Iron Man Magazine's Influence


Casey Viator before the experiment

The first public mention of this experiment appeared in the form of a long caption in Iron Man magazine in July of 1973. The caption was written by Peary Rader, the longtime editor of Iron Man, and it appeared below four photos of Casey Viator, winner of the 1971 A.A.U. Mr. America contest. Rader, who was generally considered to be less driven by commerce, was listened to carefully, so Arthur Jones chose him to introduce the training theories and Nautilus equipment he hoped would transform the way football players were enlarged and strengthened.

In his long caption, Rader wrote,

We have been reporting that Art Jones and Casey Viator would go into special training at the University in Fort Collins, Colorado...as I write this both Jones and Viator are in Fort Collins, where they have 13 new Nautilus Machines...Casey works out only three times per week [and] he has made progress you wouldn't believe.

The same issue of Iron Man also included something never before seen in the magazine—a remarkable 21 pages of advertising material written by Jones and laid out to look more like a series of articles than like ad copy. The material included a letter from Don Shula, head coach of the World Champion Miami Dolphins; photos of other top pro football players training with other machines, and text outlining Jones's theories that brief, intensive training sessions produced the best results.

Rader's caption and the 21 pages of Nautilus ads set the hook for what appeared in the very next issue of Iron Man—an article by Arthur Jones titled simply and elegantly, "The Colorado Experiment." The article detailed Jones's radical training theories and provided "Before and After" photographs of the changes in the body of Casey Viator—changes made in less than a month which appeared to be physiologically impossible.

Casey Viator's Metamorphosis

Billy Cannon

Casey Viator after the experiment

Jones also provided the following figures to bolster the Before and After, front and back, photos of Viator taken on May 1 and again on May 28: "Increase in bodyweight—45.28 pounds; Loss of bodyfat—17.93 pounds; Muscular gain—63.21 pounds." To demonstrate that Viator's strength increases matched his increase in lean mass, Jones pointed to the improvement Viator made in the Leg Press component on a Universal Machine—from 32 repetitions with 400 pounds to 45 repetitions with 840 pounds.

The article, with its compelling photos, hit the world of strength coaching with the force of a Class 5 Hurricane, which is exactly the reaction Jones had hoped to have. In the years which followed, Jones's training theories and brilliant marketing campaign--fueled by the seemingly research-based gains in both might and muscle made by Casey Viator—catapulted Nautilus machines into the number one spot among manufacturers of resistance-training machines used by professional teams in football and basketball. This sudden success at the pro level quickly influenced the varsity weight rooms at the college level and, in the process, made Jones one of the wealthiest men in the country.

Not everyone was convinced that either Jones's training protocols or his machines were sound, and many early training studies failed to support Jones's claims. Even so, he had his supporters among the ranks of "strength coaches" and even among exercise physiologists, and the debate he initiated in the early 1970s continues unabated.Nautilus Sports/Medical Industries, “Time Machine,” Iron Man Magazine 32(5) (July 1973): 41-72.

Arthur Jones, “The Colorado Experiment,” Iron Man Magazine 32(6) (September 1973): 34-37.

D.L. Dowd, Physical Culture (New York: Fowler and Wells Co., 1889).

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1973: Former Strength Coach Bruno Pauletto on Eastern European Training Techniques


Bruno Pauletto, former NSCA President and co-founder of Power Systems, Inc., trained with a recently-defected Romanian strength coach after immigrating to Canada from Italy. Utilizing Eastern European training principles, including periodization, Pauletto developed into an Olympic shot putter who competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Following his Olympic experience, Pauletto worked as the head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Tennessee and was one of the early voices in the NSCA for the inclusion of periodization and other Eastern European training methods. Click on the image to hear Pauletto discuss the Eastern European influence on his early training experiences. Bruno Pauletto, "Football: Maximum Off-Season Results Through Weight Training and Aerobic Dance," NSCA Journal 7(2) (April 1985), 56-57

Bruno Pauletto, Strength Training for Coaches (Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics, 1991).

Bruno Pauletto, Strength Training for Football (Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics, 1992).

Bruno Pauletto, Strength Training for Basketball (Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics, 1993).

Bruno Pauletto, "Winter Conditioning for Football: The Tennessee Way," NSCA Journal 7 (October 1985), 28-31

First NSCA Meeting

1978: Boyd Epley Founds the NSCA and the NSCA Newsletter

In spite of his meteoric rise to prominence at Nebraska, the concept of creating an association for strength coaches was not an initial concern of Boyd Epley's. In fact, the seeds of the NSCA were planted through a chance encounter between Epley and Southeastern Conference (SEC) commissioner Boyd McWhirter before the 1977 Nebraska-Alabama football game. More on the start of the NSCA


The Start of the NSCA and NSCA Newsletter


Until his conversation with the new strength coach, McWhirter had been unaware that any coaches served in the capacity that Epley now did. In fact, McWhirter went so far as to ask Epley about whether any SEC schools employed strength coaches. The ambiguity regarding the profession consequently led Epley to ponder the state of the field and the need for a means of elevating strength coaching to a legitimate position within a university athletic department.

As Charlie Craven, one of the founding strength coaches at the University of Texas at Austin and attendee at the first NSCA meeting recalls, at this point "Boyd began to send out communication to all the strength coaches that he knew were in the strength business." Now curious about exactly how many other coaches around the country might be playing a similar role to him, Epley put together a national questionnaire to attempt to identify as many strength coaches as possible. This questionnaire was then utilized to build systematic communication channels between those in the nascent industry, and as Epley reminds, "the directory was the first thing we did to identify who the strength coaches were across the country. Even before the first conference, we had a national directory of strength coaches." With a means of disseminating information to fellow strength coaches in place, coupled with encouragement from colleagues such as Pete Martinelli and Jim Williams, Epley resolved to convene a meeting of those within the profession to discuss the prospect of creating an association to serve as a foundation for the profession. In addition to providing a place for strength coaches to share ideas with one another in the quest to improve athletic performance, there also emerged a desire to ensure a professional standard within the growing industry. Craven remembers,

"I began to see that there were a lot of people out in the schools who were going to be doing strength training, but they did not have the knowledge base, they didn't have the science. I was very concerned. What's going to happen to this thing that we are creating? We needed to have an organization that had some sort of credentialing standards like any profession."

In an effort to address concerns such as these, Epley and his staff at Nebraska sent out additional communication to those individuals on the newly-compiled directory of strength coaches. Dan Wathen, a founding member of the NSCA and the organization's most dedicated historian, remembers receiving the correspondence about the meeting.


"I can recall about [1978], getting a card in the mail from Mike Arthur, who was Boyd's [Epley] assistant strength coach at Nebraska, wanting to know if I had any interest in starting a strength and conditioning association...and I said, 'yeah, I'm interested, you know, it's always been a main interest of mine.' So I sent the card back and [Arthur] said, 'well, we're going to try to get together at Las Vegas at the trainer's convention.' So I said, 'yeah, that sounds like a good idea,' and I showed up, but they kind of changed directions then. They decided that rather than being affiliated with the trainer's association, they would start their own association."

The change of direction to which Wathen refers represented the soon-to-be organization's first major decision – one that would shape the course of its development during these formative years. Having little experience with organizational issues such as governance structure and membership recruitment, Epley approached George Sullivan, the athletic trainer at Nebraska and member of the already-established National Athletic Trainer's Association (NATA), about how best to proceed. Sullivan invited Epley and his fellow strength coaches to attend the NATA conference in July of 1978, and to hold their meeting in conjunction with the type of established, specialized professional organization that could serve as a model for the NSCA. Encouraged by the notion of having a successful model for a strength coaches association, Epley initially agreed to hold his meeting alongside the NATA conference.

However, upon receiving the invitation to attend the first meeting at the NATA conference in Las Vegas, Dan Riley, then a strength coach with Penn State University, called Epley and urged him to reconsider holding their meeting in conjunction with NATA. As Riley saw it, the NSCA needed to forge a distinct organizational identity apart from any other pre-existing organizations: "I think Dan Riley kind of put the seed there that we should have our own association, it shouldn't be part of someone else's...and Boyd kind of ran with that idea and had a conference in Lincoln, Nebraska the following year (1978)." From that point on the NSCA worked diligently to cultivate its unique identity and to emerge as the center of the strength and conditioning universe within the United States. In fact, the history of strength and conditioning for sport and the history of the NSCA ostensibly merge together from this moment forward. Although there have certainly been contributions made by individuals and organizations outside of the NSCA, in many respects the NSCA and its organizational contributions and controversies become the advancements and challenges of the globalized field as a whole. With this in mind, let us consider some of the major contributions of the NSCA to the last three decades of strength and conditioning for improving athletic performance.Scott A. McQuilkin and Ronald A. Smith, “’The World’s Source for Strength and Conditioning Information: A History of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1978-1993” (unpublished thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1994).

Boyd Epley, The Path to Athletic Power: The Model Conditioning Program for Championship Performance (Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics. 2004).

Jason Shurley and Jan Todd, “’If Anyone Gets Slower, You’re fired’:  Boyd Epley and the Formation of the Strength Coaching Profession,” Iron Game History 11(3) (September 2010): 3-14.

“Conversations and Friends Inspire Epley to Form NSCA,” NSCA Journal 15 (January, 1993): 5-6.

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NSCA History

To download a PDF of the official history of the NSCA, created by Boyd Epley, Click here. (Adobe Reader Required)

Late 1970s: Arthur Jones and the NSCA

An entrepreneur and renaissance man, Arthur Jones had a relatively brief but poignant impact on the trajectory of strength training for athletics, particularly through his efforts to gain a foothold in the early stages of the NSCA's development. As a result of the organization's need to secure funding through sponsorships, marketers such as Jones and their equipment companies became powerful voices in the direction of the organization. In fact, his determination to promote his Nautilus machines and the training principle of doing "one set to failure" incited the formation of political factions within the NSCA. NSCA historian and renowned athletic trainer Dan Wathen explains:



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Nautilus Machine

1979: The NSCA Begins Publishing a Scientific Journal for Strength Coaches

As part of its mission of establishing a scientific basis for the field of strength coaching, the NSCA started publishing The National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. In the early years, each issue featured a sport-specific biomechanical and physiological analysis of the training needs of a particular sport.Bill Allerheiligen, “Part II: ASU Baseball Pre-Season Conditioning Program for Pitchers,” NSCA Journal 1(2) (February, 1979): 3.

Warren Harper and Chuck Lester, “Sooner Strength: University of Oklahoma Out-of-Season Football Weight Program,” NSCA Journal 1(2) (February, 1979): 10-12.

Paul Hoolihan, “Part II: University of North Carolina Off-Season Weight Program for Basketball,” NSCA Journal 1(2) (February, 1979): 15.

1985: NSCA Establishes the First Certification Program for Strength Coaches


In 1985, the NSCA took a major step toward professionalization by creating a certification exam called the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Click the image to hear Boyd Epley tell how Dr. Tom Baechle created this important new professional credential for strength coaches.Scott A. McQuilkin and Ronald A. Smith, “’The World’s Source for Strength and Conditioning Information: A History of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, 1978-1993” (unpublished thesis, Pennsylvania State University, 1994).

Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Ed.) (Champaign, Il: Human Kinetics, 2008).



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1987: Dr. Bill Kraemer Founds Journal of Applied Sports Science Research

The NSCA followed through on one of its early initiatives by creating the Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, which then became the prestigiuous Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. By providing a scientific forum through which to test and explore strength and conditioning, the organization made great strides in "Bridging the Gap" between research and practice. Dr. Bill Kraemer the sole editor of both journals discusses the NSCA's research agenda in the video below.

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1988: Angel Spassov Publishes Bulgarian Training Series

Download the original articles published in the NSCA Journal

1988: Angel Spassov - Eastern-Block Training Articles

In the late 1980s, as the Cold War ended, the NSCA brought Bulgarian strength training expert Angel Spassov to America for a lecture tour. In addition, Spassov contributed four articles to the NSCA Journal that introduced Eastern-Block training methods.Angel Spassov, “Program Design: Special Consideration when Programming for Strength and Power for Athletes – Part 1,” NSCA Journal 10(4) (1988): 58-61.

Angel Spassov, “Program Design: Constructing Training Programs – Part 2,” NSCA Journal 10(5) (1988): 65-70.

Angel Spassov, “Bulgarian Lecture Series #3: Qualities of Strength and their Application to Sport – Part 3,” NSCA Journal 11(2) (1989): 62-3.

Angel Spassov, “Bulgarian Lecture Series #4: Strength Preparation of the Tennis Player,” NSCA Journal 11(3) (1989): 72-3.


Special Considerations When Programming for Strength and Power for Athletes (NSCA Journal Vol 10 No. 4 1988) (Adobe Reader Required)

Constructing Training Programs (NSCA Journal Vol 10 No. 5,1988) (Adobe Reader Required)

Qualities of Strength and Their Application to Sports (NSCA Journal Vol 11 No. 2 1989) (Adobe Reader Required)

Strength Preparation of the Tennis Player (NSCA Journal Vol 11 No. 3, 1989) (Adobe Reader Required)

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1988: Meg Ritchie (Stone) Named Head Strength Coach at University of Arizona


A two-time Olympian in the discus and shot put, Meg Ritchie Stone was the first woman to be named as the head strength and conditioning coach for a Division-I men's program. She was hired to oversee all sports, including football, at the University of Arizona in 1988. Stone would go on to hold the same position at Texas Tech University, and in 1999 would become the first female to hold a national coaching position in Europe when she becomes the head track and field coach for her native Scotland. To this day, Stone remains one of the few women to have crossed over to coaching men at the national and international levels. Click the image to hear Stone talk about her unprecedented career.

1989: Publication of NSCA Position Paper on Women's Strength Training

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In the late 1980s, the NSCA leadership, concerned that some coaches and strength professionals were training women athletes differently than male athletes, convened a committee to prepare a position paper on strength training for female athletes. Chaired by Meg Ritchie (Stone) the committee did a comprehensive review of the literature on women and strength and then used their personal knowledge of women who had trained seriously with weights to conclude that:

"Males and females should train for strength in the same basic way, employing similar methodologies, programs and types of exercises. Coaches should assess the needs of each athlete, male or female, individually, and train that athlete accordingly. Coaches should keep in mind that there may be more differences between individuals of the same gender than between males and females."

As former NSCA President Lee Brown explains, the position paper helped open a new era for women athletes and for women strength professionals. To read all of the NSCA's position statements click here.

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Women's Position Statement

Chaired by Meg Ritchie (Stone) the committee did a comprehensive review of the literature on women and strength and then used their personal knowledge of women who had trained seriously with weights to conclude that:

"Males and females should train for strength in the same basic way, employing similar methodologies, programs and types of exercises. Coaches should assess the needs of each athlete, male or female, individually, and train that athlete accordingly. Coaches should keep in mind that there may be more differences between individuals of the same gender than between males and females."

As former NSCA President Lee Brown explains, the position paper helped open a new era for women athletes and for women strength professionals.

“Official Document: Strength Training for Female Athletes: A Position Paper: Part I,” NSCA Journal 11(4) (1989): 43-51.

“Official Document: Strength Training for Female Athletes: A Position Paper: Part II,” NSCA Journal 11(5) (1989): 29-37.

Additional Resources

Read all of the NSCA's position statements

1990s/2000s:The NSCA Expands its Scope

Over the past two decades, the NSCA has expanded the scope of its membership beyond the strength coaching community in an effort to make reliable strength and conditioning information accessible to the general public. The most important aspect of this new thrust has been the creation of a certification program for personal trainers called the NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT). Former NSCA President Lee Brown discusses the importance of this credential and the impact it and other more broadly-based initiatives have had on the NSCA's growth over the past twenty years.

2009: Exercise Scientist Dr. Mike Stone On the Importance of Strength for Athletes

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Dr. Mike Stone, a former NSCA president and one of the leading research scientists in field of strength training for sport performance, discusses the need for scientific training principles in a field often overrun by marketing gimmicks and fitness fads. Stone's research has helped to solidify the importance of periodization-based training programs in the United States. Click to hear Dr. Stone talk about need to retain strength as a key element of athletic performance. An Example of Dr. Stone's early publications: Mike Stone and John Garhammer, "Viewpoint: Some Thoughts on Strength and Power," NSCA Journal 3 (October, 1981), 24-25.

Mike Stone, "Considerations in gaining a strength power training effect: Free weights versus machines," NSCA Journal 4 (1) (February, 1982), 22.

2010: NSCA President Dr. Jay Hoffman Directs the Creation of the NSCA's Position Stand on Androgen and Human Growth Hormone Use

One of the most important tasks now facing the strength coaching profession is to continue to provide solid, research-based training advice to athletes who are living in an era of unprecedented ergogenic drug use. In 2009, Dr. Jay Hoffman, now the current NSCA president, directed the writing of a new NSCA Position Stand on Androgen and Human Growth Hormone Use. In the attached video Dr. Hoffman discusses the important role high school and college strength coaches can play in helping athletes make the right ethical choices through providing cutting-edge training modalities to enhance sport performance and through honest discussions with athletes about ergogenic aids of all sorts. J.R. Hoffman, W.J. Kraemer, S. Storer, N.A. Ratamess, G.G. Haff, D.S. Willoughby, and A.D. Rogol, “Position Stand on Androgen and Human Growth Hormone Use,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(5) (August 2009): S1-S59.

Additional Resources

Position Stand on Androgen and Human Growth Hormone Use by Jay Hoffman (The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 23 | Supplement 5 | August 2009) (Adobe Reader Required)

2010: Former NSCA Executive Director Bob Jursnick on the Future of the NSCA and Its New Certification Initiatives

In 2004, the NSCA moved into its current home, this 29,500 square-foot, building in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The building symbolizes the NSCA's commitment to providing cutting-edge scientific information along with practical hands-on training. It houses a state-of-the-art training facility, a classroom that seats 150 individuals, and the NSCA's executive offices.