Principles of weight training – George W. Kirkley (1963)

Welcome to FOUNDATIONS OF IRON! We hope that this site will provide insight on physical culture and weight training for strength and physique as practiced decades ago, and that this online archive will continue to grow over the coming years.

We begin with an introductory text. The following excerpt, entitled “Principles of weight training,” is the first chapter of Weightlifting and Weight Training, by George W. Kirkley (1963). This paperback volume was a very good introduction to lifting weights for strength, physique, general athletics, and for the sport of competitive Olympic weightlifting. Among other credentials, Kirkley was senior coach of the British Amateur Weightlifters’ Association, and he had decades of experience in the field. However, little other information seems to be readily available on Kirkley himself. The text below gives excellent reasons to engage in this activity, and presents a basic overview of how to go about lifting weights.

KirkleyWeightLiftingBook cover: click image to enlarge (will appear in new window/tab)

Book excerpt:

Most men cherish a desire to have a well-developed body, even if very few of them take the trouble to do anything about it, but those who do train for the purpose of improved health, strength and development are wise. Wise because one of the most important things in life is good health. Good health is not necessarily combined with large muscles, of course ; one can be very healthy indeed with only a slight musculature, but good health plus good development is something even better. So why not seek that as well?

Muscular development can be had without using weights for the purpose. One can practise wrestling, gymnastics and many other forms of physical activity and, in addition to the enjoyment of the sport,can often make noticeable muscular gains, but for those who want the maximum development weight training is the best method. It can be scientifically planned – unlike the playing of games or the participation in sports, when the acquirement of skills and enjoyment of the game are the primary objectives and the muscular benefits merely incidental.

Weight lifting can also be made progressive, by the gradual increasing of resistance as the muscles grow in size and strength. Indeed the principle of progressive resistance is a major factor in weight training. The right exercises and other factors are essential, but unless the work is progressive – which means that it must lead to constant handling of heavier and heavier poundages – the realization of one’s potential will not come.

The use of a muscle against resistance causes an increase in size. This growth is due in part to improved circulation of blood and also to chemical conditions arising out of contraction. Activity causes some destruction of the constituents of the muscle but when nature replaces the lost materials she overcompensates.

Almost without exception the world’s best developed men have used progressive resistance exercises to build their physique and they have used heavier and heavier weights as they got bigger and stronger. The variety of exercises is very wide and dozens of different movements can be performed to build the physique in a harmonious and effective manner. Moreover, in this process the general health is improved and the vital organs function with greater efficiency.

Amount of Exercise

Generally, a training session should consist of a sufficient number of exercises to build all-round development, with at least one exercise for every major body part – particularly for a beginner, who usually lacks all-over development. Later, graduation can be made to exercises that are essential for the building up of those parts of the body that are below the over-all standard.

A training session should last, on an average, anything from an hour to an hour and a half. This is sufficient time to get through enough work for our purpose. The number of exercises will average from eight to fifteen, depending on one’s immediate object. At certain times, one may use only five or six movements for a special purpose. At others, double that number.

Frequency of Training

Since resistance exercise breaks down muscular tissue, which nature replaces and the process begins immediately after exercising, a rest period is essential to allow nature to do her work. Generally, it is not wise to exercise with weights every day and for most people a rest period of two days has been found to be the best. This means training sessions every other day, which is a good general principle. So aim at three or four sessions weekly, depending on such factors as your own personal recuperative powers and the time you have available for training.

Many people, too, find it beneficial to train hard and consistently for a period of, say, six months, then have a lay-off for about two weeks, before continuing again for another six-months’ period.

After the beginner’s stage, when a standard body-building course has been followed, perhaps for several months, you will know a lot more about your own particular physical and recuperative powers and will be able to plan your own future schedules and methods of training, bearing in mind that the essential basic principles must be maintained.

Any variation from these principles of progression, frequency of training, rest periods, number of repetitions, etc., depends entirely on the individual – his own powers, ambitions, intelligence, enthusiasm and adaptability.

You must not be afraid to experiment or to depart from the accepted path if by doing so, better results ensue.


The number of repetitions for any exercise can vary quite considerably, depending on the individual, his physical type, the nature of the exercise and the object in view. Later chapters will give more detailed aspects of this important factor of weight training. Generally, the number of repetitions will range from as little as three to as many as thirty, although the average for most exercises will be around eight to ten.

For general physique building where one is not concerned with increased strength so much as increased muscle size, the repetitions should be fairly high – generally from eight to twelve for most movements. The high repetitions allow a longer period for the muscles to be flushed with blood and tend to increase the size of the muscle as opposed to increasing its strength. Lower repetitions, while still in part achieving the object of in-creasing muscle size, tend to have more effect on increasing strength. This is why weight-lifters rarely perform high repetitions in their training, but instead use heavier weights and fewer repetitions.

The importance of physical type must be considered, too – more so in body building than in weight lifting – particularly as in weight lifting a good proportion of the participants are those of a physical type that is most favourable for the sport.

The next chapter deals in greater detail with this subject.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s