How are your “External Obliques?” – Bob Hoffman (1940)

The text featured below consists of excerpts from an article by York Barbell founder Bob Hoffman, which originally appeared in the August 1940 issue of his monthly magazine “Strength and Health.” For the sake of brevity, only a few segments from the long and verbose (and often repetitive) original article could be included here.

GrimekOneHandLiftYork Barbell star John Grimek performing a one-handed lift. Click to enlarge (will open in new window/tab).

Hoffman generally promoted Olympic-style weightlifting as the primary modality for exercising with weights, rather than bodybuilding with cosmetic purposes as the primary objective, and his focus is quite evident in this article.

These excerpts show how Hoffman emphasized the strength and health benefits of exercising particular muscles, rather than pure aesthetics. For instance, while acknowledging the visually impressive oblique muscles on ancient statues, Hoffman takes pains to explain to the reader how such muscles serve a practical purpose for power and speed as well as internal bodily functions. In a way, Hoffman’s approach could possibly be considered to be a sort of early precursor to today’s “functional fitness” trends. Contemporary readers may also be intrigued by Hoffman’s references to one-handed bent pressing, a staple exercise in old-time strongman exercise routines, but no longer well-known.

This article also shows how the whole field of muscle, strength, and weight training was a very commercialized enterprise from early on. Ever the promoter, Hoffman does not miss the opportunity to include promotion of his York Barbell business enterprises, as well as his star lifter and physique man John Grimek, the newly crowned Mr. America 1940 (which contest was discussed in another article in the same issue of “Strength and Health”).

Article excerpts:

[…]

Artists who have seen the best built men of the present, believe that we have better developed men, and in greater abundance than ever before in the world’s history. Many believe that no man ever lived who possessed as fine an all around development, beauty of physique, as does John Grimek, recently selected both as the “Most Muscular Man in America,” and “the best proportioned or best developed man in America.” The Grimek physique immortalized by the artists of the present will serve as a good illustration to the men and women of the future, that our men of this part of the 20th century compare more than favorably with the men of the past who flourished during the artistic periods of centuries ago.

If you have the opportunity to see reproductions of famous ancient statues, such as the Farnese Hercules, Ajax, Hector, Mars, Achilles, Atlas, the lame God Vulcan, you’ll be surprised and pleased to note the phenomenal development of the side muscles portrayed by these old time artists and sculptors. While the people of these ancient civilizations practically and universally idolized physical beauty and muscular development, the development of the muscles where they could do the most good, such as the muscles of the side, is good proof that they realized the full worth of unusual side muscularity.

It’s not only the value of powerful side muscles which we must contemplate but it is the value of the exercises which resulted in the development of these muscles which is most important. All exercises which involve the muscles of the midsection are particularly beneficial. They aid all the internal processes, improving digestion, aiding elimination, creating a need for better circulation, and increase the action of and products from the important glands which pour their substances into the blood stream. By exercising the muscles which improve the internal processes, great physical benefit accrues, the action of organs and glands is benefited and a far greater state of strength and health is attained. They very best exercises are the ones which utilize all the muscles, particularly those of the midsection which support and incase the important internal “works.” Any exercises which bring the midsection into play are particularly beneficial. They provide a gentle massaging effect upon the organs and glands, preventing their being encased by fat, and gently stimulating them, aiding them in performing their diverse and important functions.

[…]

An exercise which brings the mid-section into play will benefit the side muscles to a fair extent, but results are obtained in direct proportion to the amount of weight that is handled. If you were to visit the York Bar-Bell gym on a day when some of our leading lifting experts were exercising the muscles of the sides, I believe you would be amazed to see the poundages employed.

A really powerful development of the muscles of the side will make you a bit wider waisted, but it will give you strength, virility, endurance and super-health, as a result of the improvement of all the processes of the body which accrue through practicing exercises designed to develop the sides. While the devotee of free hand exercises turns his imaginary wheel or pulls on his imaginary rope, or bends his body alone from side to side, a superman in strength and development like John Grimek performs a side bend with a 175 pound or heavier bar bell in one hand. John can perform at least ten side bends with the Cyr bell, loaded still as it was when I bent pressed it at the exhibition in Atlanta, Ga., to 248 1/2 pounds. As he performs this movement, he bends sideways and slightly forward until the bell just about touches the floor, then straightens up, and continues this movement for at least ten counts with a very heavy weight, more with a lighter weight.

Think of the power these muscles possess, when they can so easily raise the body with 250 or more pounds held either at the side or overhead as in bent pressing. It is evident that weight is required to bring such powerful muscles to their fullest development. Any of the men who excel at one hand lifting, particularly the one hand snatch and bent press, reaching the lowest position in the snatch, or in the one arm jerk, are sure to develop most unusual strength in the side muscles.

[…]

In developing the muscles of the sides there are a host of good exercises but the question which concerns any body builder most, is just what do the best exercises consist of. Weight lifting provides the best means of progressive resistance. The frailest man or woman can do the bend to the side exercise with five, ten or fifteen pounds, and by increases of as little as 1 1/4 or 2 1/2 pounds can gradually work up until a very heavy poundage is reached. And the chief advantage of weight training is the fact that the farther you go the faster you go. When you first start you may be strong enough to use only a light weight, and it takes longer for the body to respond favorably to this moderate resistance. But just like a rolling snow ball which is only the size of a pea to begin, which grows very slowly with each turn, and then very rapidly as it becomes larger, as you become strong enough to handle heavier poundages, less time and less effort are required and far superior results are obtained.

[…]

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