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History of Powerlifting, Weightlifting and Strength Training Part 68 0

Talking Diversity in Lifting Ability Part Four

If reader feedback is any measure of accuracy, even operating under the assumption that most TITAN SUPPORT SYSTEM readers are powerlifters, there is widespread agreement with the statements I have made in the last few columns regarding the differences between and among those who participate within the boundaries of the Iron Game sports. The general consensus is that powerlifters as a group, are “more hyped,” “more outwardly emotional,” and “more nuts” than Olympic weightlifters. I like the “more outwardly emotional” description best and regarding the “more nuts” label, why don’t we just say that most who are obsessed with any aspect of lifting weights probably lie outside the norm on some measure of psychological standards. I of course would include myself within that group as there are not many explanations that would adequately justify for example, working a ten hour day of hard physical labor, attending school for two to three and a half hours on four evenings per week, maintaining family responsibilities, and yet carving out time for two or three brutally difficult training sessions each and every week. Yet, how many of us always approached each difficult week with the thought that “If there is one thing I have to make time for and get done this week, it’s my squat workout”? In drawing comparisons between the two major aspects of the lifting sports, I have avoided commentary on bodybuilding. In part, this comes from the fact that my personal interest was never truly tied to that faction of our activity.

If you go to the newsstand of one of the major bookstores or on the street corners in some of our larger cities, or know how to navigate the Internet well, you can find magazines related to every aspect of activity that finds one even touching or breathing upon a barbell. There are specialty magazines for powerlifting (and how badly does everyone miss POWERLIFTING USA?), CrossFit, general fitness, hard core bodybuilding, “soft core” bodybuilding, women’s fitness, whatever men’s fitness might be, extreme women’s physical development, the Spartan/Tough Mudder type of events, and everything in-between. You just have to know where to look.

Muscle Power Magazine Cover

More than the York publications, Joe Weider stressed the “get muscles-get the girl” approach to attracting teenage boys to his magazines and products. Muscle Power eventually became Muscle Builder and finally Muscle And Fitness

n the early 1960’s, I was often asked to either immediately remove my copy of what could only be described as a bodybuilding magazine from the inside of my textbook while sitting in the back of a high school classroom or trek to the Principal’s office with the offending, and oft-considered deviant magazine, in hand. The reading choices were limited: York Barbell Company’s Strength And Health or Joe Weider’s Muscle Power. Intermittently, Weider would augment his primary magazine which would later morph into Muscle Builder and finally, Muscle And Fitness, with Mr. America, Young Mr. America, or something designed to introduce “athletes who lift weights” into the consciousness of fourteen and fifteen year olds who he was priming for long-time customer status.

Young Mr. America Magazine Cover

The article titles say it all regarding the focus upon the interests of young teenage boys: “Mold Mighty Arms”; “Build Powerful Legs”; “Terrifying Self-Defense Tactics…”; and the necessary reference to sex, all topics sure to hold the immediate and riveting attention of a fourteen year old intent upon finding his place within his peer group. This brilliant marketing strategy built the Weider empire.

 As high school was concluding for me, York introduced Muscular Development which miraculously, had powerlifting based articles or “round ups” that were to that point in time, extremely rare. Less than mainstream, Peary Rader’s Iron Man and Lifting News were difficult to get, especially the latter which was no more than a few pages of strictly Olympic lifting and later, a combination of weightlifting and powerlifting meet results.  Although Mabel and Peary Rader would have missed the point with their extremely conservative, Nebraska-based lifestyle, Iron Man’s acceptance as a “regular” muscle or bodybuilding type of magazine, at least in the New York City area, was further limited by its comparatively small 9” x 6” size, which usually found it displayed with the magazines blatantly packaged for a homosexual audience.  


Muscle Builder Magazine Cover

Muscle Builder Magazine Cover

I was fortunate enough to have met, spoken with and over many years, established relationships of minor acquaintanceship or those of more significance with many of the leaders in the Iron Game. This included Joe Weider, Peary Rader, and Bob Hoffman of York and at one time or another I wrote articles for publications produced by all of them, either under my own name or in the case of the Weider magazines, often “by-lined” by one of the bodybuilding stars of the day. While bodybuilding was not “my thing,” I believe I can safely say that very few Olympic weightlifters or powerlifters first saw a barbell and thought, “I want to be a lifter.” They usually thought, as most young teenagers or pre-teens do that “I want to get bigger and stronger and look like that guy,” with “that guy” being an individual with some type of noticeable or advanced muscular development.


Muscular Development Magazine Cover

The February 1964 edition of Muscular Development magazine was the second issue ever published. Though it had a definitive “powerlifting section,” the photo of Mr. “Everything” Bill Pearl and the cover slogan “Devoted To The Science Of Bodybuilding” told its true intentions

This is such a natural response that at one point, after complaining to Joe (Weider) about some of the magazine content of Muscle Power, he reminded me, and I shall paraphrase what he told me numerous times, that he was “doing a favor to all of the fourteen and fifteen year olds” that comprised his target audience of readers. “I sell them a dream, I sell them on the possibility of being big and strong and having all of those muscles and by the time they figure out that you can’t just get that kind of development, they’re hooked on a better, healthier lifestyle.” They hopefully would also be hooked on all of the Weider supplements and home equipment that were touted and featured in his magazines each month. In truth, arbitrarily choosing any date from the mid-1950’s as a starting point, to the early 1980’s, the magazines served as little more than a monthly catalogue for the product line, especially the supplements. In 1971 Nautilus founder Arthur Jones said it most accurately; “Years ago-once having been persuaded to purchase a barbell-most trainees were effectively removed from this category of potential customers; and thus the market was strictly limited-and no great profits were to be made by anybody. But a box of protein food supplement doesn’t last almost literally forever-as a barbell does; and secondly, it is far more difficult to judge the quality of a box of powdered food-if a barbell fails to live up to advertised claims, the shortcoming is obvious, but who can really judge the value of a food supplement?…The fact of the matter is that the subject of diet is probably the most completely understood factor involved in physical training-but not by bodybuilders who have been brainwashed into spending hundreds of millions of dollars on products of little or no value.”

Vintage Fear No Man Ad

The muscle magazine target audience was also a potential market for self defense courses. In addition to being big and strong, what 14 – 16 year old male doesn’t want to feel as if he could fight his way out of any situation? Nutritional supplements were and remain the foundation of the “muscle building market” and though Joe Weider was in no way a martial arts expert, I am certain he sold quite a few self defense and “How To Fight Better” courses through his various magazines

Though Jones was specifically addressing the bodybuilders who comprised the majority of the “lifting landscape” of the late-1960’s and early-1970’s, if he was alive today he could now perhaps add the statement, “in addition to bodybuilders, those seeking enhanced athletic performance as a reflection of what is now an acceptable level of participation in competitive, athletic and performance activity events, also spend hundreds of millions of dollars on products of little or no value.” Forty-three years after Arthur’s initial comments, nothing has changed in the nutritional supplement industry and nothing has significantly changed within the pages of most of the magazines. There are “celebrity” articles, limited training information, and a majority of nutrition and/or supplement related articles, information, and advertising. This is what drives the industry as it did from the mid-1950’s and forward. Relative to “hooking young men onto weight training” by appealing to, or preying upon their need or desire to be bigger and stronger, which was the “manly ideal” of the earlier era, the appeal is now to one’s specific desire to “get ripped and have abs” with this somehow construed as a reflection of “being strong” or “in shape.” And if one is interested in sitting in the back of any classroom and reading about the “how-to” steps of achieving their goal, it is still the bodybuilding type of look that serves as the lure.

More Next Month!

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Ken Leistner

About Ken Leistner

American strength training writer, personal trainer, strength consultant for the National Football League, and chiropractor. He is often known as "Dr. Ken". Read More >

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