The Old School Patron Saints of Iron: Part 1
In the golden pre steroid era, men made spectacular gains using primitive equipment, primitive methods, and regular food. Nowadays we are plagued with the curse of too many choices. We suffer from paralysis by over-analysis. Modern fitness adherents and bodybuilders are so bedazzled by the newest and the latest that they forget the lessons of the past. There was a time when ultra basics were all there was. The elemental practices and core themes in progressive resistance, nutrition, and rest need be mastered before moving on to exotic variations of these core themes.
When it comes to building muscle size and power, the eternal solution has been to combine resistance training with the anabolic properties of wholesome, regular food. The third piece to the growth equation is to take advantage of the regenerative properties of deep sleep. The trainee purposefully traumatizes the muscle, then feeds the muscle, and finally rests that muscle. Do so repeatedly to grow and strengthen that muscle.
Results and tangible gains in muscle and strength were leveraged in primal time. [Photo courtesy of Pixabay]
What follows is a fictionalized “docu-drama,” a mostly fact, partly fiction recollection of a day in the life of two immortal iron athletes: Reg Park and Marvin Eder. The rationale behind this is to show readers how results and tangible gains in muscle and strength were leveraged in a time before workout apps and powdered supplements.
The workout, sets, reps, and poundage are based on actual workouts and actual poundage used by this duo. The data was gleaned from previously printed material. The nutrition, the food strategies, and the quantities eaten are also taken from previously printed articles on both men. I have taken ‘artistic license’ in weaving the narrative between the two protagonists; I relate the actual workouts while I surmise how the two would have interacted.
Enter Our Protagonists
Marvin Eder was from Brooklyn and Reg Park was from England. The two men periodically trained together in the mid 1950s. Our story takes place in 1955, in the untainted pre-steroid era when radical results could only be attributed to training, nutrition, genetics, and work ethic. One truism both men came to realize independently was that the stronger they became, the more muscle they created. They recognized the irrefutable relationship between muscle strength and muscle size. They each sought to exploit this relationship, this elemental truism.
To build massive muscles, they knew they needed to handle massive poundage in Herculean workouts. But how far could they take this approach, this crazed combination of volume and intensity, without breaking themselves, damaging themselves, injuring themselves, and thereby derailing the effort? These men strode the razor's edge that separates effective hypertrophy and training from catastrophic injury. Their manic training sessions were high-wire acts done without a net. But they both knew that extremism was where the big gains lay hidden.
These two men, along with Bill Pearl, were so far ahead of the rest of the humanity that, at the time, each man seemed superhuman. These guys were space aliens. Marvin Eder cleaned and pressed 345lb weighing 195lb. Reg Park bench pressed 500lb at a time when 300lb was considered amazing. When these two titans got together to train they pushed each other to stratospheric levels.
Opposites Do Attract
As people, Marvin Eder and Reg Park were complete opposites, physically and psychologically. Yet, as is so often the case, opposites attract. When they had the opportunity, the two men loved to get together and train. They loved to push each other past capacity in a game of alpha male one-upmanship. Their joint training sessions always resulted in superior workouts. They also enjoyed each other’s company.
They had a mutual admiration, and personality-wise the two men jelled. Marvin really was not much of an ego guy and Reg really liked Marvin as a person. Reg’s accent and outsized personality made Marvin laugh. Both men liked to be pushed in training, something that didn’t happen a lot because both were twice as strong as the bodybuilders they normally trained with. Reg and Marvin had developed training protocols that were remarkably similar, yet each arrived at the same conclusion independently.
Reg Park was the greatest European bodybuilder of his day and arguably the greatest bodybuilder in the world. Inarguably he was the man that mentored Arnold Schwarzenegger. Reg burst onto the British bodybuilding scene in the early 1950s and simply took over. Tall and handsome as the Greek god that he would later play in Hercules movies, Reg Park was a full 6'2", weighed 240lb, and sported 9% body fat. He had a fabulous set of budging, beautifully proportioned muscles. He had great structural architecture: wide shoulders, narrow hips, great calves. Reg was as strong as he looked, and could squat 550lb when 350lb was considered incredible.
Marvin Eder, in contrast, was a short yet extremely well built man. Perhaps 5'5", Marvin weighed 195lb and was the strongest man in the world at his bodyweight. He was the proverbial brick shithouse. Marvin was all power from head to toe, and his lifts are legend. He could deadlift 665lb, despite it being a lift he never practiced. He could strict curl a pair of 100s for eight reps and then, without setting the bells down, press them for eight reps. Eder could dip with 445lb strapped to his waist; he rep rowed with 405lb and could do a press behind the neck with 330lb. During his glorious peak, no man on the planet could match Eder in strength on a pound-for-pound basis.
Pictured: Bill Pearl
The Titans Clash on the Bench
In July of 1955, Reg Park was stateside and had arranged to stay at the beach for a few weeks. It seemed only natural that Mr. Universe would visit Marvelous Marvin, and that they would get together to train. Marvin and Reg met at the seaside gym at 10am on a Tuesday. They would be attacking two exercises simultaneously: the barbell bench press would be “super-setted” (alternated) with the barbell row. The bench press would maximally tax the upper and lower pecs, the front and side deltoids and triceps. The barbell row would work upper and lower lats, rear deltoids, rhomboids, and teres. Two barbells were set up and the barbell for rowing was positioned on the floor next to the loaded bench press.
Each man took three warm up sets in each exercise, honing technique and acclimatizing to heavier poundage with each successive set. They benched and then rowed in turn, first Reg, then Marvin. Each exercise began with 135lb. After successive warm up sets with 135lb, 225lb, and 315lb, they were ready for the meat and potatoes of the workout: eight sets of eight reps each in the bench and row with 365lb for both lifts.
This is an astonishing volume of work. They sought to perform 64 reps with 365lb in the bench press and 64 reps in the row with 365lb. That's 128 cumulative reps, and 46,720 cumulative pounds lifted (if anybody’s counting). The duo took less than 15 minutes to work through their six combined warm up sets. They took a water cooler break and then readied for the real work.
Reg Park was a massive and imposing man, tall and wide, on that day he was 245lb. He bulled the weights around, using a raw, slightly out of control style. Marvin, in stark contrast, was a natural technician, a lifting machine. His techniques were exemplary textbook stuff, cutting-edge, and extremely efficient. Reg was a Viking in attack mode, or perhaps a charging rhino; Marvin was a surgeon, a sniper, a robot.
As was expected, each man manhandled the first five sets of eight in the bench/row super-set. However, on set 6 Reg Park began to falter, he made his final reps on the bench press, but rep eight was barely there. Marvin quietly got fired up seeing his friend stumble. After all, both men were highly competitive alpha males. On set seven, Reg lost a rep off his bench press and he could not pull his 8th row rep to his chest.
Marvin the Machine made it through his seventh round with power to spare. The two exhausted men took their longest rest break between sets 7 and 8, five full minutes. When they were ready, they grinned and shook hands. Both were sweat-soaked and both had muscles that felt more like lead. The adrenaline had long since been exhausted and they were running on nerve, willpower, and machismo.
Muscles were maximally pumped and engorged with blood. Each man’s central nervous system was fried from the severity of the effort. The careful observer would note how Reg Park’s arms involuntarily shook as he tried to gather himself for one final, all out assault. He pulled himself together and revved himself up into a berserker mindset for one final kamikaze, all out effort. In his eyes, his manhood was on the line.
Reg gathered his mojo for the 8th and final set; he stood stock-still in front of the exercise bench and stared at the barbell like he was trying to hypnotize it. Marvin watched, dumbfounded. Reg glanced at Marvin and thought he detected smug satisfaction on Marvin’s face. To Reg, Marvin had the look of the magnanimous victor in a competition just won. And he, Reg, was the vanquished. Anger began to roil in Reg, like lava percolating in the core of an active volcano. Reg wanted the anger; he would channel it and redirect it and use it to his berserker advantage.
He looked at Marvin again; Yes! That was a smirk! Reg Park stomped his foot and cursed, then let loose with an incomprehensible scream at the top of his lungs:
This startled the hell out of a dazed and exhausted Marvin Eder. While Reg conjured up a smirking, triumphant Marvin, Eder had actually been spaced out, distracted, and thinking about what food he would order later at the diner. Marvin had been sprawled against the dumbbell rack, just wanting this death march of a training session to be over. And now Reg Park was going berserk. What the hell had gotten into him? Five minutes ago, Marvin was ready to call Reg an ambulance and now he’s frothing at the mouth like a crazed psychopath with bugged-out eyes that circled in different directions crazily.
Marvin rushed to the rickety bench with the flimsy uprights and lifted off the 365lb to Reg. As Marvin guided the barbell out and over Reg’s pecs, and before releasing his grip, Marvin stole a glance at Reg’s face. It was contorted into that of a mad man, an insane person. His well-spoken, witty, funny friend, was gone, replaced by an insane alter ego, who screamed as he repped, spittle flying, banging out sloppy, crazy reps like a jackhammer. He made the first six reps before he started to stall, then somehow made rep seven - barely.
“Oh my God,” Marvin thought, “Reg is going to try another rep.” Marvin placed his hands on the barbell when it became clear Reg the maniac was lowering for rep eight. If Reg collapsed, Marvin would try is best prevent the 365lb barbell from splitting his skull open. Marvin looked down at Reg’s tomato-red face, blood vessels bulging on both sides of his neck. Marvin decided to give Reg some fuel.
“C’MON YOU PUSSY ENGLISHMAN! We had to save your asses in TWO WORLD WARS!”
Marvin knew the right insult at the right time would cause Park to go further insane.
Park screamed as he pushed his guts out. In truth, Marvin had to help Reg through the sticking point to complete the rep – but no matter, the desired effect was attained. The barbell clattered and the plates jingled as it was dumped back onto the supports. Park leapt up off the bench as if he’d been electrocuted. He was jubilant. He was also gigantic, pumped to what appeared to be twice his original size.
Reg’s face had morphed from deranged fiend into Herculean hero. He announced with perfect enunciation, “I shall now ROW!” Before Marvin could utter “be my guest”, Park was attacking the barbell on the floor with a violence that was shocking. Reg screamed on each rep and on each subsequent rep he yelled louder and rowed with increased violence. He made six reps, stopped, set the barbell on the floor and knelt, gasping but not releasing his grip. After five breaths, he reassumed the row position and banged out the final two reps.
He collapsed to the floor in a panting, wheezing heap. Reg was done, literally, figuratively, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Reg had pushed so far past capacity that Marvin wondered if Reg was having a heart attack. He began to grow concerned.
“Reg, seriously, are you all right?”
An exhausted Park looked up, heart beating out of his chest, and grinned maniacally and hissed, “Never better in my life mate!” He extended his arm and Marvin pulled the big man to his feet.
After that theater of the dramatic, Marvin was going to serve up a different flavor of whoop-ass. Not to be anticlimactic, but after seeing Reg use his gonzo maniac psyche to propel him across the finish line, there was no way in hell Marvin Eder was not going to crush these two final sets and do so with complete control and precision. Now it is true that on rep 7 of the final set in the bench press Marvin slowed, and rep 8 was slower still – but the outcome was never in doubt. Then he crushed the rows in robotic fashion. To punctuate his performance, Marvin did ten reps on the final set of rows.
“You bastard,” the grinning Park remarked as Marvin coolly set the barbell down quietly and carefully and stood. Marvin, like Reg, had exponentially expanded himself. The thickest pecs in the world just got a whole lot thicker.
Both men shook hands and laughed. There was nothing to say. What they were experiencing was the hormonal after-glow that comes in response to 100% effort expended over an extended period. The result is utter and complete physical decimation; with the effort and the decimation comes a wordless state of zen bliss. Physically traumatized, mentally exhilarated, torrents of narcotic-like endorphins were coursing through their veins. The two men hit the gym showers and within 30 minutes both were clean, somewhat refreshed, attired in beach wear, and ready to eat some food.
To be continued...
More on "primitive" training methods:
Of Muscles and Might: The Workman's Conditioning Program