Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Everything Old is New Again

There are legions upon myriad upon beaucoup ways to work out -- if you look around, you'll find books, courses, videos, personal trainers, all manner of instruction in ways to enhance your physical being. Pay your money, take your choice.

Many of these "new" systems, are, alas, simply recycled methods with new names and some tiny spin. The latest, most up-to-date, you-heard-it-here-first! systems.

Yeah, science marches on, we know the whys and wheretofors, but the principles of exercise and staying fit are essentially pretty simple: Eat less, exercise more. Do something that causes you to work up a good sweat. Train for the specific things you want or need. If you want to move heavy things around, lift weights. If you want to run a marathon, jog a lot. If you need to be able to put your ankles behind your head, yoga ...

The new age sellers nod, but say their way will allow you to do it faster, easier, and more efficiently. Probably some of them are right.

P.T. Barnum, were he alive today, would probably walk around in a permanent state of dazed disbelief. A sucker born every minute? How about ten a second? He'd have to hire a fleet of trucks to fill his money bin.

There's a machine, ads for it in Discover Magazine, that supposedly does it all -- strength, fitness, flexibility. Only takes four minutes a day. Four minutes, that's it. It really, really works, they swear.

Even if it did? There's a little drawback: It costs a tad more than a set of kettlebells (another old toy that has made a comeback) or the 110 lb barbell set down at Sears.

Check out the ROM. Go here, they'll send you a free DVD.

You can have one delivered for a mere $14,615.0o

Thing is, there have been strong and fit people as long as there have been people. Look at the statue of the Farnese Hercules, and you can bet the model for that didn't take anabolic steroids, nor spend fourteeen grand on a Rube Goldberg toy.

When I was a more serious weightlifter, I used to read the muscle 'zines. Foremost among those then -- and now -- were the Weider magazines, from Joe and Ben Weider. Joe was a pioneer in the bodybuilding field, and along the way, came up with a list of principles on how to do it right.

Cocentric, eccentric, overload, ascending sets, descending sets, push-pull, circuit -- you name it, Weider had principle for it. Started out with a few, but built steadily on them, until there were many. And, just in case you might possibly come up with something new, he had the best one of all: The Instinctive Training Principle. This basically meant, "Anything you come up with on your own? That's mine, too." Could have been subtitled "The Everything Else Principle ..."

Give credit where it is due, Weider had some training chops. All of the major bodybuilders up to and including lately were, at one time, training with his system. People would break away, usually to sell their own courses, but any big-name bodybuilder you ever heard of -- Ahnahl, Lou, Lee Haney, they trained at Gold's or World's, and they did it with the other Weider boys.

But, in the end, the principles are simple, and all the rest? That's mostly packaging.

Look at that picture of Hercules up top. How you figure he managed to get that way? Maybe it was the Weider Lucked Out Principle ...


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Or the Artistic License Principle. You never know. Maybe the model was a wealthy patron who was actually kinda weedy and potbellied, but since he was paying the big obols, the artist had to make it look good...

Steve Perry said...

I don''t think so in this case. Otherwise the model would almost certainly look more, ah, *heroic* than he does ...

Michael Trapp said...

Though he might very well be benefiting from myostatin gene deletion. Belgian blue cattle are one example of this, bully whippets are another. There is evidence that many, possibly most, competitive body builders are gifted (or cursed) in this way as well.

J.D. Ray said...

Sometimes, when I can't sleep, I get up in the middle of the night and do fifteen push-ups and fifteen sit-ups. That usually puts me right to sleep, oddly enough. It used to be only the push-ups. After turning forty, I got tired of the sagging middle I'd been carrying around for five years and decided that, beyond losing a little weight, I needed to tone up the table muscle. I added sit-ups to my occasional 2:00 a.m. routine, and I can at least report that it's getting easier, a sure sign of progress.

The whole "workout," from out of bed to back in, takes around ninety seconds. I've been thinking about marketing the "system," complete with a set of instructions for doing correct push-ups (I find that most people don't know how) and some tips on effective but less-painful sit-ups (this is America; if it hurts, we don't really do it). Do you think anyone would notice if I published under the name Barnum? More, if they did, would they still buy it?

Steve Perry said...

Always possible, and choosing your parents wisely matters; still, there are pretty good records of strong and fit people throughout history that offer proof that the guy who came up with SuperDuperUltimate Fitness wasn't the first person to figure out how to build muscle and strengthen one's heart and lungs.

Debates rage about how long homo sapiens have been around, but we are talking about way longer than recorded history. More than a million, less than three million years.

This is an ongoing discussion amongst martial artists. If it's old, can it be any good? If it doesn't take into account the latest technology, can it possibly work?

My answer is, Oh, yeah. Human physiology hasn't changed much in the last few eons. We've gotten bigger and we live longer, but most of us still have the standard equipment you see when you look in the mirror. A thousand-year-old samurai sword will cut as deeply as one made yesterday, assuming it's been kept oiled and sharpened. A fist you make looks like the one your nine-times-great-grandfather made, and a punch is a punch is a punch.

A black powder pistol from the 1860's isn't as good a weapon overall as a brand new stainless steel S&W right out of the box, but if the guy with the Navy Colt can shoot straight and he is faster, he can kill you the guy with the new toy first.

MMAs have been refined considerably for the ring in the last few years, but we've had striking and grappling and combinations thereof for as long as we've been here.

I have a mystical streak, but at heart, I'm mostly a scientist. I like seeing how things work, and why. But you don't need to be a chemist to make fire, and as Bobby Zimmerman said, you don't need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows ...