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The Development of Physical Power Paperback – October 27, 2011
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"The feat of holding up a genuine 300 lb. barbell with two heavy men seated thereon and at the same time supporting upon the feet a long heavy plank with about a dozen men clutching each other for safety upon that insecure seat was most impressive, and everything was done with such ease and lack of effort I felt astounded. I made up my mind to make this superman’s acquaintance. This I was shortly after enabled to do through the editor of a physical culture magazine commissioning me to visit the Brand Music Hall, Clapham, and take with me a scale with which to test Saxon’s claim that he was raising 300 lbs. overhead single handed twice nightly. The Saxons had no inkling of my intended visit but I was pleased to find that they placed no obstacles whatever in my way; they seemed only too glad to believe that at last something was being done to establish their claims. ...This was because at the time it was quite customary for so-called strongmen to outrageously exaggerate their lifts, one 10 stone (140 lb) lifter calmly claiming a Bent Press of 336 lbs. whilst the bell probably weighed only 140 lbs. or so. ... Once, indeed, at Battersea, the card read 286 lbs., but the bell, of course, was a good 300 as usual. Asked what this meant, Arthur, to my surprise, said, “We have lost the 300 lbs. card and they cost money, but we have a nice 286 lbs. card.” Such behavior had never been known in the lifting world before. ... Thus the Saxons had what others at that time lacked – the method of daily hard work which has got the champions of today where they are. But in this system they stood alone, others did as little as possible and the general standard of lifting was low at the time. I am often asked about Saxon’s measurements and his best lifts. They were as follows: Height, 5ft. 10ins.; Weight, 200 lbs.; Neck, 17; Biceps, 17; Forearm, 14½; Chest 44; Thigh, 24; Calf, 16; Wrist, 8 ½. His best lift was, of course, the Bent Press, or a Two Hands Anyhow with Barbell and Ringweight, the barbell to be pressed single handed and not jerked and changed to one hand (the style which I introduced for the first time in my match with Aston). Arthur Saxon’s British record was 336 lbs. Bent Press and 411 lbs. Barbell and Ringweight. These were performed in strict conditions. He always seemed capable to me of doing substantially more but was never lucky when the attempts were made." - Thomas Inch
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“The Development of Physical Power” by Arthur Saxon is a fascinating bit of history. Arthur Saxon was one of the great county and state fair strong men of the early 1900's. He wrote this, his first book in 1905 to help others achieve strength.
Arthur Saxon lays out his philosophies on proper bodily care and hygiene, some principles on diet, and then explicit directions for performing the old time feats of strength. The information presented is reasonable and appropriate, given the state of physiology and strength development of the time. The principles still mostly apply today and mirror some of our modern ideas.
One of the interesting aspects is that Mr. Saxon does not feel he can lay out sets and reps to develop strength. He lays out the approach, and then states that each individual has to find his own pace through the material. But he does state that the heavy lifting should only be done twice a week, with very much lighter workouts on the intervening days.
Mr. Saxon discusses “the press” by which he usually means the one arm lifting of over 200 pounds. The technique has lays out has the individual raise one end of the bar to his shoulder and then push himself underneath the bar. He includes detailed directions for this lift. He also discusses a few other of the old strong man presses. This material is fascinating, but that style of lifting is very much in the past.
Included are several old photographs of Arthur Saxon himself, and a few other of the great old time strength lifters. It is interesting to observe that their torso thickness is not as much in the pecs, as mostly in the lats.
The book does give quite a few good pointers on other personal habits the athlete needs to develop. These are in general consistent with modern discussions.
While I doubt very many of us would want to replicate that old style lifts, the material is well and clearly presented. This is an excellent book to help understand the early days of strength showmanship.