View Full Version : Observing Fifty Years of Gym Evolution (Part I)
by Tommy Suggs
I was home for Christmas vacation from The University of Texas. It was 1956 and my weight training had moved from conditioning and body building to competitive Olympic lifting. My home was on the Texas Coast, Lake Jackson, and there was not an Olympic bar in the county. Houston, sixty miles away, offered my best hope for finding a place to train during my two weeks at home for the holidays. After examining the Houston yellow pages, I found one gym listed…
Resources Page (http://startingstrength.com/index.php/site/resources)
Suggs mentions lots of names in this article. Some you'll know, some that will sound vaguely familiar and others not at all.
There's lots of information Out There for you to follow up. Here's some to get you started:
Tommy Suggs (http://www.google.com/images?q=%22tommy+suggs%22+weightlifter&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=og&sa=N&hl=en&tab=wi&biw=1280&bih=839)
Texas Athletic Club (http://www.bayardwilson.com/Sports/Archives/archivesII.htm)
Dennis Tinerino (http://www.ironmanmagazine.com/blogs/lonnie/?p=2066)
Dr John Gourgott (http://www.google.com/images?q=dr+john+gourgott&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=yKV&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&prmd=ivb&source=lnms&tbs=isch:1&ei=0CzHTKLJMIGglAf616HGAQ&sa=X&oi=mode_link&ct=mode&ved=0CAYQ_AU&biw=1280&bih=839)
Bill Pearl (http://www.google.com/images?q=bill+pearl&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&source=univ&ei=9SzHTKWpGML_lgeprIXHAg&sa=X&oi=image_result_group&ct=title&resnum=3&ved=0CE0QsAQwAg&biw=1280&bih=839)
Jim Moser (below, click image to enlarge)
10-26-2010, 05:06 PM
It was a treat reading this.
Thank you very much mr Suggs for sharing some of your immense experience with us.
Great insight from Mr. Suggs. I really wish more gyms had that individualized approach instead of just selling as many memberships as possible.
10-27-2010, 12:04 AM
These articles make me feel like a kid at christmas. So much valuable information. Thanks to everyone that contributes to this!
10-27-2010, 07:38 AM
This was such a great read. Thank you for all involved in getting it published to this site.
Stef, thanks for those links.
Thanks Mr. Suggs, and the SS crew for producing this interesting story and sharing it with us. Reading it made me thankful for the type of training facilities we have today compared to what you guys had to deal with back in the day. I like to complain about working out at big box gyms but damn, it is nothing compared to what it was like for you guys. I should be grateful for what we have now in comparison.
I hope you post some more stories in the future, I really enjoyed this one.
10-27-2010, 11:53 AM
Nice historic look back at the old gyms Mr Suggs. The first gym I joined in 1972 was one of only 2 lifting
gym that I was aware of within a 10 mile radius of my home. The YMCA and CYO's in my area didn't
have that much lifting equipment. And I lived just outside of Phila PA.
Now there's gotta be at least 20 gyms, most of them chains like LA Fitness etc. I don't remember any woman training in the old gym, mostly high school and college football players, body builders, and some pro wrestlers that stopped in while in the area.
I currently belong to a commercial gym which is near my house. It's got a little of everything ,from cardio machines, a power rack, and some Oly bars. The thing I miss today is a lack of space. The new gym is so packed with equipment it don't leave much space to workout. If I ever drop something I'll wind up killing someone. But then dropping weights and cursing aren't allowed there !
10-28-2010, 09:16 PM
Thanks for the article.
It brought back memories. Thirty years ago I was at the university. Before Christmas break I called my ma and asked her to get me a one-month membership at the local gym so that I could continue to train for crew while I was on vacation.
Every morn I got up at 4:30 and ran 5 miles to the gym to workout. It was chilly when I would start to run but I was warmed up by the time I got to the gym. 35 minutes to get to the gym, 40 minutes to return home. I took off Saturdays and Sundays. I don't remember any women in the gym either. I do remember getting back to the university much stronger than when I left it and my improved fitness made a definite impression on the coach.
10-29-2010, 03:14 PM
I'm sorry to jack the the thread, but 1½ page into the article I said to myself "Damn - I should upload a bunch of pictures of my club":
I train in AK Thor, established in '94.. 1894 which makes it the oldest one in Denmark and as far as we know the oldest one in Scandinavia. Back in the day all the clubs had the "AK" prefix, meaning Atletik Klub (Athletic Club). Back then, that meant boxing and weightlifting. Thor is the Norse God of Thunder. Other clubs had names like AK Atlas or AK Viking. It is located outside of our capital - Copenhagen - on the island of Amager. Amager is the 'New Jersey' of Denmark.
The club is driven as an association (not sure if that's the right word), meaning every member has an equal say at the annual general assembly. The most important thing at the general assembly is free pizza and a very long, drawn out discussion about buying new equipment.
The price is 300 DKK per quarter (~ $55) or 1/3 of a standard fitness membership. After having trained there for a while and been "OK'ed", one is given a key and can come and go as one wishes.
The club doesn't offer any formal training or programming, but Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays the Grand Old Men of the club are there and they offer instructions. Generally, everybody corrects everybody.
Outside view with some Scandinavian autumn in the background. The club is located in some old army barracks that have since turned into a big area with football pitches.
Bars. All are Eleiko, except the fatbar. The fatbar weighs a whopping 5kg.
Swedish stall bars, Therabands, small plates, bicycle inner tubes, 'real' bands, jump ropes, dipping belt, broom sticks and a very old school way of doing incline bench presses.
Bumper plates from 2,5 to 25kg.
10-29-2010, 03:15 PM
A pamphlet to celebrate our 75th anniversary in 1969. Apparently the club was founded by a Stalin look-a-like.
Cardio is very important.
Music, boxes of chalk, therapeutic balls (the big one is great for the spine, the small one is great for the feet). The bottle is - from what I can tall - a beer from when Russia was called USSR.
Our 'platforms'. Some monster is doing some serious deadlifting.
10-29-2010, 03:15 PM
Our coat of arms. On the right is a showcase with scorecards for lifters from days gone by. One the left is a poster of barbell and dumbbell exercises.
Heavyweight (above 90kgs). STEM = press, TRÆK = snatch, STØD = clean and jerk. The coloured lines means it's a records of sorts. Notice that you can read the hand writing.
Almost as in depth as Starting Strength. I have pictures of all 4 posters is people want to look closer.
Our kettlebells that aren't put to good use and a lonely lifting box.
10-29-2010, 03:16 PM
A new addition. In the background are some poster from the '96 Olympic Games. Chemerkin C&Js 260kg.
Jerk boxes. Used mostly for storage and jumping.
Present day scorecards. Apparently the ability to lift heavy weights go hand in hand with the ability the write with a pen.
Random challenge. Who can walk the longest with a 32kg KB in each hand.
10-29-2010, 03:17 PM
THE LAND OF THE LAW! If you do not comply with the rules set forth, you will be explained, in a very calm voice, that the other members also have to train here and they would like you to try to follow the rules. Pretty please - with sugar on top.
The room next door, where "The Other Guys" train. Notice the old Power Rack. Now it's a place to train your six pack.
Dumbbells. They only go to 40kg. The club's board has the belief that too heavy dumbbells will attract people on steroids.
Changing rooms: Cabinets for shoes/sleeves/belts and a weight.
I hope you found this little tour interesting. If this is the wrong place to post this, please let me know.
10-29-2010, 09:42 PM
It's a little off-topic, but interesting in an old-school way. Tommy would approve.
11-01-2010, 12:52 PM
Good tour, even better captioning.
Suggs mentions that describing the X-Factor would require another article. I'd like to see that article. I'm sure I'm not alone.
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