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Secrets of Strength

Earle E. Liederman was one of the leading strength authorities of his time. He was originally inspired by Eugen Sandow, whom he later partnered in business with. He became the editor of Muscle Power magazine later in life. Secrets of Strength was one of his most well-known books.

Overall I have to say I very much enjoyed this book and picked up a few ideas I had not had before. This is, perhaps surprisingly, the first time I’d read Liederman but he is now one of my favorite of the oldtime strongmen authors. His ideas are very much in alignment of mine and I really look forward to reading the rest of his books.

I should have checked up on this as I thought Secrets of Strength was Liederman’s first book but it’s actually the sequel to Muscle Building, which we’ll be reading next month in the physical culture book club.

Earle LiedermanThe chapters found in this book are:

1 – Inherited and Acquired Strength
2 – Power and Strength
3 – Strength Through Muscular Development
4 – Are Small Bones a Bar to Strength?
5 – Strength Through Natural Advantages
6 – Quality of Muscle the Basis of Strength
7 – Strength Through Symmetry
8 – Strength from Perfect Digestion
9 – The Importance of Big Lungs and a Strong Heart
10 – The Secret of Nervous Energy
11 – Building Vital Force and Reserve Energy
12 – Building Strength

Inherited and Acquired Strength

He starts off the book with a discussion on the differences between inheriting strength and acquiring it yourself. He talks about genetics, without using those words, and how families may or may not breed strength.

“Given equal care, all men could be molded to the thoroughbred type in two or three generations.”

“There are unquestionably some men of gigantic strength who inherit their physical powers.”

“Inheritance plus initiative – the will to be strong.”

Overall the point is that CHOICE is the biggest determinant in whether you’ll become super strong or not. I agree 100%.

He then discusses why laborers don’t become super strong.

“There are three principal reasons why the average work-man is not very strong. The first being that he has too much work, being forced to continue after he is tired, with the consequence that he destroys tissue faster than he can rebuild it. Second – That only few employments require the use of all the muscles, and all-round development is the prime requisite of great bodily strength. Third – It is but rarely that work or labor requires the extreme contractions and the vigorous effort which produce muscles of great size and high quality…A short period of daily exercise, of the right sort, will give a man greater strength, a better shape and better health than he could possibly get by labor.”

This is an important paragraph worth understanding because it shows lots of the principles for success within it.

Exercise Ideas

“Walk for 200 yards, while carrying in each hand a dumb-bell weighing over 200 pounds.”

The farmer’s walk is a great exercise and not one that I’ve practiced in some time. This right here would be an excellent goal to shoot for. It would show a good amount of overall strength, grip strength, holding and carrying ability, plus conditioning.

“I am in favor of the kind of strength that enables its possessor to use it in any kind of muscular work, be it sport of actual labor. In other words I believe that a man who is really strong should be able by virtue of his strength, to lift weight or carry them; to pull a strong oar in a crew; to plunge through the resistance offered by two or three opposing football players – to throw weights, to do difficult gymnastic stunts such as climbing the bar with one hand, or vaulting a seven-foot fence – to swing a heavy hammer all day without tiring – to carry huge trunks or bales, and to do all these things without special preparation or training, simply because of the strength and energy that is in him. At least, that is the kind of strength I try to give to those whom I train.”

Liederman Ad

An old advertisement of Liederman's

Another thing I’m in big agreement with Liederman on is the idea of all around strength. This is my idea of being a Physical Culture Renaissance Man. Can you do all the above?

“He claimed that 30 such jumps gave one as much work as ten times as many ordinary squats, and produced much bigger muscles.”

Here was an example on how explosive work is much better for strength and size then just adding repetitions. 30 squat jumps giving you as much as 300 squats? The ratio may not be correct but I would certainly agree with the idea.

“To mount a ladder as Winship did teaches one the knack of strong muscular contractions, because, as you come near the top of the ladder, if you miss you will take a 15 or 20-foot fall. Winship’s muscles grew rapidly in strength; so to give them harder work he would skip a rung at each jump. This produced strength so rapidly that ordinary chinning became child’s play to him and to chin the bar with one arm was no trouble at all. Then he went to going up the inclined ladder using only one arm; and eventually reached the point where he could give such a terrific pull that he could mount three rungs at a time. Think of the prodigious power he must have had. It takes a “Strong Man” to “chin” even once with one hand, but this Winship could actually pull so strongly with one arm that his whole body would be projected vertically upward. Probably he used similar schemes to develop the rest of his body. That his strength was not confined to his arms is shown by the fact that in his exhibitions he would lift from the floor with hands alone, a platform bearing a dozen 100-pound nail kegs. And to do that he must have had immense strength in the back and legs.”

I took note of this story because the one arm chin is one of my biggest goals currently. It’s the same idea of explosive strength. You can gain much more with much less. Although you may not have this ladder setup you can still do explosive pullups and work the rest of the body in a similar manner. Well worth experimenting with.

The Importance of Hand Strength

“Strong wrists are such an advantage that it is impossible to spend too much time at improving their shape and power.”

Here he is not saying that you can’t over-train them. Just at no time should you stop doing exercises to further improve your strength because it is so important and you should always be working to make it even better.

Why is it so important? This quote tells you why:

“You will never be any stronger than your hands and wrists.”

Muscle Quality and Development

“A muscle can be of high or low quality, just as may a steel spring.”

This has deeper meaning then just may be found on the surface.

“There is a way of developing muscle, which gives added size but surprisingly little added strength. There is another way which adds to the muscle’s strength and leaves the size to take care of itself. And there is a third, and it seems to me an ideal way, which not only brings a muscle to its maximum size and greatest beauty of outline but also gives it enormous contractile power.”

Another important statement and I’d say Liederman was well ahead of his time on this one. You can become huge without strength. You can become very strong without size. And you can get both. He definitely favors the last, though I would say, the second has it’s value too. The first not so much in my opinion.

“There are “Strong Men” galore, and I defy you to bring me one who is either small, or weak looking.”

In the book he talks about how some men come to him wanting strength but no size as that is not the fashion. Now you can become insanely strong without becoming huge, but you still won’t look weak. You may have like I do, deceptive strength, but with you won’t be a scrawny and frail looking person.

Tendon, Joint and Fascia Strength

It’s always about muscle building isn’t it? If you get into serious strength training and strongmanism then you’ll hear about tendon, ligament and even bones strength. But what about the fascia?

“I took a physician friend to watch Saxon perform, and when the “bent-press” was made, and Saxon’s body was bent almost double to the side as he forced up a 314-pound weight, my friend exclaimed “that man must have phenomenally strong fascia.””

This is an idea I plan on diving into further in the future. The fascia is much more involved in super strength then it’s given credit for. This example with Saxon is very interesting.
So here we discuss the tendons and what it takes to develop them.

“When he practiced, he would do the sort of stunts which threw heavy work on the full length of the muscles, and on the tendons.”

“To achieve the maximum of strength and beauty, it is necessary to practice exercises which teach your muscles to contract strongly, so as to develop the muscle throughout its full length from tendon to tendon.”

There is also lots of talk of the joint and the strength there. Another important factor for those who would be super strong.

“In the case of any joint, power is located on either side of the joint.”

More Principles of Strength

“Lifting a 300-pound weight from the ground six or eight times will develop the back more rapidly than lifting 500 pounds once. Stretching a 5-strand “exerciser” a dozen times will make the arm muscles bigger than doing the same thing only once or twice with a 7-strand; and much quicker than taking a 2-strander and stretching out 50 times.”

“It has been proven that vigorous movements, repeated only a few times, tend to increase both the size and strength of a muscle much more rapidly than will a violent movement repeated once; or a mild movement repeated one hundred times.”

While I think there can be great success with any rep ranges for the most part this is true. Working in the middle ground for reps does tend to build size best for sure, and can be great for strength too.

“Has it ever occurred to you that his symmetry may account for a large part of a “Strong Man’s” power?”

In the book he talks about the fact that no one becomes completely symmetrical, but by becoming stronger you tend to balance out. And finally this symmetry may be a big key in whole body super strength. I’ve never heard it put this way before.

“I long ago found out that it was the constant use of the back, which gave such great strength to some of those laborers; and my criticism of most “exercise systems” is that they pay insufficient attention to creating back-strength.”

Make sure you’re consistently focusing on back strength. Enough said.

Digestion and Diet of Strong Men

“I have never yet met a “Strong Man” whose digestion was poor…I believe that the almost perfect digestion of those who are very strong is mostly due to the development of the muscles in the neighborhood of the digestive tract.”

I see this too. With many strongmen of today and year’s past, though certainly not all, you can read about there incredible eating habits as well.

Is the theory on why this is the case true? Hard to be sure though I think it is. Working the muscles around the organs, effects those organs, and is sure to help them move and keep things running correctly.

“I sometimes wonder if anyone besides myself ever noticed the similarity of the diets of an invalid and a “Strong Man.” A man recovering from an illness will be given broths, beef tea, milk-and-eggs, ice-cream, milk-toast; and as he gets stronger, meat. That is just the kind of dishes the “Strong Man” naturally prefers. I know professionals who at the end of an exhausting act will consume large quantities of beef tea, or some meat extract. They claim that it immediately restores their strength; the explanation being that the juices of the meat are assimilated very rapidly.”

That first statement is very interesting. To become super strong and big it is wise to go for foods that are easily assimilated. Now I might not agree with everything that is on that list, for instance dairy doesn’t work great for me, but the idea is solid.

Endurance, Lung and Heart Power

“The exertion of great strength for short periods calls for a stronger heart, than mild exertion over long periods. To run 100 yards in ten seconds is harder on the heart than running a mile in six minutes. Now we will get back to the “Strong Man.””

“When a muscle is highly tensed, the blood-vessels which serve it are squeezed together, and it takes a very strong heart to keep the blood flowing through these compressed arteries and veins.”

For true endurance, and conditioning you can’t just do “cardio”. A stronger heart and lungs comes from stronger work. Of course I would say run the 6 minute mile and the 100 yards in ten seconds. (I haven’t done running of that manner in quite some time. I’d be curious where I was at right now.)

“The really “Strong Man” can show three or four times as much lung-expansion as can the average man; and twice as much as most athletes can show.”

This shows the value of “strength” work in building conditioning. Greater lung power allows you to do much else.

“Most people think that the only reason for cultivating the lungs is to promote endurance; whereas big powerful lungs actually add to a man’s strength because they add vastly to his energy.”

Building good conditioning isn’t just important for that fact alone but because it seems to just increase your overall energy too.

Overtraining and Nervous Energy

“This nervous energy is a fine thing to have in reserve so that it can be used in great emergencies; but I am convinced that if a man thus forced his strength, and spent his energy thus prodigally in his daily exercise, or his daily work, he would soon become both muscularly and nervously exhausted…Remember the word “spent,” and be careful when exercising never to spend your energy beyond your power to replace it.”

These days I don’t work that hard in my training. Why? Because I don’t have to. I don’t need to tap into my reserves in order to grow stronger. Like he said, once in awhile is fine. There is an old Chinese maxim that I often quote. It’s okay to become tired but never exhausted. To many people make the point of their workout to reach exhaustion and they will suffer the results because of that.

“While it takes a lot of hard work to develop a muscle to its limit, you can keep it at its limit by only a little work.”

This is an important idea too many don’t seem to realize. Gaining something takes a good amount of work. Keep it there really doesn’t take much. But if you don’t do that bare minimum you will lose it to some degree, and have to then devote work to get it back.

“A prize-fighter preparing for an important contest will spend six weeks in training for the battle. Experience has shown that an athletic man can be brought to the very top notch of condition in that length of time.”

I have found this to be true with myself. When I don’t follow the above and keep things maintained I find that within six weeks I can usually get back to my previous bests in just about anything.

“If after your exercise, your bath and your rub-down, you feel fit to battle for a kingdom, then your schedule is right. If, on the contrary, your exercise so exhausts you that it is hours before you again feel brisk, then the work is too heavy, and you must either take a rest, or else reduce the severity and amount of the exercise.”

The litmus test for if your training is right or not.

“Literally he has worked himself out, and that is exactly the thing the strength-seeker cannot afford to do. If your idea of training is that you must dash from one exercise to the next with the sole purpose of “getting up a sweat,” then I can tell you right here that you will never get very strong, or well-developed until you give up that idea.”

Working out and becoming strong are not the same thing. There can be different approaches for each.

“Beware of rigid schedules. It would be exceedingly pleasant if you could go on forever gaining at the same rate of speed, but nature simply won’t work that way.”

You must listen to your body. Nature does not move linearly. If you schedule yourself that way it will not work out.

Performing as a Strongman

This book even has tips on performing. It has everything!

“The secret is, that the performer has carefully arranged his stunts in such order that a hard feat will be sandwiched in between two comparatively easy ones. And always the “big feature” – the feat which requires a terrific output of strength and energy comes right at the end of the act. That happens to be the correct thing to do from the theatrical standpoint, since an act should always be arranged as to “work the audience up” to a grand finale.”

A very helpful tip on showmanship and how to structure your act to make it easiest on you.

Like I mentioned before I really enjoyed this book and look forward to the next one. There was much more gold in Secrets of Strength then even I mentioned here, so be sure to read it yourself if you haven’t already.

I’d love to get your questions and comments below.