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Neglected classics

Modern-day lifters can still learn from the blasters of the past about packing on some serious size.

In the forgotten era of weight lifting the contestants in a bodybuilding show had to show their strength by cleaning and pressing Olympic-style lifts. The bodybuilders of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s took great pride in demonstrating their power when their muscles were not just “for show”.

They basically stuck to the basics with the thinking that the focus on strength would be followed by an accumulation in muscle mass. Think about champions such as Bill Pearl, Reg Park, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu. Although these men later incorporated isolation work into their training, they started out by using their own body weight and compound moves as the core of their mass-gaining routines.

The following exercises were more commonly performed by bodybuilders of the past and regarded as some of the most effective mass builders:


Whether you do these to the front or back of the head or with a variety of grips – they get the job done! Even if you perform a ton of pulldowns you cannot duplicate the chin-up using your own body weight. If you struggle to do them properly on your own, have a training buddy assist by pulling up on your ankles slightly. Work your way up in reps until you can do 12 without assistance – then strap a weight to your waist for added resistance.


Dips are another excellent old-school body weight exercise that most lifters neglect. Consider dips, if you need development in your chest, shoulders and triceps. When you lean into the stretch you emphasise the chest and shoulders. A more upright position will focus more on the triceps.

Shoot for 12 reps, either at the beginning of your workout or to wrap up a training session.

Power cleans

Power cleans build brutal power by stressing the trapezius, spinal erectors and quads. You do them by starting with a barbell on the floor, squatting down while you keep your back flat and your chin up. Grab the barbell with an overhand shoulder-width or slightly wider grip and pull the bar up to your shoulders with your elbows higher than the barbell. Flip the barbell so it comes to rest on or near the front of your shoulders before bringing your elbows down to allow the barbell to drop in a controlled manner back to the floor. Power cleans are done in one fluid movement. Start with an empty bar if you are uncertain about the move and ask someone with power clean experience for guidance.

Military presses

This exercise, also known as the overhead press when you stand with your feet wider apart, was once the ultimate test for upper body strength because of its effectiveness for building the shoulders, triceps and the upper back. It also works your entire torso because you have to stabilise yourself in order to move the weight. The military press is hard to do and harder usually means better. Big compound exercises are often seen as double-edged swords. When you execute the correct form, they build immense power and strength but when you do them incorrectly, they become increasingly dangerous. Make sure the barbell you are using rests on the squat rack at the same height as if you were squatting. Now grab the barbell with hands slightly wider than your shoulders, with your palms facing forward. Take the bar off the rack support and take a couple of steps back. While you keep your glutes and core muscles hard, press the barbell straight up to near full extension before lowering the barbell under control to your chin level. Remember, to move your head back slightly on the way down. Once you have completed your number of reps, you can put the barbell back on the rack and relax. At ease, soldier. Good job!

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