This post was inspired from my time spent reading the old books of bodybuilding where the greats from the 50s, 60s and 70s spoke often about all the high rep bodyweight training they did.
Hundreds of sit ups and crunches every training session.
100 Pull Ups on back day / back workouts.
100 Push Ups for the warm up.
These men from back in the day had physiques that were carved from stone. They had what many call today as "functional strength".
Many of these men worked manual labor jobs by day so they trained at 5 AM or 6 PM after work.
There was a certain element of mental toughness and dedication that I don't see enough of today.
Marvin Eder, one of the greats truly inspired me with his record breaking feats of strength not just with bodyweight exercises but also with free weights.
The inspiration and knowledge from these old school strength & bodybuilding greats taught me to respect Bodyweight Training to a much greater level.
I learned this when I was 14.
The Summer before sophomore year in high school I spent a month in Israel with my Grandparents. Because there was no gym in the area, I would jog to the elementary school every other day and do 20 sets of mixed grip pull ups.
I built up so that the first set was always 20 reps of chin ups.
I would perform 10 sets with an overhand grip.
Then, 10 sets with mixed grips.
I was able to do 25+ pull ups on the regular by Sophomore year in high school.
By mid mid 30s, my body felt banged up from all the heavy lifting and years spent in wrestling. I went on a 6 month Bodyweight Bodybuilding ONLY program and never felt better.
For the serious lifters out there, you understand how it feels to be addicted to lifting heavy and how it is a mental thing, not just a physical thing.
You know the constant heavy lifting will beat up the joints but you love the challenge and feeling of heavy iron that you keep pushing, regardless!
Above, Marvin Eder Benching..... HEAVY, as always!
Back when I was a young teenager, the ONE book I kept reading over and over and OVER again was Arnold's Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding.
My Grandfather bought this book for my brother and I in Israel. I STILL have that copy and it's falling apart but it has a deep meaning to me so I will never let that book go.
And although Arnold was a Mr. Olympia and ALL his buddies from The Golden Era were the world's top bodybuilders, a LARGE part of their workouts included bodyweight training, especially for upper body training.
There were stories of Arnold and his training partners doing these tough, intense high volume bodyweight workouts such as:
- ONLY Pull Ups for Back workouts until their hands could no longer hold onto the pull up bar: overhand, underhand, close grip, behind the head, weighted....
They would do 30-50 total sets of pull ups and THAT was their back workout.
Most people today do a few half rep pull ups and call it a day. Where's the TOUGHNESS!?!?!
- Finishing chest workouts with high rep push ups to failure, then high rep dips to failure.
- Irvin "Zabo" Koszewski (originally from NJ) would do 500 sit ups on a daily basis. I met him in my early 20s when I spent 2 weeks in California and I visited Venice every day! I planned on moving there back in the day because I was so in love with bodybuilding. Certainly, Bodybuilding has changed dramatically since the mid 90s, not in a good way either.
- Arnold spoke about Performing extended range of motion push ups with feet elevated and hands placed on chairs to stretch between the chairs (I actually did these before my first bodybuilding show because I was so enthralled in Arnold's book! ha ha)
- Performing high rep dips at the end of chest workouts OR adding very heavy weights to Dips to build upper strength and muscle mass.
There were also PRE Golden Era greats such as Marvin Eder, known for his awe-inspiring upper body strength, contributed from his love for doing dips, sometimes with body weight alone, other times with LOTS of extra weight strapped around his waist.
Check the pic to your right, Marvin is dipping with two dudes hanging on his legs!
When Marvin was asked how many dips he could do, his answer, "ALL Day!"
Here are some details on Marvin Eder in case you've never read up on this Golden Era Bodybuilding BEAST....
By the way, I ALWAYS felt I was a throwback in the world of bodybuilding / strength & conditioning, even when I was a kid, I gravitated towards reading the older books on bodybuilding rather than the modern day books.
My favorite photos were always the old black & white photos of The Golden Era Bodybuilders, they inspired me every time I looked at them. The saying of a picture is worth 1,000 words rings true for those photos.
When I saw the photos of The golden era bodybuilders hanging out on the beach, pumping iron at Gold's Venice and having a GREAT time, it made me wish I could step into a time machine...
I digress.... sorry, on to my story...ha ha
Marvin Eder had 19-inch arms at a bodyweight of 198.
He could bench 510, squat 550 for 10 reps and do a barbell military press with 365.....STRICT!
He was reported to have achieved the amazing feat of cranking out 1,000 dips in only 17 minutes.
Imagine doing a dip a second for 17 minutes. As Gene Mozee once put it, “Modern bodybuilders couldn’t carry his gym bag.” One of Eder’s favorite routines for adding bulk and power was a three days a week full body routine.
This is very similar to the training style I coach others through in my online training team, Gladiator STRONG. The 3 days a week training program also gives you flexibility to add an extra day or 2 of training to dial in more specialized goals you might have or to attack weak areas.
For me, on the "extra days", I love attacking The Bodyweight Bodybuilding Training. It doesn't exhaust you and instead, energizes you and makes you feel great.
As Marvin Eder advanced in training, he would begin to do the upper / lower body split training: Upper body one day, legs and mid section the next day.
My preference here, is to have an upper body day, lower body day and a full body day. Then, every 4 - 6 weeks, I revert back to a mini cycle of full body workouts. But, even on upper body days, I like to perform sled work to keep the legs working and the heart pumping. Being in great shape is critical, especially as you leave behind high school and college sports, your overall fitness must be dialed in.
As Marvin Eder advanced beyond the split training, he started to do Olympic Weightlifting along with the bodybuilding training and at that time his training progressed to four times a week where he would work out Monday and Tuesday, rest Wednesday, workout Thursday and Friday and rest the weekends because the training was exceptionally heavy.
These old school / Golden Era Bodybuilding / Strength workouts sound similar to THIS routine with my own tweaks.
Marvin is now in his mid 70s and his current routine at such a young age is impressive and inspiring to say the least.
Marvin still does his three-times-a-week workouts, consisting of:
- five sets of chins for 50 reps
- five sets of dips for 50 reps
- 550 alternate jumping lunge squats
NOTE: I added a powerful Bonus interview for Bodyweight Bodybuilding and ironically, the kid being interviewed is 19, performs high volume bodyweight work and has that unbelievable "God Given" strength that reminds me of Marvin Eder.
Some things to consider when we look at the Marvin Eder workouts and the workouts of The Golden Era & Prior:
- These men trained heavy, there was NO fear of lifting for strength, building muscle and tendon / ligament strength.
- These men focused on being strong, first & foremost.
- Training seemed to be most effective 3 - 4 x week, either using a full body program or upper / lower splits.
- Olympic Weightlifting was married to bodybuilding to develop the ultimate in a rugged and powerful physique. It was NOT 1 or the other. As I always say, Do NOT discriminate against the MANY ways you can get bigger, stronger, faster & tougher.
- Bodyweight Training was taken seriously, both for high rep sets as well as low and moderate rep sets using added weight on pull ups and dips.
- Nutrition was basic and balanced. Protein was high along with plenty of vegetables and healthy fats.
- 3 - 4 meals a day was a standard for nutrition, not 5 or 6 meals a day. Balance was King.
- Friendly competitions were held regularly during workouts to push one another to greater heights of strength and endurance
When was the last time you competed against your friends and training partners in pull ups, dips, push ups, military pressing, benching, squatting, deadlifting, etc?
When was the last time you dedicated an entire training session to chins, dips, sprints, squat jumps and lunge jumps? I am MORE impressed with the athlete who can perform 20 chins with strict form and 50 dips with strict form (None of this Kipping BS) than I am with a 315 lb bench press.
When you military press, do you power clean the weight from the floor, or do you lift from the rack?
I remember when I trained at Diamond Gym & began power cleaning the bar from the ground before every set of military presses the effect on my back, traps, shoulders and arms resulted in serious gains. My back, shoulders and traps developed a denser, thicker and more rugged look in a very short time period.
I attribute that added size and strength to hitting power cleans. Back then, it was more of a muscle clean as I knew Nothing about Olympic Lifting in the mid 90s.
MUCH to think about here.....
Check out my most popular course, The "Bodyweight Bodybuilding" course. Marrying the two together, Golden Era workouts & Bodyweight training have proven to be extremely powerful for decades on end now. To follow a training regime based on The Golden Era greats, a strength & muscle building routine I used with GREAT success, check out The Gladiator Muscle Building Experiment.
All you need is a barbell, a few dumbbells and your body for a select few bodyweight exercises.
Prepare to pack on some serious "Old School" strength & muscle!
John Cintron says
This is an awesome post love to hear about the old-school days .
He was a beast! Great post Z.
This was a really great post. Those numbers are insane. I have been trying to get back to more bodyweight workouts and finishers.
I really suck at dips though. I don’t fully know why (specific muscle weakness, genetics, lack of training???). My pushups and pullups are fine along with other standard BW movements, but I have trouble even doing 3 full range dips with proper form. I don’t know if I should just stay in that rep range and try to improve or use bands for assistance and up my reps and slowly stop using them when it get to easy to get to a certain number (not that I even know what that number is).
Anyone have any good advice for me? Thanks ahead of time.
Zach Even - Esh says
Dips are tough BUT they get better as you add them in a bit more frequently.
You can hit them for higher sets and lower reps, perhaps 10 sets of 3 reps.
Slowly build up to 5 x 5.
Eventually you will be hitting 10+ reps. Like ALL training, it takes work.
I also suck at dips… but what I realized was that the more I could bench and press (stronger chest, shoulders, and triceps) the more reps I got on dips.. For instance, My senior year of highschool, I was getting 4 reps on dips with a strict military press of 185lbs, bench of 285lbs, and a close grip bench of about 275lbs… fast forward a year and a half and now I can get 15 perfect dips(never did dips since highscool), but also military press 225lbs, bench 335lbs, and close grip bench 315lbs….. in other words, the stronger the supporting musculature, the stronger you will be in any given exercise.. keep in mind that it took me three sets to get to the 15 reps to find my groove.. Im willing to bet that I can get 20 perfect dips had I gotten that groove in earlier…. not too bad, given that I weigh 275lbs
having trouble with dips? try working your negatives more or regress to an “almost as” challenging version of that specific lift, like bench dips for more reps or even add weight to that exercise….eventually you will get there! I had a client of mine who couldn’t do a single dip (much less stabilize his body in that position) and a couple weeks later he could crank out a set of 10…time, practice, patience!
John Cintron says
I think what I love most is that it was all basic. barbells ,dummbells and bodyweights no fancy equipment. I can say I was able to train at a hardcore gym in my day in Queens NY. It’s orgianl name was diamond gym that then became top this. It was all hardcore maybe two or three woman trained as they would run out of the gym from all the chalk,cursing and slamming of the heavy weights.
Shane Miller says
From my 20’s to about age 40 I didn’t do any bodyweight training. It was all iron all the time. It left me broken and sore all the time but I thought I was doing it right. I started training bodyweight in my 40’s and now at 46 I can hold a front lever for 30 seconds easy, do 5 perfect muscle ups in a row and I’m planning to walk on my hands asap. The point? I’m in way better shape due to bodyweight exercises, I hurt less and I’m way stronger and more agile than when I was mr. ironhead. The only iron I use today is kettlebells which supplement my bodyweight training. Thanks Zach for doing what you do!
Zach Even - Esh says
Yep, the older we get with regards to training age, the more you realize you can’t pound your body into oblivion with just free weights.
I use a lot of bodyweight work now, and always did in my younger years.
I don’t do as many jumps as I was doing in my 20s and early 30s though.
What I notice most about these “golden-era” physiques is the muscle density compared to the marshmallow puffiness we frequently see today. Despite what some “experts” say, all muscle is not alike.
We are not worthy. (But that won’t stop us trying, right?)
Zach Even - Esh says
Yes, their physiques were granite like. Some of these Golden Era greats of the 70s, and even the 60s have admitted to steroid use.
I read about this in Hardgainer Magazine.
I also think the foods were much less tainted; the steaks, eggs, even the bread was healthier decades ago than today.
The simple life back in the day helped live a lifestyle of less stress from all the technology, etc
My clients are making great progress with pushups, the ‘pushup to plank’, plank, and a range of bodyweight squats (close feet squats, sumo squats) with a pause at the bottom of the movement.
One huge advantage of bodyweight workouts is that you can do it anywhere, no equipment required. No excuses!
Thanks Zach for championing this great form of exercise.
Michael – If you can crank push ups + pull ups with ease the dips should be close as well. If they continue to be a problem, send me a video of your dips we’ll check technique.
Also, work the muscles involved: shoulders, chest, triceps…. get them ALL stronger.
Dave – WOW, bro, 5 muscle ups in a row, you’re a BEAST!
Rudy – agreed, these guys had that thick, dense muscle, today, it’s all puffy, built from pump weights. You can see who goes heavy and who doesn’t, it’s a shame that they use the drugs to get big while training with pump weights.
Maybe one day they will learn!!??
John Phung says
Holy crap, Marvin Eder is a beast!
Any chance you could do an interview with him? That would be awesome.
I always find it inspiring to see older folks who are still in shape and strong as hell.
Also when I do military presses, I lift them from the rack. Gotta try power cleaning them sometime…it just seems more manly that way.
Does Marvin drink protein shakes or any pre workouts?
Zach Even - Esh says
Back then I am sure there were Weider protein shakes and what not. These guys ate the basics and you can dig up those nutrition guidelines looking in the old health & strength magazines!
So inspriing! I started doing some volume training with dips a few weeks ago. Like you said, not really getting caught up in the hype and hoopla, just focusing on getting strong as he’ll. The dips are getting much easier now. Thanks again for the reminder Zach!
Dustin M. says
Talk about inspiration from the good ole Golden Days!
Kick-ass Post, Zach. When we read posts like these, it truly makes you think how the hell did “they” do it!
Their muscular density, their thick rugged muscle and their insane strength to back it up. But really, if you think about it…we all could get the same results. It just takes time and commitment. Always get more…that’s the bottom line. More reps or more weight.
A lot of people neglect the importance of bodyweight training. Thanks for reminding us of that and showing ‘why’ it is so damn beneficial.
…..That Marvin….What a beast! You know how you can tell when a Man is a real Man…? When they can still kick your ass at 70 years old. People say when you get older, you get weaker. Hell…I say, for every year that passes…I get stronger. Never….weaker.
Dave, nothing wrong with using bodyweight exercises, but I don’t see the benefits of using just bodyweight and kettlebell exercises. In my opinion, nothing can beat out free weights, but certain injuries/nagging pains causes us to adjust our workouts. I’m happy for you that you are in better shape now with bodyweight and kettlebell weights, but it would be wrong to assume that everyone would benefit by ditching free weights. I’m not blaming you for starting anything but I see a lot of bodyweight only and kettlebell only cults opening up condemning barbells and whatnot…. Simple fact, only barbells can build that type of rugged build that we are after… I didn’t say barbells exclusively, but I think that barbells are a must for building a solid foundation. Personally, I use bodyweight movements for conditioning and they work very well. I don’t bother with kettlebells because, quite honestly, I look like a giant fag doing them… Just my opinion, but I do love using them for high rep kettlebell rows and curls……
Hey my man Zach,
I heard your great question on Joe’s I love Marketing . com podcast.
Figure it out and trust your gut and it doesn’t feel right or it takes you away from your ideal lifestyle you want then scrap it, but you are doing the right thing by seeking out great people for expertise. All you can do is make a plan and go do it and if it doesn’t make sense to you then you’ll know what to do with it.
Glad to have been part of the 1st class of the original strength coach cert.
Keep being a Beast
That’s all I have.
250lbs Vynil bar/dumbells, chin/dip tower and small room.
Can your program be done twice weekly with good results?
I train MA twice for one hour and this is also my cardio.
A brief email appreciated.
Wow, this post reminds me of my beginnings. I got into bodybuilding/strength training back in the mid-70s while at school.. Whilst I read the magazines that were popular at that time, my favorite mag was Dan Louries Muscle Training Illustrated from the 60s. I loved reading about the greats of that era such as Leroy Colbert, Freddy Ortiz, Reg Park, John grimek, Clarence Ross and the “immortal” Steve Reeves. . Chins, dips and weighted pushups have always been a staple of my workouts along with heavy weights.
Gino Spagolini says
Can you do an article on the mob connected bodybuilders back in the day?
You know…guys like Dennis Tinerino, Mike Quinn, Roger Zepka?
Zach Even - Esh says
I’ve heard of some of their stories but never dug into it. I heard the book Muscle, Smoke & Mirrors covers it and I would recommend reading that book!
Now YEARS later and never replied to my brief response plea.
Then at least cover the bodybuilders who were supposed to be Mafia members.
I think the late Dennis Tinerino was, Dan Lurie maybe, Francisco Columbu YES, and other musclemen of yesteryears.
Zach Even - Esh says
Hi Johm, I never read the book on Denis Tinerino and sorry, I do NOT see all the messages or cover everyone’s request for specific topics. I believe others have covered his story like golden era bookworm on youtube, try his videos as he makes several videos a day on these old school lifters, I am actually busy coaching or with family. Some people don’t coach and have no family.