Workout of the Day

Fitness Feuds


There hasn’t always been such agreement and amiability between practitioners of weight lifting and practitioners of gymnastics or running as there is today. Back in 1940, in fact, there was a clash of intellectual titans in the world of human fitness and kinesiology as Bob Hoffman and Peter Karpovich duked it out over the alleged virtues and vices of weight training. Bob Hoffman, founder of York Barbell, writer of Strength & Health magazine, and bombastic advocate for the wide-reaching benefits of weight training, loudly insisted that strength training with weights could bring incredible benefits, in performance, physique, and health alike. Peter Karpovich, respected scientist and distinguished professor at Springfield College, firmly held that weight training was ineffective and detrimental, saying that “one of the great tasks that faces Springfield College is to fight these muscle-builders,” insisting they were “quacks” and “faddists.”

The anti-weight-training views held by Karpovich were not uncommon at the time. Rooted in myth and hearsay, the popular opinion was that heavy lifting would leave you “musclebound” -- clumsy, slow, and inflexible. The public opinion also held that weight lifting was dangerous, leading to muscle and tendon tears and to heart disease, and that lifters were generally brutish and of sub-par intelligence (I’m not making this stuff up). This viewpoint went so far that there was an official recommendation in the ‘30s that YMCAs should ban all forms of weight training.

A student at Springfield college who himself saw the value in weight training, was tired of hearing disparaging comments about lifting from professors and classmates, and took it upon himself to spread the gospel, as it were, on the virtues of weight training. He sent a letter to Bob Hoffman, inviting him to put on a presentation at a weekly Forum held for students and faculty at Springfield College; and, to his surprise, Hoffman obliged. He brought along three of his best athletes: two top American weightlifters, John Davis and Tony Terlazzo, and the current Mr. America, John Grimek. Davis and Terlazzo put on a demonstration of the competition Olympic lifts, impressing the audience with the ease and speed with which they moved a 300lb barbell. John Grimek then took the stage for a series of poses, putting his impressive Mr. America physique on display. After the demonstrations and a brief talk, Hoffman opened the floor for questions. A hand went up: Peter Karpovich’s. As one of the students at the time retold it, the auditorium went silent in anticipation. Everyone knew Karpovich’s feelings about weight training, and they were ready to witness fireworks (and not in the romantic sense).

Karpovich did not come out swinging with citations of scientific ideas or published research. Rather he had a simple request. Karpovich recounts: "I sweetly asked Mr. Hoffman to ask Mr. Grimek to scratch his back between his shoulder blades."

As the audience sat on the edge of their seats, Grimek, a bit taken aback, responded, “but my back doesn’t itch,” drawing nervous laughter from the tense crowd. Much to the entire audience’s amazement, he then proceeded to scratch his back, first with his right hand, and then with his left, from both the top and the bottom. John Davis then stepped onto stage and passed the same test with ease. Karpovich sat down.

What proceeded was a series of nails in the coffin of the idea that weight training would make you slow, clumsy, and inflexible. Grimek, after scratching his back to Karpovich’s content, dropped into the full splits, and then showed the audience that he could nearly touch his elbows to the floor when bent over with straight legs; John Davis then showed the audience a standing broad jump of well over 11 feet, and performed a standing back flip with 50lb dumbbells in each hand. And just like that, what started as a “prove you wrong” demonstration between fitness factions holding two disparate viewpoints turned into a pivotal moment in the history of human performance ideologies. Karpovich, speechless from the demonstration, but recognizing that his held beliefs were clearly ill-founded, approached the lifters after the Forum and apologized for his comments and asked if they would tell him more about their training. After a temporary change of pace as WWII put a halt to academia, Karpovich returned to research, this time investigating many of the popular claims about the detriments of weight training, and eventually went on to become one of the greatest advocates for strength training and weight lifting, publishing several papers and co-authoring a pivotal book in the world of strength and conditioning: Weight Training in Athletics.

While we can look back today and smile at this remarkable story of bodybuilders and weightlifters who defied all expectations and changed the history of exercise science, we are not too far removed from these sorts of ideological beliefs and disbeliefs, and remnants of these old (now disproven) ways of thinking still exist today. Remember to always keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid of lifting a few weights. Turns out, it’s pretty good for you.

- PS


  • 15 min EMOM

    • Min 1: 200m run

    • Min 2: Max pull-ups

    • Min 3: Max sandbag over shoulder (AHAP)