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Lifting Weights in the 1960s - A Look Back

This morning I set my TV to record the 1964 Muscle Beach Party, where Larry Scott had a supporting role. The movie has me looking back on the public’s view of weight lifting and body building back in the '60’s. Please feel free to add any of your experiences. I started lifting weights in 1968 when attending North Carolina State University.

When I was in high school (1962-1966) coaches preached to all that weight lifting made you muscle bound. It was a deeply held belief with all those that I encountered. Two brothers that lived one house down from me lifted weights and bought all the magazines on weight lifting and bodybuilding. Neither of them participated in any high school sports.

My next exposure with lifting weights was in college. My freshman year, a student in the same cirriculum as me asked me to come to the weight room with him. I declined. During the football season in 1967 NC State had a team in the Top 10, and many of my days were spent in the local tavern most every day of the week (they were closed on Sunday). When I came home for Christmas my neighbor commented that I had a bit of a beer gut going. That was a wake up call for me.

When I returned to college I went to the students gymnastics area and started doing pull ups and bar dips. Within a few weeks I could do 20 reps in both exercises. Once again my friend asked me to come to the weight room with him. I did so then, and have done so ever since.

Here’s what seems odd now, but made perfect sense to me then: Only two football players (from our very accomplished team) actually lifted weights. They were both linebackers, one of which some might know, Chuck Amato, who was also our school’s very best wrestler. Imagine today… a football team where weight training was not an aspect of their training.

After college I returned home and continued lifting weights. In 1970 there were only two places that had facilities with weights. One was a gym called Sparta, which was a “hole in the wall” on Main Street just outside of downtown (Jacksonville, FL). It looked pretty “seedy” to me. The other place is where I chose, it was the downtown YMCA, where Joe Dube (Olympic Lifter) trained and had left over half the olympic bars severely bent.

My point: Lifting weights, and especially bodybuilding, was a very esoteric “sport” in the 1960’s. It was an activity that only a very small percentage of the public chose to engage. Times have really changed.


Can you tell us anything about how Joe Dube trained? Our current Weightlifters need some tips!

Love hearing your story… I think most guys on here over a certain age either lifted at a YMCA or some no thrills local gym ran by someone that had a true passion for it… I miss those days.

Interesting story, triggers some memories for me.

I first started to get interested in fitness in my early teens. Initially, I was doing mostly calisthenics.

I remember that my parents had a copy of the Royal Canadian Air Force Fitness Program, which was first published in 1961 (I would have been about 9). I was probably in my early teens when I actually started messing with the program.

Another book I remember was from the local library, by Bonnie Pruden (of all people) on the subject of teenage fitness. Mainly I remember she was a big advocate of gymnastics style movements, and that probably got me started into doing pull ups. Of course, Jack Lalane was also on the TV at that time.

I also remember buying “Weeb Eubanks Pro Football Way to Fitness”. I don’t remember what the program involved, though when I looked up the book today, the description suggests it was mostly calisthenics, stretching, and isometrics. It was published in 1968.

After that, I bought a copy of “Bud Wilkinson’s Guide to Modern Physical Fitness (1969). (He was a successful college football coach). Again, I think it was mostly calisthenics. I do have a recollection that he was a fan of single leg step ups onto a bench.

Inexplicably, in 1968, I asked for and got a set of weights (110 lbs of concrete covered in blue plastic) for my 16th birthday. It had a guide book featuring Bruce Randall. That was my introduction to weight lifting. But as I think back over this, I have zero recollection as to why I was interested in having a set of weights. I can’t recall a single book or person who might have inspired that choice. I certainly wasn’t buying any of the “muscle mags” of that era. They weren’t carried by the drug stores and book stores where I bought my books and magazines. (And my mother probably would have been horrified to see that kind of magazine!) Nor do I recall any weight training from my Phys Ed days in high school.

My bigger influences were football coaches, and at the time, relatively few of them recommended weights. I do remember Vince Lombardi was a very big fan of “grass drills”, which held no appeal for me.

I was never lucky enough to see Joe Dube in the YMCA, just the aftermath of bent bars in his wake.
Being rather long limbed (and rather tall at 6’), I’m sure contributed to my skipping Olympic Lifting as a quest.

A major hurdle that all weight lifters that I encountered in my early years of training is that we were pretty much the pioneers. Today, information is an internet click away, and very comprehensive with actual feedback in many cases.

Early on I got my routine ideas from Wieder’s Muscle Fitness Magazine, which in most cases (as I discovered the hard way) led to over-training. I remember a Sergio Oliva arm superset routine where I supersetted 6 bicep exercises with 6 tricep exercises for 6 sets of 8 reps. That was a total of 72 sets. I would get a great pump going, but by the 4th or 5th superset couplet the pump would drain away to nothing by the time I finished the 72nd set.

In the '70’s someone suggested Iron Man Magazine. A little bit of sanity was added to my weight training program.

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I always wanted to be strong. All of my books from when I was a kid had stick figures with triangle muscles added. Then I got an old York set of vinyl covered concrete weights with a bar and DB handles from my Grandmother. They had been used by my uncles. I lifted in the basement and at school in the “Weight room”, which consisted of a single Universal machine. The guiding principal was that muscles only work in contraction, so figure out how to make the muscle you want worked to contract. I knew virtually nothing else and squatted for the first time at 27 years of age on a homade set of uprights I made with black pipe and tires. I got 305lbs. A year later I was at NASS Nationals (In Mckenzie TN I think, Bubba Melton-RIP was the promoter) in the 275lb class and it was all downhill from there.

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Peter Lupus was the main body builder in Muscle Beach Party. He’d won several titles in the mid-west and is best known for his role in the original Mission Impossilbe series. Made a few Sword and Sandles flick, too.I started lifting in 1967 at 12 years old. My father and brothers had a collection of assorted weights, mostly what they’d made out of cement and metal in coffee cans and rebar handles. Tree limbs for push ups. Papa was a big believer in calisthenics and swimming. Got a Sears 110# set for Christmas that year. Build a bench out of 2x4s. In Jr high and High School our coachs were the same. Wouldn’t let a runner, baseball, or basketball player near the weights. As a football, wrestling, and weight throwing athlete I had free reign to the Universal Machine (wow). As you say bodybuilding and how the public views it have gone through a lot of changes. When briefly assigned to Colorado Springs in the late 70’s the only place you could buy a copy of Iron Man was at a porn magazine shop.

At least I’m not the only one. What was the deal with that?

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I think every school in the US bought one.

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Great story. I enjoyed reading about your journey.

I was in Canada, in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t even have a Football team until I was in 10th grade.

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First 3 years of school I attended Grundschule in Germany and the next 3 attended school in Belguim, réseau de la Communauté française. Footbal was the real Football. Came to the US in 7th grade and was introduce to American Football.