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Old York Barbell Program

Last night I found an old York Barbell and Dumbbell System training manual in my basement. It was the first program I did, back in '93. Based on the photos (one dated 1962), I believe it’s probably from around the 60s. Also, the nutrition book recommended was published in 1954.

Here are a couple things I found really interesting in it:

  • Three days/week full body routines, broken up into 4 routines or “courses” that last 6-9 weeks each.

  • It’s a fairly high volume program, especially compared to a lot that’s thrown around today. Here’s a quick chart I made up showing the number of sets/week/bodypart (divide by 3 for per session), the total volume for the week, total volume per session, and what that volume would be per day if training 5 days/week:

  • The majority of the lifts are compound exercises, like squats, bench, and rows, but there are curls, triceps extensions, pullovers, flys (in course 2).

  • It mentions that while it’s possible to get through a workout in 45 minutes, once you are using heavy weights, it may take up to 2 hours.

  • It addresses training lagging body parts though a 4 week specialization block, where you double the number of sets for that body part each workout. After the 4 weeks, you take a rest period for that body part, then go again, if you need.

  • Always trying to add weight to the bar, even if it’s just 1 lb. It cautions against going all out on the first exercise, though, as you won’t have any energy left for the later ones.

  • It encourages learning to think for yourself, starting as early as after the 1st week and once a “definite schedule can not (sic) be followed as to repetitions and poundages (sic), some scheme of progression should be used.”

  • At some point you start to perform the exercises the number of times that is satisfactory to you, doing more or less depending on how you feel that day.

  • It cautions against falling for diet fads. Amazing that this info was being put out there 50 years ago, but it’s still a huge problem today.

  • It promotes a high protein diet, made up around whole foods. It doesn’t give a specific target, apart from aiming for 50-75g at breakfast and >2800 calories, up to a total of 5000 for the day.

  • It suggests starting with 3 meals per day, but going to 4-5 if needed to get the calories in. A quart of room temp milk during your workouts is also suggested as a way to get more in.

It was a really interesting read and insight into what was being recommended back in the 60s. What I found most interesting was that this came from a time pre-PEDs or at least before they became widely used, and seeing volumes that is common now to say is way too high for a natural lifter. After the first course, the volume continues to build. Continually getting stronger and eating big were also encouraged.

What I will say, though, is that it doesn’t get into warm up sets or working to failure or not. It just says to start light/moderate at week 1 or the first time with a new exercise and continue to try to progress. If it calls for 2 sets or 5 sets, it doesn’t say if they’re ramped or straight weight, etc. From the impression I get, though, I don’t think all 30 sets in a workout are meant to go to failure.

Does anyone else around here have any old programs or maybe were even training back then?

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Speaking my language, brother. Ha.

I’m working my way towards collecting all the books I I can from superstrengthbooks .com. Reg Park’s Strength & Bulk Training for Weight Lifters and Body Builders popularizing 5x5 was published in 1960 and summed up pretty well here:

I also have The Iron Man Barbell Course Number 1 and Dumbbell Course Number 1 (written in the '40s/'50s), laid out pretty similar to what you wrote - full body, three days a week; big, basic exercises with a few standard isolation lifts; typically focused on shorter/under-60 minute workouts; using specialization phases for specific body parts as needed.

One of the specialization routines he recommended back in 1955 is actually the “Hourly Workout Program” where you spend 6-8 hours training a lagging bodypart on the hour and on the half-hour. Poliquin and others later re-popularized it as the One-Day Arm Cure.

I also have some books from Harry Paschall from 1950/51. Again, same overall stuff (full body, training every other day). He did mention beginners doing upper body stuff starting at 5 reps, adding 1 rep every third workout until you hit 10 reps, then adding weight. For lower body training, start at 10 reps, progress the same and add weight when you get 20 reps.

John McCallum’s another great writer from the 1960s and his book Keys to Progress is a collection of his monthly column from Strength & Health magazine. One of his routines:

Yeah, almost like doing a lot of hard work, eating a bunch, and resting on off days can cover a lot of ground. Who’da guessed.

Different writers/coaches had a few different methods, but generally, the overriding idea I’ve read from that era is to stick with what we’d call today “technical failure”. If you can’t get a rep with acceptable form, end the set.

There were likely some exceptions, but that seems to be the most common approach. Grinding out ugly reps wasn’t really a big thing.

A couple of guys talked about their old school days here:

The guy who does this blog transcribes old articles from weight training magazines. There’s stuff on there from the 40’s all the way up to pretty current.

http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2021/01/

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Sounds better than many current programs aside from the room temp milk of course.

Not all old stuff is outdated as far as training goes. My uncle gave me a couple of his books one of which was called “Power” by Fred Hatfield. I don’t think I used the actual program, but this 1980s book had info on doing speed work, using things like box jumps and elevation jumps to build power. It even gets into specialty bars (Hatfield invented the SSB, or safety squat bar) to train around injuries and for overload. It seems to me that Westside BB borrowed from it heavily.

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That’s awesome. I just found that site when I was trying to see if I could find the book I have online. Mine’s lost the back cover and the front is just loose on top of the rest of the book. It’s otherwise in decent condition.

I remember those two articles you linked. I’ve always been a huge fan of the articles covering past or forgotten training. They seem to have a good way of bringing simplicity and perspective back to training.

Totally. I believe I built most of my muscle from 18-23, when I didn’t have much idea what I was doing, other than from what I read in old books, and just concentrated on eating and lifting.

Definitely. The book I have talks about being “comfortably tired, not exhausted,” and doing the exercise correctly. Grinders, forced reps, or even failure aren’t mentioned at all.

That’s awesome! I’ll have to take a read through it. Even if knowledge has evolved over the decades, I find all the old stuff really interesting and usually find a lot more that I agree with or can learn from than I disagree with. I don’t think anyone starting out could go wrong with one of those old programs and building a solid base before worrying about fine details or the latest trick.

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Ha ha, just as a coincidence, I actually have a room temp milk/whey shake while training. It’s only 1.5 cups of milk, though, and the rest water, so I’m not sure how a quart would go down…

This was great. It came with a Weider barbell set. 2 hrs or so. 1 day off 2 I think.

I love to see old stuff that’s still around. If people have been doing it for 50-60 years, it must be good!

It’s also cool to see an article or two from the great lifters of the past, especially guys like Paul Anderson who were way ahead of their time.

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