Category Archives: Features

2018 AOBS Annual Reunion by Peter Yates

Event Program

Saturday October 20t,h, 2018 marked the 35th anniversary of the association of Oldtime Barbell and Strongman Reunion (AOBS).

I am sure all who attended would agree, it was an outstanding weekend.  AOBS president Artie Drechsler ably assisted by his wife and a group of volunteers were on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly.

Continue reading 2018 AOBS Annual Reunion by Peter Yates

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Life and Times of Historian David Gentle

To reach the 50th issue of any publication is no mean feat, and it is still the same price, something of a record in itself. Many a similar venture has been attempted i.e. to bring out a successful muscle journal and failed in the past. Not through effort or want of trying, usually the publishers simply become too ambitious, too soon, and ran out of readers’ support or even worse money. Greatest hurdle a publisher faces is the print bill, for some reason the printers always want to be paid. Despite authoritative, glossy thick pages, star support (oh yes??) et al; none of these qualities or advantages are enough without readership support. That means people BUYING the mag, and not just reading it at the newsstands, or nicking their mates copy.

Your editor and publisher Steve Gardener has wisely taken on board my advice and that of others who have been burned in the past, to progress slowly and avoid ego rips. Of over-publishing/printing 10,000’s of copies to wind up with piles of returned unsold copies. It is not how many you have printed (so you can boast figures) but how many you SELL, that keeps a magazine afloat.

How do I know? Why am I so bloody clever? Because I have worked for and contributed for at least 25 muscle journal, writing up to five articles an issue, turning out all but adverts, ‘ghost ‘ writing for the stars, over a lifetime (50 years plus) and worked on and with most of the known names in physical culture. I have known of editors literally intoxicated with temporary success, to go on and ‘piss’ up the mags profits, so that the next print issue could not be paid for. So the mag, packs up and the publisher goes missing. Others traveled to exotic parts, stayed in the best hotels, let the life of ‘Reilly’ at the expense of the magazine, to find they could not afford to continue, yet they still took on board new subscribers. Result, readers left with useless subscriptions to yet another failed muscle magazine. Not only do they lose those readers, they also spoil it for others, as people do not usually fall for this same mistake twice.

Despite our personal opinions, p.c. is in general of limited short span interest. Any gym owner will confirm the turnover of new members is rapid, less than 2 in 10 stick at weight training for more than six months. It is too hard for one thing, then most are led to believe. Expecting super bodies to take shape in less than that period believing all the hype and supplement baloney. Unless you ARE genetically gifted, you will not build a Mr. Universe body in six months. But you will make good gains and transform your body, if you are prepared to WORK.

Poor genetics was the very reason I began physical culture, first attracted by a picture of an old time strongman, Hermann Goerner in a 1947 issue of yellow glossy Health and Strength magazine and inside was a guy called Steve Reeves who had just won some Mr. America title. As a result of this I too brought out my first muscle magazine, just a little time after old Joe published Your Physique in Montreal. I had three readers. Me, my best mate Jim Turner and our art teacher, who obviously had fallen in love with me, spots and all, the way she kept me in after school, so I had a six mile walk home at night. There were no photocopiers in those days, or word processors.

The 8-page effort consisted of neat print and ink drawings. Its title, why Mr. America of course, “Why Mr. America” said my art teacher (gazing into my eyes with lust). Well the main reason was because I had seen Steve Reeves, wasn’t that enough? The stapled ‘mag’ contained current news of how many press-ups the editor could do at the time (80 consecutive, being on the Charles Atlas course) and posed its readers (Jim mainly) contests for the best at the two arms chin award. Jim beat me, being able, even then to chin with one arm.
Despite my dipping and self resistance exercise courtesy old Angelo Siciliano (Atlas) I resembled a survivor of a concentration camp, it not being so long ago, we had daily witnessed graphic pictures of such horrors in the Daily Mirror. Rationing was still on in Britain, and most kids suffered in some ways from malnutrition. Along with that I had a sunken chest box, my left pectoral muscle had most of its insertions missing. I had some spinal curvature, and a shortened leg and all in all a sorry specimen. But I knew Charles Atlas could save me, and in a way he did bless him, along with Earle Liederman, who in turn had originally trained Atlas.

Health and Strength came every two weeks, and despite all round mirth and ridicule, I had copies delivered, the seed was sown and the only way was up. No six months to a Mr. Universe body, in fact it took me YEARS to begin to look ‘normal’ or average, but always it meant progress and SELF IMPROVEMENT. What more can you ask.
Life despite, or because of the experience, still in most people’s minds was more genteel. Health and Strength had its own ‘League’, which I joined in 1947. I still have the enrollment form somewhere signed by Laurie Webb. My number was 228291, like my army number, never to be forgotten. Leaguers actually were friendly and helped each other, not just at the gym but also in life itself. We said quaint things, like “Hello Leaguer” to total strangers whom we noted wore the league badge.

Famous leaguers such as Bob Woolgar, father of Dianne Bennett, ran for example the Sunshine Holiday Camp, where all varieties of bodybuilders, weight trainers and lifters gathered for fund and instruction from experts such as Al Murray.
People with common interests could communicate and share knowledge or nostalgia. It as probably Vic Boff’s OABS newsletter that inspired me. As a result of them contributing for so many muscle magazines for others, I received a whole stack of personal mail, and thought, “Why not bring US all together in a monthly magazine.  Never for one moment before, then or since did I hope to make it a commercial venture. I am already blessed with unlimited wealth in the more important values of family and friends. I called it MUSCLE MOB because as a kid I loved Humphrey Bogart and like the film star, always had my own gang or mob. I enjoyed collecting muscle memorabilia, loved nostalgia, although it is not what it used to be (the old jokes are still the best) and respected the pioneers of physical culture and lifting, upon who’s shoulders we all stand.
The hard work of literally cutting out and pasting of old muscle ads, cartoons, etc. was great fun, although it ruined many a rare muscle mag. Within a few issues going out, support grew and grew from fellow enthusiasts to whom I am eternally grateful. It would be unfair to list them, they know who they are, and any way my memory is such I now forget what the hell it was I did yesterday, and yet I can still see, hear and smell the scents and sounds and scenes of yesteryear, experiences of long ago.

Of when we were first bombed out our two up and down in Southampton, moving into a genuine gypsy ‘vardo’ or caravan, later to live and love a shanty “house” made of just galvanized tin, like the Aussies put together in the outback. We had no toilet, just a ‘dunny’ or bucket, no tap, just a well, frogs and all, no electricity, just a broken gas spout for which we could not afford ‘mantles’. My father an alcoholic rarely worked, so it meant my mother had to support the family (Me and my sister and the old man of course) on ₤1.50 a week. Rent was 50p, which I earned as a grocery boy with an old bike. Unfortunately I never did develop Reeves like calves for all my cycling. The water drawn from the well was heated on a boiler and poured into a tin bath, which we shared. Yes, you are right, it was my turn last. I also had the chore of emptying the shit bucket. We did not welcome visitors to use our ‘loo’.

I left school to help support the family and I remember working 12 hours a day in the building industry, shoveling dusty cement, and later finding I had sarcoma of the lungs. I also smoked 50 cigs a day, well did Humphrey Bogart. We copied film stars and thought it made us look ‘tough’. But I still trained. Lots of breathing squats of course. I also spent two years at a chest hospital, daily weekly, monthly and then yearly x-rays until the growth spontaneously disappeared. But from then I was never able to buy life insurance. I remember spending six years in a metal full torso and hip corset in an attempt to straighten a curved and curious spine condition. But I sill trained, why you can do incline bench work, bench presses, straight-arm pullovers and a whole lot more if you really want to train. In fact for a period I trained without missing a workout including holidays for 15 years and a total of 35 years ‘heavy’ lifting. Later taking on Maxalding and strands because of spinal problems.

I remember all my old home gyms, mud floors and tin roofs. Of apparatus made from thrown out builders planks, four by four squat stands and junk weights. Plates made of concrete, strands from bike tires.  I remember being quizzed by the CID when my father died just age 49. They thought we had poisoned him. He actually died of Wiles disease within 4 days. Of getting married to a young Rosemary, living for six years in one room and then losing our first child Linda, the funeral cost me just ₤5. No counseling in those days. So we went ahead right away and had this time a healthy daughter, who herself blessed me with two grandchildren who light up my life.
I can remember earlier, when a snotty nosed kid of being machine-gunned by German planes whilst coming across fields, to only respond with Churchill salutes and laughter. Youth has great strength. I recall running literally a gauntlet of hate, because I was the only child to take and pass the ‘eleven plus’ and go to a ‘Grammar’ school where I was equally unwelcome. For a uniform, all we could afford was my cap. Daily thrown into the mud by my ‘friends’. My English teacher said I would never become anything. Some would agree, but every time I pen an article I think I have had the last laugh. The best she ever wrote was for a school play. A flop I am delighted to recall.

In fact despite the gypsy women saying to me once “David, if it wasn’t for bad luck, you would have no luck at all”. I have in fact been very lucky. I’ve survived being spat, stoned and even shot at in the army, and that was just our side (actually it was in Egypt and Cyprus when I was a regimental policeman). The Jerries missed our bomb shelter, and their gunners were bad shots, or I like to believe really didn’t wish to machine gun school kids really.

I remember being burgled, and feeling grateful that the yobs never took my bodybuilding books or personal photos, just money. I know how to appreciate fresh air, to still see and smell the flowers, to be able to walk for miles, to relate to others and understand their misfortune and losses and to value friendship.

I have met, most personalities and ‘stars in bodybuilding whom I have admitted. I cherish meeting such names as Reg Park, Bill Pearl, Steve Reeves, Reub Martin, David Webster OBE et al and most of all the late and great John Grimek. When I close my eyes, I can still hear his old gruff new Jersey voice, calling me ‘Gentle Dave’.

It was because I WAS a skinny kid I first took up Earle Liederman and Atlas courses all those years ago. A better, ‘normal’ well-developed kid would not have bothered, and he would have missed all my wonderful experiences, MUSCLE MOB magazine is a by product of my life and I am confident as birds of a feather stick together, so will Muscle Mob continue to grow and excel under the excellent editorialship and publication of Steve Gardener. Here’s to our centenary issue.

Life & Times of David Gentle  © Copyright by David Gentle  All Rights Reserved

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An Interview wtih Gil Waldron by Peter Yates


I first met Gil through his Maxalding website and over the years our friendship developed. We always try to meet up whenever I am in the UK. Gil’s passion for physical culture and his desire to make information and access to old books available for all was evident from the start. I know he spent countless hours and personal finance in order for this to occur. I feel he deserves to be more widely known for his efforts in preserving and disseminating the history of physical culture. This is especially relevant regarding the Maxalding system which I feel without his and friend Roger’s efforts may have been all but lost. Now however it is making somewhat of a comeback in some quarters and surviving into the 21st. Century. I appreciate him taking the time to answer my questions with a special thanks to his wife, Christine for donating her time and typing skills.


I’m 74 at the moment. I started training at about the age of 13, without apparatus.


If I’m honest I should say Charles Atlas on the back of my comics but I also had an uncle that was interested and had been a weightlifter in his time and had talked at length to him about my interest. I think really also I was very thin and short and I was fired also by Wilson of the Wizard but unless you’re of a certain age and from the UK you probably don’t know who I’m talking about. I’m sure you remember him Peter.


I started with press-ups as organised physical activity but, really, testing my strength down the local woods lifting logs and doing chin-ups on the branches of the trees was the start of my strength training. I was then given a course by Lionel Stebbings; the course is now featuring on HOPC. If you read it, you’ll see that it was complete rubbish but it kept my enthusiasm going. I was then given part of a Charles Atlas course, which I followed religiously, making one or two gains before moving onto my next phase, joining a local club. The club I joined was the Police Boys Club in Halifax, Yorkshire; there I was introduced to weight training.


It was at the Police Boys Club where I met a man called Maurice Reaney, an excellent weightlifter and instructor and a good mentor and guide to an inexperienced young boy. I was 14. And as you know, Peter, there wasn’t the amount of information around then as there is now. Weider magazines were just breaking through into the UK and the Reg Park magazine was another but these magazines were basically adverts for the publishers’ systems although they did give some kind of guide to the beginner. Then more and more Weider magazines started flooding the market along with Hoffman’s magazines Strength and Health and Muscular Development; although the information in them was not wholly for the beginner they fired the enthusiasm and gave a goal for the young trainee to aim at.


Oh dear. This is a leading question. It should be what kind of physical training haven’t you tried – it would be easier to answer. I tried at first every method under the sun. Chest expanders, Bullworker, isometrics etc etc but quickly realised there was no perfect method and the only way I was going to get where I wanted to go was hard work. Along with the weight training I then discovered Maxalding, which I still practice today. This taught me one thing, how to put my mind inside the muscle. Training up till then had just been a mechanical action, the brain wasn’t brought into play at all and, as you know; getting that mind inside the muscle is the most important part of any kind of training. I then acquired a booklet of the Weider course without the charts and Weider had gathered together all the different training methods he’d come across and put them into one book. I found that really helpful.


Yes. In my early days I practised the Strength Set which was a precursor to powerlifting. The lifts were, if I remember rightly, bench press, dead lift and curl. I fared very well in this lifting fashion as I was quite strong by then, winning titles in West Riding and North Riding of Yorkshire as a junior. As a senior I went into the Yorkshire Championships in which I came second. I was quite proud of this as there were a lot of good weightlifters in the competition. I was even more proud when I found out I’d actually won it as the fellow who won it had been taking Dianobol and virtually cheated his way to the win. I tried Olympic lifting but didn’t fare well, not having the co-ordination to do the snatch and, after falling on my back several times from the squatting position and seeing a barbell dropping towards me, I decided to quit.


I think I really started collecting when I never parted, much to my mother’s disgust, with any magazine that I bought. Some of the magazines I gave you I actually bought as new when I was about 15/16 I think. My first book was called I believe Physical Culture but I cannot remember who the author was, it was given to me by the aforementioned uncle. I believe this book is somewhere on the site. I definitely remember the next book I bought, Muscle Control by Maxick, which became my bible then and I think still is my bible. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it. From there my collection just started growing and growing. The internet and eBay have put the prices up of the physical culture books. I remember I spent many hours rooting through old bookshops and paying pence for what I considered valuable books.


My favourite items were any Maxalding items. The rarest is probably The Construction and Reconstruction of the Human Body by Eugen Sandow. I remember I gave this copy to Kev Collings (Kev the Rev) for his collection. I have many other rare books; too many to really mention. I also have a book collection of Indian physical culture books. I took quite an interest in Eastern methods of physical training and so built up a collection of books and articles. These can be seen on the site.


This is really hard. I think really Reg Park was a great inspiration to me. I worked as a Saturday boy for a while in his warehouse or shop and was paid in protein tablets, which looking back I think the box was more nutritious than the tablets! Charles Atlas must be fairly high in the inspiration stakes but I think I follow a lot of physical culturists in this choice. Uncle Joe (Weider) was the man I think did more for physical culture and bodybuilding than anybody else. Hoffman was more interested in Olympic weightlifting and the British magazines, with the exception of The Bodybuilder, were very rejecting of any ideas that contradicted the three sets of eight method of training that me and you were brought up with. In the UK I think Oscar Heidenstam did a lot for physical culture whilst running NABBA but I believe made a mistake in joining in and taking sides in the war between Hoffman and Weider. The war was after all just a commercial battle with a lot of name calling and racism on Hoffman’s part.


Yes, I have. Reg Park is probably the obvious one. I met him quite a few times when he buzzed in and out of his shop in Leeds and always had a friendly word and he could be asked for advice. A man from your side of the Pennines was somebody who I met and who gave me some very good advice in strength training, Jim Halliday. Jim had been trained by Bill Pullum in what he called assistance exercises. For quite a while Jim and I corresponded, with Jim virtually writing me a correspondence course over several months and I followed his advice to the letter. I also met Tom Woodward in Blackpool. A lot of people won’t have heard of him but he was an excellent coach and wrote many courses in balancing, muscle control and strength. He ran a gym in Blackpool which was welcoming to all comers with friendly words of advice. He also published a very good publication, which was Skill Magazine which I’m sure you’ll remember well Peter.


I think I’ve mentioned above the Weider mags weren’t very good for advice to new starters but they were very good inspirational magazines and I looked forward to the copies of Muscle Power coming on the stall in Halifax market every month. When he published a further one, I believe it was Mr Universe, which meant that magazines were appearing on the stall every 2 weeks instead of every 4. Mr Universe I believe was first published by Reg Park but I could stand corrected on this. Weider and his magazines I believe fetched bodybuilders of the 50s and early 60s out of the cellars and basements and into gymnasiums. No more training with 2 tracksuits on and gloves. As I mentioned previously Weider had catalogued all the different training systems he came across and called them Weider principles. One principle featured each month in the magazine. I must admit I tried them all, most of them not for the beginner.


I know I’ve mentioned this before but Charles Atlas did more to bring bodybuilding to the general population than anybody but not weight training, that was left to Weider. I’ve said all that needs to be said I believe about Weider, I just haven’t mentioned his supplements. Supplements in those days were fairly unknown. I think we had Casilan and Complan and that was it. There were quite a lot of muscle pedlars advertising in popular publications like Titbits and Weekly News which fired the imagination up of many a young man. Weightlifting I’d like to mention Hoffman, I know he did a lot for the American weightlifting team but was very partisan. Bill Pullum trained the British weightlifting team of 1948 to a high standard, these men like Jim Halliday, Norman Holroyd and others had just come back from the war, hadn’t trained and some were broken men. Pullum’s methods rebuilt them in time for the 1948 Olympics in London.


On the old Sandow site there was a dedication to my daughter C E Hunter, she was the real start of the site. Catherine had asked me in 1999 what I wanted for my birthday and as I’d lost my Maxalding exercises I asked her if she could find any Maxalding exercises anywhere, knowing she was internet savvy. Not only did she find a set of Maxalding exercises but also my friend Roger Fillary.


Roger and myself, and I honestly can’t remember whose idea it was, decided to put it on the internet and with my Maxalding books we had the start of a site but dedicated to Maxalding. It caught the attention of Maxaldists up and down the country and before long we were getting contributions to go on the site and the site grew. I had a large collection of physical culture books so I suggested to Roger that we should put these on a site running along with the Maxalding site. We didn’t have a title, not even a working title, for the site until I sent Roger scans of all my Sandow books and Roger called it the Sandow Museum. The title we found out belonged to Christian Anderson in America so we had to change our title. By this time other books were getting put on the site by other authors so we renamed it Sandow Plus, which was run until Roger’s death. Thanks to the physical culture community, we started getting books loaned for us to scan and put on the site. We then had to return them to the loaners, which cost a fortune in Registered Post but it was worth it. Looking back now, the one thing that I didn’t enjoy was being up late at night scanning. Somebody emailed me and said scanning sucks, whoever it was was never more right! The more we got known the more contributions came in and people had found out that we could be trusted with their valuable books and courses and they would be returned as soon as we’d got them onto the site. I’d just like to say thank you to all these people for trusting us with their collections. I feel as though I should mention here that scans and other stuff I sent to Roger and Roger put them on the internet. I hadn’t got the technical expertise for this – I was the collector.


We ran the site from the year 2000 to Roger’s death in 2014 and as I explained I hadn’t got the technical expertise to continue running it, besides Roger’s passwords had died with him and the people who hosted our site for us would not in any shape or form let me have access to the site, even though my name was jointly on it. They just kept quoting Data Protection. I was then helped out by my daughter’s partner Tom who managed to download the whole site and put it on his server to save it for me until I found somebody that could run it. I had quite a few offers, all of them commercial who wanted to charge for access to the site. We’d set it up free of charge for everyone and I wanted it keeping that way.


I felt there were many bodybuilders out there in the wide world that didn’t know the history of their sport and I’m afraid the collections of books, magazines etc were held in the hands of just a few, me included. I felt I would like to share this with the world. I didn’t think that big at first, thinking only people in the UK would read the site but I quickly realised we’d gone international with emails, contributions and support from all over the world from countries as far away as Australia, New Zealand, United States, South America, India etc etc. I was more than surprised; I was shocked but extremely happy that my dream had been put into practice. Sandow Plus had been born.


I contacted my friend David Gentle who had been a supporter of the site right from the beginning and I told him my problems. David then suggested I should try Diane, who was hosting his material on the David Gentle site to see if she could help. Diane immediately said yes. Then she found there were all sorts of technical difficulties which to this day I don’t understand, being not very technical minded but thanks Diane, you sorted it all out and the History of Physical Culture is the result.


I feel it’s going in the right direction and that Diane has taken it to levels that Roger and I never could have done. Another thank you Diane.


In 2010 I had a shock to my system when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Three weeks after the diagnosis I was on the operating table and thanks to my past training and fitness and an excellent surgeon I made a very good recovery, going back to work after only 6 weeks. But the euphoria was short-lived when I was put onto a course of chemo. This did what the operation had failed to do, it knocked the stuffing out of me and whilst on the treatment I felt myself sinking into a depression. I’d stopped training and lost the will to do most things. After the chemo finished, six months later, I started picking up again and training started again. Initially it was just light stretching exercises, some Maxalding and isometrics. This shook me out of feeling sorry for myself and I was definitely back then on the mend.


My daily training consists of Maxalding exercises B, C, E, GG, KK, P and exercise X every other day. All the exercises can be found on the site. These exercises are performed every afternoon along with muscle control. I am fortunate I can take control of most muscles in my body and simulate weight training exercises whilst holding the muscle in contraction. I also have an array of kettle bells, training bands, an ab wheel and a Bullworker; these are brought into play just to relieve the boredom of the same routine and also to challenge my strength. This about sums up my current training. But of course there’s also the little challenges like shifting sacks of garden compost etc etc.


My advice to anybody just starting out training is to get to know their own body. Training is not just lifting a barbell in a repetitious way and performing an exercise mechanically. There is a saying “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” and this is true of training. What’s good for your neighbour is not necessarily good for you. You must put your mind into the muscles, the brain is the most powerful training instrument and by using that to feel the muscles you’re using you’ll make a lot better progress.

I would also like to say, as you know Peter, I absolutely abhor drugs. They’re a poison in every sport as well as in the athlete’s body. Leave them alone and you’ll have a healthy future.

I think that’s it now Peter. I think I’ve said everything that I need to say. I never knew an interview could be so trying and I’d like to thank everybody who tunes into HOPC and keeps the history of physical culture alive.

(c)An Interview wtih Gil Waldron by Peter Yates

Thanks for taking the time to do this Gil.  The body of work you compiled has been a most significant contribution to physical culture history and can certainly be seen as your legacy. All the best, Peter

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Inside A Collector’s Den – Featuring David Gentle

Tucked away in Historian David Gentle’s den is his vast Physical Culture collection.  View his inner sanctuary where he creates prolific literature that captivates thousands of readers around the globe. Discover the amazing treasures herein that are sure to delight physical culturists.  We hope you will enjoy this private look “Inside a Collector’s Den”.

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The Bodybuilder Monk

Special thanks to Contributing Author l

“An inspirational interview with the most unusual bodybuilder I have met.”

I made the acquaintance of Prior Aelred when he sent me a friend request on Facebook, stating he was a great admirer of Victorian strongman Eugen Sandow and follows his workout plan.

Seen left – Prior Aelred acting as refectory reader.

“Prior” had me stumble, because it wasn’t a name, but a title I recognized from my hazy knowledge of Catholic monasteries.

His profile picture showed a man somewhere over fifty with a voluminous greyish beard. And sure enough one wearing a monk’s habit.

Intrigued I accepted Aelred’s request and surfed over to read his full profile. It turned out that he was indeed a monk, actually over 60 and lives at St. Gregory’s Abbey located in Three Rivers, Michigan.

A man over 60, living a celibate life in a monastery, but active on Facebook, enjoying worldly fun like Calvin and Hobbes comic strips? And an avid bodybuilder on top? Prior Aelred breaks many preconceptions.

I could never do him justice just writing about him, so I asked for an interview, to which he kindly agreed:

For readers not well-versed in the daily goings of a monastery, can you tell us what your role and duties at St. Gregory’s Abbey are?

To understand what I do in the monastery, one needs to know the monastic schedule. St. Benedict believed that his monks should be kept busy. Our life is oriented around our formal prayer services in church, consisting of hymns, psalms, canticles, scriptures readings and prayers. We are also supposed to have time for private prayer, holy reading and manual labor. Finding the balance is not always easy. The basic daily schedule is:

  • 4:00 am – Matins (about half an hour — the quiet time after this can be used for private prayer or reading, morning ablutions or a light breakfast — cereal, toast & grapefruit are available to those who want them)
  • 6:00 am – Lauds (also about half an hour — quiet time as above except that from about 7:30 breakfast is cleared away and the dishes are done — novices may also have classes at this time) Breakfast (at any time after Matins until 7:30)
  • 8:15 am – Terce and Mass followed by the daily chapter meeting and “pittance” — a sort of coffee break before the Morning Work Period begins at 9:30
  • 11:30 am – Sext (about ten-fifteen minutes, allowing a brief interval for the cook & servers to get the meal on the plates and the plates on the table)
  • 12:00 pm – Main Meal of the Day (taken in silence while one of the monks reads aloud from the book that has been selected)
  • Cleaning up after the meal, washing dishes and the pots and pans, followed by a quiet time called siesta, where one can read or take a brief nap until
  • 2:00 pm – None (about ten to fifteen minutes — followed immediately by a brief work meeting to take care of any questions about the afternoon Work Period)
  • 4:30 pm – Tea (we were founded from England — coffee is also available)
  • 5:00 pm – Vespers (about half an hour, followed by a half hour of meditation)
  • 6:00 pm – Supper (as for lunch, but a lighter meal)
  • 7:00 pm – Community Recreation (informal chatting the in Common Room about various things)
  • 7:45 pm – Compline (Greater Silence begins after Compline until after Mass the next day)

Since I entered in 1975, I have worked on the farm and in the garden and the woods. I have written articles and sermons and published one scholarly paper. I have worked with bees. I have been in charge of keeping the mailing list up to date. I have been archivist. I worked with architects and contractors in the construction of new monastery buildings.

With fellow monks at St. Gregory’s.

For over thirty years I have been Novice Master and in charge of the summer vocation program, teaching classes and having conferences. For nearly thirty years I have been Prior (assistant superior). For over twenty years I have been a priest. And for over a year now, the monastery cook.

When and how did you first become interested in working out and bodybuilding?

When I came here I threw enough hay bales and swung an ax often enough that I never gave a thought to working out. But after my occupations became more sedentary and I started to age, I happened to stumble and fall, landing very badly on my rotator cuff, so that I could not move my shoulder. My doctor thought I would need surgery, but the insurance company insisted on trying physical therapy first. It was a slow, painful process, but eventually I was working that shoulder with light dumbbells and resistance bands.

But I didn’t keep that up. I was scheduled to visit a friend and knew I wasn’t going to take any equipment with me. But my friend had been a runner and had once given me a pair of running shoes that were a little too tight for him. So I put them on and started running. I ran year round, never farther than eight miles, but ran rain or shine or snow — up to thirty miles a week during summer with its long daylight (although I also ran in the dark — Fr. William gave me a reflector vest). Until the time that I slipped on the ice and broke my leg. Suffice it to say that during my recovery, I looked forward to getting back to running. I tried, walking first, then running short distances, but something wasn’t working. The flow was gone.

Performing dips without equipment

About that time the Smithsonian Magazine had an article about Charles Atlas. When I was a child, ads for the Charles Atlas exercise course were on the back of almost every comic book. I read the article with interest and found out that the course was still available and I ordered it. I worked the program hard. I am not supposed to reveal the secrets of the course, but the real beauty of it is the constant encouragement and the emphasis on health and good health as a complete way of life (there are sections on nutrition and rest as well as exercise).

But basically, it is calisthenics and eventually one will plateau. When I was up to 400 push-ups a day and my arms weren’t growing, I wanted more. I researched weights and muscle-building exercises with heavier weights and protein powder and other supplements. I did get a little bigger, but I lost my abs. Too much of the weight I put on wasn’t muscle. And I did some more injury to joints and tendons. The heavier you lift, the more important perfect form becomes. No one ever has perfect form 100% of the time.

So I tried other body weight exercises (for a time I was doing 110 Hindu push-ups and 230 Hindu squats daily), but eventually I discovered Eugen Sandow (the “father of modern bodybuilding”) and some of his books which were just coming into print after an interval of over a century. Sandow claimed that the best way to exercise was light dumbbells (3-6 lbs). I still had light dumbbells from my rotator cuff therapy and decided to give Sandow a try. For a couple of years now that has been my basic exercise and I am very happy with the results.

What is your current workout regime?

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday Eugen Sandow’s exercise routine. In accordance with Sandow’s instructions, 5 lb. dumbbells are used throughout. The important thing is that the dumbbells be squeezed tightly and tension is focused on the muscles being exercised. These exercises take about fifteen minutes.

Calf raises on outside stairs.

Wednesdays and Saturdays and when traveling fifteen to twenty minutes of body weight exercises following a modified Gotch Bible for 55 push-ups & 110 squats:

  • Use a regular deck of 52 cards

  • All Diamonds & Face cards: Ignore

  • On Hearts: Hindu push-ups

  • On Black cards: Hindu Squats

Sunday is a day off from exercise (I have plenty of work in the kitchen).

Does life in a monastery impact how you work out?

I think this has been adequately covered by explaining the monastic schedule. I have to have a brief workout to fit it into our daily routine.

How do your fellow monks react to your fitness efforts?

Hardly at all, except asking me to open jars. Once one of the monks saw me without my shirt on and said, “You are built.” On the other hand, other people have commented on my arms or legs or told me I had a great physique. One fellow asked me if I took steroids. My doctor tells me I am in very good shape for a man in his mid-sixties.

You are a fan of old-time strongman Eugen Sandow. What fascinates you about him?

Sandow was the first in many ways — to promote proper exercise as a general aspect of good health for everyone — to open health clubs for the general public (not just weight rooms for boxers and strong men) — to market correspondence courses — to sell exercise equipment not only for athletes but for the ordinary man and even for women and children — to prescribe exercise by repetitive movements with light weights rather than just lifting the heaviest weight you could manage and then waiting a couple of minutes and trying to lift it again — to organize a nationwide “bodybuilding contest” (with trophies topped by a statue of himself — a tradition continued in the Mr. Olympia contest) — to become famous not just for how much weight he could lift but for how his body looked (there were theories that the ancient Greek statues were idealized because it was not possible for a real human being to have a body that looked like they did).

Doing Eugen Sandow’s standing flyes exercise

Do you think that physical fitness has a spiritual component?

Yes — “mens sana in corpore sano” [“a healthy mind in a healthy body”]

is from Juvenal, but I think the body, spirit, mind connection is obvious to anyone who has reflected on it (or experienced it).

Last but not least, what workout advice would you like to tell my readers?

The basics are diet, exercise and rest. The specific factors are your goals (winning the Olympia and winning a Marathon are very different) and what works for you. You need motivation to accomplish your goals. If you have the greatest exercise routine in the world but don’t do it, it will do no good. If you have a basic workout that you like and that you can fit in to your life and that works, that is great. Changing things takes effort and motivation is the key.

Many thanks to Prior Aelred for this interview!

Bible image courtesy of “Robert,” pictures of Prior Aelred courtesy of Prior Aelred and Jack Ohlemiller.

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