Charles A. Smith – Bodybuilding Secrets!

Smith was a prolific writer during the early and middle 1950s, turning out more than 300 articles in the field of weightlifting and weight training. Many of those articles—most of which were written when he served as an editor for several of the Weider publications—are among the finest writing ever done in the field

Charles A. Smith Training Philosophy
There were two “cameos” of the weight world that Charles Smith treasured. One is a picture of bodybuilding icon ‘Jack LaLanne’, and the other a chapter in Alan Calvert’s book, “Super Strength”.

Jack LaLanne fitness bodybuilding

The picture of LaLanne was in weightlifting magazine. It was a full length picture with the back of Jack half turned to the camera, exhibiting a magnificent spread…a sweep of Latissimus muscle that was, in those days, something to wonder over.

The caption beneath the picture said something to the effect that Jack had built his back by using two arm pullover. It was a terrific shot and for at least two years, served as Charles Smith’s training inspiration.

alan calvert the chest

The other “cameo” is the chapter in Super Strength entitled “THE CHEST”. In that chapter is more common sense concering the development of the rib-box than you can hope to find in a dozen articles and a like number of physical culture magazines.

Calvert called the chest and the lungs “The storehouses of POWER” and was definite in stating that a man HAD to devote a lot of time to the task of developing the chest and rib box.

“A big chested man,” said Calvert, “can get arm and leg development at a much more rapid pace than can the man who has a small rib box and correspondingly small lungs.”

It is true that the pullovers DOES built up latissimus dorsi muscles and a large rib box, but these statements are general ones, for they do not mention the specific ways in which these secitons of the physique ARE developed by the use of the lift, and what VERSION of the pullover MUST be used in order to get this development.

As a matter of fact, the pullover is NOT the best exercise there is for latissimus development – Charles Smith referred to the straight arm version and it IS quite an exercise for the triceps and parts of the interior and laterior delotids.

And in building a LARGE rib Box, the most beneficial portion of the Pullover is where it is LOWERED SLOWLY from above the chest to the floor – that is the section of the lift where it is controlled down from above the chest to the deck. And Calvert with all the wonderful wisdom that was his, took care to point this out in his book.

To prove Charles Smith’s first point, just take a light weight – very light – and grind out a couple of hundred repetitions…

See where you are stiff next morning..NOT in the lats, but in the deltoids and triceps. The reason is that the latissimus muscles can handle more weight in the pullover position than the deltoids and triceps can; and it is also the reason why so many bodybuilders injure the deltoids in the practice of the pullover with STRAIGHT ARMS.

Calvert advised everyone to use the straight arm version, but now it is generally accepted that the BENT ARM pullover is best for rib box stretching and Latissimus Building.

A greater weight can be handled by the “broad of the back” muscles with a correspondingly less risk of injury to the deltoids. There is a greater stretch on the rib muscles too and a much larger lung capacity can be built up.

Rules for pullover at arms length

Lying on the ground with the arms fully extended behind the head, the barbell shall be raised until it is immediately over the lifter’s face. Throughout the lift the buttocks shall remain on the ground, and the arms and legs be kept straight. In the performance of this lift the use of a dumbbell is not permitted.

In this lift the maximum width of hand separation shall be approximate shoulders width. Although a count is not insisted upon at the commencement of this lift, a pause must be observed and the lift must not be continued from the momentum gained by lifting the bar into commencing position.

You will note that Bridging is not allowed and the arms have to be kept straight. You will find that turning the wrists up as the weight is pulled over will help decrease the leverage on the shoulders a trifle.

As with every other feat of strength, the only way to improve is to practice it. When tryining limit poundages on the pullover, it is wisest to thoroughly warm up first.

Take a weight, light and easy to handle and perform a number of fairly rapid repetitions with it. Then gradually increas the weight making a single repetition at a time. As you approach your record – personal record – watch for signs of strain in the deltoids or elbows.

At the first sign of discounter, drop the weight down and gradually decreas it to your commencing poundage.

Exercise 1 – Here is a combination exercise that will increas the power of the deltoids and Latissimus in step with each other.

oldschool delt exercise

Take an exercise bench and a dumbbell. Lie on your side on the bench with the dumbbell held in the hand – the arm is at full stretch along the side..

From this position raise the weight up and over until the arm is pointing straight above the head. From this position, stopping just an inch above the thigh for a short count of two and returning again to the “arm above head” part of the lift.

You will see the arm describes a half circle. Stretch can be placed on the Latisimus muscle by carrying the arm back of the head but this is only advised when the movement has been used for a month.

Start off with a weight you can handle for three sets of 8 repetitions and work up gradually to three sets of fifteen reps before increasing the weight. Don’t forget to equally exercise both arms.

Exercise 2

pullover exercise oldschool

In the straight arm pullover, you must have powerful delotids. Any weakness in this muscle and you will never reach really high poundages in the lift. The advantage of the following movement is that resistance is on the muscle every inch of the way, as contrasted to Standing Raises with a barbell.

In this latter exercise, resistance lessens as soon as the arms have moved through the upper section of the lift.

Lie face down on an incline Bench. Hold a barbell in the hands. The bar of the weight will be stopped by the “backboard support” of the bench.

From this position raise the weight until the arms and body are in one straight line. DON’T heave the weight and DON’t allow the body to assist in any way. When the arms are raised to their fullest extent. Hold the position for a short count of 3 then lower the weight as SLOWLY as you can.

Repeat the lift. Don’t try and use a heavy poundage in this exercise, but be content to start off with a light weight – one that you can use easily for 8 reps three sets. Slowly work up to three sets of 15 reps, increasing the exercising poundage then.

Incidently, this is a NEW exercise.

Exercise 3

pullover exercise oldschool


One of the main principles in Olympic Training – and may Charles Smith stress that this is his own personal opinion – is to get the lifter used to handling heavy poundages by teaching him to handle them QUICKLY.

This principle has been applied in many ways and is known by a scor of names, chiefly among which are “Cheating exercises” and “Rebounding Principle.”

He also used the term “Power Exercises.” Here is a method of applying this principle to the pullover – it ISN’T a new movement. It is simply the good old bouncing pullover. Hold a barbell above you as you lie on the floor. The elbows should be SLIGHTLY bent but kept LOCKED in that position.

From here, drop the weight back of you to the floor and HIT it hard. The weight will of course “bounce.”

Catch it on the rebound and raise it to commencing position and repeat the movement. It is best to do this exercise on a good thick mat. Start off with a weight you can handle EASILY for ten reps two sets. Work up to two sets of 20 reps before increasing the poundage.

Exercise 4

oldschool lat exercise charles a smith

Here is another exercise to increase the “pull down” power of the lats. Place an incline board with the angle sloping away from a lat machine. Lie down on the board – face down. Reach up and grasp the Lat Machine bar and pull down…

Touch the support of the incline bench and then return the arms SLOWLY to commencing position. Start off with a weight you can handle easily for three sets of 10 reps and work up to three sets of twenty reps before incresing the weight. Don’t allow the body to assist during the exercise. Make all movement from the arms only.

Exercise 5

charles a smith wotkout exercise oldchool

Another good Lat strengthening movement is the “Upside” down pullover… Once you get used to performing the exercise, a fairly heavy poundage can be handled. Lie on an incline board with your head the base and your feet at the head.

The barbell should be at arms length back of you. From this position pull it up until it is directly over the face. Lower and repeat. DON’t lower it with straight arms, but allow the elbows to unclock and lower the weight with the arms BENT as much as possible. Straighten the atms out again and repeat the movement. Start off with a poundage you can use for 7 comfortable reps, TWO sets. Work up to 2 sets of 12 reps before increasing the weight.

Exercise 6

alternate raises with dumbbells oldschool

Alternate raises with dumbbells while standing are great for building power in the anterior deltoids and used in the following manner, even better for developing the deep lying fibers and thus heloing to prevent strain…Take a light weight in each hand and stand with your back against a wall. The dumbbells should be held at arms length overhead…

Lower them alternately from this position and when they reach shoulder level, keep them in this position for a slow count of 2, then return them to above the head and repeat the exercise.

Start off with two sets of 8 reps and work up to 2 sets of 15 reps.

Editor’s note: Reg Park (Arnold’s rolemodel), John Grimek (Mr. Universe) and Ray Routledge (U.S. Air Force Bodybuilder Champion) favored also pullovers to build their rib-box/chest. Use the tag system below you will find terrific training articles!!

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