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How To Get Buff, According to an 1889 Book on Fitness

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You may be strong, but are you 1880s strong? Ask yourself:

– When an “occasion arises for some special muscular extraction, or taxing the action of some organ,” do you find said action organ coming up short?

– If you take "a sharp run of two or three hundred yards, or even less,” do you realize your “lungs are not to be trusted”?

– Do you get tired after a “day’s rowing or tricycling"?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be out of shape according to Richard Anthony Proctor, author of 1889's Strength: How to Get Strong and Keep Strong. His guide is chock full of sound strength advice that professional trainers still use today. He urges rowing, dips, pull-ups, and other time-tested workouts to get pumped up.

However, he also offers some fitness tips that you just don't come across any more. Follow his advice, he promises, and "you will be puffing and panting like the conventional grampus."


According to Proctor, pectoral muscles “often are so developed as to suggest the idea of splendid chest development, when in reality the chest is flat and small.” Working out, he theorizes, doesn't make one's bones grow. To buttress this argument, Proctor relays the thoughts of a fellow strength trainer, Mr. W. Blackie, who says, “Whoever knows many gymnasts, and has seen them stripped, or in exercising costume, must occasionally have observed that, while they had worked at exercises which brought up their pectoral muscles until they were almost huge, their chests under their muscles had somehow not advanced accordingly…the man looked as though, should you scrape all those great muscles completely off, leaving the bare framework, he would have actually a small chest, much smaller than many a fellow who had not much muscle.”

Proctor advises that one can develop strong chest through bell-ringing, but warns, "I have never taken part in bell-ringing, but I can now very well understand how this exercise, combined with the pleasant noise of well-matched bells, should have been regarded by the Puritans as sinful recreation.” As a way around this, he spends multiple pages instructing the reader on the construction and use of this special apparatus that doesn't produce any actual sound:

As a final note, he urges, "In regard to the arrangement described above, I wish it to be understood that in no case do I suggest the construction of special apparatus." So, uh, don't do all that stuff he said. But also don't ring bells, sinner.

Proctor has an ace up his sleeve when it comes to exercising the chest: "There is an excellent and too much neglected exercise for the chest which requires no apparatus at all, and can be taken without leaving your room, or even your seat. It is simply the steady inhaling of air.” By now it should be apparent that Proctor occasionally conflates lung capacity with pectoral strength.


Everyone wants great abs, and Proctor gives some advice about posture and offers a few sit-up routines. He also relays what he knows about other techniques: “I am told that mowing acts very effectively to strengthen and harden the abdominal muscles, and I can well believe it; but, as I have never mowed a square yard in my life, I cannot answer from experience.” And he doesn't plan on mowing, so stop mentioning it.


“Probably there is no set of muscles telling more on the strength of the body as a whole than those of the loins," insists Proctor. The guy is loins crazy. And who can blame him? Given the examples of what can happen to someone with weak loins, their strengthening must be made a priority:

“Some one falls in a swoon, perhaps, and must be lifted; but in the effort to lift even the light form of a delicate girl the muscles of the loins, if at all weak, are severely taxed. Or you may be obliged in traveling to haul a heavily-loaded valise into a railway carriage, or out of it, or across a platform, or up steps, no porter being about who will do the work for you."

But how does one work out one's loins? Simple: “The best steady exercise for the loins is one which most of us have 'handy by'—gardening. Digging, especially, is splendid work for the loins, though trying if they are weak. Best begin with lighter work,—raking, hoeing, dibbling, planting, any work in the garden almost, for nearly all garden work involves leaning over and moving that which one has to stoop, more or less, to reach." Naturally, this is the perfect workout, as "This exercise may be made interesting by studying floriculture a little; and skill in gardening work gives by no means slight pleasure.”

Should you not have a garden available, or if your existing garden isn't in need of attention, there are other strategies. “Bowling is also excellent exercise for the loins," adds Proctor.


Strong, muscular arms have been the goal of weightlifters for centuries, but over-focus on them is often detrimental to other parts of the body. Luckily, Proctor lists a sensible and easy way to tell if you are working your arms too much. “If the captain of a boat finds that any member of his crew is developing the biceps muscle too rapidly," he writes, "he may be tolerably sure that there has been too much arm work on the part of that oarsman at any rate." It is now more important than ever to listen to your boat captain when he says to take it easy.


Skipping leg day is a gym no-no, and Proctor knew this even in 1889. “In the street and on the lawn, in the parlor and in the dancing-hall, the owner of active and lissome legs has a marked advantage over stiff and weak-legged beings. You will note the difference even in the way in which one or the other will stoop to pick up—let us say—a lady’s fallen handkerchief.”

To achieve powerful legs that will allow you to lift a handkerchief up off the ground with ease, Protor recommends delicately walking up the stairs:

“The average servant, if you notice, goes up stairs as if kicking through the top of the step were the object to be specially aimed at…I would have the art of getting up stairs taught at school before drilling and the average absurdity known as calisthenics. What can be more pleasing than the springy gait of an intelligent person on his or her way up the stairs...But my own constant practice for the last twenty years, and the practice I mean to follow till gravity begins to get the better of me, is to go up stairs (as well as down) two steps at a time…Going up stairs this way is capital exercise, and is satisfactory to the intelligence, as well as pleasing to the understanding.”

When it comes to calves, Proctor goes off the rails a little bit. “There is good reason for the common prejudice in favour of a well developed calf (or preferably a pair)," he writes. "Although footmen and ballet-dancers shame most of us as regards this particular development, and yet are not the most esteemed products of civilization, there can be no doubt that the shapely calf indicates a racial advance.” Okay, we’re going to skip the rest of the calf section here because Proctor uses it as a springboard to discuss eugenics.

The Ultimate Proctor Workout

According to Proctor, "the best method of at once improving the health and reducing the weight by increasing the action of the skin is one which involves no expense and properly followed out supplies as much exercise in itself as one could get from a small gymnasium."

What is this magic workout? In laymen's terms, it's called "drying off after a bath." But as Proctor explains (in great detail), if you towel off like a madman, you will achieve results...and fast:

1. "Every morning, after washing and thoroughly drying the head and neck, sponge with cold water (and a little soap, but not much if this is done every day) the arms, shoulders, chest, and back, to the waist, carefully rinsing."

2. "Then with a moderately rough, large towel, commence steady but brisk and energetic friction. Tire the right arm in drying and rubbing the left, then tire the left arm in doing the same by the right."

3. "Next tire both arms in drying and rubbing the chest."

4. "Now fling the towel over the right shoulder, and, holding it with the right hand in front (over arm), and with the left hand behind (under arm), draw it steadily backwards and forwards across the neck, right shoulder, and upper back, till both arms are again tired. Do the like with the neck, left shoulder, and upper back, interchanging hands."

5. "Throw the towel over both shoulders, and alternately pull with right hand and left hand."

6. "Keeping the towel still behind, let it fall to a little above the waist, and repeat the steady, alternate hauling with right and left hands and arms. You now want a little rest."

Got enough rest, sissy boy? Good, we're not even close to being done drying off.

7. "Take it while you sponge with cold water and a little soap from the waist to the knees, and carefully rinse. Tire both arms drying, rubbing, and polishing from waist to knees in front."

8. "Pass the towel behind the back, as in the last movement of the former series, and haul away alternately with right and left hand, till the back from waist to 'small,' is glowing and almost burning."

If you aren't glowing or burning, repeat steps 1-7.

9. "Next, let the towel hang under the right thigh, and haul alternately upwards with right and left hands till the back of the right thigh, from seat to knee, is as nearly red hot as possible. Do the like with the left thigh. Again a rest is wanted."

Make this breather count. By this time, you have likely been drying yourself off for nearly three hours and will need it.

10. "So take it while you sponge and rinse both legs from knee to foot Then, lastly, tire thoroughly both arms in drying, rubbing, and polishing both legs from knee to heels and toes."

11. "You can now dress at your leisure."

Congratulations, you are now in great shape. But wait, Proctor has one more piece of advice: "In the evening just before going to bed, it is a capital plan to repeat the rubbing."

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Frank Micelotta/Getty Images
9 Things You Might Not Know About 'Macho Man' Randy Savage
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Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Even by the standards of pro wrestling and its exaggerated personalities, there’s never been anyone quite like Randy “Macho Man” Savage (1952-2011). A staple of WWE and WCW programming in the 1980s and 1990s, Savage’s bulging neck veins, hoarse voice, and inventive gesticulations made him a star. Check out some facts in honor of what would’ve been Savage’s 65th birthday.


Born Randall Poffo in Columbus, Ohio, Savage’s father, Angelo Poffo, was a notable pro wrestler in the 1950s, sometimes wrestling under a mask with a dollar sign on it as “The Masked Miser.” If that was considered the family business, Savage initially strayed from it, pursuing his love of baseball into a spot on the St. Louis Cardinals farm team as a catcher directly out of high school. Savage played nearly 300 minor league games over four seasons. After failing to make the majors, he decided to follow his father into wrestling.


In 1967, a then-15-year-old Savage accompanied his father to a wrestling event in Hawaii. There, he saw island grappler King Curtis Iaukea deliver a “promo,” or appeal for viewers to watch him in a forthcoming match. Iaukea spoke in a whisper before bellowing, punctuating his sentences with, “Ohhh, yeah!” That peculiar speech pattern stuck with Savage, who adopted it when he began his career in the ring.


By John McKeon from Lawrence, KS, United States - Randy "Macho Man" Savage, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

According to Savage, his wrestling nickname didn’t come from the Village People song but from an article his mother, Judy, had read in Reader’s Digest announcing that “macho man” was going to be a hot term in the coming years. She mailed it to Savage along with a list of other possible names. Even though neither one seemed to know what a “macho man” was, Savage liked the sound of it. His stage name, Savage, came from Georgia promoter Ole Anderson, who thought Savage’s grappling style was ferocious.


In the early 1980s, Savage’s father had started promoting his own regional shows in the Lexington, Kentucky area. To draw publicity, Savage and the other wrestlers would sometimes show up to rival shows threatening grapplers and offering up wagers that they could beat them up in a real fight. Once, a Memphis wrestler named Bill Dundee pulled a gun on Savage, who allegedly took it away from him and beat him with it. After his father’s promotion closed up, Savage landed in the WWF (now WWE), giving him a national platform.


One of Savage’s recurring feuds in the WWE was with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, a lanky wrestler who carried a python into the ring with him and allowed the reptile to “attack” his opponents. To intensify their rivalry, Savage agreed to allow Roberts’s snake to bite him on the arm during a television taping after being assured it was devenomized. Five days later, Savage was in the hospital with a 104-degree fever. Savage lived, but the snake didn’t; it died just a few days later. “He was devenomized, but maybe I wasn’t,” Savage told IGN in 2004. 


While outcomes may be planned backstage, the choreography of pro wrestling is left largely up to the participants, who either talk it over prior to going out or call their moves while in the ring. For a 1987 match with Ricky Steamboat at Wrestlemania III, Savage wanted everything to be absolutely perfect.

“We both had those yellow legal tablets, and we started making notes,” Steamboat told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “Randy would have his set of notes and I would have mine. Then we got everything addressed—number 1, number 2, number 3—and we went up to number 157. Randy would say, ‘OK, here is up to spot 90, now you tell me the rest.’ I would have to go through the rest, then I would quiz him. I’d never planned out a match that way, so it was very stressful to remember everything.” The effort was worth it: Their match is considered by many fans to be among the greatest of all time.


Savage’s “valet” in the WWE was Miss Elizabeth, a fixture of his corner during most of his career in the 1980s. Although they had an onscreen wedding in 1991, they had been married in real life back in 1984. According to several wrestlers, Savage was jealously guarded with his wife, whom he kept in their own locker room. Savage would also confront wrestlers he believed to have been hitting on her. The strain of working and traveling together was said to have contributed to their (real) divorce in 1991.


In 2003, with his best years in the ring behind him, Savage decided to pursue a new career in rap music. Be a Man featured 13 rap songs, including one that eulogized his late friend, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig. But the performance that got the most mainstream attention was the title track, which dissed wrestling star Hulk Hogan. The two had apparently gotten into a rivalry after Hogan made some disparaging comments about Savage on a Tampa, Florida radio show. Whether the sentiment was real or staged, it didn’t do much to help sales: Be a Man moved just 3000 copies.


In 2016, fans circulated a petition to get Savage his own statue in Columbus, Ohio. The initiative was inspired by the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a monument in Columbus, and wrestling fans argue that Savage should get equal time. The mayor has yet to issue a response. In the meantime, a 20-inch-tall resin statue of Savage was released by McFarlane Toys in 2014.

See Also: 10 Larger-Than-Life Facts About Andre the Giant

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job secrets
10 Secrets of Ski Instructors
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If you’ve spent this fall wearing shorts and sandals, you’re not alone: Temperatures have been warmer than average across the United States. But no matter how warm it is where you are, there’s still snow (and skiing) in the forecast somewhere. Before you hit the slopes this winter, check out these on-the-job secrets of ski instructors, from why they love bad weather to what they do during the summer.


No one can control the weather, but ski instructors cross their fingers for frosty temperatures and heavy snowfall. “Ski instructors love cold, appalling winter weather because it so often results in big snowfalls and the skier's dream—velvety powder snow,” says Chalky White, a ski instructor and the author of The 7 Secrets of Skiing.

But big snowfalls don’t always happen, so ski instructors try to make the best of whatever weather they encounter on a given day. Tony Macri of Snow Trainers, a ski and snowboard training company based in Colorado and New Zealand, tells Mental Floss that the weather’s unpredictability makes ski instructing an adventure. “I never think that weather is disappointing,” he says. “It is what creates more challenge and mystery in every day, versus going back to your cubicle that always has the same florescent light shining down on you.”


Although some ski instructors also teach (and love) snowboarding, the majority of them try to stay away from snowboarders on the slopes, at least when they’re teaching. “[Snowboarders] tend to push all the fresh snow down the hill with their natural movements. Gets pretty frustrating!” justind99, a ski instructor in Quebec, writes in a Reddit AMA.

But other ski instructors have a more zen attitude when it comes to snowboarders and preach coexistence. “We are all here to have fun,” rbot1, a ski instructor in Salt Lake City, says in a Reddit AMA. “The snowboarder vs skier stigma does nothing but cause problems. Share the mountain!”


Ski instructor teaching adults

Depending on the country in which they become certified, ski instructors must take classes and pass a series of tests to prove their proficiency. In the U.S., the Professional Ski Instructors of America and American Association of Snowboard Instructors (PSIA-AASI) establishes certification requirements for instructors. Once instructors become certified, they can take additional tests of their technical skills to earn higher levels of certification.

“Level 1 is pretty easy to get. Anyone that can ski a blue square comfortably can pass a level 1 exam,” rbot1 says. But achieving certification for higher levels is more challenging, requiring ski instructors to demonstrate their mastery of various turns, bump runs, and drills. “A single mistake in any of those runs nets you a fail,” says rbot1, who spent two years preparing for his Level 2 test. “These drills might be easy to complete, but you have to do it perfectly.”


Although some people think of skiing as a risky activity, ski instructors insist that, statistically, skiing is no more hazardous than many other sports. That said, most ski instructors have seen at least one nasty injury on the slopes, including broken legs and noses, concussions, and shoulder dislocations. “The worst injury I ever witnessed was a spinal fracture from a kid landing on his back after attempting to do a jump in the snow park area,” justind99 says.

“I have seen some injuries to knees, but the worst was when a friend concussed himself so bad that he was knocked out and was actually sleeping with his eyes open,” Macri says. White tells Mental Floss that a helicopter once picked him up from the slopes because medics suspected that he’d broken his neck. “Good news—I didn’t."


The income ski instructors make can vary widely, based on where they teach and their level of expertise. Some instructors earn $10 or $11 an hour for group lessons but charge more for private lessons or longer coaching sessions. While most beginning ski instructors may make just $20,000 per year, the perks of getting paid to ski outweigh the lack of cash for many instructors. “I do understand that at some point I’ll need to either start working really hard to boost my earning potential as an instructor or find another field,” rbot1 says. “For now, it’s a blast.”


Ski instructor teaching children

A group of young kids bundled up in ski jackets while they try to balance on narrow skis might look adorable, but teaching children to ski comes with plenty of challenges. “Some kids don't have the muscles to do it at [a young] age and some do,” explains inkybus21, a ski and snowboard instructor who has taught in Canada, Australia, and Japan. To make sure his young students don’t lose interest or give up, he makes up games that require various skiing motions and uses visuals to help kids figure out how to properly use their bodies.


Ski equipment can be pricey, and ski instructors know the pain of an empty wallet firsthand. From skis and boots to bindings, poles, helmets, goggles, and other accessories, ski instructors can easily spend over $1000 on their equipment. And because their gear gets more use than a casual skier’s, instructors typically go through a pair of skis, boots, and liners each season. But many instructors are eligible for steep discounts on their gear, thanks to their employer or their PSIA-AASI membership. “I haven't bought anything at retail price in years,” rbot1 says. “I can’t even imagine paying full price for a pair of boots or ski/binder set up.”


In a career dependent on the winter season, what do ski instructors do during the summer? Some of them travel to the opposite hemisphere to work at a ski resort—essentially working two winters in a row. But because it can be costly to travel and live on another continent, most ski instructors work odd jobs or use their savings to rock climb and explore the outdoors in the off season. Rbot1, for example, has spent his summers working at a ski resort’s restaurant, boxing fish at an Alaskan processing plant, and living off of his savings. “Most people have a seasonal job. The most popular is raft guiding, the second most popular is working at a state park,” he says.


Ski instructors don’t always receive tips from their students, and they wish more people knew that they welcome—and in some cases, expect—gratuity. Rbot1 recounts the story of how he once earned $1500, his biggest tip to date, after instructing a family of four for five days, taking them to different parts of the mountain and even eating lunch with them. “At the end of the week it was all hugs and smiles, but my hand was left dry,” he says. “Anyways, next day I got an email that said ‘you have a tip in the office’ and BOOM $1500 in an envelope.” Rbot1 made good use of the generous tip, paying two months of rent and car payments, as well as buying new ski goggles and gloves.


Although skiing is good exercise and an enjoyable winter activity, learning to ski can also help people feel more confident. “It’s not always about skiing and teaching people to be the best skiers,” Macri says. “A lot of [the job] is just about showing people a good time and helping them achieve their goals or overcoming their fears.”

Macri particularly appreciates the amazing views from the top of a mountain, as well as the feeling he gets when he takes students down a great run and everyone high-fives one another in joy. “I sit back and think this is my office and I am having just as amazing [a] time as everyone else. The only difference is that I am getting paid for it,” he says.

All photos courtesy of iStock.


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