Dissecting the Magic of the ancient muscle magazines
In the 1960's, weight training-related information was rare, limited and what there was of it tended to be uniformly excellent, having withstood the test of time and with the gift of hindsight. The information found in muscle magazines of that era was timeless and solid, insofar as generalized weight training. Nutrition was, at best, primitive and wrongheaded. Aerobics was unheard of.
All three of the major muscle magazines covered all three of the weight-related disciplines: bodybuilding, powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. Muscle Builder & Power was based in LA and owned by the Weider brothers. Strength & Health was published by an East Coast barbell maker named Bob Hoffman based in York, Pennsylvania. Iron Man was created by Peary and Mabel Rader, equipment makers and distributers located in Alliance Nebraska.
These muscle magazines were seductive kryptonite for teenage boys. The magazines held out the possibility utter and complete physical transformation. Follow in the footsteps of the champions featured in the muscle magazines and you too could transform from average into exceptional.
The muscle magazines featured photos of the best physiques in the world, the strongest men, the best athletes. How exactly did the great one’s train? What did they do in order to look the way they do? The transformative secrets of the iron gods were contained between the covers of those ancient magazines.
I recently came across a 1968 copy of Muscle Builder & Power. As I slowly turned the pages, I understood why these muscle magazines had such power and why they had such a hold over so many alpha males of my era. Myself, first and foremost.
The March issue of Muscle Builder had 82 pages. The cover was a fabulous Russ Warner photo of Sergio Oliva doing a lat spread on the beach. Ebony marble contrasted with soft white sand. Perfect symmetry showcased by blue sky and palm trees. At this exact point in time, Sergio was the undisputed King of bodybuilding. Never had a bodybuilder been further ahead of the rest of the world. He was truly a Brother from another Planet.
The cover was the enticing appetizer. The inside cover was a full-page ad for Super-Pro 101, The Muscle Drink. The Blond Bomber, Dave Draper was shown downing a blender-full of Super Pro. Dave has forgotten to wear a shirt and his muscles in the side shot were incredible.
Draper had the angelic face of a Raphael cherub; a blond Aryan look that both Hitler and the Weider Bros. loved. The caption is great, Tastes like a shake – feeds like a STEAK! Then, ‘It’s the bodybuilder’s prescription for roaring protein power! A steak diner in a glass!’ A 12-can Pac cost $9.95. A stiff sum in 1968.
On the opposite page was an editorial by West Coast editor Dick Tyler in which he rebutted the linking bodybuilding with homosexuality. ‘Nuff said. Turn the page and we have Dave Draper once again, this time holding two bikini babes aloft as they stroke his hair. The Weider Shape-up Kit was available for $9.48. Dave used it to morph from fat into fit.
The first feature article was called, The Arms of Don Peters. This four-page spread contained eleven excellent photos. The article was a yawner. Frankly, Don’s guns were not all that great. Turn the page and you are confronted with a two-page advertisement for Weider’s top selling nutritional supplement: Crash Weight Gaining Formula #7.
Where to begin? Crash Weight Gaining Formula #7 was the biggest selling product in the Weider Empire and the mainstay of the entire supplement line. CWGF#7 was the biggest selling nutritional supplement of its time. Its promotion ushered in the era of completely over the top marketing.
Crash Weight Gaining Formula #7 was dry powder that came in fourteen separate cans. Loaded with sugar and filler, the protein was derived from anemic soy protein. Each day the trainee mixed a can of CWGF#7 powder with a quart of whole milk. This produced 1,800-calories.
This base mixture was pumped up further with allowable additives: honey, chocolate syrup, ice cream, Bosco, pancake syrup, powdered milk, whatever. Users would pump up the base milk and CWGF#7 powder to 2,500 to 3,000 calories.
In addition to eating regular meals, the resultant concoction was drunk throughout the day. The claims made for the product were mind-blowing, “Gain 14-pounds of solid muscle in 14-days! Drink away the skinny body in just 14 days! Add a pound a day of muscle without exercising, while resting, while relaxing or sleeping.” Wow! Sign me up! Because I train like a fiend so my gains will be supercharged!
“Tastes like a milkshake, works like a miracle!” says Dave Draper, Mr. Universe. “I drank away my underweight condition while relaxing and without effort!” said Jerry Winnick, Mr. Eastern USA.” The testimonials from elite bodybuilders were legion. I was sold. The shakes were an easy sell because they were delicious; with ice cream, chocolate syrup, honey, maple syrup, powered milk and raw eggs, the shakes were rich, thick, frothy, super sweet and quite delicious.
These concoctions tasted wonderful and were therefore popular as hell. When a young hungry alpha male starts taking in an additional 2,500 calories a day, especially when they think the concoction has magical, mystical powers, watch out! When high on CWGF#7 we’d train with manic frenzy. Weight gain using CWGF#7 most certainly did occur!
I gained 14-pounds in 14 days at age 16 using CWGF#7. How much of that weight gain was “solid muscle” was anyone’s guess? There were no ways in which to measure body fat percentiles in 1968. I believed in the magical mystical powers of CWGF#7 and because I believed (and trained my ass off every day and stuffed my face on regular food) I was rewarded.
Turn the page and there was another Weider product ad: this one for Swinger Super High Protein tablets. Four photos accompanied an ad that featured bikini babes cavorting on the beach with Dave, Don Peters and Bill McArdle. This was pure sexual titillation “You can’t swing without Protein!”
Turn the page and there is a two-page spread on the 1968 Olympia. Sergio Oliva won in a wipeout. Joe Weider is shown presenting Sergio his 1st place prize of $1,000. Sergio being Sergio took the money and began to carefully count it onstage, much to Joe’s embarrassment and the audience’s delight. He tucked the loot into his trunks and continued posing.
Turn the page and there is a two-page spread on the world’s greatest arm wrestler, Maurice Baker. There were no articles on women in the ancient muscle magazines, instead the mags covered a wider range of men’s strength sports. On page 20 there is an article, (ghosted, no doubt) by Mr. World, Chuck Sipes. The article has a two-page photo of the incredible Freddy Ortiz, a 5’4” man with arms better than Arnold.
The Sipes article, Nutrition and Competition, was ghost written. The article got it all wrong, “The best fat-loss solution is to rely on more carbohydrates and less on dietary fat. The carbohydrates will surely burn (wrong!!!) while fats will not oxidize and convert into body fat. There are highly desirable fats, polyunsaturated fats. Therefore, you should use soy, corn oil, skim milk and margarine.” This was the birth of the trans-fat industry, the substances that killed millions – bought into existence to rid the world of dietary fat. The cure was far worse than the illness.
The next article was on one of the sacred Weider Principles. “How the champions use the science of sets and reps to build massive muscular size and power.” That mouthful of a title is later boiled down to the actual Principle “You must feel a deep-lying stimulation in the innermost tendons and ligaments of a muscle group. If you do not feel it, you will not have blitzed the muscle as hard as you could or should.” Well spoken Mr. Ghost writer.
Next is a two-page ad for Power Benches. They are “made for rugged workouts.” The ad spotlights the Herculean Super 7 in 1 Home Gym Bombing Bench. The price tag was a staggering $77.98. Then a two-page article, Power Panorama, penned by Joe Weider and power champion George Frenn. Accompanying the article was a photo of an early powerlifting hero of mine: John Kantor.
Standing 5’5” John won the national championships in the 198-pound class. He then pushed his bodyweight up to 235. He looked thick and full, so heavily muscled he appeared ready to burst. His uncompromising quest for bulk was an inspiration to all us acolyte mass-seekers.
Turn the page and there was a one-page slam on how terrible the highly touted American Olympic team had done in Mexico City at the 1968 Olympic Games. Since arch Weider rival Bob Hoffman was intimately tied to Olympic weightlifting, the article lays the blame at Bob’s feet. The article rightfully slams the meritocracy of old men that ruled the sport.
Next, we have an article on General Endurance by John P. Jesse, a member of the mysterious Weider Research Clinic. This was the first time I would see the word Aerobic in any of the muscle magazines. It was a dryly written article that offered muddy advice and seemed very out of place.
The feature article starts on the 42nd of 82-page mag. Called My Saturday training routine, by Sergio Oliva. This six-page article featured thirteen good sized photos, likely shot by Gene Mozee or Russ Warner. Joe had an excellent artistic eye and a real sense of flair and hype.
The remaining 35 pages are supplement ads, fitness equipment ads, article continuations and powerlifting and Olympic lifting contest results. On the last page the last word is had by (yet again!) Dave Draper. The Blond Bomber answers training questions from fans in his On Target with Mr. America Q&A.
The last ad was bikini babes frolicking on the beach with The Bomber, Don Howarth (who later went to prison for selling cocaine to the Hell’s Angels) Frank Zane and Larry Scott. They were partying while drinking Super Pro 101 and RX7 on the beach.
RX7 was an “incredible” product. “A crash program the starts within 3-5 hours and turns ‘fat cats’ into roaring lions & tigers.” Is this not the kind of muscle magazine ad that would cause Napoleon Dynamite, brother Kip and Uncle Rico to send $9.95 for their mail-order 12-pac of RX7. By the way, RX7 is “the official weight reducing plan of the I.F.B.B. bodybuilding champions.”
I gladly saved my lawn-cutting money to cop some Crash Weight Gaining Formula #7. So, I was right there with Uncle Rico sending my money to Joe Weider. Each month this over-the-top fireball of a muscle magazine, along with the (by comparison) staid and conventional Strength & Health and the offbeat yet consistently excellent Iron Man mag, would arrive and re-fire my already overheated imagination.
It was, for me, the right stimulation at the right time and set me on my life course. Who would have guessed that, years later, I would become a training writer for Weider magazines? I penned 83 feature articles for Muscle & Fitness and Flex. I also ghosted a Weider Principle or two for Joe. I never wrote ad copy.
I could not have held an imaginative candle to those ancient ghost writers of the muscle magazines of that era, men that captured the imagination of generations of males with their over-the-top claims and impossible promises – backed up with photos of tremendous physiques and loaded with good training information. I got fired up yet again as I leafed through the 1968 copy….
About the Author
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher biography here.