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Jan Włodarek
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Nobody is born an athlete . Text by Agata Napiórska

Text by Agata Napiórska
Translation by Filip Kuklewski
Photos by Ludwik Lis

Nobody is born an athlete

“Everybody can be healthy, strong and fit and after several years become an athlete.”

You can do anything! Herculean built right ahead
I became interested in bodybuilding from the 1960s, when I got a book „How to become strong and fit” by Stanisław Zakrzewski. When I started reading it, I got excited just like in my secondary school when I first read Nietzsche. The nietzschean Übermensch was gifted with the super power of will – a goal everyone should try to reach.

Stanisław Zakrzewski proofs that anybody can be strong. Moreover, many examples in his book show that those the weakest and of the poorest health tend to become the greatest strongmen:
“Until recently it was a common opinion that you have to be born as an athlete. However, we know some examples in bodybuilding that completely average in terms of the physical development boys by systematic and zealous practice have become strongmen.”
Regarded as one of the founders of modern bodybuilding – the German athlete Eugen Sandow started his exercises, when a girl he loved had told him that she hated his sunken chest and the only feeling she had for him was pity. Until today his method of exercises with dumbbells has been regarded as the most effective way for people who start their adventure with physical culture.
Steve Reeves, the athlete of all time, the first Hercules of the American and Italian silver screen, was predicted by doctors in his childhood to have a hump. That forced him to start doing keep fit exercises. During the World War II he had been sent to the Philippines, where he suffered from malaria and almost died. As soon as he got better – still at the front – he started doing his exercises with stones and artillery shells to change them with a barbell and sport springs as he got back home.
Teodor Sztekker, a philosopher and an excellent wrestler as a child was frequently ill. Nevertheless, due to his method of exercises he vanquished weakness of his constitution.
“I have loved physical culture and it has grown together with me shaping my whole life” – he confessed during his period of greatest records.
Max Sick the inventor of the original set of exercises with no weight training equipment, which is based on a short-term stretching of muscles, was sickly as a child. When he was five years old he suffered from severe pneumonia which made him the weakest boy in his class. Nonetheless, his regular training made him able to lift up 16 times with one hand Van Diggelen – a strongman weighting 82 kilograms, while in the other he held a glass of water. He did not spill a drop.
There are also some examples from Poland: “My drive to become strong showed up in my childhood because I was a pickaninny and the weakest boy in my class” – looks back Jerzy Pochocki, one of the most versatile Polish culturist.
“You have to decide if you want to be either strong or weak; be in either good or bad shape; (...) if you want to be admired because of your beautiful, muscular and lithe figure and your broad shoulders” – advises Stanisław Zakrzewski in the preface to his book.
Being strong is not just a matter of muscles. Most of all it is a matter of your temper, because “a strongman ought to have one”. “The full development – as Stanisław Zakrzewski writes – can be achieved only by ones who take care of his body, mind and heart equally”.
- Pure muscles, without general fitness and open mind are just rubbish – says the real legend of the Polish bodybuilding movement and a multiple champion of Poland – Jan Włodarek.

„Strength, fitness, beauty”!
Stanisław Zakrzewski, the father and founder of the Polish school of bodybuilding kept spreading the robustness in the period when neither typical fitness clubs existed, nor dietary and bodybuilding supplements were on sale. People trained as amateurs. It is estimated that about 300 thousand young people started doing their exercises at that time. How popular it was shows the fact that the first edition of his book published in 1961 was sold out in just a couple of days and the author and editor of the monthly magazine “Sport dla wszystkich”(Sport for everone”) was snowed under the letters from all over the country with questions about this new and mysterious discipline.
“At the very beginning exercises were extremely exhausting to me. My parents kept laughing at me and telling that no matter how, I would not be strong. They used to repeat that to be an athlete you must be born one… But this did not discourage me. I have been doing my exercises for six months and I can see radical changes in my look!” – wrote Józef Grzesiuk from Ławoń near Trzebnica (one of letters to the editorial staff). The magazine’s whole circulation rose ten times in just a couple of years, starting from 9 to 100 thousand! However, it was still being sold by stealth.
With some trainings and the bodybuilding movement Stanisław Zakrzewski got in touch in 1930s, as he was engaged in track-and-field sports. He was a representative of Poland and a coach, journalist and organizer of sport events afterwards.
Just in the middle of 1950s he learnt some culturist methods from the foreign, mainly German, Swedish and American sport magazines, among which he found “Health and strength” – a periodical publication for strongmen and bodybuilders issued since 1900. He also happened to meet some great American culturists who visited Poland at that time. They were taken care by Bob Hoffman – the organizer of physical culture in the US, and also a multimillionaire, journalist and former culturist. Probably the later Stanisław Zakrzewski’s activity was most highly influenced by him.
Zakrzewski did not want just to copy the western solutions. On the other hand, the former sport authorities were suspicious about bodybuilding seeing it as a way of distracting youngsters from the Olympic disciplines.
In response Stanisław Zakrzewski decided to create his own culturist rules which did not rely on the sole gaining the mass of muscles. It was only meant as one of other pillars of the Polish bodybuilding school. The method he promoted consisted of some elements of gymnastics, strength-testing sports and various agility exercises.
Despite the bodybuilding movement was severely criticized by sport journalists who accused it of being just art for art’s sake only, Zakrzewski’s efforts were not in vain. Bodybuilding was incorporated as one of the Polish Union of Olympic Weightlifting’s statutory activities, then, after several years of being in a rut, it was incorporated by the Society for the Propagation of Physical Culture. The new way of keeping fit became very useful for the Polish People’s Army then, as there was a need of strong recruits.
Poland started promoting bodybuilding among other communist countries. Only later this discipline was acknowledged by Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the DDR and the USSR.

The Mermaid, the Lighting, Hercules (Syrenka, Błyskawica, Herkules)
My guide in the bodybuilding of this time is Jan Włodarek, one of most famous athletes of 1960s and 1970s. Włodarek started in 37 domestic and international competitions, and was a winner of 30 of them. In 1966 during the Mister Universum competition he met Arnold Schwarzenegger. With his height of 180 cm and weight of 87 kilos he beat some records: the bench press: 187.5 kg, the deadlift: 260 kg, the squat 217,5 kg. He was a bodybuilding and physical recreation instructor for 15 years, but also he was appointed many social functions in the Society for the Propagation of Physical Culture, among which were also a chairman of deciding agencies for bodybuilding and peasant sport teams. He was also appointed a vice-chairman of the Polish Physical Culture Union.
Mr Włodarek agrees to meet me when I promise to visit all the three Warsaw legendary gyms: Błyskawica (the Lightning), Hercules and Syrenka (the Mermaid). Otherwise, as he says, there will be nothing we could talk about.
As it soon appears his condition is justified. These gyms have been for fifty years strictly connected with the history of Polish bodybuilding.
The best Polish culturists of the past trained there.
The Mermaid was always overcrowded then, and it took several months to be pencilled in. The coach was the amazing professional – Henryk Jasiak. At the beginning of 1960s a man of a real herculean built, Wojciech Siudmak practiced there, as well as one of the best juniors – Mieczysław Krydziński. But this place was also visited by Stefan Krajewski, Czesław Petelicki and writer-to-be Janusz Głowacki. Just there Marek Perepeczko trained his muscles preparing for the film “Janosik”. In the middle of 1960s Perepeczko accompanied by Daniel Olbrychski beat the record of cycling to Mazury and back to Warsaw (about 400 km) in just two days!
The main contestants of the Lightning in Praga in Warsaw were Jan Włodarek, Sławomir Filipowicz, Jarosław Niewiadomski, Stanisław Ptaszyński. The members of that club won many prizes in championships. By the end of 1972 bodybuilding gathered systematically there about 750 persons and among them, under the supervision of Tadeusz Wieczorek, almost the whole troupe of the Theatre of Masovia. That is where the actor – Krzysztof Majchrzak used to do his trainings. During summers work-outs were supplemented by a practice on a pitch or a court and during winters an ice rink was made.
The third of legendary gyms – Hercules, from the very beginning gathered crowds every day: hundreds of people appeared there. No wonder, as trainings were run by the magnificent gymnast, strongman and the title-holder of Mister Polonia – Andrzej Jasiński. Hercules up to our time has been attended by the illustrious photographer of strongmen who was also managing the place for many years – Jan Rozmarynowski.
- There was no formal membership to any of the gyms, just as it is today in clubs who have special record-holders’ teams. That is why you could change the place of your practice, for example one of best juniors – Paweł Przedlacki used to have one at the Lightning, then at the Mermaid and Hercules. But I had the greatest successes when I was a member of the Mermaid’s team as well as the Lightning’s one.
- A feat was simply like a recreation today. You did not train more than three-four times a week, we had rather more important goals to reach. Bodybuilding was just an adventure – he says.
- We were attracted by sport, there were not many entertainments those days. By joining a sport club you got sneakers, a track suit and free lunches – recalls Mirosław Prandota, now a journalist specializing in bodybuilding. – We threw a discus, a hammer, jumped and were jogging. Being versatile was the most important thing. Bodybuilding was sometimes just an accompaniment to another physical activity – says Józef Radziwiłko, one of the bodybuilding pioneers. Some of us trained judo and gymnastics while others had successes in athletics and weightlifting.
- There were no as many alternative opportunities as nowadays. TV was in its infancy and nobody even thought about computers. However, that was the time when anybody could join a gym and let off steam under supervision of his coach – tells us the real legend of the Mermaid – Jerzy Pachocki.

From Mister Universum in Warsaw to the all-round event in Sopot
In 1959 the first great culturist event took place: the Mister Universum competition, which went hand in hand with the world championship in weightlifting. Soon it turned out that it was more popular than the championship. Hala Gwardii (always called Hala Mirowska) was congested and there were never ending queues outside – everyone wanted to see the best strongmen chosen from the best weight-lifters.
During exactly this event people started considering profoundly what is the best way of rivalry in modern bodybuilding. Discussions referred to the meaning of practice whose the only goal is just growth of muscles.
A test of strength and physical fitness along with posing and evaluation of limbs proportions seemed to be the best solution. Yet “some reservations arose due to posing, which was considered as something artificial, unnatural and unmanly”, so Stanisław Zakrzewski decided to promote all-round events in which people competed in the championships of Poland in Sopot between 1960 and 1970. The schedule of tournaments consisted of some strength-testing competitions and strictly aesthetic ones. For senior most of all they were: the bench press, the barbell squat, posing and an evaluation of a figure. In some years dropping a barbell on chest and 1 minute of rhythmic gymnastics appeared too. Juniors rivalled in the bench press as well as fitness and figure competition. Nevertheless, there were years when the all-round events were supplemented by the triple jump, parallel bars competitions or a vertical jump.
- The championships in Sopot in the all-round which was called differently in the past, were regarded as the unofficial bodybuilding championships of Poland. They played a significant role in promoting and the development of the bodybuilding movement in Poland – says Jan Włodarek – it is a good part of culturist history, but belongs to the other era: era without doping.
- I have a pleasant memory of Sopot, because you competed there in a great and friendly atmosphere, in unique scenery. After tournaments you could relax on a beach and in the evening you had a real musical feast under the tent in the Non Stop club – tells us Jerzy Pochocki. – We trained really hard, often rivalled with oarsmen, weight-lifters in deadlift, bench press, clean and jerk. The sun was quite okay for us and there was natural doping as we were cheered on by crowds and beautiful girls too.

The Polish school of bodybuilding, as Stanisław Zakrzewski writes, is based on: health, strength, efficiency and beauty. Exercises were a mean to the right and harmonious development of your body. They were designed to achieve strength, agility, to rise your efficiency and performance of your constitution.
Unfortunately, record-seeking physical culture of 1980s, which has still been popular, made our efforts in vein. The all-rounds have been abandoned. Everything you ought to have is muscles showed only to impress the audience.
- The things we can see nowadays are a negligence of the balanced development, in fact it is just a contest of muscles – says Jan Włodarek. It is sport pathology, ma’am and it costs you a fortune. Legal supplements and illegal injections of growth hormone and insulin are not cheap – add Jan Czyżewski and Marek Krawczyk from the Mermaid.

Wardrobe, milk and steak tartar
In the beginning of the culturist movement people used to do their exercises at home and accepted the rule that: “your cellar is your first fitness club”. An amateur strongman must have been a do-it-yourself man. Dumbbells and barbells were made of tins filled with concrete. “You can have an almost luxury barbell using a metal bar 150 cm long and cans filled with concrete. Moreover, you had to use domestic equipment: a wardrobe which is too hard to move you can use to practice your belly and spine. (...) books you can use not only to learn, but also to train, especially when they are weighty, thus you have real dumbbells.”
Józef Radziwiłko – one of the Polish culturist movement pioneers was famous for beating the unofficial record of push-ups on parallel bars (he made them 220!) and in his dorm he prepared a fitness club in… his wardrobe. „You had to practice somewhere after all, and there was no place in our dormitory on Kickiego street…”. The student team which specialized in parallel bars beat all known efficiency records.
It was not any better several years later: – our all equipment was some casks and benches to do exercises lying – recalls Jerzy Pachocki known also as “Sarmat”.
Our way of nourishing was also an experiment. Somebody said it is good to eat raw meat, so we got cracking with it!”
- We ate tartars, we did not know anything about diets – recounts Józef Radziwiłko – some of my friends beat records in eating tartar: 1,5 kilo a day plus eggs.

Mirosław Prandota brought up by master Waldemar Wojciech Bednarski (who is a famous historian nowadays) used to bring a bottle of milk for every training.
- Tens of thousands young aficionados of bodybuilding who used to practice without a coach in the army, dorms, cellars, homes, and utility rooms wrote how exercises were changing their look and made them stronger. The editor was frequently asked for some hints. The most interesting letters along with responses were published in “Sport dla Wszystkich”. Reading them was very interesting and worthy – recalls Waldemar Wojciech Bednarski.
- Now it is astounding to me that after two different trainings a day I was still able to dance rock’n’roll in a club for several hours.

Strength is an adornment for a lad
A biceps is the easiest way of impressing the audience, but weight-lifters and athletes know that strength is not only having huge bicepses. The most important muscles are: thighs, calves and the sinewy small of the back.
The figure of a correctly grown man according to the ancient Polycleitus’ canon should be inscribed in an isosceles triangle with a vertex pointing down. The base should be equal to the shoulders’ dimension and its altitude should be equal to the man’s stature. When we divide a triangle in eight parts of equal heights, a head is placed in the first part, in the next parts: a neck and a torso and in the four latter ones: legs.” Broad-shouldered with thin hips and narrow in the waist” these are the most essential requirements for a man’s figure” wrote Zakrzewski in his magazine.
Steve Reeve’s figure has been regarded as the most perfect one. It is rumoured that Sylvester Stallone encouraged his friends saying: “Wanna look like a muff or like Steve Reeves? Nevertheless, things that made Steve Reeves special are not muscles but his ideal proportions. “Waist of a wasp, shoulders of an aurochs”, that is how Zakrzewski used to described him. Reeve’s basic dimensions were: height of 183 cm, weight of 100 kg, biceps’ girth: 47 cm, thigh: 67, chest: 132 cm, waist: 73 cm, calf and neck: 47 cm.
In Poland the closest to this ideal were: Wiesław Chałas, Sławomir Filipowicz and Marek Perepeczko.

The Weider clan: being faithfull to bicepses
Today when we hear: a strongman, most of us imagine a monstrous and unnaturally tanned strongman with pathologically overgrown muscles who takes part in a figure competition called nowadays as “a real contest”. Yet only a few of us know that extreme bodybuilding originates from the end of 1940s, when it was elaborated by the Weiders: Ben and Joe. Some amateurs associate Joe Weider with the popular but arduous method called the Weider 6 pack training. Joe just like many other culturists was neither tall nor strong when he was a child. Harassed by his mates he decided to develop his musculature against all the odds and become a strongman.
However, he was never a good champion, but he had worked out a system of practice which soon became extremely popular and gained him publicity and money.
In 1940, at the age of 17 and only with 7 dollars in his pocket, he set the first issue of his magazine „Your Physique” on a table in his living room. That is how the publishing empire was founded, the empire which has still been publishing such worldwide magazines like „Muscle and fitness”, „Muscular power”, „Shape”, „Flex” and „Men's Fitness”. Joe Weider is the one who promoted Arnold Schwarzenegger making him the most recognized worldwide bodybuilder. But his biggest commercial success was legal supplements which also caused him a bad reputation among holders of healthy physical culture.
In the US consumption of anabolic steroids by professional strongmen was accepted. The supplement industry and a plague of steroids have changed bodybuilding forever. Today the things that really count on tournaments, even in Poland, are: vivid veins and as huge as only possible muscles, which are presented in a few poses. Yet it would be a very interesting experiment to see those muscles in action. This extremely popular style of record-seeking physical culture has a very grim influence on bodybuilders and is obviously contrary to the method elaborated by Stanisław Zakrzewski, a method which is based on “strength, efficiency and beauty”.
Huge muscles that are widely showed off on contests are impossible to achieve in a natural way. And of course it has nothing to do with health and efficiency.
- In record-seeking bodybuilding the rule of the golden mean is stepped over in a pathological way. The contestants overstrain their joints and the circulatory system trying to subdue human abilities – says Professor Tadeusz Stefaniak from the Academy of Physical Education in Wrocław - In fact physical culture was more holistic and meant as a mean to recreation and soundness and of the highest importance was its motoric aspect. Muscles should have a utilitarian function. Muscular hypertrophy which is extremely popular on today’s tournaments has nothing to do with physical culture and actually is merely l’art pour l'art. The only solution is classical physical culture which evaluates height and weight. Among three values: strength, velocity and weight – strength is the most important in terms of the evolution. Every our move is overcoming resistance and that defines the strength. Therefore I recommend the resistance trainings which shape our muscles, but also prevent from later injuries.

Veterans keep going
Fortunately, most of amateurs who treat a gym as form of recreation do not use doping. The influence of natural physical culture is still vivid today. People, who started in 1960s, now are 70-80 years old and they still have been practicing regularly. They go to gyms in the mornings or evenings several times a week. Bodybuilding has taught them persistence, consistency and a sense of duty. And it has still been their way to keep fit and healthy, and to look sporty.
Stanisław Wojciech Wielgus, one the first Polish bodybuilders and a coach, has been training systematically since 1950s. He starts his day with his running track at home; next he has got some boxing and then a training of bicepses and tricepses. If there is fine weather he gets his bike and rides up and down a land-pier and Kościuszko’s park. Later he goes to work and tries to treats hopeless cases of backbone complaints. Daniel Pasternak, a radio reporter, has been practicing recreational physical culture since 1963, when he won a silver medal in the bench press in a veteran championship. Weight training is his way to beat the old age. Today he is 77 years old but he looks as if he was 20 years less!
- Just like forty years ago I wake up at 6 a.m. and have 45 minutes of practice with dumbbells and sport gums. I also do a few keep fit exercises. After a breakfast, if the weather is good, I go for a walk. My vigour has never left me – he says.

I used ABC młodego siłacza and Jak stać się silnym i sprawnym by Stanisław Zakrzewski as well as archival issues of Sport dla wszystkich and articles by Jan Włodarek from the page
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Włodarek for his help and assistance.

Text by Agata Napiórska
Translation by Filip Kuklewski
Photos by Ludwik Lis

Rej.729/ HISTORIA -59/2013.07.09/ JWIP.PL
Powyższy artykuł ( tekst angielski), jak również w jezyku polskim ukazał się w kwartalniku “Zwykłe Życie” (nr 2(3) /2013. Wydawca: Fundacja “Zwykłe Życie”

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