Monday, August 10, 2009

The Roots of Classic Physique Building: Sig Klein!

(Photo Above: Early Classic Physique Builder, Sig Klein on the cover of the Feb 1945 issue of Strength & Health)

Although our primary focus is on the champs and methods of the pre-roid, Golden Age of Classic Physique Building (the 1940s and 50s), it is important that we understand the history and roots of that Age. These roots extend as far back as the ancient Greeks (as we have covered in previous posts), but more immediately, the period of the late 1800s and early 1900s (up to 1939). In this post, CPB Contributor Ibrahim introduces Sig Klein - Strongman, Weightlifter, Classic Physique Builder and one of the forerunners of the pre-roid, Golden Age! (CPB - Anthony).


Sigmund Klein (1902-87) was born in Thorn, West Prussia Germany on August 10, 1902. In 1903, his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Having inherited a strong body, coupled with a desire to improve his physique, Sig started his bodybuilding career in Cleveland at the age of 17.

In the year of 1924 he relocated to New York City and operated the famous Attila studio, founded originally in Germany in the 1860s. The reputation of Professor Louis Attila was world-wide as a trainer of great athletes and strongmen. He was most famous as the discover, trainer and manager of the fabulous Eugene Sandow. Unfortunately, Professor Attila passed away shortly before Klein's arrival in New York. Klein's success with the studio was immediate. After a span of 50 years, Sigmund closed the gym and divided his vast muscle memorabilia among private collectors.

Also he was one of the early lightweight & middleweight weightlifting champions of America. His best lifts were:

strict military press - 229 1/4 pounds
strict press behind the neck - 206 pounds
one-arm snatch - 160 pounds (the first time bodyweight was surpassed in this lift by an American athlete)
one-arm clean-and-jerk - 190 1/2 pounds
crucifix - 126 3/4 pounds total
two-arm see-saw press - 100-pound dumbbell in each hand 10 consecutive times
bent press performed with one arm - 209 pounds
side press - 174 1/2 pounds
plus several more unusual lifts with a bodyweight that he maintained at 147-150 pounds during his entire career.

His Measurements were:

Weight – 150 lbs
Neck – 16 inches
Upper arm (flexed) – 15¾
Forearm (straight) – 12 ¾.
Chest (normal) – 44
Chest (expanded) – the same
Waist – 32
Thighs – 22
Calf – 14½.
Ankle – 8½
Hips – 36

It is the strongmen of the late 1800s and early 1900s, like Eugen Sandow, Sig Klein, and others that paved the way to the pre-roid, Golden Age of Classic Physique Building (of the 1940s and 50s).

CPB Contributor

P.S. For a free, 1 year subscription to Classic Physique Builder (CPBzine) - a pdf zine patterned after the muscle mags of the pre-roid, Golden Age of Bodybuilding (the 1940s and 50s) - just email your name, the name of your city (not your address), state/province, and country to us at That's it! Any info you send us is strictly confidential. We don't share our info with anyone. So you won't get on any unwanted lists or receive unwanted, automated email (even from us!).


Anonymous said...

What did his height?

- CPB - said...

Hi Anonymous!

We forgot to include it above, but Sig's height was 5 ft 4 1/2 inches.

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

Anonymous said...

Wow he looks huge even though he was only 5'4 1/2 and 150 pounds.


- CPB - said...

Hi Anonymous,

Actually you raise an interesting and important point! With a classic level of definition (not the extreme cadaver-look), a classic physique does indeed give the impression of being bigger than it actually might be.

Also, with a classic physique, you can see that large measurements are not the goal, but instead it is really "how you look" which has to do with a certain amount of size (not extreme size), shape, and classic symmetry.

The final point is that the body measurements of a classic physique are realistic targets that one can achieve AND, at the same time, be healthy, look great, and have an abundance of vitality (something that cannot be achieved with roids)!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

UK Steve said...


Well I have a training conundrum. For the past 4 months or so I have been following the Steve Reeves beginner routine (1 set of each exercise). I structured it so that I trained twice per week (Sat and Weds) and trained for 4 weeks (8 sessions) and then had a weeks layoff (i.e. missed two sessions) the first 4 sessions would build up to my previous best using 85%, 90%, 95%, and then 100% of my previous best respectively - the remaining 4 sessions I would try and set new PB's.

First month was excellent - gained weight - set new personal bests, second month was pretty good - didn't gain weight but set new PB's again but felt very wiped out by the end. Third month I struggled with 85%, barely made 90% and failed on my 95% lifts - and feel very overtrained.

I sleep 8 - 10 hours a night, eat 3,000 nutritious calories a day with basic supplements - I think my 'out of the gym factors' are fairly sound.

Does anyone know if the Golden Age trainers (Peary Rader et al) have any advice / routines for people who overtrained on even 'beginner' routines performed twice per week? I am thinking of having a two week layoff and then trying a Stuart McRobert 'Brawn' abbreviated hardgainer routine.

Any advice gratefully received!

Ibrahim said...

That´s it!!!

There many athlete during that period and before who looked really muscular but who even were not so big like the golden age champs.

You don´t have to forget Sig Klein and others even did not have protein powders and multivitamin tablets and such.

2 quotes from Sig Klein are:
Someone came up to me and said "I have a 19 inch arm" I said "Good, but what you can do with it" and "Train for shape & strength"

- CPB - said...

Hi UK Steve,

Let me ask some questions that might help in understanding your situation:

1. Are you engaging in any other sports activity (cardio, recreational sports, etc) outside your workouts?

2. Are you getting about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight in your diet? Are you including fats in your diet?

3. Are you able to schedule your workouts so that you are eating about 1 hour before and within one hour after workouts?

4. Were you following the rep range of 8-12 and only adding weight when you could do 12 reps?

5. Were you trying to get PBs on all your exercises at the same session or trying to get PBs on just 1 or 2 exercises per session?

If you are looking for a more abbreviated routine (than the Reeves approach), we have some options. The Rader Squat Program in our 2nd issue of CPBzine would be a good program (just start with 2 sets instead of 1 and then work up to 3 sets). Also, there is post on Alan Stephan's Abbreviated Routine (see the sidebar label on Abbreviated Routines).

We will do our next post on some of Rader's Abbreviated Programs. So stay tuned! Stuart McRobert seems to "channel" the Rader approach. However, I would check all aspects of proper training, proper nutrition, proper rest, and persistence before accepting the "hardgainer" label. But his approach is sound.

I think you mentioned that you gained 9 pounds in 3 months on the Reeves program. That doesn't sound like a "hardgainer" to me. Anyone will experience a sticking point (especially after 2 months of gains). Especially in the beginning, it is easy to inadvertently make "mistakes" without realizing it. So a slow down in gains or even overtraining can result because of this (not necessarily because one is a hardgainer).

In any event, the key thing is to "not worry" - let your mind and body rest while you prepare for your next program!

We are here to help!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

- CPB - said...

Hi UK Steve,

Just another piece of info to help provide some perspective on your experience with Steve Reeves' Beginning Routine. Steve followed that routine for 4 months - the first 3 months using 1 set per exercise, the 4th month using 2 sets per exercise.

On that routine, he gained 7 lbs and went from weighing 156 lbs to 163 lbs. I think you said that you gained 8 - 9 lbs. So you actually did better and gained more than Reeves!

So don't get discouraged! You did great!

Steve started to gain more muscle when he switched to the intermediate routine that Ed Yarick (his trainer) gave him. That routine is in our Summer 2009 issue of CPBzine. On that routine (which uses 3 sets per exercise), Steve gained an additional 30 lbs (in 4 months). But we have to remember that he was about 17 years old at the time (so he had plenty of natural testosterone in his system).

Since you have done so spectacularly well with Steve's Beginning Routine, you might just want to take a 2 week layoff and then try his intermediate routine (but doing the workout 2x per week instead of 3x). You will probably have to up your calories and get even more rest if you can. I said in the previous comment, the Rader Squat Program, Alan Stephan's Abbreviated Program, or Rader's Abbreviated Routine (which we will cover in our next post) would be a nice change.

But if you gained more weight on Steve Reeves' Beginning Program than he did, then think twice before considering yourself a hardgainer (or could it be that Steve was a hardgainer too! :) ).

I hope this provides some helpful perspective on your beginning experience!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

UK Steve said...

Thanks Anthony,

1. The only other activity I do is a brisk 25 minute walk to the train station each morning - I find this to be a good bit of light cardio for general health - and Steve Reeves recommended power walking!
2. I should be okay on Fats - I take a fat supplement called Udo's choice each day (1 tablespoon) drink 500ml of whole milk per day, eat 300cal of nuts, and have 2 portions of meat / fish / or cheese. I have never measured my protein intake - but after adding 1 scoop of Maximuscle Promax per day to the above I would be surprised if I am lacking protein? I will calculate a few days protein intake!
3. I can and do schedule a meal an hour before my workout - and then have my Promax and milk after the workout
4. Yes - kept to the 8-12 rep range only increasing the weights after 12 were reached in good form
5. I think you might have me on this point - yes I was going for PB's in each lift at each workout. Maybe I should hold most lifts at 95% and concentrate on just improving my weaker body parts in each month?

The Alan Stephan and Peary Rader routines do look exactly the same as the ones in Hardgainer. I'm not sure - the thought of doing 3 x12 squats, then 1 x 20 squats, then a set of deadlifts does put me off the Steve Reeves intermediate workout (even twice per week) - don't get me wrong, its not laziness - I just want to get a reward for my efforts - not exhaustion and an eventual loss of strength!

Good point about Steve Reeves weight gain during the beginner program - I hadn't thought of it like that! :-D

All the best

- CPB - said...

Hi UK Steve!

Thanks for answering my questions. Here are some more thoughts:

1. Steve recommended Power Walking, but not for beginners who want to build mass! This extra activity is eating into your body's energy reserves which it could/should be using for recovery & mass building. Solution: Try to get a ride to the train station or walk slowly! For mass building, sit instead of standing, lie down instead of sitting, sleep instead of just lying down! You need all possible energy to go into recover & mass building at this stage.

2. Definitely calculate your protein intake to see if you are on target.

3. Make sure to eat some good carbs with your post workout protein drink. This will help your body better utilize the protein. Steve always had a couple of pieces of fruit in addition to raisins (and his cottage cheese and nuts) for lunch after his workout.

4. You did fine with the rep range. But the body can get used to any rep range after a while. So try Steve's tip with your next routine: Vary your rep range monthly. So one month use an 8-12 rep range, the next month use 5-7, the following month use 7-10, then repeat. This employs the "muscle confusion principle" and helps to avoid or put off sticking points.

5. Important Point - you can't go for PBs in every exercise at the same session. This will burn you out very quickly. Approach the PBs strategically - go for PBs in 2 exercises per session instead of all of them. In the Reeves beginning routine, if you get PBs in the first two exercises, then your muscles will be more fatigued for the next 2 exercises - so pushing for PBs in those as well is enough to "send you over a cliff" so to speak (definitely into overtraining).

6. Squats and Deadlifts - the Reeves intermediate routine is demanding in including these two exercises. But there is a good reason. Squats and deadlifts, when done in a full body routine, have an overall anabolic mass building effect on the whole body. They knew this in the Golden Age (although they didn't know it was because these 2 exercises release more testosterone into the system than any others). So Reeves gain of 30 lbs on this routine might have been, in part, due to his reaping the benefits of these 2 exercises. But don't go for PBs in these two during the same session! :)

7. You can modify the Reeves intermediate routine by just doing 2 sets instead of 3. Just do 1 set of deadlifts. Use a light weight (no more than a 20 lb barbell) for pullovers. You can also drop the seated dumbbell curls (remember Steve was trying to bring up his arms to match his calves) and substitute calf raises (either seated, standing, or on a leg press machine) for the good mornings. Keep to 2 workouts per week.

With these modifications (and with proper rest, checking your protein, upping your calories, eating carbs with your post workout protein drink, varying your rep range monthy, and going for PBs strategically), you should be ready for more great gains on the Reeves intermediate program (after all, you did so well on his beginning program).

Or if you like, there are the other programs previously mentioned as well - which are fine programs.

But you are doing great! Get a lot of rest during your layoff - eat well - and get ready for more great gains!

All the best,

CPB (Anthony)

P.S. The set system (doing 2 or more sets) will take a bit of getting used to. It will take a while to figure out how to most effectively use the rep range and the principle of progressive resistance. But when you get there and you need input - just ask!