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Investigating “A Consensus of Uninformed Dogma”

C.H. McCloy and Strength Training Research at the University of Iowa in the Mid-Twentieth Century

Shurley, Jason P.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2019 - Volume 33 - Issue 12 - p 3201–3212
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003373
Original Research

Shurley, JP. Investigating “A Consensus of Uninformed Dogma”: C.H. McCloy and Strength Training Research at the University of Iowa in the Mid-Twentieth Century. J Strength Cond Res 33(12): 3201–3212, 2019—Into the 1960s, many coaches advised their athletes to avoid weight training, fearing that lifting weights would result in their becoming stiff, slow, and “muscle-bound.” By the early 1970s, however, some teams had begun hiring specialists to devise and supervise strength and conditioning programs for their athletes. This paradigm shift in the understanding of the relationship between strength training and athletic performance was precipitated by numerous factors, including the exposure of many soldiers to barbells during World War II, Cold War-era concerns about soft living, athletes who trained despite their coaches' advice, and scientists who investigated the effects of strength training. C.H. McCloy, a Research Professor of Anthropometry and Physical Education at the University of Iowa from 1930 to 1954, was one of the first in the field of physical education to encourage and promote research on strength training. Although an advocate of various forms of training throughout his career, McCloy began to encourage investigations of the relationship between strength and performance by Iowa graduate students in the late 1940s. When those studies indicated that barbell training actually enhanced jump height, swimming speed, and more, McCloy publicized those results in the classroom, at conference talks, and in both professional and popular press magazines. Some of those investigations became part of the foundation on which later strength research was based. Owing to his backing and promotion of scientific investigations of strength training, C.H. McCloy was a key figure in making strength training an integral element of sport preparation.

Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Coaching, University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, WI

Address correspondence to Jason P. Shurley,

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In the fall of 1943, the University of Iowa campus was home to one of the best football teams in the nation (48). But, for a setback against Notre Dame in the second-to-last week of the season, the Iowa squad likely would have been crowned national champions. It was not the Iowa Hawkeyes who nearly won the championship; however, the runners up for 1943 were the Seahawks of the Navy Preflight program (88). In the midst of the Seahawks' run to the top of the college football rankings, several graduate students from the physical education program at the University of Iowa sought the opinion of one of their most imminent instructors on the training practices of the cadets. Specifically, the students had noticed that the cadets trained with barbells and dumbbells as part of their daily conditioning. Lifting weights, they had been told, was bad for athletes, so would the gridders not be better off if they skipped weight training (79)? The professor whose insight the students sought was Charles Harold (“C.H.”) McCloy, by then nearing his 40th year in physical education and an eminent figure in the field. For his part, McCloy was familiar with the opinion that weight training would hamper athletic performance but he had never performed any specific investigation in that area. Although he could not answer their question with any certainty, McCloy assured the students that he would look into the matter.

C.H. McCloy (1886–1959) was an enormously influential figure in the field of physical education for the first half of the twentieth century. Accordingly, his work was lauded with numerous awards, fellowships, and honorary doctorates (3,34). In addition, his impact on the field of physical education has been discussed in 1 full-length dissertation and a handful of journal articles (21,22,45,46). The focus of those works, however, was on his influence over some of the main areas of his writing and research, including the philosophy of physical education, assessment of physical capacity, and mechanical analysis of sport skills. McCloy's role in the acceptance of weight training as a beneficial and important adjunct to sport performance has been underappreciated, and only brief mentions have been made in the academic literature about his impact on strength training for sport (46,103). This article seeks to correct that oversight and will explore McCloy's contribution to the modern sporting environment in which weight training is no longer ill-advised for athletes but is, instead, required.

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Formative Years and Early Career

C.H. McCloy was born on March 30, 1886, in Marietta, Ohio. He was the only son of William Alexander and Emma Langley McCloy. His father worked for the Bellaire, Zanesville, and Cincinnati railroad as a telegrapher and station agent, and 2 years after young “Harold” was born, William was transferred to rural western North Dakota (46). The family took up residence in Dickinson, North Dakota, where William also bought a share of a hardware store. In 1894, William died unexpectedly at the age of 32, leaving Emma to run the hardware store and the young McCloy to look after himself much of the time. As a boy, and continuing throughout his life, McCloy was relatively thin. As children are wont to do, his classmates seized on his undersized stature and teased him with nicknames that included “skinny,” “slivers,” “pipestems,” and “spindleshanks” (49). The jeers inspired in McCloy a desire, common among many adolescent boys, to be stronger and more muscular. To remedy the situation, McCloy purchased The Athlete's Guide, a small textbook on track and field, during a trip to Saint Paul, Minnesota, when he was 12. Published by A.G. Spalding, the book was a series of descriptions of events and methods of training for them, all of which were written by top athletes of the day. In the chapter on distance running, the author claimed that the exercise would build up the legs, so McCloy set off running in the hills of western North Dakota, working up to 3 miles per run, several times weekly. McCloy trained for the other events as well, throwing a 5-pound rock as his shot put and even setting up standards to perform a rudimentary pole vault and a broad jump pit (49,75).

On another trip to the Twin Cities 2 years later, McCloy purchased a copy of Bernarr Macfadden's Physical Culture magazine. Although Macfadden's magazine advocated strength training, he warned specifically about the dangers of heavy lifting, arguing that such training was “of no value to a man who desires simply superabundant health” (4,49,75). Macfadden was far from unique in his admonitions against lifting heavy weights. Physicians in the 19th and early 20th centuries warned that muscles developed through such training could become parasites, sapping energy from other organ systems, including the brain (85). Coaches fretted that such training would make their athletes “muscle-bound,” a vaguely defined condition that included decreased flexibility, speed, and agility. Opponents of strength training compared draft horses to light-footed quarter horses and asserted the hulking nature of the former was the result of constantly pulling heavy loads. The observation, of course, ignored the fact that the size of draft horses was primarily the result of breeding, not training (104). Nonetheless, the horse analogy was seemingly cemented in humans by some professional strongmen who, although extraordinarily strong, did not possess the agility coaches sought in their athletes (108).

Despite trepidation about heavy strength training, Macfadden's Physical Culture featured articles describing the use of light weights, bodyweight, chairs, and stools for resistance. By the 1920s, well after McCloy's introduction to the magazine, Physical Culture even drew some connections between muscular strength and sport performance, arguing that a program that included light strength training helped Babe Ruth turn his career around, and that muscular development would improve swimming ability (27,28). After reading his first copy, McCloy subscribed to the magazine. Through his mother's wholesale ordering at the hardware store, he was able to obtain dumbbells, Indian clubs, boxing gloves, and a punching bag. In his attic, he installed a trapeze bar and a pair of flying rings. Following the programs in the pages of Physical Culture, McCloy began to train and, by the age of 15, had decided that he wanted to pursue a career in physical education (49).

The decision led McCloy to move back to Marietta, Ohio, where he would live with his grandmother, so that he would have more opportunity to participate in sports. He enrolled at the Academy of Marietta College, where he established a track team of which he was the captain for his last 2 years of high school. The Academy, however, did not have a track, and so, McCloy and his team trained on a track at the county fairgrounds. Also, training at the fairgrounds was racing horses and their trainers. McCloy took the unconventional step of observing the methods used by the horse trainers and employed some of them in designing training programs for himself and his teammates. In 1904, McCloy finished high school and matriculated at Marietta College where, as he had in high school, McCloy captained the track team and also served as its manager (46). Near the end of his first year, the physical education teacher resigned to pursue graduate work, leaving a vacancy on the faculty. Although only 19 at the time, McCloy applied for the position, requesting a salary of $150 annually. Although university officials were hesitant to employ a current student as an instructor, they ultimately hired McCloy, marking his first year as a physical educator in 1905 (49,92).

McCloy's requested compensation was chosen because it was the amount he would need for tuition, a train ticket, and room and board at Dudley Sargent's summer physical education program. Sargent served as the director of Harvard University's Hemenway Gymnasium from 1879 until his retirement from the university in 1919. In 1887, Sargent established the Harvard University Summer School of Physical Education which was one of the earliest, largest, and most famous physical education programs in the United States at the time. Intended for working teachers, and created to address the shortage of physical educators as demand for the programs increased, the summer school ranged from as few as 2 to as many as 4 required summers of coursework (29,106). Beginning in 1905 and continuing through 1907, McCloy traveled to Cambridge, Massachusetts, every summer, where he learned and performed German and Swedish gymnastics, as well as exercises with dumbbells, wands, and Indian clubs. Other coursework included physiology, anatomy, anthropometry, dance, and skills and tactics for a variety of games, ranging from football, to boxing, wrestling, fencing, and tennis. One of the more impactful aspects of the program, and one which would affect his later philosophy, was the fact that men and women exercised together (49). After the 1907 session, McCloy was awarded a certificate in physical education. The previous spring, he had also completed his Bachelor of Philosophy degree, with honors, in only 3 years. With a degree and certificate in hand, he accepted his first position as a Director of Physical Education at Yankton College in southeastern South Dakota (46).

At Yankton, McCloy not only oversaw physical education but also filled in as an instructor of biology during another instructor's absence, coached 4 sports, and helped direct the band. As a coach, the energetic McCloy was an innovator, capitalizing on his coursework at Harvard to bring the most current strategies to the rural college. He incorporated new formations, as well as defensive shifts and the recently legalized forward pass. So, baffling was his team's movements that 1 rival, Dakota Wesleyan, refused to play them if Yankton's defensive shifting was allowed. In addition to strategy, McCloy also put his team through rigorous exercises leading the school newspaper to observe that McCloy's employment of physical culture was “a close second to the value of his coaching” (46).

Not all athletes at Yankton were as eager to participate in conditioning as the football team. The cross-country runners were particularly lackadaisical about their workouts, preferring to spend their time carousing with coeds. To motivate his harriers, McCloy convinced the women to ride bikes while the young men ran alongside, which allowed them to multitask their training and flirting. Familiar with courtship himself, McCloy returned to Ohio during winter break to marry his high school sweetheart, Anna Fisher. The 2 returned to Yankton in early January when McCloy also introduced preseason training to the baseball team. Despite his Herculean efforts in the classroom and on the playing fields, McCloy was not renewed for the 1908–1909 school year. Never one to back down when convinced he was in the right, McCloy called the university president “a damned fool” during a faculty meeting after the president sided with another faculty member during a dispute (46).

After his dismissal, McCloy secured a position as a Physical Director for the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Danville, Virginia (92). In that position, he not only oversaw YMCA programming, but was also responsible for outreach to local schools. McCloy designed physical education programs for public school students and trained and evaluated physical education teachers. In addition, he worked toward a master's degree from Marietta in absentia, earning a Master of Arts with specializations in the Psychology of Adolescence and Human Physiology in 1910. Wishing to pursue further education, but with no doctoral programs in physical education at that time, McCloy instead decided to pursue a Doctor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1911 (46). Although he was very successful in his medical studies, when offered a position through the YMCA in China, McCloy jumped at the chance. The overseas position enabled him to return to teaching at the college level and involved training physical directors for branches throughout China (Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1

After 13 years abroad, during which he learned to speak fluent Mandarin, McCloy returned to the United States in 1925 due to political instability and concerns about the health and safety of his growing family (46,91,98). After a 1-year stint at Detroit Teachers' College, the family again relocated, this time to New York City. There, McCloy again worked for the YMCA, this time as Secretary for Research in Physical Education. In that capacity, he encouraged research among physical directors. In addition, he enrolled at Columbia University to pursue his Doctor of Philosophy degree in physical education. While still working on his terminal degree, McCloy was offered the position with which he is most associated, as a Research Professor of Anthropometry and Physical Education at the University of Iowa (46).

The job offer was largely the result of a vacation trip during the summer of 1929, when McCloy stopped by both the universities of Illinois and Iowa to discuss ongoing research projects. Through a conversation with staff at Iowa's Child Welfare Research Station, McCloy was able to secure the new employment opportunity. The position was a dual appointment, half time working to develop standards and measurements of physical capacity in children, and half teaching (46). Although he would not assume the role for which he is best known until he was 44, McCloy had written widely before that time and would continue to do so after joining the faculty at Iowa. In his writing and in his teaching, McCloy was particularly critical of the movement in physical education to minimize physical training in favor of a heavy emphasis on sports. In his first academic article, published with other student pieces in the Marietta College Ohio, he argued for the importance of physical training, asserting that it “gives a foundation for the development of the mental and moral man” (77). He also advocated for the place of physical education in the curriculum, based on the idea that physical health formed the basis for mental health and ethical behavior, and that it was the duty of the college to develop the complete person, not just to provide academic knowledge.

After he joined the faculty at Iowa in the spring of 1930, McCloy wrote repeatedly about the importance of physical training, criticizing those who thought sports were the gateway to both physical fitness and physical competence (50). He credited the training of his youth and the style of training that he learned at Harvard with developing sufficient strength such that an individual could do productive work without “undue fatigue” (50). This was an idea McCloy would advance repeatedly. He advocated what one might call “functional strength” in that an individual was strong enough that they could perform their job, their studies, or anything else they might be required to do without being limited by their physical capacity (49,53,74). Carrying the idea further, and echoing Physical Culture publisher Bernarr Macfadden whose tagline was “weakness is a crime, don't be a criminal,” McCloy asserted that “the over-weak relatively seldom do the constructive work of the world” (60). To McCloy, being sufficiently strong was a duty both to oneself and to society more generally.

In 1936, he asked his fellow physical educators, “how about some muscle?” arguing that physical education had forgotten its exercise roots in the name of progress (63). Physical education expanded in the first decades of the 20th century and focused not only on teaching movement skills, games, and exercise methods, but came to include character education, mental health, and psychology. McCloy's consistent emphasis on the importance of physical training drew criticism from other physical educators who saw his philosophy as limited (22). It should be noted, however, that the narrow view may well have been the one taken by McCloy's critics. Throughout his career, McCloy emphasized that physical education developed not only the body but also the mind and character as well (50,55,65,73,77). Thus, although McCloy consistently advocated for physical training, he was no pessimist about physical education's utility in developing qualities that were less quantifiable than muscular strength.

In addition to his consistent support for physical training, McCloy was also unswerving in his calls for research in physical education. While still working on his doctorate, which he would complete in 1932, McCloy authored a series of articles in the Journal of Physical Education instructing educators on research techniques (68–71). He also published and kept lists of important areas of inquiry (66,67). Looking back on his career in the mid-1950s, McCloy was critical of how frequently opinions without facts had become gospel in the field. Many of the principles guiding physical education practice were nothing more than the “average opinions of people who don't know, but who are all anxious to contribute their averaged ignorance to form a consensus of uninformed dogma” (49). One such piece of accepted dogma that he investigated in the late 1920s was the belief that women and girls should not participate in jumping because it might damage their reproductive organs (51).

To prevent reproductive organ damage in physical education students, female teachers often omitted high and broad jumping from their programs. In an attempt to explore the issue scientifically, McCloy filmed the jumps of 2 female subjects. Using frame-by-frame analysis and measurements of jump height and distance, McCloy calculated the velocity and force of landing for a variety of jumps. Using anatomical studies, he then estimated the landing force applied to the uterus. The results were reviewed by gynecologists and anatomists with extensive knowledge of pelvic structure who concurred that, barring pre-existing damage to the pelvic floor, there was no reason why girls or women should be prohibited from jumping. In his conclusion, McCloy asserted that the position that women should not jump was “based on an erroneous notion of pelvic anatomy…tinged with the conservatism of elderly persons” and that those who opposed the activity should provide proof of its dangers (51).

The article was initially submitted for publication in an American physical education journal in 1928, but, as it flew in the face of the consensus among the publication's readership, the journal effectively sat on the article for 3 years (46,65). Frustrated at the journal's inaction, McCloy sent the article for publication in a German journal (57). After its printing in German, McCloy ordered a host of reprints in English and personally sent them to physical educators across the country. As his former student and a giant in the field in her own right, Eleanor Metheny observed “he refused to let anything stop him from presenting what he felt to be the facts of the case” (46).

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Strength Training Research at the University of Iowa

The graduate students at Iowa who sought McCloy's opinion on the effect of weight training on athletic performance had thus chosen to ask one of the most fitting people in the field. McCloy had spent his career calling for more research in a variety of areas related to physical education, was loath to accept conventional wisdom, and had been a proponent of strength training since he was an adolescent. Furthermore, McCloy was an avid exerciser throughout his life, regularly participating in handball, tennis, or badminton with colleagues. In keeping with his introduction to physical culture, however, McCloy's workouts emphasized gymnastic movements and some calisthenics. Fellow faculty at Iowa recalled that, regardless of what he was doing, he would stop each day at 3:30, have a cup of tea, and then begin his workout promptly at 4:00. The consistency kept McCloy in good condition, as he kept his weight reliably around 145 pounds on a 5-foot, 8-inch frame (46). McCloy also monitored his conditioning, in part, by seeing how many consecutive chin-ups he could perform each year on his birthday. His record was 43 chins at the age of 50 years, and he kept up the tradition no matter where he was, including in Japan for his 60th birthday, where he performed 26 (46).

Moreover, by the time the Iowa students inquired of his opinion, McCloy had an inkling that the notion of a muscle-bound condition might be unfounded. In an article published nearly a decade earlier, McCloy himself had observed that it was likely that “the development of the strength of the upper limbs would improve the performance of any type of athlete” (72). It should be pointed out, however, that although McCloy specifically advocated lifting and throwing “heavy” weights, he was referring to overweight implements and gymnastic-style training, not training with barbells and near maximal poundages. Similarly, he had observed in 1937 that “adequate muscular strength” was “a prerequisite to superior performance in any form of sports” (61). As with the previous example, when considering how to develop that strength, McCloy largely had gymnastic-based training in mind.

In keeping with his education, McCloy first attempted to review the literature on the matter but found “almost nothing,” particularly as it pertained to the combination of strength training and athletics (79). With literature on the subject essentially nonexistent, McCloy determined that a study of the issue was in order. On the chance that conventional wisdom might be right, however, he elected not to use any active athletes as subjects in his initial trial. Instead, as many scientists have before and since, he and his colleague Arthur Wendler chose to experiment on themselves. Since he was 55 years old at the time and more than a decade removed from any sort of competitive athletics, McCloy reasoned that it would not be an issue if barbell training did result in his becoming slow and muscle-bound. Quite the opposite, however, McCloy found that after the training he was stronger than he had been more than 3 decades earlier, in his mid-twenties. In addition, he was no slower after the weight program than when he had begun (2,79).

Given that a major source of inspiration for McCloy's early training was Physical Culture magazine, he was no stranger to that genre of publications. In the middle decades of the 20th century, the most widely circulated of those magazines was Strength & Health, published by Bob Hoffman. Hoffman owned the York Barbell company and used the magazine to promote his products, but he was a true believer in the power of weight training to improve one's health, life, and athletic performance (23). From the first issue of the magazine in 1932, Hoffman continually pounded the drum for weight training as a means to improve athletic performance. He would tell anyone who would listen that barbells were the key to “improve at your chosen sport” and was glad to hit the road with members of the York and Olympic weightlifting teams to give demonstrations of what weights could do (33). Shortly after taking up barbell training, McCloy was able to test the power and flexibility of 4 weightlifting national champions himself in 1944 (76,81). “Not only were they not slow and inflexible,” McCloy would later write, “but they were fast enough in a vertical jump to be within the top ten percent of track athletes and they were much more flexible in their movements than the vast majority of athletes with whom the author has worked” (81).

Paired with his own strength improvements after barbell training, the observations of competitive weightlifters convinced McCloy that further study of the matter was warranted. By 1945, McCloy advocated barbell training for physical education programs (52). Pointing to the recently coined “overload principle,” which posits that physiological systems only adapt if forced to work beyond the intensity to which they are accustomed, McCloy argued that calisthenics were insufficient to really develop strength. Improvement of muscular strength, he observed, required lifting greater amounts of weight, with barbell training being 1 modality to accomplish that goal. As he and Arthur Wendler worked to develop their own strength after the war, they were joined in their workouts by some of the physical education graduate students including Edward Chui and Edward Capen. McCloy encouraged his new lifting partners to research the effect of weight training on athletic performance as their thesis projects.

In the late 1940s, Chui put a group of 23 untrained young men through a series of barbell exercises 2 to 3 times weekly as research for his master's thesis (13). The exercises included variants on the competitive Olympic lifts, the snatch, the clean-and-jerk, and the press, as well as deadlifts and squats. The experimental group was compared with a control group of 22 young men who performed the calisthenics and other activities of the required physical education program at Iowa. At the end of the 3-month study period, the experimental group, on average, increased their vertical and broad jumps by nearly twice as much as the control, saw greater improvements in their shot putting ability, and ran faster in a 60-yard dash. The study was published 2 years later in the American Association for Health Physical Education and Recreation's (AAHPER) journal, Research Quarterly (14). In the article's introduction, Chui, a former Hawkeye football player whose career was cut short by injury, specifically mentioned the pervasive fear of the muscle-bound condition (15). “Very frequently,” he wrote, “in the classroom, on the gymnasium floor, and on the athletic field, the term 'weight training' is associated with 'muscle-boundness'.” Chui went on to note that “no scientific evidence, however, has been advanced to support these beliefs” (14). Quite the contrary, his work appeared to demonstrate that the opposite was true; that weight training not only did not slow an athlete down but also might actually enable them to run faster or jump higher.

Like Chui, Edward Capen referenced the pervasive notion of the muscle-bound condition in the introduction to his work (9,10). He further noted the claims of Bob Hoffman, that weight training could bestow a host of benefits, including for athletic performance. Neither side, however, had scientific evidence on which to stand. In an experiment with a similar design to Chui's, Capen studied 2 groups of young men, one trained with barbells and dumbbells twice weekly, while the other performed calisthenic and gymnastic exercises, and running. Both trained for 11 weeks as part of a class and were ultimately tested for strength, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and muscular power. Not surprisingly, the weight trained group made greater improvements in strength, with no significant differences between groups with respect to muscular or cardiovascular endurance. Contrary to the prevailing belief among coaches, the lifting group also showed greater increases in power. Based on the results, Capen asserted that it appeared that weight training “does not result in muscular tightness and a decrease of speed of muscular contraction, as is commonly assumed” (10). As with Chui's work, Capen's research was published in Research Quarterly in 1950.

After the promising results of the work of Chui and Capen, another Iowa graduate student, Richard Garth, was able study the effects of weight training on Hawkeye men's varsity basketball players (26). In collaboration with McCloy, Arthur Wendler, and another professor in the department, Frank Sills, Garth devised a program with an eye toward increasing the vertical jumping ability of the cagers (82). The initial program consisted of 6 weeks of weight training implemented in the lead-up to the 1953-1954 season. Headed into that fall, the Hawkeyes were coming off a disappointing 12-10 season, the second for coach Frank “Bucky” O'Connor and a significant downturn after his successful first year (35). The training protocol included a clean and press, walking lunges, calf raises, bicep curls, dumbbell lateral raises, and dumbbell forward raises. After encouraging improvements in the players' vertical jumping ability, the program was continued beyond the original 6-week protocol. After a year of weight training, the players increased their vertical jump by an average of 2.7 inches with 1 player, Bill Logan, adding 5 inches to his jump (79) (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

Figure 3

O'Connor was pleased with the results, noting that the weight work “made them stronger for the rugged work under the baskets” (79). The players' increased strength and power was also evident on the scoreboard as the Hawkeyes finished the 1954 season with a record of 17-5 earning them second place in the Big Ten conference. Weight training continued into the 1954-1955 season, and the Iowa squad built on their initial success, making the school's first-ever trip to the “Final Four,” winning their first outright Big Ten conference championship, and becoming the first in school history to average more than 80 points per game. The following year, the “Fabulous Five” and the rest of the Hawkeyes repeated as conference champions losing in the national championship game to San Francisco (36).

Beyond the basketball court, McCloy mentioned working with soccer players and swimmers, as early as 1945, although he did not specifically mention weight training (52). Track and field coach George Bresnahan and swimming coach David Armbruster both recalled that McCloy encouraged them to incorporate weight training for their athletes well before it was accepted practice (46). Otto Vogel, coach of the Hawkeye baseball team from 1925 to 1942 and 1946 to 1962, claimed that McCloy and Wendler were the “first to experiment with systematic weight training for baseball players” (107,110). Before the 1947 season, Wendler supervised 6 weeks of training for the team. According to Vogel, the athletes were stronger and had improved endurance after the program, although no details were provided. In 1955, Wendler supervised a weight training intervention with the team, using an experimental group that trained with weights and a control group that did not. Both groups went through typical baseball practice, while the weight training group also performed a series of 5 upper-body and abdominal strength exercises. At the end of the 12 weeks, the control group had increased their throwing velocity 6.2%, while the weight trained players more than doubled that, increasing their velocity by an average of 13.7% (107).

In 1953, master's student Elden Keller put 8 adolescent high jumpers through an 11-week program that combined jumping and weight training. By the conclusion of the intervention, the boys had improved their jumping ability an average of 3.38 inches and increased their strength nearly 18% (39). Doctoral student Jack Davis put 17 college-aged male subjects with competitive swimming experience through an 8-week program that included barbell squats, bench presses, barbell rows, stiff-legged deadlifts, dumbbell arm circles, arm curls, straight arm pull-downs, and sit-ups. The men were prohibited from swimming more than once per week during the training period. After 2 months of weight training 3 times weekly, the swimmers decreased their time in the 25-yard dash by an average of 0.57 seconds and in the 50-yard dash by 1.08 seconds (20). Davis published his findings in Physical Educator in 1955, writing that the study had been undertaken because of the pervasive belief among swimmers and coaches that weight training “is detrimental to speed in swimming” (19). In addition to the fact that his results seemed to indicate that weight training could enhance athletic performance, Davis disputed the concept of “muscle-bound” swimmers by pointing to unpublished anthropometric data gathered by the Iowa physical education department, which showed that those who engaged in weight training were actually more flexible than untrained counterparts (Figures 4 and 5).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

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“Barbells on Campus”: the Growth of Weight Training After World War II

The postwar years were a fertile ground for the spread of weight training, despite the hesitation of many coaches to take up barbells. After passage of the Servicemen's Readjustment Act in 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill, millions of former servicemen enrolled in colleges across the country. By 1947, veterans, including Edward Capen, comprised 49% of college admissions, and by 1956, nearly 8 million of the 16 million World War II veterans had attended college or occupational programs (31). Many of those veterans had been exposed to strength training during the war and were eager to continue the activity as they began their undergraduate careers (32).

In addition, interest in all forms of sport increased beginning in the late 1940s. Rule changes during the war had allowed college football teams to substitute freely, rather than requiring players to play both offense and defense. The rule change allowed for an expansion of rosters and specialization of players, which enabled significant changes in how the game was played (17). As players were able to focus on the techniques of only 1 or 2 positions, they were able to execute increasingly complex offenses and defenses, making for a faster and more interesting game (29). The rise of televisions, found in 75% of households by 1956, also allowed for an expanded viewership of college and professional sports, with teams such as the University of Pennsylvania signing lucrative deals to broadcast their games (29,96). As teams jockeyed for athletes in the increasingly competitive college sports landscape, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) officially sanctioned full athletic scholarships in 1956 (29). With that, the NCAA dropped some of its pretense about players being amateurs and tacitly acknowledged that athletes were enrolled primarily for their athletic ability.

With larger rosters and athletic scholarships as leverage, college football coaches after the war began to put players through increasingly brutal trials to instill toughness in their players and weed out those in whom it could not be developed. As an example, legendary football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant “ran off a few” players when he coached at the University of Kentucky starting in 1946 (89). Bryant, who had served in the Navy during the war and coached at the Georgia Pre-Flight camp, an equivalent to the one at Iowa, was well-versed in the philosophy of using grueling exercises and physical games to develop perseverance and resilience (7). Other coaches such as Darrel Royal at Texas, himself a veteran, used what his players derisively called “shit drills” to winnow the Longhorn roster (94). The tactics used by Bryant and Royal are consistent with what historian Donald Mrozek has called a “cult of toughness” which “used sport and physical training in increasingly ritualized forms to develop a tough an winning attitude in the Cold War” (87).

As the Soviets expanded their influence globally, many fretted about Americans' physical condition. Warnings about a citizenry made soft by decadence were seemingly realized when North Korean forces invaded South Korea, and the ill-prepared and poorly equipped American forces were nearly pushed off of the peninsula by communist forces (30). Combined with the fact that more than 38% of American prisoners died during the war, more than in any previous conflict, it was charged that Americans were both physically and mentally soft (86). To make matters worse, the physical weakness of American children was seemingly confirmed in a 1953 study by Hans Kraus and Ruth Hirschland, which tested strength and flexibility (41). The researchers noted that nearly 57% of American children between the ages of 6 and 19 years failed at least one of the tests, while only 8% of European children did. On the international stage, the Russians proceeded to “trounce” the United States, in the words of an article in the Saturday Evening Post, at both 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, and the 1960 Games in Rome (47,87,93).

Not only were American servicemen and athletes weak, then, but the testing of children provided little hope of the situation reversing course in the near future. Concern over the fitness of American youth reached President Eisenhower, who established the President's Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. The Council had little funding but maintained a high media presence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, working to portray fitness as a civic duty to children and their parents (86). It was in this milieu of increased visibility and revenue for college sporting teams, growing college enrollments, and Cold War concerns about the physical fitness of American citizens, that McCloy and the Iowa students researched the effects of weight training. As coaches were under increased pressure to win games and generate revenue, they were increasingly open to accept weight training as a viable modality to train their athletes and instill strength and toughness. As policy makers fretted about the condition of American children, they were also more accepting of the idea of including weight training in the physical education curriculum.

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Professor Emeritus: McCloy's Work After Retirement

Although Cold War concerns mixed with the rise of big-time college athletics, and evidence mounted that the concept of “muscle-bound” athletes was likely erroneous, McCloy prepared to enter a new phase in his career. In July of 1954, after 50 years in the field of physical education, including 24 at the University of Iowa, McCloy retired and was named a Research Professor Emeritus. The transition freed him from many of the administrative duties required of a full-time professor, while still allowing him to teach as he wished, and to focus on research. At the end of his first semester as an Emeritus, McCloy suffered a heart attack in December of 1954. It was followed by a second in April of 1955 (46). Despite the setbacks, McCloy continued to write voluminously, and he began to branch out beyond the professional literature. In a 1955 article in Strength & Health magazine, McCloy addressed the criticisms of weight training for athletes head-on (79). He suggested that readers would be surprised by the “unintelligent” answers offered if they were to ask physiologists or coaches to define the muscle-bound condition. “There is no more to the 'weight lifting makes muscles short, stiff, and muscle-bound' idea,” McCloy informed readers, “than there is to the 'weight training makes athletes slow' superstition” (79). As evidence, McCloy pointed to the research at Iowa, which demonstrated increases in muscular strength and power after weight training with no reduction in muscular flexibility (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Figure 6

He referenced those studies again in 1956, writing that an appropriate weight training program “can greatly aid in achieving specialized athletics fitness” (78). In another article, McCloy asserted that, “muscular strength can be developed more rapidly through progressive weight training than through almost any other convenient means” (80). Around this time, McCloy also drafted a manual for training athletes in a variety of sports (81). In the introduction, he specifically refuted the idea of muscle-bound athletes and went on to recount his observation of competitive weightlifters who were both quite flexible and explosively quick. Furthermore, he cited track athletes in events ranging from the shot put to hurdlers, pole vaulters, and runners who were both record holders and “ardent weight trainers.” The manual listed weight training programs for 16 sports including: football, rowing, gymnastics, tennis, golf, and soccer. Although the manual was not published, McCloy did publish 2 articles in Scholastic Coach that discussed the use of weight training in baseball players (59,64).

In addition to his continued backing of barbell training for athletes, McCloy made another argument about weights that rattled many physical educators and coaches of that era. “This type of training,” he said, “in proper moderation, is as beneficial for girls and women as it is for boys and men” (62,76). It is worth noting that, at this time, many gyms did not allow women to train, and, when they did, women often had to train on separate days or in segregated areas so as not to distract the men (101). For their part, many female physical educators emphasized a version of white, heterosexual femininity in their programs through a curriculum which has been dubbed “Phy Ed-iquette” (106). The curriculum evolved out of the education through philosophy and included standards of dress and behavior. Furthermore, programs for women often constrained the intensity of girls' sport participation and training due both to concerns over girls' physical health, and anxieties about transgressing sex norms. Girls who displayed too much aggression during game play or developed excessive muscularity, both traits traditionally associated with masculinity, might be subject to the charge that they were lesbians. In the 1950s, an era in which homosexuals were being expelled from government and private-sector jobs, such an accusation could be devastating (106). By suggesting that the overload principle was applicable to both sexes and advocating relatively strenuous weight training, then, McCloy made few friends among those educators (46).

As with his earlier work on jumping in women, McCloy assured physical educators and coaches that girls and women were not as fragile as many of them assumed. “The writer would like to say,” he opined in the 1952 Iowa Girls' Basketball Yearbook, “that he knows of little evidence of any kind which would indicate that PHYSICALLY or PSYCHOLOGICALLY [emphasis in original] the girl is so decidedly handicapped, as compared with the boy, that she should not engage in relatively strenuous athletic competition, particularly the non-bruising type” (58). With regard to concerns about developing an overly muscular, and therefore masculine, appearance McCloy also asserted that there was no danger of a woman who trained becoming “grossly hypertrophied” (54). Likely recalling the strength of the women with whom he trained at the Sargent School in the early 1900s, McCloy repeatedly asserted that women could profit from weight training just as much as men (54,83).

As he looked back on his career and looked forward at the direction of the field, McCloy implored physical educators to more vigorously pursue research, just as he had performed throughout his career. He criticized articles that appeared in professional journals that were based simply on expert opinion and not on results of actual research. Physical educators must, McCloy said, “seek for facts, proven objectively” and avoid “uninformed dogma” (49). The training, or lack thereof, of girls and women McCloy felt was due to such uninformed dogma. The prejudice against weight training, it was becoming clear, fell into that same category. As an example, McCloy recalled an incident at a physical education convention in St. Louis in 1936 at which the president of the organization cancelled a demonstration on weight training exercises. There was no need for such a demonstration because, in the unnamed president's words, “everyone knows that this is a worthless activity” (83). In the more than 2 decades since that time, objective evidence, much of it influenced by McCloy, had shown what everyone knew to be unfounded.

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McCloy's Legacy

On September 18, 1959, Charles H. McCloy died as a result of a hemorrhagic stroke at the age of 73 years (46). His effect of the field of physical education and on the training of athletes, however, continued long after his passing. By the late 1950s, a sea change was beginning to take place around the perception of the utility of weight training. Some of that change was due to the success of athletes and teams who incorporated such training into their programs. As coaches and players saw what weight training did for Billy Cannon, star running back for the Louisiana State University Tigers and winner of the 1959 Heisman Trophy, Frank Stranahan, the “Toledo Strongman” who won more than 50 amateur golf titles, and Parry O'Brien, 2-time Olympic gold medalist in the shot put and seventeen-time American champion, they began to realize that barbells might not be so harmful (25,43,44). Coaches and physical educators were also increasingly exposed to research demonstrating just that.

During his 24 years at the University of Iowa, C.H. McCloy directed 230 master's theses and 46 doctoral dissertations, including some of the seminal early work on the effects of strength training (46). The results of Edward Chui's thesis, which showed that young men who trained with relatively heavy weights improved muscular strength and power more than a traditional physical education program, were published in Research Quarterly in 1950. That article has been cited more than 100 times, including by other pioneers in the field of strength research: Peter Karpovich, Patrick O'Shea, Richard Berger, and Bill Kraemer, whose works have been cited hundreds and thousands of additional times (5,24,38,90). Likewise, Edward Capen's thesis results were published in Research Quarterly the same year and have been cited 118 times. In addition to the authors above, Capen's work was also cited by influential physiologists Jack Wilmore and Mike Stone, both of whom have been cited hundreds of additional times (99,109). Jack Davis' experiment on swimmers was cited by leading physiologists David Costill and Hirofumi Tanaka (100). Elden Keller parlayed his research with high jumpers into a piece in the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation's 1962 text on weight training for sports (40).

Beyond his supervision and encouragement of research, McCloy had a tremendous impact in the classroom. After his retirement, he was honored with the American Academy of Physical Education's Clark W. Hetherington award. A letter accompanying the award lauded him as a man who “teaches with a unique fire,” noted that he had been called “a giant among American physical educators,” and that, “literally hundreds of thousands of teachers from every quarter have come under his influence” (16). No doubt those physical educators took with them what they had learned about the value of weight training as they moved to colleges such as the University of Hawaii, the University of Tennessee, Florida State University, the University of California, and many more. Some, like Edward Capen, supervised research on strength training themselves, magnifying McCloy's effect on the field (11).

At Iowa, weight training had become quite popular by the time of McCloy's passing. Graduate students, such as Robert Campbell, continued to study the effects of weight training on athletes in sports such as football, basketball, and track and field (8). Barbell training was incorporated both into the required physical education curriculum and the training of varsity athletes, including distance runners, swimmers, and football players. Writing in 1960 one of McCloy's departmental colleagues remarked that “most athletes follow the exercise routines outlined by Dr. C.H. McCloy” in the previously mentioned article “Weight Training for Athletes” (2). For nonathletes, weight rooms were opened for recreational use, although the hours were limited to 3:30–5:30 PM 3 days per week and 7:00–9:30 PM another 2 days. The enthusiastic weight trainers apparently found those hours insufficient, however, as the weight room door was “smashed from its hinges” twice during the 1959–1960 academic year (2).

By the end of his life, McCloy, a man with a prolific work ethic, had authored more than 40 books, including many in Chinese, and written more than 200 journal articles in English and many more that appeared in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, and Turkish journals (3,34,56). He was awarded 4 honorary doctorates on top of his actual PhD, served as president of the American Academy of Physical Education from 1947 to 1949, was the first winner of the AAHPER's “Luther H. Gulick Award,” and recipient of the American College of Sports Medicine Award (34,56). Since 1980, the Society of Health and Physical Educators (SHAPE) has recognized outstanding researchers through their “C.H. McCloy Lecture,” in honor of his status as “one of the great pioneer scientists and leaders of the profession” (12). In addition to those impressive and well-known accomplishments, McCloy was also lauded by strength training enthusiasts as a key figure in dispelling unfounded ideas about the effects of weights on sport performance. On learning of his passing, Strength & Health called McCloy “a pioneer in the use of weight training for athletics” and noted that he “was one of the very first eminent physical educators to endorse this type of training” (105). Bob Hoffman remarked that McCloy's writing in the magazine was “a significant asset to the advance of weight training” (46). In an article on training for track and field in Physical Educator in 1965, John Jesse pointed to 2 researchers as being especially significant in the scientific investigation of strength: Thomas DeLorme and C.H. McCloy (37).

Indeed, although DeLorme's work provided medical sanction for the efficacy of strength training, McCloy's work did the same in the field of physical education (102). He encouraged investigations on the effects of weight training and trumpeted the positive results in professional journals, talks, and magazines. His work, and that of students he supervised, was cited repeatedly in later research that reinforced the effectiveness of weight training at enhancing parameters of athletic performance, such as muscular strength and power. During their studies at Iowa, students learned that there was no evidence for the “muscle-bound” condition and they carried that information into their careers as physical educators, coaches, and professors throughout the country. With time dogma changed, coaches became more interested in including weight training in their programs. Within 10 years of McCloy's passing, the University of Nebraska had hired a full-time coach to supervise strength training for their football players (95). Within 20 years, strength coaches had formed a professional organization.

Strength training is now integral to interscholastic, collegiate, and professional sports, as evidenced by the impressive facilities in which many athletes train, and the cadre of coaches who supervise such training. At the University of Iowa, Chris Doyle, who serves as the Director of Strength and Conditioning, earned a base salary of $725,000 in 2018 (6). In 2017, when Doyle's total compensation package was $717,800, he ranked as the 17th highest paid employee at the university. Of the 8 academics who earned more than Doyle at Iowa that year, 7 were medical doctors and 1 was a dentist; all taught in the medical school. Three university administrators earned more than Doyle, although that number does not include the university's president Bruce Harreld. The other top salary-holders at Iowa all worked in the university's athletic department and included head football coach Kirk Ferentz, men's basketball coach Fran McCaffery, and athletic director Gary Barta (18). Doyle is joined by 4 other strength coaches who train the football team in a 23,000 square foot weight room, in 1 part of the $55 million Stew and Lenore Hansen Football Performance Center, which was completed in 2015 (42,97). In addition to the football staff, the Iowa athletic department employs 7 more strength coaches to work with the other varsity teams (97).

All of that, of course, is a complete paradigm shift from the mid-twentieth century when many coaches believed that weight training would hamper athletic performance. Now, big-time programs from Ohio State, to Alabama, to Texas, and California are paying coaches hundreds of thousands of dollars to supervise that training (1). Although it is not possible to say with certainty what C.H. McCloy would have thought about what strength training for sport has become, we might speculate that he would have been critical. McCloy consistently framed training as a means to improve one's functional capacity, as a modality that enabled people to be more productive, but he was no advocate of excess. “It may well be,” he commented in 1956, “that too much strength may be a parasite” (84). Speaking broadly of bodybuilders “whose only use for his huge hypertrophied muscles is to lift more weights,” he asked “why seek to surpass the mountaintops when the treetops will do as well?” (84). Although he may have been put off by current athletic practices, it is likely that McCloy would have appreciated the fact that there are now reams of research validating many strength training practices, including more than 400 articles in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research alone in the last year. Although numerous factors and many individuals played important roles in facilitating the acceptance of strength training as a means to enhance athletic performance, few were as integral as C.H. McCloy. Writing in 1960, one of McCloy's Iowa colleagues observed that, “from all indications, barbells and dumbbells are now permanent fixtures in university gymnasiums and fieldhouses” (2). Indeed they are, and the work of C.H. McCloy, his students, and colleagues at the University of Iowa was crucial in making that happen.

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Research for this article was supported by a grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa. The author thanks the librarians and staff at the University of Iowa Archives for their help locating or accessing many of the sources. Archival research for this article was funded by a $1,000 grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa.

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