Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Thoughts on the History of Resistance Training: The Cult of Arthur Jones

I was reminded recently that Arthur Jones died this past August. Mr. Jones was the founder of Nautilus and MedEx. For many, he and his products revolutionized exercise, bringing it out of the barbell /free weight era and into the high-tech, sleek commercial gym era. He brought specific ideas and methods of measuring isolated muscular strength into the medical clinic. And Arthur Jones battled with the other giants of exercise--or, rather, bodybuilding--of the day: Bob Hoffman and Joe Weider. Talk about egos. Big egos and big muscles; muscles trained best through isolation. That's what exercise, strength and health became in America. No more cramped Universal machines or York barbell sets in the back yard.

If you go to the Wikipedia page for Mr. Jones, you will find links to the famous Nautilus Bulletins. They reveal a fascinating individual. I like this quote from his son, William E. Jones:
Arthur was a showman, the P. T. Barnum of exercise. He invited one and all to come and see what he had created, and why it was better than anything else. He would argue with someone for hours, trying to convince them of why his machine was better, and of the proper methods of exercise.
Anyone else remember climbing up into the enormous, blue, Willy Wonka-esque Nautilus leg press? Strap yo' self in and begin the journey to bigger, stronger quads.

Cams and pulleys....isolate the muscle and work it through the entire range of motion; work it hardest in the range where the mechanical advantage is greatest. Isolated strength and hypertrophy. Even in 1995, I sat for hours in a Wash U graduate level physical therapy class, as my instructor droned on about mechanical advantage and cams and lever arms. You know, this dude was a cool teacher, but I'm not sure he'd actually trained any way but sitting down in a machine. But he sure knew how to explain why a cam was different than a pulley.

Then we spent a bunch of class and lab time on isokinetic stuff with the giant Kin-Com monstrosity. And the majority of our practical exposure to resistance training came in the form of going from MedX machine to MedX machine in the hospital wellness center, drilling on how to set up the contraption for its stated purpose. Each muscle, gloriously isolated, by marvels of engineering design.

Function, in context, was never really discussed, except maybe in the OKC v CKC strengthening of the quad. Should you do leg extensions or not? Zero to 30 degrees? Are wall slides better?

The Arthur Jones/Nautilus/MedEx cult of personality and practice live on, for many in the medical profession. I think how far I've come over the last 10 years--I was lucky enough to run a few dudes--dare I say "old-school dudes"--who did not drink the kool-aid. They helped me appreciate the history of the iron game and of physical education; helped me understand the capacity of the human body at the elite levels of sport, and that similar principles of training can be used in rehabilitation and wellness. Vive la gravity--sans cams and pulleys, Mr. Jones.


Anonymous said...


I do think there's a place for some machines, at least, although sometimes I have a hard time saying what. But so much machine-based exercise seems, you know, silly -- or a means of consumerism, a way to sell equipment and gym memberships. "When do you use just a quad? Jut a pectoral?", I want to ask the folks who seem to live on these machines. Has anyone ever increased her vertical by using a machine?

At the same time, there seems to be a "more functional than thou" competition among the various factions of old-school afficianados.

The Iron Maven said...

"More functional than thou" factions--that's hysterical, and on the money.

Jerimiah said...

thanks I got a good laugh from the more functional comment as well. Your mention of the kin-com got me, my last employer loved the kin-com and encouraged it's use at every possible time, but my gosh it's 20 minutes just to strap someone inside that beast and get every angle and alignment just right. Some day's I just wanted to scream, this is a waste of my time and the patient's. Good work once again Iron Maven

Anonymous said...

"I do think there's a place for some machines, at least, although sometimes I have a hard time saying what". Had to chuckle on that comment. I have had the same experience. I find myself telling new clients..." No I don't use machines but they have a time and place", only to sit there without thinking of one. It's must be weird to them when I show them around the gym, ignoring every machine, leading them to the power rack. Good article Tracy.