Reprinted with permission of The Iron Master
David Gentle takes a look back at the bulk era and one of the most
famous and inspirational American bodybuilders ever. The popular Clarence Ross: Mr. America, Mr. USA and Mr. Universe.
Clarence Ross hardly had much of a start in life for a man who was destined to become one of bodybuilding's true champions. He was born in Oakland, California, on October 26th, 1923. His mother died whilst he was still very young, so at first, he was packed off to a local orphanage. He was later raised by various foster parents.
Physically below par, with flat feet, Clarence was quite skinny, with rounded shoulders. However, his tremendous spirit and self-reliance helped him to overcome his adversities, and despite or because of the ridicule he received about his physical shortcomings, he decided to engage in as many varied sporting activities as possible, including football, basketball, and most track events.
By 1941, aged 17, his height was 5'10". He weighed 135 lbs. and decided it was time to build some muscle. It was here that he began training with weights, following a basic York barbell system, putting on 15 lbs. over a period of training. The infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor, 7th December 1941, made Clancy determined to join the Forces, and he quickly enlisted in the US Air Force and was stationed in Las Vegas. He was instantly assigned as the weightlifting instructor because of his promising build and interest and trained alongside Cpl. Leo Stern, who was to become an extremely positive influence in his progress.
Leo's more modern methods, rather than the stereotyped basic schedule, as sold to one and all, helped Clancy pack on a further 35 lbs. of real solid muscle, along with the power that such big muscles suggest. Clancy was soon to be recognized as one of the strongest of all bodybuilders. It was also around this same period that he married (aged 18 years) his wife, a girl from his home town, who always encouraged him as much as possible to train and compete.
By 1945 with a symmetrical but hardly over muscled physique, helped by a superb posing routine and an ability to exhibit his newly acquired muscles, Clancy won the Mr. America contest held in Los Angeles. The win helped focus many bodybuilding journals in Clancy's direction, and he began to make cover man and the art pages of most muscle journals of the period (e.g. Your Physique, Iron Man, Muscle Power, Health and Strength and others.) He was released from the Services in November 1945 and opened a gym in Alameda, California. He also joined up with the American Health Studios as manager of their West Coast Gyms.
His own training methods included pushing continually for power, along with size, using medium repetitions of 8 - 10 in sets of 3 - 6. Prior to Clancy Ross, most bodybuilders were still using the single set system, but multiple sets proved superior as experimentation of the period discovered along with many other new principles. Clancy would then use for example 2 X 140 lbs. dumbbells in repetitions, (almost a strength record in those days) for incline and flat bench presses, which may have been just one reason for his famous huge pectorals.
"In 1949 Clancy re-entered the Mr. USA which saw him coming up against the greatest array of physiques the world had ever seen in one place. Although beaten by Grimek, he took second place and became one of only two men to beat Steve Reeves twice..."
In Los Angeles on 13th March 1948 at the Shrine auditorium, in front
of a huge 5,500 crowd, Clancy entered the Mr. USA contest, open to all professional bodybuilders, organized by Bert Goodrich (1st Mr. America) and
Vic Tanny (of Tanny gym fame). The line up of former top title holders included Eric Pederson, Floyd Page, Al Stephen, Jim Payne, Leo Stern and Steve Reeves. Jack La Lanne put on a hand balancing act, Pudgy Stockton,
the first real lady bodybuilder, was there and the Mighty Mac Bachelor defended his wrist wrestling championship.
A bulked up and vastly improved Clancy Ross won 1st place, a huge trophy and $1,000. Steve Reeves, Mr. America 1947, came second and Alan Stephen a former Mr. America also, came 3rd. Clancy also won the Mr. North America title in New York and another $1,000!
THE MAN WHO BEAT STEVE REEVES TWICE!
In 1949 Clancy re-entered the Mr. USA which saw him coming up against the greatest array of physiques the world had ever seen in one place including John Grimek, Steve Reeves, Eiferman, Tanny, Page, etc. Although beaten by Grimek, he took second place and became one of only two men to
beat Steve Reeves twice. Direct from his success, he gave exhibitions, from California to Montreal, and New York to Honolulu and in 1950 he published a pose album entitled "Heroic Manhood" demonstrating his fine physique. Reg Park took workouts with Clancy, recalling him using 2 X 140 lb. dumbbells in incline and normal bench presses. As for squatting, with nearly 400 lbs.,
barbell curls with 170 lbs. and other similar tough poundages, Reg said both he and Clancy enjoyed their workouts together! Reg described Clancy as being likeable and friendly in one of his journals.
Hollywood signed Clancy up for a number of short films and small parts but he never really attempted to pursue a movie career. I can remember vividly seeing him in a brief movie entitle aptly, "So You Want To Be A Muscle Man" and could not believe anyone could be so huge and muscular. I also recall with great nostalgia paying 10p (2 shillings) for Joe Weider's, Your Physique or Muscular Power, with wonderful cover shots of Clancy. By then he had become Feature Editor of Joe's main muscle magazines, which extensively advertised just about every product, from chest expanders to early supplements.
The US bodybuilders dominated the muscle world in the late 1940's and '50's. Mainly due to their far superior diet, for example unlimited milk, eggs and steaks. The Brits were still under post war rationing, and food depravation and perhaps more importantly, better, more modern, experimental training methods e.g. the set system.
The fashion in physiques during this era of discovery was inspired by America, going for either size or bulk. European bodybuilders tended to concentrate on washboard abdominals and agility with some defined deltoids thrown in.
However UK trainers preferred, and soon copied their American friends, both in their training methods and also in the practice of drinking literally gallons of milk daily. Clancy was a supreme example of these methods and yet somehow managed to maintain good shaped and definition of the abdominals. He enjoyed the then new found set system and also cheating or loose style, wherein one can handle far more weight. Plus flushing - ensuring each section of the body is exercised completely i.e. flushed with the blood, before moving on.
He always said his favorite exercise was squats perhaps because he was once called Bird Legs. It gave him all of the incentive he needed to build his legs for all he was worth, so he always performed squats first in his schedules, and he did lots of them: hack squats, front squats, quarter squats, high rep squats, heavy power squats. Lots of squats!
IRON GAME/PHYSICAL CULTURE HISTORY