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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. Due to family circumstances, 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, age 17, his height was 5 ft 10 ins. 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 Harbour, 7th December 1941, made Clancy determined to join the Forces, and he quickly enlisted in the USA 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 as also around this same period that he married (aged 18 years) his wife, a girl from his hometown, 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 super posing routine and an ability to exhibit his newly acquire 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 to 10 sets of 3 to 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 place. Although beaten by Grimek, he took second place and became one of only two men to beat Steve Reeves, twice….
Photo: Clancy Ross (Photographer: Russ Warner)
In Los Angeles on 13th March 1948 at the Shrine auditorium, in front of a huge 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 titleholders 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. American also, came 3rd. Clancy also won the Mr. North America title in New York and another $1,000!
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 post 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, nearly 400 lbs, barbell curls with 170 lbs. and other similar tough poundages. Reg said both he and Clancy enjoyed their workouts together.
Photo: Clancy Ross (Photographer: Russ Warner)
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 a brief movie entitled 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 Muscle 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, gs and steas. The Brits were still under post war rationing, and food depravation and perhaps more importantly, better, more modern, experimental training.
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 the methods and yet somehow managed to maintain good shape 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 completed i.e. flushed with blood before moving on.
Photo: Clancy Ross (Photographer: Russ Warner)
He always said his favourite exercise was squats perhaps because he was once called Bird Legs. It gained 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, quarters squats, high rep squats heavy power squats. Lots of squats!
Whilst he, like all other champs, tried just about every known training system and exercise, he believed he gained something from all of them, he naturally had his favourite routines. He usually trained 4 to 5 times a week. Here’s one of Clancy’s favourite routines: Warm up. Then
“Life is so much more worth living when a person is strong and healthy. Building, good health and developing a muscular body is the world’s most fascinating hobby. It is one you never tire of, and one which brings you both success and happiness in life…”
We motioned his habit, like all contemporaries, of drinking lots of milk otherwise he had no special diet except that it was well balanced and nutritional, nor would he ever eat fried foods. He did take a fair amount of high protein supplements and even weight-gain products early on in his career.
Certainly his strength kept pace with his muscles. Clancy was considered one of the strongest of all bodybuilders. Consider this, he overhead pressed 315 lbs, snatched 280 lbs, clean and jerked 360 lbs, deadlifted 650 lbs, squatted 10 times with 450 lbs, bench pressed 385 lbs 10 times and curled in loose style 200 lbs for 10 reps. For his favourite exercise, the include bench press with dumbbells, he used a pair of 175 lbs dumbbells for 10 respond then did lateral raises standing, with bent arms. No drugs, no steroids, no lifting suits or other training aids, just plan old developed strength on healthy foods. Real championship standards, hard to beat even today. Clancy continued to improve, busy as ever with countless articles in magazines, exhibitions, shows and competitions. Sponsored by Joe Weider, he made the ocean trip over to the UK for the 1955 Mr. Universe how held in London.
The sea journey, drop in temperature from sunny California to cold London and the fact he had dropped 10 lbs in weight, may have been the reasons why caught the flue and was certainly not his best shape. As he did not wish to disappoint his many British fans, he still went ahead with the competition. He certainly received a great welcome at the June 11th event. Even at just 185 lbs, his posing routine and display, achieved for him top place in the tall men’s class, wining Tall Mens Pro Mr. Universe 1955 and he met his defeat by Canadian Leo Robert, with his usual dignity, which gained him yet more admiration. After the show, he went back to bed for a week to overcome the flu.
Joe Weider once described Clancy as, Sincere, intelligent and always wiling to lend a fellow bodybuilder a helping hand. Clancy has given a prestige to weight raining and has helped lift the sport to a higher place”.
Although losing to Bill Pearl in the 1956 Mr. USA contest, Clancy lost none of his appeal and popularity, and still continued to maintain a high profile in the world of muscle. Later in life he did work in the newspaper industry, but still trained regularly and lost little of his shape or strength. His last words after Mr. Universe show in London (1955) were, “If I had my life to live over, there is only one slight change I would make. Instead of waiting until he was 17 years old to start training, I would have begun at 12 or 13. Life is so much more worth living when a person is strong and healthy. Now that I know the benefits, I would make every possible effort to start enjoying them just as young as possible. Building, good health and developing a muscular body is the world’s most fascinating hobby. It is one you never tire of, and one which brings you both success and happiness in life”.
I salute Clancy Ross, an inspiration to all of us.
Clancy Ross at 85 still doing well and living in California , U.S.A.
©Clancy Ross - An Inspiration to Us All by David Gentle All Rights Reserved
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