“I CAN GIVE YOU MASSIVE ARMS, BROAD SHOULDERS, AND A GIANT SIZED CHEST IN JUST FOUR WEEKS,” the Body-Tone pamphlet promises. It is the “World’s Fastest Strength and Muscle Building System.” It cost $20 in the late 1950s, but today the program is available for free in the Stark Center Archives. I am ready to begin.

Welcome to Retro Week, where we’ll be firing up the flux capacitor and bringing you 1950s know-how on everything from casserole-making to fallout-shelter-building to the joys of letting kids relax and play with trash.

Back in the day, I would have learned about Body-Tone through a cryptic ad in the back of a magazine.

Here’s how it appeared in the December 1958 issue of Popular Science.

After you wrote to this address, you’d get an envelope in the mail with three things. (Somebody saved theirs and it’s available with original envelope on Etsy; God bless you Etsy.) First, there is a letter from Tom Buckley himself, who appears on his own letterhead, smiling and beefy. Then, nine pages of questions and answers on orange paper, slyly selling you the system. Finally, an enrollment form. You are to take fifteen body measurements, write an essay on your current exercise routine and health status, and decide whether you want to pay all at once or in installments. Translated into 2017 dollars, the program cost $169 all at once, or $42 in five installments for a total of $211.

The Q&A is full of gems like these:

Question: What is the fastest possible way to make a muscle grow in both strength and size?

Answer: Any muscle in the human body can be made to grow bigger, thicker, and stronger at the fastest possible rate merely by contracting that muscle just one time per day—but, by doing it as hard as you can—and, for a period of approximately 6 seconds.

Question: At that rate you could increase your strength by 50 per cent in just a 12 week period, isn’t that so?

Answer: Absolutely. That is, if you do the single contraction every day. If you do it every other day, or even less, the rate of increase of your strength would be considerably slower.

Question: Why can’t I just do it myself without taking a Course?

Answer: Well as a matter of fact you can. That is, if you know all the actions of the muscles involved and the points of attachment of each muscle. Usually, however, that is a subject which is taught only in college courses in KINESIOLOGY.

Well, I’m sold. The first lesson promises to develop my upper arms, specifically my biceps, but before Tom Buckley will tell me about how to do that, he wants me to think about my nutrition.

To get enough protein to build muscle, he says I should divide my body weight in pounds by 2.2 (hey, that’s just converting to kilograms) and then eat that many grams of protein each day. For me, that’s a mere 64 grams. This may sound low if you’re used to the one-gram-per-pound rule of thumb from modern weightlifters, but it’s actually a pretty good number: 1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The average person needs about 0.8 g/kg, and serious athletes 1.2 or more.

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