Old-School Strength Training

cabertossI have a theory.  I’ve been thinking for some time that all competitive strength events have their genesis in a drunken boast and/or challenge:

Drunken blacksmith: PLEASE.  I could bend that bar with my own two hands.

Drunken farmer: PLEASE!  I could bend that bar around my head.

Drunken bricklayer: PUH-LEEEEASE!  I could band that bar with my TEETH.

Slightly-more-alert pub patrons: … [crickets chirping] …I’d like to see that.


Caber tossing, hammer-throws, atlas stones, tire-flips, yoke carries, who-can-press-the-most-local-lasses-over-his-head, etc.  We’ve got a RICH history of what amounts to, “Who thinks they can beat me in [insert mundane work-related task/ random idea]?”  And it’s not terribly different today, except that training is beginning to resemble other pro athletes, with periodization, diet, supplementation, coaching, wraps, straps, machines, etc.  I am in complete support of using research-based decisions to advance one’s sport – no problem there.  However, as a guy living in 2014, I’ve recently begun doing something very revolutionary… I’ve started educating myself on how our forefathers got strong.

Now, the 20th century brought the idea of general fitness to a mainstream audience – thanks primarily to some icons like Charles Atlas, Jack LaLanne, and his spiritual successor, Tony Horton, to name just a few.  But we aren’t talking “fitness,” now are we?  Nope – we’re talking STRONG.  Before Nautilus machines, lat pull-downs, bosu balls, and “back and biceps day,” men would move heavy things, instinctively listening to their bodies, seeing what worked, what didn’t, and adjusting as they went.  Men swung hammers, tossed awkward-shaped loads like grain sacks from place to place, and sometimes practiced flipping tree-trunks end-over-end.  They moved stones, squatted cows, welded handles to cannonballs, and crushed/ripped/destroyed things near enough to grab.  Outside of systematized athletic or martial arts training, there has been millennia of this odd, physical culture… A culture of pursuing strength.

photo (2) These days, training for strength, my financial limitations, my desire to spend time with my family, and my love of the strength game have led me to a similar low-tech pursuit.  I’m jumping rope, swinging sledgehammers, throwing 50 lb med balls for distance, flipping tires, and taking regular trips to Home Depot to find parts to create some new OLD device to help me become stronger.  Hint: you can do a LOT with PVC pipe, rope, chains, sections of pipe, and a quick Google search to get ideas.  Putting weight on a metal bar and pushing it over my head, or putting that load on my back and squatting it as many times as possible?  Picking up 415 lbs from the ground?


After years of rehabbing my body (is rehabbing a word???) using dumbbells, bands, crunches, cardio routines designed by the smartest people in the world, etc., this low-tech, grip-killing, back-straining, low-rep, lift-it-‘cuz-it’s-there training is the wild west, man!  Everybody’s trying to figure out the best way to train for it, systematize it, figure out how to maximize gains while minimizing injury, and those are good pursuits.  But in the middle of all the blogs, YouTube channels, articles, research, BCAA studies, creatine research, nutrient-timing debate, and the rest of the distractions, there are men.  Men picking up heavy things and putting them down.  Men throwing things.  Men bending things.  Men building callouses like medieval blacksmiths, even though they have cushy day-jobs.  Men driving hours to train weird events.  Men spending Saturdays marking their driveway with chalk, trying to refine their throwing technique.  Men, sober and otherwise, chasing the strongest version of themselves, using the simplest of tools.

If this is the wild west… Yippy Kay-YAY, y’all.  Go Big.

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