Old time strongman training is something that has become more common these days. Many people are finding that they’re not getting the results they want from the contemporary training they do so they look back to the past…and for good reason.

George Jowett Lifting an Anvil

George Jowett Lifting an Anvil

Some of the strongest people that ever lived were from over a hundred years ago. Some of their records still stand and aren’t likely to be broken. Their training methods obviously worked and worked well. Back then there were no steroids. In fact, they didn’t even have supplements (although they began to come out around that time).

The aim of this article is to outline some of the commonalities in old time strongman training. Obviously, there were many different strongmen and they trained differently. But overall many of the things they did were the same.

Oldtime Strongman Training involves the following:

Compound Lifts

Back at the turn of the 20th century squats and bench presses as mainstay exercises has not been ‘invented’ yet. Yet the strongmen regularly engaged in deadlifts, presses, rows, jerks, snatches and other big movements. These were done with barbells as well as dumbbells. Also, the entire body was trained from head to toe.

Carl Bursh

Carl Bursh putting some heavy weights overhead

Heavy Lifting

The majority of the strongmen did not advocate swinging around super light weights for high repetitions. Instead they focused on using heavy weights. Not always done as heavy as possible or going to failure, but lifting heavy nonetheless.

Partial and Support Lifts

There is no way to lift heavier then to do so for just small portions of movement in great leverage, or with a static hold of a weight. These were used to amaze crowds in shows, but also in training to build incredible strength. These are a real secret of tendon, ligament and bone strengthening.

Grip Intensive Work

Many oldtime strongmen exclusively used thick barbells in training and shows. This would stop any would-be usurper from even being able to pick up the weight unless they too had great hand strength. The hands were trained in many other ways too such as doing feats of strength involving bending and breaking various objects and more.

Mental Training

Focus was also put onto the mental side of training. Without it heavy weights or amazing feats of strength are impossible. Each strongman had his own methods and spin on it but using your mental force behind the physical is a must. In fact, the cultivation of this will lead to more strength then anything else.

Healthy Living

The Mighty Atom Bends Steel

Mighty Atom bending steel

Most of the old time strongmen were into health as well. Using deep breathing exercises along with strength training to build up the body. In addition, they encouraged healthy eating (which certainly means something different today then it did back then). Nevertheless, in order to become as strong as possible the body must be healthy as well. And of course, if you want to become big, eat a lot. The appetites of many strongmen are almost as legendary as their strength.

Now, not every strongman necessarily did all of these. The Mighty Atom, for instance, was not a weight lifter in a traditional sense. Yet the training he did still used the whole body in heavy efforts. Very different from his friend Warren Lincoln Travis who did lift weights and focused on huge partial lifting.

What you won’t find in common among strongmen is how often they trained, sets and reps they did, or exercises they all did (except for the basics). Also, this is not an exhaustive list but something to get you started.

By training in the manner of the old time strongmen you too can become seriously strong. Follow these ideas and you to may end up doing some amazing feats of strength.


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