I’m a big fan of the oldtime strongmen for a number of reasons.
1) They accomplished amazing feats of strength, some of which still stand to this day.
2) They did this in a time before pharmaceutical enhancement was available, so you absolutely know they’re clean.
3) They tended to have more holistic viewpoints than today’s hyper-specialists when it comes to strength.
Another reason people like them is for their physiques. On this note, Benjamin asks:
“I’ve been reading about the old strongmen for a long time and judging by the pictures their builds are far more impressive than anything I see these days. Do you think you could do an article on how to achieve that look? thick midsection, brawny forearms etc.”
To start with I have to say that the science of muscle building has come a long way. And forget steroids for a minute, you still have people far more muscular today than almost anyone back then.
Although there are great things to take from the past that shouldn’t be done to the exclusion of some modern advances that are just that, advances.
On that point, I think that many oldtime strongmen weren’t all that concerned with being muscular.
A lot of them seemed to simply bring the utmost of the build they had, rather than conforming to some ideal.
Take a look at these strongmen.
Of these most would probably rate Sandow as having the best build, indeed he was quite famous for that. Sig Klein might be a close second.
But to Benjamin’s point, Saxon had that very thick midsection.
Well, let’s look at that. Why do these athletes have a somewhat different build from those around today?
It’s from what they DID and what they did NOT DO.
They did not do the bench press. It was largely not “invented” yet and I feel many of them would have laughed at the idea of doing so much lying down while exercising. So that means less pectoral development.
They did not do all that many squats. A power rack was largely not a thing so neither were lots of “deep knee bends” as it was better known at the time.
Instead, they focused on many things you don’t see often today.
Lots of grip and handwork which would develop those thick forearms. Barbells were not standardized in those days, which meant that many had thicker grips than what you’ll find today. Same with dumbbells or kettlebells. In fact, the prowess of strongmen in their shows often had to do with lifting weights that had thick grips which would stop the common man.
Or if you look at The Mighty Atom who didn’t lift weights, what did he do? Bending steel, a lot of steel, which will achieve a similar look!
Exercises tended to go through more awkward positions too. Check out Sig Klein doing a side press of the kettlebell. While many of today’s trainers will say he’s doing it wrong, that’s improper form, he’ll throw out his back, they’re simply ignorant of the side press as a valid exercise.
Intensify this and you have the bent press. Man, does this exercise take torso strength and will absolutely build thicker obliques. Hence Saxon’s very thick torso as he was the greatest master of this exercise ever to live.
I can’t possibly go over all the exercises they did because there were so many of them.
What today is unconventional is what made the oldtime strongmen who they were…and how they looked. Train like them and you too can develop the same look, depending of course on your natural build.
This is something I talk about in a big way inside of Deceptive Strength.