Reading the old books

I have always liked history, and always will. Whether it’s U.S., world, military, it doesn’t matter, I enjoy learning about it and where we have come from.

There is a history to everything and everyone. Surprisingly, many strength enthusiasts believe that the history of the iron game begins with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that’s as far as they go. It’s really a shame, because there is so much more they could learn about sensible drug free lifting from the old time greats.

Please, my comments below are not meant to demean bodybuilding as a sport, but the current train of thought of lifting for looks that a lot of the fitness community pushes now a days.

Back before modern body building, and huge muscles which now represent what strength is supposed to look like, there were men and women who looked like a regular joe. Yes they were more muscular than the average person, but they were not the bodybuilder type seen in the magazines, and being ripped and swole was not the goal, being strong was. How you looked was a by product of the strength. This is quite different from today’s primary goal of lifting for looks that brings many to the gym.

Many of the greats that you read about were show men. They put on shows of strength in front of crowds. They challenged people to duplicate their feats, and offered prize money to anyone in the crowd to do what they could do. There were those that had fake shows, and were just that, frauds, but they were not usually written about or remembered past their time. True strongmen were written about in articles, and books, and followed by people who verified their feats, keeping very accurate accounts of what they did.

The greats also competed in contests, and challenged each other to individual competitions to see who was stronger. They would try to beat the others personal bests on “pet” lifts. The title of Strongest Man was much saught after, and was a title that needed to be defended, not with words but with deeds.

Below are a few pictures I was able to find on the web of some powerful men from the turn of the century. Arthur Saxon, and Herman Goerner.

Saxon was the master of the bent press, and his record in the bent press, and two hands any how with barbell and kettlebell still stands today. Ask yourself this:
Have you ever seen anyone put 370lbs over head?
If you have, then have you seen anyone do it with one hand?

Arthur Saxon used his prowess in the bent press to power up 370 plus pounds over his head, and on another occasion used the bent press to put a barbell of 336lbs up, and then picking up a 112lb kettlebell pressed it over head for a 448 two hands anyhow. You just don’t see that kind of power anymore.& nbsp;

Saxon was 5′ 10″, weighed 200lb, and his arm measured 17 1/8″.

Goerner, was a beast as well. His one hand deadlift of with a barbell of 663 1/2 lbs says it all. This was done in 1920. He also performed a two hand deadlift of 595 3/4 lbs, using the index and middle fingers of each hand to hold the bar.

There are plenty of other amazing feats of strength, and reading about them makes you realize what is possible if you apply yourself. Much of the training advice and programs are still valid today, and provide a lot of good ideas for drug free lifters.

Here is a link to an awesome site that has a great selection of old books to read through. I highly suggest it.

Till next time, take care and good lifting,


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  1. I am super interested in old time bodybuilding/strongman stuff. It is funny to me how much science and programming we have now to enhance our bodies; yet, 100 years ago there was virtually no science yet strength/size gains were just as common (if you lifted). What does this say about todays overload of information, to me it says you don’t need science to get big and strong, just heavy and heavier weights.

    • Your right. The overload of information has covered up the basic principle of getting stronger- incremental increase of weight lifted or progressive loading.

      Most of the programs call for doing an exercise with a weight, and adding a rep to the exercise every session. When you hit say 10 reps, go up 5-10lbs, and start over. The other principle was being consistent with a program.

      Pretty simple. ‘Dinosaur Training’ was a hit with everyone who read it because it made lifting simple again, and Brooks Kubik gave full credit to old school lifters.

    • Never loan out your only copy of Dinosaur Training, by the way…. It is a hard book to get back, even from friends. (mines been loaned out for 16months or so now)

      • Haha, funny you would say that. I loaned out my “Pumping Iron” DVD to a buddy over a year ago almost two years ago and I have basically written it off at this point.

      • yep, funny how things are harder to get back, the more they are worth.

        My buddy is a certified trainer, and him having the book for so long isn’t all bad. He made a ton of strength gains after reading it, and now passes his knowledge on to high school athletes in the local school. So Dinosaur Training continues to be preached about to the next generation.

        come to think of it, I don’t know where my copy of Pumping Iron is. Its been years since I last saw that movie.


      • Ha!! Well, good to hear and sorry about reminding you of your Pumping Iron movie copy…such a classic vid I really should ask for mine back.

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