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Default How did the old-timers train?
by BendtheBar 03-19-2014, 07:44 AM

Lots of people ask about how the REAL
old-timers trained -- meaning the men
who trained with barbells and dumbbells
back in the 1880's, 1890's and early
1900's.

There is very little information on this
topic, but I think we can figure it out
if we remember one very important thing.

They only had solid barbells and dumbbells
back then. There were no (or very very few)
adjustable barbells and dumbbells.

And most places that had weights had only a
few different barbells and dumbbells. Instead
of barbells ranging from 50 pounds to 200
pounds, and dumbbells from five to 100 pounds
you would have seen something like a 100 pound
barbell, a 50 pound barbell and a 200 pound
barbell. So how do you train with such limited
equipment?

The answer must be that you would use any
exercise you could perform with whatever barbell
or dumbbell was available to you.

If you had a 100 pound dumbbell and you could
clean and press it, that's an exercise you would
have done. If you weren't able to press it, you
might use it for deadlifts or rowing at first --
but you'd probably try to work up to pressing it.

For progression, you would add reps -- since you
could not add weight.

We can be pretty sure this happened, because the
old-timers often had contests where they lifted a
given weight for as many reps as possible.

And probably, the old-timers progressed by adding
sets. That would be a natural thing to do, because
your choice of exercises might be fairly limited
if you only had access to a couple of solid barbells
or a solid barbell or two and a couple of solid
dumbbells.

I'm also willing to bet that many old-timers
included bodyweight exercises in their programs,
as well as gymnastics and hand-balancing.

Those are my thoughts on the subject. Let me
know what you think!

As always, thanks for reading and have a great
day. If you train today, make it a good one.

Yours in strength,

Brooks Kubik

P.S. For more about old-time strongmen and how they
trained, grab these:

http://brookskubik.com/dinosaur_dumbbelltraining.html

http://www.brookskubik.com/militarypress_course.html

http://www.brookskubik.com/dinosaur_training.html
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Old 03-19-2014, 07:57 AM   #2
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Yeah, finding lots of detailed info on certain aspects of the old-timers lifting isn't easy, I research certain aspects of it but there's only so much information out there.
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Old 03-19-2014, 11:22 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by 5kgLifter View Post
Yeah, finding lots of detailed info on certain aspects of the old-timers lifting isn't easy, I research certain aspects of it but there's only so much information out there.
I think it might be fair to say, based upon the lack of specifics, that they better understood the importance of consistency and effort as compared to the elevation of a specific program.

Perhaps I am off in my thinking.
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Old 03-19-2014, 11:42 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by BendtheBar View Post
I think it might be fair to say, based upon the lack of specifics, that they better understood the importance of consistency and effort as compared to the elevation of a specific program.

Perhaps I am off in my thinking.
Nope, I don't think it's that far off; they understood a lot more than we understand today, which is fascinating in itself, we've become too hypercorrect on everything, they used a lot of stuff that will never be seen practised by today's lifters; a lot of lost knowledge which is sad.
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Old 03-19-2014, 05:24 PM   #5
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old school... Eugen Sandow

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Old 03-19-2014, 06:34 PM   #6
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It could be that, there isn't much information available because it probably wasn't all that common..

I would assume that in the late 1800's and early 1900's most people were more concerned about day to day survival than anything outside of that realm. Some used weights and such, but I would guess that more of them were probably strong just from day to day labor.. There wasn't a great deal of automation back then and most work was still done with a strong back and a long day.
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Old 03-19-2014, 08:01 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by fyremn View Post
It could be that, there isn't much information available because it probably wasn't all that common..

I would assume that in the late 1800's and early 1900's most people were more concerned about day to day survival than anything outside of that realm. Some used weights and such, but I would guess that more of them were probably strong just from day to day labor.. There wasn't a great deal of automation back then and most work was still done with a strong back and a long day.
This makes me think of what a bad ass my grand father was. He was a poor dirt farmer in north central Missouri and did not get his first tractor until about 1952. Prior to that, he had a single blade plow which was pulled by a mule and steered by hand as he walked behind it. I don't think that after a day of plowing a corn field that he had any interest in lifting weights.
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Old 03-20-2014, 08:32 AM   #8
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The earliest publication date for a book/magazine on working out/routines etc, that I can find, is from 1865 (on the Sandow site).

Has anyone found any earlier reference to a magazine and/or magazine itself that was printed? I'm curious as to the earliest date of any publication that appeared about weights etc.
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:50 AM   #9
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Jamie Lewis (chaos & pain) has written a bunch of stuff on this; not just 19th century Europeans but all over the world too.

My 2 cents is that the old timers didn't take training too seriously. They did every lift they could imagine for hours at a time, training every day or close to it. I haven't read anywhere about 1800's-era guys training for less than 90 minutes in a session, or worrying about "recovery". They also ate and partied like animals.

The Saxon Trio: What they Ate, and How they Trained
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