When discussing low-tech training strategies, one of the most common examples comes from the ancient wrestlers of India. Kushti, the traditional form of Indian wrestling, has existed for thousands of years. In fact, two of today’s popular bodyweight exercises originate from these wrestlers. Both Hindu pushups and squats (rightly known as dands and baithaks) have essentially become household names amongst exercise enthusiasts.
Even Bruce Lee was known to perform these exercises after studying the training habits of the legendary wrestler Gama. Below is an excerpt from Bruce Lee’s The Art of Expressing The Human Body. Lee was said to perform these exercises every other day.
As for additional Kushti training strategies, Vincent Giordano has created two DVDs that feature modern Indian wrestlers preparing for their sport. And while his DVDs have been discussed on my forum in previous years, Giordano has recently released several outtakes from the original footage.
Below you can see part 1.
Five additional clips can also be seen at the following links.
As you will see throughout the footage, these wrestlers continue to thrive on an intense, yet basic form of training. They exercise with stones, clubs, calisthenics, and ropes. They also practice their sport regularly. Wrestling itself is a physically exhausting exercise.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the wrestlers seen throughout the clips are well trained, despite exercising in what many would consider a rudimentary environment. High-end equipment is nowhere to be found. If there was ever a case to be made for training with the basics, these wrestlers offer as good an example as any. The complexities that are so commonly argued by today’s trainers are nowhere to be found.
And while I am certainly not suggesting that we all train like Indian wrestlers, I believe it is useful to study athletes from different generations. Research involves much more than reading modern journals. It is difficult to improve on the past if you have not studied it. Plenty of coaches from today’s era would benefit by studying the habits of those from previous generations.
As for the average Joe’s who are looking to get in shape for every day life, these wrestlers offer yet another example of low-tech high-effect training that can be performed almost anywhere with almost anything (including nothing). Your ability to get in shape is not based on the equipment you use. It is based on your willingness to continually and diligently work with whatever is available.
Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it. – Bruce Lee4 comments
I can’t believe it was over 25 years ago when I first saw the Ultimate Warrior perform as a wrestler in the World Wrestling Federation. As a youngster, I enjoyed watching him lift other wrestlers over his head. He was a physical beast. When I’d see him wrestle in the 1980s, I would drop to perform pushups in hopes of someday developing his strength.
Unfortunately, I learned of the Warrior’s sudden passing earlier this week. Born as James Brian Hellwig, he died at age 54 on Tuesday. And while I have not seen the Warrior in many years, I recently came across his video below. I certainly enjoyed it.
Within the video, he discusses the difference between being alive and truly living. He states that living means engaging your life with intensity and passion. I could not agree more. Too many people plod through life without realizing the gift that it is. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. If there is something you want to accomplish, you need to stop waiting for the perfect moment. You don’t need to have everything figured out to move forward. Someday is not a day on the calendar.
The video does contain vulgar language, but if you can get past that, the message itself is quite powerful.
I’m passionate about f–king passion! – The Ultimate Warrior10 comments
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As a coach, my job is to develop my athletes. If I am training a young boxer, I want him to improve from fight to fight. Each time that he enters the ring is an opportunity to advance. Yet despite our goals to learn and improve, I am cognizant of the fact that we cannot improve everything at once. While certain attributes are targeted, others will naturally receive less attention. Maintenance is not necessarily a bad thing however. In many ways, maintenance can be viewed as progress. For instance, if I can improve a fighter’s strength while maintaining his current level of conditioning, I view that as progress. Our ability to keep what he had while enhancing another area is a clear sign of improvement.
Unfortunately, maintenance is not always viewed as positively in the fitness industry. Many mistakenly relate maintenance to plateaus or the inability to improve. In their eyes, if you cannot progress beyond what you are doing, something must be wrong. For example, I recently had a trainer write to me questioning the potential of hill sprints and jump rope training. His comments were in response to my video below.
A summarized version of his critique was that hill sprints and rope training are limited in terms of progressions. He mentioned that he only had access to one hill in his area so there was no way to progress beyond it. He had similar thoughts about rope training. He basically said that there are only so many ways to skip the rope. What should an athlete do once he is proficient? He jokingly questioned whether athletes should progress to skipping two ropes at a time.
My response to the man was quite simple. While there are many ways to enhance hill and rope workouts, complex progressions are rarely necessary. I have jumped rope and run hills for most of my life and both activities remain challenging and beneficial. I will never outgrow either. Simply performing these activities with true effort and intensity is all that is necessary.
As a busy father in my late thirties, I view my ability to run hills and skip rope like I did ten years ago as progress. I do not need numeric data to conclude that I am benefiting from these activities. My ability to still go out and perform at the same level is all the proof that I need.
One of my favorite examples of the maintenance = progress concept was described in Bill Pearl’s classic Getting Stronger text. Within the book, Bill Pearl shared a story of a man who had been lifting in his gym for ten years. At age 50, the man was discouraged that he was not progressing. He wanted to be lifting more weight.
Bill’s response to the man was as follows,
You started when you were 40 and now you’re 50 and you’re in the same shape. That’s wonderful. In ten years you haven’t lost any of your physique or any conditioning. You’ve turned back the clock ten years. That isn’t progress?
Ten or fifteen years ago, I may not have understood Bill’s comments. The competitor in me always wants to do bigger and better things. As I have grown older and wiser, I now realize that drastic improvements are not always possible or necessary. If I never run faster than I can today, I am okay with that. There are still plenty of new challenges that I will attempt in my life. Yet if I continue trying to improve everything I already have, I will never progress with any new or different goals. Trying to improve everything at once often leads to no progress at all. Therefore, it is important that we have primary as well as secondary goals. Maintaining a previous attribute while improving another is a clear sign of progress.
In summary, I am certainly not here to suggest that you shouldn’t strive to improve. Just be aware that it isn’t always possible to make leaps and bounds in multiple directions. Beginners may make rapid gains, but as you reach higher levels, it becomes much more difficult to continually advance. Do not confuse maintenance with the inability to improve however. Intentional maintenance can be as beneficial as any of your gains.
The art of life is a constant readjustment to our surroundings. – Kakuzo Okakaura14 comments
Based on the popularity of the Russian boxing entry, I believe many viewers will enjoy the following video as well. As with the previous example, the video was filmed during the 1980s. It includes over 15 minutes of training footage from several former Soviet wrestlers.
To no surprise, the athletes can be seen working through a variety of exercises and drills that have once again become popular in today’s era. A few examples include rope climbing, kettlebell training, Olympic lifts, hill running, partner drills, and several bodyweight movements such as muscle-ups, pushups, and pull-ups. The wrestlers also rely heavily on their actual sport. Wrestling itself is a physically demanding activity. Often times, the best way to get in shape for a combat sport is by performing the sport. A wrestler must wrestle. A boxer must box.
Supplemental strength and conditioning exercise must not interfere with the more critical sport training. The physical demands of wrestling and sparring must be appreciated and considered when prescribing supplemental work to athletes. Strength and conditioning does not need to be complex or elaborate to be effective. Simple additions often prove to be the most effective.
As for Soviet examples, Alexander Karelin is the greatest of all. He was a 9 time world champion and 3 time Olympic gold medalist. His first Olympic championship was in the 1988 games in Seoul, Korea. The video above was filmed in 1987. The timing is impeccable, yet certainly not surprising.
Karelin was a beast long before beast mode became a popular phrase. Many years ago I recall seeing footage of him running in waist high snow. He was my original motivation to go out and run in the snow. As for the rest of his training, Karelin worked as hard as any athlete alive. He pushed himself to the extreme. The methods that he used were relatively straightforward however. He too relied heavily on the sport, lifted free weights, and worked with calisthenics. The methods were simple but the training was not.
Some brief highlights can be seen below.
In summary, today’s gurus need to stop acting like they have invented effective exercise techniques. The bulk of what is popular today has been around longer than we have all been alive. Athletes improve by practicing their sport regularly, and then supplementing the sport training with simple, yet intense exercise. There are no secret exercises or programs. Those who suggest otherwise are almost always those who do not actually train anyone.
Keep it simple, keep it intense, and don’t be fooled by the hype.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving. – Albert Einstein18 comments
Below is a video that I first shared a few years ago. The original clip was removed from Youtube but fortunately it has been uploaded again.
In case you missed the original entry, the video was created in 1981. It includes almost 20 minutes of training footage from several former Soviet boxers. Ironically, despite being filmed over 30 years ago, you will see many techniques that have become quite popular in recent years. For instance, you can see the fighters perform a variety of bag drills, upright barbell exercises, medicine ball throws, and bodyweight movements. You will also see circuits performed where the athletes work for 20 second intervals which are separated by 10 seconds of rest.
The take home lesson therefore is quite simple. Successful training strategies for competitive fighters have been around for a long time. Those who believe otherwise are those who have ignored the past. In addition, these Soviet amateurs offer yet another example of successful fighters who have thrived on the basics. So often the public confuses Russian training strategies with what they saw the fictional Ivan Drago perform in the Rocky IV movie.
The reality however is that the old Rocky IV film came only a few years after the video above. If you wish to see what real Russian training looked like, don’t look to Hollywood. Instead take a look at what really happened. As you’ll see, fighters have always thrived on the basics. Elaborate facilities and methodologies are not necessary. History confirms this observation beyond any reasonable doubt.
Don’t reinvent the wheel, just realign it. – Anthony J. D’Angelo18 comments