Old School Is Still A Great School

Below is a video that includes still images of several strength athletes from past eras.


For those interested, the video creator has listed photo references within the Youtube description. Among the list includes one of my favorite sites (Sandowplus).

The Old School

I often reference material from the Sandow Plus site. As I’ve said before, many of the greatest strength discoveries came long before our time. Contrary to what today’s market would like you to believe, strength isn’t new. In fact, many of the feats performed by past strength athletes are seldom replicated today.

This assertion will surprise certain readers. We live in a fast paced world where technological breakthroughs occur each day. It isn’t uncommon for us to assume that everything we are doing now is better than how it used to be done. The industry then plays into this belief. Everyone wants fast results, so the market attempts to satisfy this demand. It is more profitable to fulfill a need, rather than telling the truth. A quick Google search is all that is necessary to confirm my beliefs. It took a matter of seconds for me to find programs promising rapid strength gains, rapid weight loss, and 30 day miracles.

It isn’t marketable to suggest that you’ll need years to develop impressive results. Who wants to wait years when a supplement or book says that we can do it in weeks?

The Truth

Unfortunately, so-called breakthroughs are often everything but new. More often than not, we discover that what’s new is old, and what’s old is new, again and again. Take a look through Sandowplus.co.uk and you’ll find almost every exercise from today’s era has been performed for longer than you’ve been alive.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t strive to improve on the past, but rather a reminder that the wheel has already been invented. I’m also not suggesting that you can’t make gains in a short period of time. I am however suggesting that impressive gains take time. It is important to approach your training with this understanding. I encourage ambition, but I also encourage realism.

Real strength requires strong ligaments and tendons. The process doesn’t take place in a week or a month. Real time must be invested for real strength. The old time strength athletes were patient. Legends weren’t built in weeks or months. They were developed over years of consistent and focused work.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that the amazing strength feats from the past occurred long before the multimillion dollar supplement industry existed. I’m not suggesting that supplementation cannot be useful, but don’t be fooled to believe that you need certain products to improve. Need is an overused word in today’s industry. All that you need is an intelligent, consistent, dedicated, and patient effort.

The Modern Industry

Today’s industry would like you to think otherwise. Quick results are often promised. If a particular program doesn’t offer quick results, the user abandons it as fast as he found it. This cycle often continues over and over again. Program jumpers hop from program to program, ignorant to the fact that their inability to see something through is the real problem. It isn’t actually their fault however. The industry has brainwashed many to believe that serious results can come overnight.

I receive hundreds of emails each week, so I have a general idea of what many are thinking. Last night, I had 17 year old athlete email me in frustration. He’s been lifting with his team and is upset with his lack of progress. After inquiring about his program, I soon realized that he’s only been lifting for one month. That’s right… just one month!!!

He wanted to know what supplements he could take to speed his gains. I wish I could say that his email was unusual, but I’ve actually grown accustomed to it. He’s one of many victims to the marketing powers that exist among us. He isn’t the first to fall into the trap. In his mind, if he isn’t ripping through new shirts in 30 days, something must be wrong.

The World Has Changed

I’m only in my 30’s and the world has already changed significantly since my time as a child. I didn’t know what the Internet was until I was in college. When we had papers to write, we went to the library. We flipped through old encyclopedias looking for answers. Book reports meant that you actually had to read the book, rather than typing a few search queries on Google.

I still remember when we had rotary phones.

Now I see young kids with cell phones.

Many of the younger readers will be shocked to know that television stations used to go off the air at night. And when the television was on, there weren’t remotes. You’d get a few stations, and you’d manually change the channel by walking to the TV and adjusting the dial. Now, you can sit back and impatiently flip from station to station.

I remember when the Atari 2600 first came out. It’s no wonder why we went outside instead of playing video games.

Yes, the world has changed. We’ve grown used to finding answers while sitting behind the keyboard. We communicate online. We shop online. We perform research online. Almost everything is available through a click of the mouse. We are all used to it. I’m no different. I get irritated when my Internet connection is slow. To think that it’s only been a few years since I was connecting through a slow dial up modem.

Separate The Body From Technology

I welcome the advances in technology, but I realize that the human body must be kept separate from our fast way of thinking. The body isn’t new. We’ve been around for a long time. Real change requires real time. Shortcuts usually turn into dead ends. We can’t gain strength behind the keyboard. You still need to get up and put in the work. The old timers didn’t need any of the fancy gadgets that you’ll find today. Looking back in time is all the proof that you need to determine what you actually do need.

Stay consistent, stay determined, and the results will come. Ironically, slow and steady is often the fastest and most productive route.


  1. So true Ross!

    The best old school overlooked exercises: push ups and jumping jacks

    All it takes is the ground and your body!

  2. Anytime I’m feeling discouraged about my training (or life in general) I know I can find the remedy on this blog.

    This industry is DYING for somebody to come along and dispel the innumerable myths surrounding it.

    It’s nice to know that I can come to a place and know with certainty that it will 100% BULLSHIT FREE.

    Kudos, Ross!

  3. Good one!

    “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us”; and this is what we must fight, in our time. The question is, indeed, Which is to be master? Will we survive our technologies?

    Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us by Bill Joy – founder of Sun Microsystems.

  4. Up until my senior year of high school, we had an antenna. When we would want to watch TV, my dad would climb on the roof and move the antenna, our family would have a chain lined up as we yelled to tell him that the direction he moved the antenna was where we needed it for a good picture. Then if wind screwed up the antenna, we would do it all over again. Looking back, it is a great story and in just 6 years we have a satelite dish. May end up getting rid of that, now.

  5. Always good to be reminded why patience is a virtue. Too many people (including myself sometimes) gauge themselves by only large gains and not the small ones. Great post, thanks.

  6. I enjoyed reading this. This should be published on the NY Times or another major newspaper so that the average joe can truly understand how brainwashed many have become into buying the newest most expensive supplements on the market. I laugh when I flip the tv channels and see a fitness “guru,” more like a charlatan if you ask me, advertising the latest ab machine.

  7. I love that post Ross!

    I really appreciate it that you take your time and write about this kind of stuff old time strongman etc.

    And of course with some motivational thoughts.


  8. looking at the vid, its amazing how the bodybuilders during the early 1900’s looked like they were made of hard rock. They’re bodies looked like theyve been through hell, when u compare that to the bodybuilders we have now they look nothing like them.. Our bodybuilders now kinda look puffy.. and actually a bit more softer than the old school guys

  9. This post brings back some memories. I remember our old black rotary dial phone and sitting up late at night when the t.v. stations went off the air. Also, I was in college the very first time I got on the internet. Now, my 9 year old is more proficient with the internet than I was when I was 19.

  10. What is the best way to bulk up training wise. i.e. how many reps should i do and how many sets should i do, and what kind of weight etc ?

  11. You are right that exercises go in phases. Isometrics and pilates were very popular exercises in the early part of the 20th century. They are great and it’s nice to see that they are making a comeback.

  12. The statement below is what really impressed me about this article. The book I’ve attached needs reading to see where our world and people are going with technology.


    Separate The Body From Technology

    I welcome the advances in technology, but I realize that the human body must be kept separate from our fast way of thinking. The body isn’t new. We’ve been around for a long time. Real change requires real time. Shortcuts usually turn into dead ends. We can’t gain strength behind the keyboard. You still need to get up and put in the work. The old timers didn’t need any of the fancy gadgets that you’ll find today. Looking back in time is all the proof that you need to determine what you actually do need.

    Stay consistent, stay determined, and the results will come. Ironically, slow and steady is often the fastest and most productive route.

  13. The video of the old time strongmen is really good! What fine physiques! No drugs. No super expensive supplements. No ultra expensive machines. Just hard work, good food and consistency. Thanks. Hayden

  14. With one-arm dumbbell presses of 312 pounds, Eugene Sandow showed how Old School is the best education out there!

    How inspiring is that?

    Great post, Ross.

  15. Barbells, dumbells, real food and the willingness to work hard in the gym – again and again. That is what is required for success – whatever that may be to you.

    That is all the old timers had and that is all you need. Of course we can develop our training methods and we should always strive to improve on that.

    But steroids, miracle supplements and ‘The Latest Get Strong and Huge’ overnight training programs should be avoided like the plague.

    Hard work, persistence and patience will take you further than anything.

    In the words of George F Jowett:
    “Perseverance, patience, and determination will be repaid in untold wealth, health, strength, self-reliance and fortitude.”


  16. Those old-time bodybuilders were certainly more in line in what most people would identify as an ideal physique. Todays bodybuilders sport grotesque freakish physiques that are hardly functional, and actually unlike many of the oldtimers who not only looked good but were pictures of health, todays bodybuilders suffer from all sorts of health issues. Most of the oldtimers trained the whole body on alternate days instead of the modern ridiculous splitting of bodyparts, where often times a bodybuilder will train say only his arms for 20 ridiculous sets and the next day train only his chest for another 20 or more sets. Not only is training the whole body on alternate days better for a non drug user but by training the whole body you will certainly get in better shape. Your workouts will be balanced with squats, bench presses, barbell rows, and presses, and other heavy compound movements, instead of the mind numbing routine of doing some 8 sets of concentration curls.

  17. Certainly some of the most valuable bodybuilding/weight training exercises of the past have been dropped for easier movements or the easier machine versions. Two of the most valuable upper body movements that can be done with a barbell are rarely seen in todays gyms, they are the barbell clean and presses and barbell bent-arm pullover and presses. Both of these movements target just about every muscle group in the upper body and the clean and presses activate even the lower body as well as the upper body. The barbell bent-arm pullover and presses are really like an upper body version of the squat and you probably can build a decent upper body with this exercise alone. Some of the oldtimers could use some hefty poundages in this exercise which targets the lats, chest, shoulders, triceps, and even the core. The barbell hack squat is rarely seen anymore and has been replaced by the machine version for the most part, but this too is an excellent exercise that certainly should find its way into someones workout.

  18. Its the same as even if you spend hours in a gym but for some reason you still cant beat your 45 year old uncle in arm wrestle. note hes a concreter. Anyone remember the sandbags?

  19. Old School all the way Ross.
    Personally I think in todays day and age, most get lost with the amount of information and fancy TV adverts promoting the latest and greatest personal training machine. When in actual fact, the best personal training exercise machine is carried around everyday, by every person…yourself!
    They didn’t have ab rollers back in the Roman era!

    Own Weight Exercises Rule!


  20. Loving the comment about Atari 2600. I shudder to think what would happen if the people who have their war glorification games had to actually use their imagination to get any enjoyment out of a video game. Maybe I should welcome it, based on your reaction to it? Not to mention the average game time for an Atari game is what, 15 minutes to an hour? Nowadays if a game has less than 40 hours of “content” people call it short. That’s not a change I welcome. I kinda liked when a game was about 3-4 hours long so I could spend an afternoon beating it, but not feel like my time was wasted if I didn’t.

    Also, there are a few games in that Atari library I would even suggest for supplementing motor skills. Perhaps not as ideal as juggling, but if you play something like Cosmic Ark strictly instead of spamming to get the high score it can actually help with motor skills, moreso than a first person shooter would.

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