Low-Tech Training Origins

One of the motivators behind this blog is my desire to prove that it’s possible to get in shape with little or nothing. As a result, I’ve shared countless stories of athletes who have thrived despite training in less than ideal environments. Whether it was boxers in Brazil, wrestlers in India, or athletes in Russia, the common denominator between them is their ability to succeed without the so-called necessities that the fitness industry so heavily markets.

Unfortunately, there appears to be confusion in regards to some of my previous entries. For example, one reader of the site asked why I continue to share so many stories of underprivileged athletes.

He wrote the following:

“You’ve made your point, it’s time to move on.”

Another reader of the site asked what’s the relevance of an athlete who lives in poverty to those who are more fortunate.

In his words:

“Are you suggesting that we need to live in poverty to be successful? How ironic…”

Based on comments such as these, I feel it is important to clarify a few points.

1. Not An Exception, It’s The Rule

First and foremost, I will continue to share stories of underprivileged athletes to silence those who would otherwise suggest that one successful case is the exception not the rule. It is with conscious thought and intent that I have shared stories from athletes around the world. For example, I’ve highlighted success stories from boxers in lands such as Ghana, Brazil, and Uganda (just to name a few). Not only do these boxers not know each other, there’s a good chance that they don’t know of each other. There is no relationship or sharing of information between them. These are unique stories. Once again, the common theme between them is success despite lack of equipment, supplementation, and nutritional options outside of simply trying to survive.

boxing gym in Ghana, Africa

2. Raw Footage

What’s nice about observing these athletes in action is everything you see is raw and real. There is no marketing nonsense to sift through. These athletes don’t know we are watching. We wouldn’t even know what they were doing if it wasn’t for the journalists who traveled to those lands to document their stories. That alone is significant.

These athletes are not training to impress us. They are literally training for their lives. They have dreams of escaping the poverty that surrounds them. They train how they do because it has been successful. They don’t do so with hopes of converting others to follow their approach. Such realness is rarely captured in the fitness industry today.

boxing gym in Brazil

3. Observation Is A Powerful Tool

I don’t share these stories with hopes of converting an army of blind followers. You don’t need to copy what you see to benefit from these examples. Instead, use observation as the powerful tool that it can be. Simply observe the various athletes in action and make note of what they’ve done to become successful. You can then apply Bruce Lee’s timeless wisdom to absorb what is useful and discard what is not. For example, just because the wrestlers in India may train without a floor doesn’t mean that you need to as well. You can however learn from the work ethic and desire that they so clearly display.

Wrestling training in India

4. Honesty

Whether you choose to admit it or not, fitness is a hustle. The fitness industry is a multi-billion dollar machine with no signs of slowing down. Yes, there are good and bad apples within any industry, but we all know that the fitness world is filled with deception. I don’t have a problem with anyone earning an honest living, but many fitness marketers make used car salesmen look as honest as a young child.

Not a day passes without a marketer spamming my inbox with false promises of improved fitness. There is no shame in their game. They are relentless and extremely manipulative. It’s these modern fitness gurus who tell us what’s needed to get in shape. Meanwhile, there are countless stories from poverty-stricken lands that suggest otherwise. Whose story should we believe? The marketing powers who dictate trends in the name of revenue or those who succeed with little or nothing?

Hopefully we won’t need Captain Obvious to save the day and answer this question.

It’s comical that a fitness marketer will tell others what is needed when 99 percent of them wouldn’t last a day in the gym with athletes in distant lands such as Uganda or India. Perhaps what the industry tells us we need isn’t as important as previously thought.

Boxing training in Uganda

5. I’ve Lived It

The stories that I’ve shared highlight the significance of intangible qualities that cannot be sold. The fitness marketers cannot sell you attributes such as hard work, dedication, sacrifice, consistency, or perseverance. As a result, these qualities will never receive as much attention as those items that can fatten the wallets of the fitness regime.

Fortunately, there are still some of us who have walked the walk and understand the significance of the intangibles. I don’t simply write about low-tech environments because it interests me. I have lived it. Below you can see me training in the basement of a housing project back in the 1990’s.

Boxing training at an old school gym

Our gym consisted of nothing but cement walls, a few punching bags, and several fighters who were hungry to succeed. It wasn’t Ghana or Uganda, but we didn’t have much more in terms of equipment. Lack of equipment didn’t stop us however. Everyone who was there was in shape. We worked hard, we challenged each other, and we encouraged each other. We thrived heavily on the basics. We worked hard with calisthenics. We ran hard. We hit the bags hard. We sparred hard and we fought regularly. The approach was simple yet effective. None of us knew anything about nutrition and no one took any supplements. That didn’t stop us from getting in shape. When in doubt, we always relied on more work and harder work. It never failed.

6. More Than Boxing

My experience is clearly rooted in the sport of boxing. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a boxer to learn from these examples. Instead, recognize that if high level fighters can thrive on the basics, you can too. The Average Joe or Jane needs much less fitness than a competitive fighter. To suggest that they cannot succeed with a similar low-tech approach is beyond ignorant.

The fitness marketers would certainly like you to believe otherwise so it’s my hope that the stories above will help some see through their rampant deception. If you wish to get in shape, you have everything you need to get in shape. Almost anything works if you are willing to work. The only legitimate secret is that there aren’t any secrets.

Get up, get busy, and the results will follow. If athletes in distant lands can succeed with this approach, you can too. It isn’t as complicated as many would like us to believe.


“Effort is between you, and you, and nobody else.” – Ray Lewis


  1. Well said. I agree on all points and would only add that it’s your point-of-view. It’s great that you accept and consider feedback, but the content decision is yours. The rest of us can take it or leave it. For me, an older guy self-taught in strength training, I appreciate the perspective.

  2. I just returned from the gym where I watched a 20 something “personal trainer” carefully scrutinize the “moves” of a 55 year old (relatively fit looking) grown man while he had him stand on one foot, on a balance pad while doing dumbbell curls with 20 pounders in each hand. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    When I got on the computer this morning I noticed I could actually choose NOT to read or watch something . . . freaking amazing! Who knew?

    Those who come to Ross’s site, don’t get it or don’t want to, are free to ‘move on’. Please take your Bosu ball and whining with you. Zzzzz

  3. Hm, I dunno.

    I too see the highly inflated prices in these cheesy lettermail-style websites of the fitness gurus, where the ever same 20-30 names write overly enthusiastic recommendations for each other. of course, everyone is a “world-reowned coach” training “elite athletes” with skills aquired at the “forefront of scientific knowledge” blablabla.

    But on the other hand I rarely see people suggesting expensive equipment in these days. they all seem to be on the free weights/Crossfit-style bandwaggon, with the (equipment) exception of Kettlebells or rope/strap/ring accessoires maybe.

  4. Ross,

    I’ve always enjoyed your message that people can choose to succeed without spending tons of money on equipment, trainers, and hyped plans that are at best re-packaging of simple old concepts, and at worst exaggerations or even out right lies.

    Eat more if want to gain weight, eat less if you want to lose weight. Pick up progressively heavier things (or do progressively harder bodyweight exercises) if you want to get stronger. Run more if you want to be better at running, etc.

    Of course we can learn and optimize workouts, nutrition, etc, but personal factors like desire, having goals, vision and consistently doing work will take someone with a simple, cost effective plan a lot further than someone who spends a ton of money and lacks these things.

    “Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it.”

    Alan Perlis

  5. Those are asinine comments that people are making. There is a lot to learn from those who excel from poor conditions. In my mind I think, ‘If that’s what they can do without all the bells and whistles, imagine what we can do here!’

    Keep doing your thing. I, like many, appreciate it.

  6. There is another point:

    7) pure inspiration
    All these stories you highlight are highly inspirational. If you dont get inspired by these athletes I cant see what will inspire you at all. End of story.

    Also by observing others and Ross in particular I was able to create a garage gym with practically complete homemade equipment I wouldnt have been able to buy or afford. For that alone this site is priceless.
    My latest “invention” are thickbar canisters filled with concrete for farmer walks. I filled used canisters with cement, made thickbar handles out of pvc pipes which I stabilized with silicon and got an excellent equipment for under 15€.

    Ross – keep rokin and to all you whiners – you’re free to move on!

  7. Always thought Ross was pointing out that it is the persons drive that is the determinate factor in attaining their desired level of fitness, and that access to equipment has nothing to do with it whatsoever. All that is needed is the ground, your body, and the drive to achieve.

    Nearly every one alive has the ground and their body. The thing most often lacking is is drive.

    Whats holding you back?

  8. Love you work always Ross. And especially love the message. Yes the fitness industry is undoubtedly a hustle.

    I have been doing yoga since I was 13. People always ask where I do it and are surprised when I say home. It’s like it’s not socially acceptable to do it yourself.

    I ditched the gym 15 years ago in favour of a bench press and weights in the garage. Never looked back.

    Then a few years ago rediscovered freehand exercises, thanks to your work and others. SO now I’m never gymless.

    Don’t believe in high tech, or chrome. Believe in just putting in the effort.

  9. Haters be hating, playas be playing. I appreciate your approach brother, very level headed and respectful even of those who disagree with you. That is my lesson for the day. You are an inspiration Sir. Keep it up.

  10. Well, Ross, if you have done one thing for this Aussie, is I am in the process of re-writing my sporting sale’s pages.

    You are an articulated writer who is so easy to understand.

  11. It’s bloody ironic how the Google Ad above is a that fucking tool Mike Cheng trying to get me ripped faster with some shitty pre-workout.

    Keep fighting the good fight Ross. You are a torchlight among false prophets.

  12. @Lisa, I still go to a “gym” once a week just out of habit, the rest of the week my workouts are done at home or a local park. But when I do go to the “gym” I’m always amazed at the “new” exercises I see people doing. I think people are asking for trouble by performing barbell squats on Swiss balls for instance. And while I’m a great admirer of those supremely fit Crossfitters out there, but can they please stop with those ridiculous multi-step burpees or complexes. And then we have people like Matt Furey who “suddenly” discovered a few exercises we used to do in gym class and mixed them together with traditional Indian wrestler exercises that sounded exotic and instant cash money to a gullible public. I sure do miss those old YMCA weight rooms with those arhiac “globe” dumbbells, incline benches with no seat, etc.

  13. Regarding the sport of boxing. There aren’t many world champions or even successful boxers who’ve ever came out of “comfortable” lifestyles or living conditions. First it was the Irish who dominated, then Italians, then Blacks, then Latinos, and now Eastern Europeans(at least as far as the heavier weight classes. Duran, Dempsey, and many a fighter fought hungry literally. Dempsey would say often he wouldn’t eat for a day or two in the early stages of his career while riding the rails. Forget which boxer said it, but I’ll paraphrase what he said, It’s hard to get up in the morning and do your roadwork if you’re working silk pajamas.

  14. Thanx for the inspiration. I work out in my garage 4 days a week at 6a.m. Brrr! Simple,old school stuff. I am happy that I found your blog. Keeps me motivated. I can do it, yes I can!!!!

  15. Keep em coming Ross. Guys like Fedor, who started his career training on playgrounds, are the most impressive success stories. The grittiness of their training is alluring and motivating, especially to blue collar guys like me.

  16. Thank you Ross for all you do here. And I agree with Sven (above) that inspiration from these stories is especially helpful.

    I cannot understand the thought process of anyone who would tell you to “move on” from these stories.

  17. Shame on those people who wrote to you Ross. You are an inspiration. I have bought your books and find them great. So much information, no marketing bs and they are dirt cheap. Your low-tech approach has helped me get in shape without spending money to all the flash products in fitness business.

    Keep up the great work!!!

  18. Everyone wants to use fancy equipment even the sandbag has changed because they want to make it fancy.Thanks to this website I was able to make cheap sandbags that propbelled me into getting into the best shape of my life with sandbags some kettlebells and Bodyweights that I created an etire one year ebook on all the training and strategies I used.If it wasn’t for these low tech workouts I would never be able to go to a commercial gym. ButI prefer this type of training to a commercial gym. Keep bringing the great info Ross!

  19. I’ve never seen these gyms with people doing squats on top of rubber balls or any of that kind of stuff, but I totally agree that the fitness industry is 90% scam. Just like the diet industry. There’s an entire shop in my town that just sells protein powders and supplements for high prices. But how many huge muscular guys do I see walking around town? Hardly any.
    I think the fitness industry is its own worst enemy. The product is brilliant. Who would not want better health, to feel younger, to look better, to get compliments from others? But the industry is fronted by gyms that don’t show any results and magazines that promise 6-packs in 6 weeks, but prescribe a crazy workout routine that doesn’t deliver.
    But to be honest, who can possibly make a living by simply telling people they need to work really really hard on squats?

  20. As someone who grew up in poverty I commend Ross for sharing their stories. We all know it takes hard work, & dedication to do this. Here are people who probably struggle with life’s basic necessities and still push themselves to be the best they can be. Truly inspirational is the phrase that indeed comes to mind.

    True, it doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is – wealthy, poor, or anywhere in between. It’s the content of your character and who you are as a person. My hat’s off to them and respect & admiration for them all!

    What’s next, complaining about too many ‘older athlete’ stories?

  21. Those posts are great, motivating, and eye-opening, much like your site! I’m humbled when I see some people doing so much with so little – helps to refresh the “back to basics” mentality, in life and in fitness. Keep doing what you’re doing please, we appreciate it!

  22. This is a true depiction of “WILL.” Sadly this is a dying trait with many folks in today’s modern era. The need for results and creativity is lost in being distracted with gadgets, toys, and a freaking i-phone. Don’t get me wrong I like technology, but it seems that too many kids these days look for bells and whistles rather than recognizing that the results should come from applying the knowledge of intelligent training along with the “WILL” from within instead of a fancy new piece of equipment. Great post my friend.

  23. It is unfortunate that some people just do not get what you are trying to convey. Are people really that idiotic? The answer is yes. You will alway have morons who have accomplished nothing give their stupid comments on blogs, like your Ross, in the you tube section and such. I say keep on doing what you are doing Ross because the masses are asses. What the hell do they know. You have those select individuals who will always appreciate people like you and what you are trying to teach.

  24. You know, I think coming from nothing is often a blessing in disguise. How many talented individuals grew up spoiled, had the lack of work ethic imprinted on their brains because they could get away with it, and never reached anything near their potential?

    How many self-made millionaires would have any money at all had they not been so hungry for it?

    How many trust-fund babies do something great with their lives?

    How many champs had every advantage growing up?

    And how many people will read this, be inspired for a few minutes, but not make the change they wish they could?

  25. I have always enjoyed having a minimalist setup/attitude – that’s what drew me in to Crossfit during it’s early days. Now that it’s this retail juggernaut, it’s so funny to see how many people think the latest Reebok/Rogue gear is going to get them to where they are going.

    Use what you have, make what you don’t, and train who you want to be.

  26. This site is not for the people who use an elliptical as there sole means of fitness or those who jump on every new fitness band wagon. Hard work pays off- there is no disputing this fact- and its sad that people look for the easy way in not only fitness but usually in the rest of there life as well. lift heavy awkward things, lift and move your body, run climb jump. There is no magic formula but from my own experience when I made fitness simpler and harder I got stronger, fitter and better. Nike said just do it- they sold 5 billion shirts but most people didn’t get it, But they were right.

  27. I love your posts, keep it up, and stick to what you want, suits me down to the ground. If these guys want you to “move on”, they can just stop reading

  28. Late to the party but keep it up brother. I’m a 49 year old guy who starting training in 1976. My “heavy” bag was an army duffel packed with sand and gravel and my first weight set was a pine tree that a tornado blew down. Back when soda bottles could be returned for a deposit, I collected enough to buy a 110 pound weight set. My grandfather made me a squat rack from scrap 2×4’s and my second purchase was two 50 pound plates, which I still have. Good times man.

  29. Early Mike Tyson proves your point. Training under Cus and later Rooney, Tyson trained in a very simple, not particulary well equiped gym in Castskills. Tyson’s training revolved around sparring as did Dempsey’s. He did not lift weights or take any supplements until many years later when he started his post prison career. Early Tyson did train with an amazing intensity and desire. To this day, I read I bodybuilidng forums that Tyson “must have” taken steroids to get his physique. These fools simply don’t believe the power of hard work and outstanding genetics.

  30. Love the feedback. I too stopped going to the gym iin 2011 in favor of bodyweight training. Although I sometimes miss lifting i could never go back to the so called gyms of today. Im perfectly fine training in my home with the minimum amount of equipment. I now circuit train, lift and carry heavy objects, and do calisthenics with exercises that have been around for centuries. At almost 57 im in the best shape of my life. Find what you like and become a master at it.

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