T Nation

How to Build a Body like an Oldtime Strongman?


#1


I've been reading up on some of the oldtime strongmen, predominantly Eugen Sandow, and I'm incredibly impressed with some of the feats of strength and the physique of these men. I understand that some of the measurements of these men and the feats may have been exaggerated etc. but nether the less, I think that the muscle looks very well-balanced and proportioned.

Does anyone have any idea how you would go about focusing your training to build a body reminiscent of the oldtime strongman like Sandow? What sort of exercises to use and what sort of equipment - I'm assuming probably strength-based training? Also, any idea of the sort of diet they may have followed?

I've attached an image of Sandow showing his physique - this is the sort of body I am interested in. Any ideas/advice/information appreciated


#2

If you’re interested in reading more for yourself there are two places to have a look that immediately spring to mind:

The Tight Tan Slacks of Deszo Ban is a website devoted to republishing old articles and has some great stuff written about these guys.

Dinosaur Training is a great book you can download in e-book form which is both a very interesting read and has some great ideas for training.

In general though, old school lifters focused on multi-joint lifts and being a well-rounded lifter in general.
They had no concept of the divisions we see in lifting these days - BodyBuilding / Powerlifting / Olympic Lifting etc.
Many had access to no equipment beyond a barbell and weights. Even flat benches for benchpress etc was unknown. This meant the bar often needed to be cleaned from the floor before the actual lift could even begin.


#3

[quote]Lyle77 wrote:
but nether the less, I think that the muscle looks very well-balanced and proportioned.[/quote]
Nevertheless.

Full body workouts. Regularly using barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells. One-arm and two-arm lifts of all sorts. Olympic lifts and their variations, as well as other big basic exercises (and yes, even some arm work). Low volume, high frequency, not training to muscular failure.

Sandow looked like Sandow because he was Sandow. It’s not the training that made him. And really, a lot of the fundamentals of today’s training isn’t too dissimilar to what lifters used to do back then:


#4

[quote]Lyle77 wrote:
Also, any idea of the sort of diet they may have followed?[/quote]
Meat, vegetables, “cereal foods” (grains and breads), and protein shakes.

Gee, who would’ve guessed.


#5

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:

[quote]Lyle77 wrote:
Also, any idea of the sort of diet they may have followed?[/quote]
Meat, vegetables, “cereal foods” (grains and breads), and protein shakes.

Gee, who would’ve guessed.[/quote]

I would assume that what was available then would be comparable to our “organic” food. Can’t imagine they had all the pesticides, additives and other processed shit that plagues your average grocery store.


#6

[quote]WhiteFlash wrote:

[quote]Chris Colucci wrote:

[quote]Lyle77 wrote:
Also, any idea of the sort of diet they may have followed?[/quote]
Meat, vegetables, “cereal foods” (grains and breads), and protein shakes.

Gee, who would’ve guessed.[/quote]

I would assume that what was available then would be comparable to our “organic” food. Can’t imagine they had all the pesticides, additives and other processed shit that plagues your average grocery store.[/quote]
Pretty much, yep. Like the saying goes, most of the stuff in today’s supermarkets is not what our grandparents and great-grandparents were eating as kids. Even bread, oatmeal, meat, chicken, milk, whatever.


#7

A feel like most of the old time guys had well developed forearms, neck, midsection, and shoulders. Their spinal erectors stood out but their lat width lacked. Legs were decent and chesticles were nonexistent.


#8

Become one of the top 100 crossfit athletes in the world. You’ll probably look the way you want to.


#9

[quote]ishinator wrote:
A feel like most of the old time guys had well developed forearms, neck, midsection, and shoulders. Their spinal erectors stood out but their lat width lacked. Legs were decent and chesticles were nonexistent.[/quote]

I agree. Shoulders were predominant, but chests and backs smaller as compared to today. Different aesthetic. Now people value the big shoulders, the large chest, and the wide back. Back then it was wide shoulders with a slimmer trunk. Personally, I like the old time look better, but maybe that is because chest size lags for me :wink:

–Me


#10

Ah, I miss ElevenMag.


#11

This thread had me laughing at myself, rereading it. I found it again a few weeks ago.

But here: http://tnation.T-Nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_training_performance_bodybuilding/classical_physique_training

And pay close attention to the things bwhitwell and bluecollartr8n have to say. (Actually, there’s a lot of good advice and discussion, by a lot of people.)

My current views… figure out if you want to look like an old-time strongman, or if you just want to train like one. If you want to train like one, it sounds like you already have a pretty good library. If you look like one, I suggest using more modern approaches to get there.


#12

[quote]LoRez wrote:
My current views… figure out if you want to look like an old-time strongman, or if you just want to train like one. If you want to train like one, it sounds like you already have a pretty good library. If you look like one, I suggest using more modern approaches to get there.[/quote]

Oh wow, when I read that thread years ago I never thought you would “see the light” hahah. Gotta reiterate what LoRez said here, do you wanna train like one or look like one?


#13

[quote]LoRez wrote:
This thread had me laughing at myself, rereading it. I found it again a few weeks ago.

But here: http://tnation.T-Nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_training_performance_bodybuilding/classical_physique_training

And pay close attention to the things bwhitwell and bluecollartr8n have to say. (Actually, there’s a lot of good advice and discussion, by a lot of people.)

My current views… figure out if you want to look like an old-time strongman, or if you just want to train like one. If you want to train like one, it sounds like you already have a pretty good library. If you look like one, I suggest using more modern approaches to get there.[/quote]

Oh man! The thread that introduced the world to LoRez!


#14

[quote]LoRez wrote:
This thread had me laughing at myself, rereading it. I found it again a few weeks ago.

But here: http://tnation.T-Nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_training_performance_bodybuilding/classical_physique_training

And pay close attention to the things bwhitwell and bluecollartr8n have to say. (Actually, there’s a lot of good advice and discussion, by a lot of people.)

My current views… figure out if you want to look like an old-time strongman, or if you just want to train like one. If you want to train like one, it sounds like you already have a pretty good library. If you look like one, I suggest using more modern approaches to get there.[/quote]

Thanks for the reminder that Yolo is/was a fucking asshole.


#15

You still have the same goals, lorez?


#16

[quote]1 Man Island wrote:
You still have the same goals, lorez?[/quote]

Pretty much, yeah.

But I’m basically going with the “get big, get strong, then work on shape” approach. I spent a good amount of time with the layer system, as written, and learned quite a bit from it.

Found a few lifts, variations, and volumes that I respond to, and that build up the areas how I want them built, targeting that specific “look”.

A few things I learned:

  • I’m no longer concerned about “overdeveloping” anything (e.g., hips and midsection, a-la Gironda), and instead looking at it as certain parts are underdeveloped. E.g., it’s not that the midsection is too wide, but rather than the lats and delts aren’t built up enough. Stuff like that.

  • I’ve found a bench variation that doesn’t aggravate my rotator cuff tendons and hits my whole chest pretty well. (Moderate incline, dead-stop reps from ~4" pins, elbows fairly wide, ring fingers on the ring.)

  • My squat form seems to develop my legs fairly evenly now. High-bar ATG seems to work for me. I’m experimenting with a raised heel, but haven’t found the right shoe size yet.

  • Deadlifts I’m still trying to figure out, but I’m doing them.

  • SGHPs work great for my upper back and calves, but my traps were growing a bit too fast and it was messing with the “look”. But I know what they do for me, and can rotate them in as needed.

  • Meadows Rows and single arm BB rows (see the Mountain Dog back article) seem to work very well for my lats so far. Too soon to really tell.

  • Also, for what it’s worth, I think rib cage expansion may actually work, but the costochondritis isn’t worth it to me. Ended up with a ton of pain around my sternum between dips and pullovers. Benign pain, but pain nevertheless. Maybe it works fine for a kid whose sternum hasn’t ossified yet, but it’s not worth it to me.

Really still just figuring stuff out. Same basic goal, just somewhat different approach. Improving strength in heavy compound lifts, with the form adjusted to build the areas I want, with enough frequency and volume to get bigger.

A long ways to go still, but I feel pretty confident in what I’m doing now. I’ll take slow progress in the right direction.


#17

Drink organic mountain goat semen, I heard it was all the rage for ol time strongmen to drink They used to post selfies up in ye old daily times slathered in it.


#18

On a serious note, does anybody have the link to the old strongman that used to dig holes to squat in. He would progressively dig them deeper to increase his range of motion as he progressed. He was the original pwnisher.


#19

[quote]Jlabs wrote:
On a serious note, does anybody have the link to the old strongman that used to dig holes to squat in. He would progressively dig them deeper to increase his range of motion as he progressed. He was the original pwnisher.[/quote]
Paul Anderson


#20

[quote]Jlabs wrote:
Drink organic mountain goat semen, I heard it was all the rage for ol time strongmen to drink They used to post selfies up in ye old daily times slathered in it.[/quote]

Mmm… orchic tablets.

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