Sunday, May 4, 2014


In our society, we are witnesses a reverence for the traditional that runs counter to how culture tends to normally progress and guides our actions in many facets of our lives.  Whereas typically it was the case for the current generation to look upon the past generations as foolish, evil, uneducated, and in general not worth emulating, we are instead witnessing a case where we take such great offense at the failure of our current state of affairs that we assume that any previously employed method must be better than the ones we currently utilize.  Whether it being way back toward our foundational ancestry and embracing the “Paleo Lifestyle”, or even simply embarking back to the “Golden Era” of hardcore training in the 60s and 70s, a return to “how things were” is being embraced, and a rejection of “how things are” is present.

What we must keep in mind when viewing the lifestyles and actions of the past is that the choices made by these people were framed within the access they had to other options.  Our idols of the past were not intentionally choosing to live a Spartan existence.  Quite the contrary in fact, these people attempted to maximize their lives as much as they possibly could, they simply did not have access to many of the concepts, products, ideas and theories that we have come into at the present.  To think that Paleo man, if given the choice between hunting and gathering and sitting down at Taco Bell for a #3 would choose the former out of some reverence for “tradition” and “legitimacy” is foolish, he did what it took to expend the bare minimal effort for maximal results.

Of the above, which do YOU think Paleo man would go for?

When speaking of lifting, we must utilize this understanding when it comes to analyzing and implementing the various tools and methods presently available to us that were not necessarily present or readily in the past.  In many cases, we fall into the trap thinking that the best way to get bigger and stronger is the always employ barbell work, heavily focused on the big 3 (squat, bench press and deadlift), because that’s how things were always done.  The notion of starting with a safety squat bar for squats, swiss bar for deadlifts, and mat pulls for deadlifts is considered laughable, because those are “advanced movements” that you’re supposed to do once you’ve developed an ability in the basics.

Why though?  What is history had been different, and somehow we decided to make the safety squat bar first before the barbell.  Would no one ever do squats until a barbell was invented, or would the barbell be considered “advanced” since its development came about after the safety squat bar?  Are bands and chains advanced, or did they simply come about later in history?  Is walking a squat out more "pure" than squatting out of a monolift, or did we simply walk squats out because we had to?  Does a linear timeline dictate rate of progression, or does it simply offer a historical perspective that, though fascinating, has no bearing on our training?

I'm fairly certain that the people with the surf boards could actually travel faster on land than this guy

When emulating the greats of the past, we should not emulate their methods, but instead their mentalities.  They did whatever it took to get bigger and stronger, and used all of the tools available to them to their maximal benefit.  Had there been more tools available, they would have used them as soon as they were valuable to them, not intentionally eschewing them because they were “impure”.  There is nothing magic or hardcore about a barbell and some iron plates, it was simply what was there at the start.

In your training, do not give in to the pressure of others who shout down your methods because it was not how it was done in the past.  We have advances available to us, both technological and theoretical, that can allow us to avoid many of the issues others had to contend with in the past to become even greater, and to ignore their validity simply due to their recency in the training timetable is purely a support for anachronism in ones own life.  Until the early 1900s, man lacked the ability to fly.  By 1960, he had flown to the moon.  Are we to assume that the desire for flight had lacked in man all the way until the Wright Brothers managed to feat, or should we instead conclude that, had man be given the opportunity at their onset, they would be airborne?


  1. God, I WISH I could go back in time and tell my younger self to start with the safety bar as soon as possible, I recently found out that doing 90% of my reps with the safety bar built up my low bar without having to do anything with it 'cept come in and max out.

    1. I am with you. Same thing with mat pulls and partials. Lots of opportunities wasted.

    2. Oh yeah, block pulls would have been great to know during the year where I added nothing to my deadlift :-(

  2. Gem of an article. I'm a big fan of anything you write on the topic of not forcing yourself into convention.

    This might make your eyes roll having been from the MA board, but it reminds me of Bruce Lee rejecting limitations to certain techniques just because it's what your "style" is.

    1. I am glad you appreciated it. I was honestly on the fence about posting it because I felt like I couldn't quite get the idea off the ground, but the meaning behind it seemed to resonate well enough.

      I can definitely see the carryover into things like martial arts, and really pretty much anything. We just assume in many cases that things were done a certain way because it's how the users wanted it done, never factoring in that there may be a better way. I've had a similar conversation on this topic talking about natural childbirth, and how so many women think they need to give birth without drugs because that's how it used to be done, never minding the fact that I am sure women in the pioneer days, if given a choice, would have taken ALL of the drugs to not feel pain, haha.