Everyone in the world of fitness seems to want the bright new shiny object. And while it’s true that we’ve made a lot of progress in the world of exercise science over the last 20 years (to say nothing of the last 50), it’s also true that the old-school guys for sure knew what they were talking about.
Think about it: Men in the 1950s like Reg Park and Steve Reeves were able to build absolutely insane physiques without the benefit of anabolic steroids. A number of early “odd lift” competitors (the forerunner to modern powerlifting) set records that stood for decades or have never been beaten. What’s more, modern exercise science stands on the shoulders of these giants.
So don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, going on a totally old-school approach. Instead, think about what the “ancients” knew that has largely been forgotten and how you can synergize it with what we now know about the world of strength training and fitness. Then combine the best of both worlds for increased benefits overall.
Embracing Vintage Fitness Wisdom
The greats of the bygone era loved functional movement training. In fact, most of what was done for “cardio” was largely what the kettlebell crew would do these days, albeit with dumbbells rather than kettlebells. Think snatches and cleans for super high reps. And while we’re on the subject of kettlebells, let’s not forget that there are few things more old school than the kettlebell itself, which dates back centuries in Russia.
Similarly, the greats of yesteryear loved “bread and butter” movements like deadlifts, squats, and overhead pressing. These are some of the most “functional” movements you can do with a barbell in as much as they carry over to your daily life. Few things are more “functional” than picking something up off the ground, raising it over your head, or standing up under load.
Likewise, bodyweight movements can be extremely helpful in overcoming plateaus and were favorites of the “old school” school guys. You can never do too many chin-ups and while your shoulders might object to too many dips, the chest dip was known as “the upper body squat” back in the day for a reason. Planks and pushups likewise are great for breaking plateaus and maintaining fitness.
Finally, consider how the greats of old dieted. They weren’t swayed by fad diets. They believed in generous consumption of healthy, whole foods, with an eye toward connection with the body to know when you were actually hungry and when you were eating out of boredom. Choosing whole, nutrient-dense foods will never lead you astray.
Much of what we’ve just talked about is the essence of “everything old is new again.” The Silver Age of Bodybuilding is coming back into fashion among natural lifters precisely because it aligns so well with everything that we currently know about modern strength training, holistic wellness, and dieting. So don’t be impressed with the new shiny thing just because it’s new and shiny. Try and pull from the greats of old and update what they did with the newest information in exercise science.
That’s how you get the best of both worlds.
What do we know now that they didn’t know back in the day? What did the old-school guys know that we’ve forgotten? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.