Hail to the Dinosaurs!
You can tell quite a bit about how the old-timers
trained just by looking at photos of their equipment,
photos of old-school gyms, and photos of home gyms
from, say, 1890 through 1940 or 1950.
Here's what you saw:
4. Chinning bars
4a. In some gyms, dipping bars
5. Sit-up boards
6. After 1930, squat stands
7. After 1940, flat benches
And not much else.
The further back in time you go, the cruder
the equipment tended to be. There was a time
when most of the barbells, dumbbells and kettle-
bells were locally made. They tended to be thick
handled and rough. Globe barbells, dumbbells and
kettlebells were much more common than plate-
loading equipment until at least the 1920's.
In fact, there are photos of some famous old gyms
from the 1880 to 1920 period where the equipment
consists entirely of globe barbells, a couple
of globe dumbbells, and some kettlebells and ring
weights. Nothing else.
And these gyms had only a small number of barbells
and dumbbells -- perhaps three to ten barbells of
different weights, and even fewer dumbbells and
And remember, these were all fixed weight pieces of
equipment. Solid iron. They were not adjustable.
So how would you train if you had (for example),
nothing but a 100 pound barbell, a 150 pound barbell,
a 200 pound barbell, a 50 pound kettlebell, an
80 pound kettlebell, and one each of dumbbells at
50, 60, 80, and 100 pounds?
For starters, you'd undoubtedly focus on a few
basic exercises that you could perform with heavy,
fixed weight equipment: the clean and press, the
press, the push press, the clean and jerk, dumbbell
swings, kettlebell swings, and perhaps curls, rowing
and deadlifts or stiff legged deadlifts.
If you did squats, you'd probably do something like
straddle lifts -- or Hack squats -- or deep knee bends
on your toes. You wouldn't be able to do heavy flat-
footed squats because there would be no way of doing
them without squat stands. And even if you had squat
stands, with nothing but solid iron, fixed weight
barbells, you wouldn't be able to use them very
effectively -- because you'd always be limited by
what you could clean and set on the squat stands.
To progress, you'd have to try to do more reps with
the same weight -- because you couldn't add weight
to your barbell.
So you might do as many reps as possible with your
lightest barbell -- rest awhile -- and then do the
same with the next heavier barbell -- and then try
the next heaviest barbell -- and then do the same
sort of thing with the dumbbells and the kettlebells.
Think about it. An hour or so of nothing but cleans,
swings, presses, and similar movements, performed
with different weights and a wide range of reps.
High reps, medium reps and low reps. Barbells,
dumbbells and kettlebells. Perhaps even some thick
It sounds pretty primitive by today's standards --
but think of how strong it would make you!
Picture the kind of rugged, muscular development
you'd build with this kind of workout.
You'd actually do much better than most modern
trainees pumping away in their Chrome and Fern
Of course, you can still train old-school style
even if you use modern equipment. Just do what
the old-timers did. Basic exercises. Ground-based
training. Barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. A
variety of different rep ranges.
Simple stuff -- but incredibly, remarkably, supremely
What are you waiting for? Give it a try!
Yours in strength,
P.S. Dinosaur Training: Lost Secrets of Strength and
Development will teach you how to train exactly like
the old-time strongmen:
P.S. 2. Dinosaur Bodyweight Training is a complete
course in old-school physical culture:
P.S. 3. John Grimek got his start with nothing but a
barbell, a kettlebell and two dumbbells -- and he
became the greatest bodybuilder of his era -- as
well as one of the strongest men in the world. You
can read how he did it in my new John Grimek
P.S. 4. Thought for the day: "Old-school training
builds modern day warriors!" -- Brooks Kubik