Old School Training
Looking back many decades I remember old school gymnasiums had a certain “feel”. They looked like dungeons or medieval torture chambers. They were generally peopled by focused individuals intent on relentlessly pursuing a strength or size goal. Many of the denizens of this old school training realm were possessed of great size and strength.
I recall my first day walking into one of these establishments and seeing herculean giants sat on the end of benches and other equally gigantic dudes within racks pulling or pushing barbells loaded with prodigious amounts of iron. They seemed mostly sombre fellows, grim and taciturn. The few machines on display were either Nautilus or home made. The man at the desk had a piratical look and unwelcoming yellow eyes – at least he did at the gym where I first learned to endure pain.
The Demise Of Old School Gymnasiums And Real World Strength
Fifty years ago, if a fellow trainee wanted to know how strong you were, he’d ask “how much can you press” ? Now, unless you are training in a hard-core gym, its ” how much can you bench”. Additionally one of the most important training lifts – the deadlift, is almost extinct in commercial gyms. Its performance is not even permitted in many establishments.
Those individuals asking the “bench” question are usually in possession of a large chest, shoulders and biceps, with no discernable posterior chain development, and legs a chicken would be ashamed of.
Additionally, todays trainees are a lazy lot, and mirror much of the population. They generally prefer to lay or to sit whilst exercising. Consequently they are weak. Weak in the primary areas humans need to be strong. They have weak backs, weak legs and stabilisers and are weak in the posterior chain. They lack core strength, and can only press significant weight if their backs are firmly planted against a flat or incline bench. Consequently they are hopelessly inept at supporting a heavy load overhead whilst standing. They can’t pick up shit from the floor either.
Within the old school gymnasiums where I originally trained there were few incumbents, even among the weakest, unable to hoist at least 200 lbs aloft above their head from the floor. You will not find many inhabitants of modern commercial gyms able to replicate this feat- not least because tragically the lift is rarely if ever practised here.
Trainees at modern establishments often have muscle imbalances caused by their addiction to bench pressing – at the expense of antagonistic pulling movements. Rounded shoulders and chicken legs are a common sight in commercial gyms, as are curls in the squat rack – but enough of that for now.
Training properly to get strong is hard, damn hard. Hard training requires more effort and produces better results than easy. It is best achieved standing with a barbell in the hands. It is also best not performed on machines in a commercial gym if it is to remain a realistic pursuit.
The old school dungeons have unfortunately now mostly dissapeared. Physical culture has been sacrificed on the alter of commercialism in a now corrupt industry.
Decent old school gymnasiums do exist, but they must be sought out. If you are lucky you may find a basic “spit and sawdust” establishment where the majority of trainees are stronger than you. This is the kind of place within which you will make your fastest progress in both size and strength.
If you cannot find a specialist gym that’s convenient to your location and lifestyle, at least train in one that enables the use of free weights. This is a minimum requirement as training purely on machines will avail you little as a natural trainee.
You may be the strongest in the commercial gym where you train but will likely be one of, if not the weakest at a hard-core establishment. Don’t let this put you off. From beginners to pros, everyone that walks in the door of old school gymnasiums is expected to work hard. Effort is the real currency in these places and the only way that you can buy the respect of the veterans training there.
People who want to give their all, work hard and be pushed physically and mentally are generally in the minority. Unfortunately the commercially driven fitness industry has decided to appeal to the majority. They fill up their modern gymnasium’s floor space with treadmills and recumbent cycles, on which trainees can sit and read their favourite magazine, or walk and watch TV whilst pretending they’re exerting themselves doing meaningful exercise.
This is reflected in the way that many big gyms are now “fitness spas.” Trainers employed by these establishments, with few exceptions, have minimal real world training knowledge and experience, and questionable integrity – being basicly salesman with stop watches.
Most serious trainees have a strong aversion to the big gym culture, with its crowded sterile atmosphere and elevator music. Old school gymnasiums are genuinely welcoming of enthusiastic trainees so long as they are not arseholes and are willing to work hard.
If you decide to venture out of your comfort zone and visit one of the old school gymnasiums, then leave your ego at the door and be receptive to advice.
Whether training for size or strength acquire proficiency in basic barbell movements. Perform mostly compound preferably ground based, multi-joint exercises. These duplicate functional movements as they are designed to be performed by the body, and will improve overall strength and athleticism. Isolation work will do neither – you will do well to remember this.
Do yourself a favour by removing yourself from a comfortable commercial gym, and ramp up the effectiveness of your training by joining something more old school.
You will be glad you did.